Archaeologists discovered her in an ancient burial pit in Alaska in 2010, and on Wednesday an international team of scientists reported they had retrieved the child’s genome from her remains. The second-oldest human genome ever found in North America, it sheds new light on how people — among them the ancestors of living Native Americans — first arrived in the Western Hemisphere.
The analysis, published in the journal Nature, shows that the child belonged to a hitherto unknown human lineage— a group that split off from other Native-Americans just after, or perhaps just before, they arrived in North America.
“It’s the earliest branch in the Americas that we know of so far,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, a co-author of the new study. As far as he and other scientists can tell, these early settlers endured for thousands of years before disappearing.
The two infants were given names: the baby girl is Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay (“sunrise girl-child,” in Middle Tanana, the dialect of the local community), and the remains of the other infant, or perhaps a fetus, is Yełkaanenh T’eede Gaay (“dawn twilight girl-child”).
The Healy Lake Village Council and the Tanana Chiefs Conference agreed to let scientists search the remains for genetic material. Eventually, they discovered mitochondrial DNA, which is passed only from mother to child, suggesting each had different mothers. Moreover, each infant had a type of mitochondrial DNA found also in living Native-Americans.
> Bob Stelton, editor