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Two Recent Studies of the Number of|
Ancient Asian Migrations to the Americas
Two studies based on DNA analysis purported to show that there were three distinct migration from Asia to the Americas. The problem is that they do not identify the same three migrations. One study was published in Nature, the British science journal, in June of 2012. It identified the first migration as taking place along the west coast of the Americas more than 15 thousand years ago. Groups split off from this migration to settle in the interiors of the two continents. The second migration was of the ancestors of the Inuit (Eskimos) and Aleuts. This migration spread people across arctic Alaska and Canada. The third migration according to the study was of the Na-Dene people who populated eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. They became known as the Athabascan Indians, a branch of which migrated south to become the people known as the Apaches and Navajos (Apaches de la Navahu). The languages of these Na-Dene peoples are distinctly different from the languages of the other Amerindians. Although culturally different from the other Amerindians they nevertheless share 90 percent of the genes of the other Amerindians. Even the Inuit have 50 percent of their genes identical to those of the Amerindians.
The second study of migrations using mitochondrial DNA was published in August of 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The first wave of migrants from Asia according to this study also came between 15 and 18 thousand years ago along a Pacific coast path. This wave brought the ancestors of the Amerindians of Central and South America. The second wave for this study came about 12 thousand years ago along a corridor that opened up east of the mountains in Alaska and western Canada. The notable conclusion of the study is that this second wave did not settle south of what is now the United States. (The Aztecs might be an exception to this assertion. But then again they might be descendants of the first wave coastal migration.)
The third wave of migration from Asia came thousands of years later and brought the ancestors of the Inuit and Aleuts. This study did not find evidence for the migration of the Na-Dene people. This is not surprising since the DNA of the Na-Dene people is 90 percent the same at the DNA of the second migration.
While there appears to be a contradiction between the two studies such is not the case. Properly speaking each study's conclusion was that there was at least three migration. Based on their joint evidence the conclusion should be that there was at least four migrations to the Americas.
The judgement of anthropology/archaeology has evolved considerably over the past few decades. Up until about 1960 it was believed that there was one wave of immigration from Asia about 12 thousand years ago that brought the ancestors of all the Amerindians and a second about six thousand years ago that brought the ancestors of the Inuit. Then Joseph Greenberg, a linguist of Stanford University, after successfully linking most of the languages of central and southern Africa into one language family, called the Bantu languages, tried his skills on the native language of the Americas. He concluded that all of the Amerindian languages of North and South America except those of the Athabascan Indians of eastern Alaska and northwestern Canada and those of the Apaches and Navajos belong to the same linguistic family. For example, the Navajo language is tonal like Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese; the same word spoken with different tones has different meanings. Greenberg's work indicated that a third migration occurred a few thousand years after the migration that brought the Inuit. This was the belief concerning migrations for a few years. Then a camp site was discovered at Monte Verde, Chile. The carbon dating of this site indicated that it was occupied about 15 thousand years ago. This meant migrants from Asia came thousands of years earlier than was thought and most likely as a chain of migrations along the Pacific Coast of the Americas. All of this was plausible but it was fine to have the confirmation from the DNA analyis. It is also notable that this DNA analysis contradicts the linguistic analysis of Joseph Greenberg. The language of the natives of South American could not belong to the same language family as those of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Whether or not there are cultural survivals from the first migration along the Pacific Coast of North America is still to be determined. The art forms of the Pacific Northwest Coast tribes seem so utterly different from the art forms of the other tribes of North America it is easy to believe that there is distinct cultural difference involved. There should be a careful linguistic re-examination of the languages of the tribes occupying the Pacific coast of North America.
(To be continued.)
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