The people generally called Clovis were not the first humans in America but they were the first to accomplish expansion on the North American continent. Then they died out, leaving only speculation.
Starting somewhere around 13,000 years ago, they hunted mammoth, mastodons and giant bison with big spears. Today there exists only one human skeleton - a small boy between 1 and 1.5 years of age that was found in the 12,600 Anzick Site in Wilsall, Montana. It was found in association with Clovis tools, making it among the oldest human skeletons in the Americas.
Roughly estimated, some 80% of all present-day native populations on the two American continents are direct descendants of the Clovis boy's family - and the remaining 20% are still more closely related to the Clovis family than any other people on Earth, says Lundbeck Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen.
Insert obligatory missing link reference here
That the approximately 12,600 year old boy whose closest relatives can be regarded as the direct ancestor to so many people means that Clovis did not descend from Europeans, Asians or Melanesians, says Willerslev. They were Native Americans – and the Native American ancestors were the first people in America. This is now a fact, says Willerslev which, combined with the ridiculously late embargo time from Nature magazine, should set all kinds of alarm bells ringing.
The researchers say that Native American ancestors coming in from Siberia split into two groups. One group is ancestors to the Native Americans presently living in Canada and the other one – which is represented by the Clovis boy – is the ancestor to virtually all Native Americans in South America and Mexico. The US is still something of an unknown area on the map when it comes to genome-wide data from Native Americans.
Clovis tools. Link: Nature/Robert L. Walker
They say their study validates the concept of continuity in the history of Native Americans, and suggests that modern Native Americans are direct descendants of the first people occupying this land, says Rasmus Nielsen, a co-author on the study and a Professor at UC Berkeley, who developed the method used for determining that many modern native Americans are direct descendants of the Clovis boy's family.
An Asian homeland for the First Americans
The first humans came from Siberia via the Beringia Land Bridge, which connected Siberia with North America during the latest ice age. Those people did not bring the Clovis culture with them, the authors say. The Clovis culture arose after they arrived in America and the boy from Anzick was a descendant of the first immigrants.
Archaeologist Michael Waters says, "The genetic findings mesh well with the archaeological evidence to confirm the Asian homeland of the First Americans, more clearly define their genetic heritage, and is consistent with occupation of the Americas a few thousand years before Clovis. The findings do not support a western European origin of the First Americans as suggested by the Solutrean hypothesis. The genetic information provided by the Anzick boy is part of the larger story of modern human dispersal across the Earth and is shedding new light on the last continent to be explored and settled by our species."
If not Clovis, who were the first immigrants? No one knows, perhaps an ancestor related to the Mal'ta boy from Siberia and another one who was East Asian but the authors declare that their results eliminate all other theories about the origins of the first people in America. The first people in America were the direct ancestors of Native Americans, says Willerslev. "We can see that the Clovis boy shares about 1/3 of his genes with the 24,000 year old child from Mal'ta at the Siberian Lake Baikal who we have analyzed previously. The same goes for all present day Native Americans. Therefore the encounter between East Asians and the Mal'ta group happened before Clovis."
The human remains from the Anzick site will be reburied sometime this year in cooperation with native tribes in Montana. When are remains science and when is studying them a graveyard violation? It's a moving target. European remains don't get much cultural tip-toeing. Nature journalist Ewen Callaway details how the researchers navigated the cultural landmines so their research could be drama free and that the remains are going to be reburied with participation from the Crow tribe, despite the fact that they only happened to be the people there when Europeans recorded them being there - no one knows who had been there a hundred, much less 12,000 years earlier.
Citation: Morten Rasmussen, Sarah L. Anzick, Michael R. Waters, Pontus Skoglund, Michael DeGiorgio, Thomas W. Stafford, Simon Rasmussen, Ida Moltke, Anders Albrechtsen, Shane M. Doyle, G. David Poznik, Valborg Gudmundsdottir, Rachita Yadav, Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, Samuel Stockton White V, Morten E. Allentoft, Omar E. Cornejo, Kristiina Tambets, Anders Eriksson, Peter D. Heintzman, Monika Karmin, Thorfinn Sand Korneliussen, David J. Meltzer, Tracey L. Pierre, Jesper Stenderup, Lauri Saag, Vera M. Warmuth, Margarida C. Lopes, Ripan S. Malhi, Søren Brunak, Thomas Sicheritz-Ponten, Ian Barnes, Matthew Collins, Ludovic Orlando, Francois Balloux, Andrea Manica, Ramneek Gupta, Mait Metspalu, Carlos D. Bustamante, Mattias Jakobsson, Rasmus Nielsen& Eske Willerslev, 'The genome of a Late Pleistocene human from a Clovis burial site in western Montana', Nature 506, 225-229 doi:10.1038/nature13025