Friday, February 28, 2014

We're Like All Brothers, Man!

Sorry, my inner hippie - long thought to have withered away and died - had to say that.  Don't worry.  I punched myself. 

Inner hippie was awakened by this interesting story in Der Spiegel, H/T to Small Dead Animals.  The Crow Tribe allowed DNA testing to be done on the body of a young boy, said to be two years old at death, and a special ancestor to the tribe.  Artifacts found with the body trace him to the Clovis people, among the first peoples to inhabit North America,
The characteristic fluting of the stone weapons serve as archeological evidence that the boy, who died some 12,600 years ago, came from the Clovis culture. It was one of the earliest New World groups, disappearing mysteriously a few centuries after the child's burial in present day Montana. From the summit of a hill towering over the burial site near the Yellowstone River, the boy's Ice Age contemporaries could monitor their hunting grounds for mammoth and bison.
Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev did the analysis and was surprised at what he found about the ancestors and descendents of the boy.
(Willerslev) discovered that he descends from a Siberian tribe with roots tracing back to Europe. Some of the boy's ancestors are likely even to have lived in present-day Germany. 
A two year old certainly didn't have descendents of his own, but they find his DNA in virtually all modern American populations. 
Their findings go even further: More than 80 percent of all native peoples in the Americas -- from the Alaska's Aleuts to the Maya of Yucatan to the Aymaras along the Andes -- are descended from Montana boy's lineage.
The Clovis people are associated with a particular type of arrow or spear point made by breaking flint in a particular way. (Clovis points from the Smithsonian)
There's somewhat of a resurgence of making this sort of stone knife/cutting tool, called flint knapping and they say that modern flint knappers consider this a particularly hard technique to do.  I've watched people do this at a rock show and it's pretty neat to watch; I've never tried it myself, though.  One of the factoids bandied around is that a knapped obsidian stone's edge is the sharpest edge known, and some surgeons are using obsidian scalpels to minimize scarring. 

But getting back to the original story, the genetic linking of the Clovis people to Europeans was a surprise to me; not so much the link to Siberia.  It adds credence to the argument that we are one race, the human race, and apparent differences are more from local populations interbreeding than from deep biological differences.  This is what one would expect if all humanity came from one place and spread out around the globe; whether they be Zinjanthropus at Olduvai or Adam and Eve in Eden.  Among humans studied, most genetic variation is within, not between, "races."  Just as a great dane and a poodle are both the same species; the differences in appearances were originally different populations breeding with each other.  A short dive into the comments of that Der Spiegel piece will remind you that this is a minority view, and people love to cling to their group identity, so that they can feel aggrieved and hurt by others.


  1. There is evidence that Europeans came to this continent from Europe numerous times before Columbus. The Clovis point is not related to anything else in American Indian or Asian culture but it is identical to points made in France about the same time period.

  2. The Clovis point is not related to anything else in American Indian or Asian culture but it is identical to points made in France about the same time period. Thanks! That's cool - I haven't heard that before.

    The first thing I encountered about early Americans coming from Asia was something about concave backs on people's teeth. The concave back was common between older American populations (Incans? Mayans?) and several Asian populations. Of course, the Pacific Islanders have legends about crossing the sea to South America.