Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% “Western Eurasian”

The complete genome has recently been sequenced from 4 year old Russian boy who died 24,000 years ago near Lake Baikal in a location called Mal’ta, the area in Asia believed to be the origin of the Native Americans based on Y DNA and mitochondrial chromosome similarities.  The map below, from Science News, shows the location.

malta boy map

This represents the oldest complete genome ever sequenced, except for the Neanderthal (38,000 years old) and Denisovan (41,000 years old).

This child’s genome shows that he is related closely to Native Americans, and, surprisingly, to western Asians/eastern Europeans, but not to eastern Asians, to whom Native Americans are closely related.  This implies that this child was a member of part of a “tribe” that had not yet merged or intermarried with the Eastern Asians (Japan, China, etc.) that then became the original Native Americans who migrated across the Beringian land bridge between about 15,000 and 20,000 years ago.

One of the most surprising results is that about 30% of this child’s genome is Eurasian, meaning from Europe and western Asia, including his Y haplogroup which was R and his mitochondrial haplogroup which was U, both today considered European.

This does not imply that R and U are Native American haplogroups or that they are found among Native American tribes before European admixture in the past several hundred years.  There is still absolutely no evidence in the Americas, in burials, for any haplogroups other than subgroups of Q and C for males and A, B, C, D, X and M (1 instance) for females.  However, that doesn’t mean that additional evidence won’t be found in the future.

While this is certainly new information, it’s not unprecedented.  Last year, in the journal Genetics, an article titled “Ancient Admixture in Human History” reported something similar, albeit gene flow in a different direction.  This paper indicated gene flow from the Lake Baikal area to Europe.  It certainly could have been bidirectional, and this new paper certainly suggests that it was.

So in essence, maybe there is a little bit of Native American in Europeans and a little bit of European in Native Americans that occurred in their deep ancestry, not in the past 500-1000 years.

What’s next?  Work continues.  The team is now attempting to sequence genomes from other skeletons from west of Mal’ta, East Asia and from the Americas as well.

You can read the article in Science Magazine.  An academic article presenting their findings in detail will be published shortly in Nature.

A Podcast with Michael Balter can be heard here discussing the recent discovery.

34 thoughts on “Ancestor of Native Americans in Asia was 30% “Western Eurasian”

  1. This represents the oldest complete genome ever sequenced, except for the Neanderthal
    (38,000 years old) and Denisovan (41,000 years old).

    Why not just directly say it’s the 3rd oldest?

    And why didn’t you say how old this DNA is?

    • People should look at alternatives to the Beringia theory. First off, we know the habitat range of woolly mammoths extended all the way to the modern day coast of the arctic ocean which tells us that land had vegetation to support them, so it wasn’t buried under snow and ice at that time.
      We also know sea levels were lower. Not only was Beringia exposed, but large areas to the north of both Canada and Russia were also exposed and most likely would have been green valleys, like Beringia.
      Third, looking at distribution of Clovis artifacts in America we also know that their distribution favors the eastern half of the US over the western half of the US which would suggest Clovis had an earlier or more populace presence in the east than in the west.
      Fourth, we can probably assume Asian nomadic hunters didn’t have a map so there is nothing, given the location of Lake Baikal, just north of Mongolia to suggest that they would have chosen a northeasterly route as opposed to a northerly route in their migration. Provided they had taken a northerly route and going back to the sea levels of the last ice age when the Arctic Ocean was much smaller, they could have traveled to what was then the coast and then chosen to take either an easterly direction, a westerly direction or, if they had the use of boats, across any body of water that stood in their way in any direction(which in places the distance wouldn’t have been that great). Islands in or near the arctic circle on today’s maps would have been mountains at that time and as long as those were in sight the hunter clans would have known there was land ahead of them.
      This northerly route, being largely an open plain criss-crossed by northerly flowing rivers, the greatest of which were the Yenisei flowing north-northwesterly from Baikal and the Lena River flowing north-northeastly, would also have offered the path of least resistance whereas the direct route to Beringia from the Lake Baikal region would have been more challenging with higher elevations and mountain ranges.
      I’m not suggesting either/or, right or wrong. I’m suggesting more than one route to North America. This could explain several things including shared DNA between Native Americans and Europeans.

