DNA Evidence Uncovers Two Forgotten North American Migrations

paleo, migration
Paleo-Indians were the earliest known settlers of the Americas. The specifics of Paleo-Indian migration to and throughout the Americas are being reconsidered after analysis of DNA from Central and South America reveals two unknown migrations. Wikimedia Commons/Painting by Heinrich Harder

When you talk about Americans moving south, the first thing that often comes to mind are the throngs of retirees who grab their sunscreen and bolt for Florida every winter. The massive movement of older folks to the Sunshine State has certainly helped shape the Florida economy, but it's by no means the first example of humans headed for a clean break in warmer climes. In fact, researchers have recently uncovered two migrations from North America to South America dating back some 10,000 years.

Central and South Americans largely draw their ancestry from a combination of three streams of migrations to the regions from North America. That includes two previously unknown movements, according to a research team led by anthropologists at Harvard.


One of those migrations came from the Clovis culture, a prehistoric Paleo-Indian group named after the tools its people carried, and one some believe were the first to inhabit the New World. The Clovis people spread their wings a lot farther south than had previously been believed, moving into Peru and Brazil, according to the new findings. The other group came from Alaska, and perhaps crossed the Bering Strait from Russia.

The researchers used ancient DNA data — from 49 people who lived in Central and South America over a span of some 10,000 years — to find shared ancestry with skeletal remains previously uncovered in North America.

The findings offer some insight into the indigenous history of Central and South America. They also seem to raise more questions than answers. The data shows that the Clovis people were "replaced" by another lineage some 9,000 years ago. What we don't know is why they disappeared.

migration map
DNA from Central and South America yields insights into two previously unknown southward human migrations.
Posth et al./Cell