  2. WOW, that is incredible news, not only for the Euro/Asian Native American Indian standpoint, but I wonder how much of his skeletal remains were found. Did we learn anything else about the size of the head, limbs and so on. Thanks for the information.

    • The forthcoming article in Nature may provide us with more information. The photo in the article if you click through to it is of the skeleton and it looks amazingly complete for being 24,000 years old. Rather amazing actually.

  3. I just read the article. Pardon me for jumping the gun. It is amazing and the adornment was interesting, too. Not only was the child buried, but with loving care. Some of us extreme amateurs on 23andMe had been trying to figure out how there could be European admixture in the Native American Indians. We got a little carried away, but it was fun. This is a simple, easy answer.

  4. This finding shows exactly why trace Native American ancestry is so hard to detect for people with Colonial American roots. Northern Europeans already have trace amounts of NA with Finnish and Northern Russian people having the most. No doubt it dates back to ancient times when hunter-gatherers wondered the tundra which stretched from Northern Europe to Northern Asia to North America and the gene flow was probably on both directions.

  5. It has been my understanding that Hg-R turned toward Europe not long after Haplogroups R and Q separated from parent Hg-P, that Hg-Q continued eastward and that it was some time and distance later (say 8,000 years ago) that the part of Hg-Q near Lake Baikal turned westward toward the back of Scandinavia.

    • I guess we’ll have to wait for the article in Nature; the Science article doesn’t add the asterisk to R, so it’s possible it could be a subgroup, who knows. It might even be R1a1, the same as the Russian scientist who dug it up in the 1920s. :)

  6. Since when is mtDNA U considered European? Yes, there are some clades that are European but mostly it is Middle Eastern/North African. I have yet to hear what the boy’s full mtDNA was. “U” is pretty vague.

      • Chances are they are partially descended from (European) Iranian tribes, like many Eastern Europeans due to Scythian/Thracian/Sarmatian expansion, hence the specifically middle eastern/Eastern European connection.

        Originally Mongolian and Turkic groups expanded far west, hence their presence in Russia, even with the Tartars and the golden horde taken into account. We can safely assume the Sami are originally Mongolian as well, I guess the same must have happened to them, only now they are clearly far more extensively interbred with native Scandinavians than native Americans were with Europeans before colonisation, and even as they stand today…

      • I agree it’s not Asian (or at least Eastern Asian) and certainly not Native American. But we can’t call it European without knowing which branch of U we’re talking about. Some are very solidly European and not much else but some are not European at all.

      • I sure wish we had more haplogroup information. It may not have been a branch at all, but the base tree itself. Maybe the forthcoming article will provide more detailed information.

  7. Please remember, the boy they found, was not Native American. He was Siberian. Native Americans close genetic realatives today are East Asians.

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  11. Thanks for your information. My daughter-in-law’s parents were born in Poland and she has Trace Native American, 4% Finland/NW Russia and 96% Europe East from It was confusing for a while. Now, with Iceland’s new C1e haplogroup, maybe more research will go into Native American roots in Finland and NW Russia rather than assuming the DNA is from Vikings bringing them to Finland or invasions from the East into Finland.

  12. My DNA shows 3% Iberian Peninsula, aka Spanish/Portugese, along with W. Asia and N. Africa. An article I read said that if you have this, you are “definitely Melungeon”. Jack Goines, who has written quite a bit on this disagrees. He says the Melungeon Core DNA Project proved the origin of Melungeons was E1b1a Sub-Saharan African who mixed with white European women. So, I’m wondering which it is. Am I Melungeon or not?

    • I don’t know who told you that if you have this mix, you are “definitely Melungeon,” but they are absolutely incorrect. I am one of the co-authors of the only academically published Melungeon paper, along with Jack Goins and others. You can download the paper and read it for yourself here:

      Melungeons were a nickname for a particular group of people in a particular place and time. Those families are represented in the DNA project that this paper discusses.

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