Thursday, 13 February 2014

First Americans And Crackpot Religions

Ancestry of first Americans revealed by a boy's genome - life - 12 February 2014 - New Scientist

Two different crackpot religious beliefs took another blow recently when scientists succeeded in sequencing the genome of a three year-old boy who died and was buried, apparently with some considerable ceremony, 12,600 years ago in the Rocky Mountains, and in doing so have shown that several absurd but never-the-less firmly held religious beliefs are quite simply without foundation.

The child, known at the Anzick child after the family on whose land his grave was found, was from the 'Clovis People', almost certainly the first people to arrive in the Americas and the evidence from the DNA is that they came from Eastern Asia across a land-bridge into Alaska and then either down the coast or, less likely, through an inland gap which had opened in the North American Ice-Age ice sheet.

Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and his colleagues compared the boy's DNA with that of 143 non-African people including that from South and Central American and Canadian tribes. It was found to be equally close to that of Central and South Americans, suggesting his people were common ancestors to both. It was also close to the Canadians indicating that they shared a recent common ancestor.

When compared to Siberians, Asians and Europeans, differences increased the further west the populations were from, showing that the most recent common non-American ancestors of the Clovis people were from Siberia.

It's crazy finding someone who is directly ancestral to the entire population of a continent – that just does not happen. I don't think it would ever happen in Europe, or in Siberia. There are very few places where this could happen. The reason must be that this skeleton is really close to the source – really close to the 'Adam'. I think that is the only explanation.

Eske Willerslev
Last November Eske Willerslev's team published an analysis of 24,000 year-old DNA from another child, this time from the shores of Lake Baikal in Russian Central Asia, known as the Mal'ta boy. This showed the boy was almost certainly the child of Asian and proto-European parents and that he was also closely related to South and Central Americans. South and Central Americans, like the Anzick child, have a mixture of Mal'ta and Asian DNA.

The evidence then is that the Americas were populated by descendants of the Mal'ta people from around Lake Baikal who probably picked up more Asian DNA as they moved into Eastern Siberia. The initial penetration into the Americas could have been by as few as 100 people about 15,000 years ago, from whom all the Central and Southern tribes are descended.

One curiosity associated with the Anzick burial is that, as well as a large number of stone tools piled onto the body, the grave also included a tool made from an elk bone which was already 150 years old when buried. It is thus highly likely that it was a prized object of some significance, possibly an heirloom or something with religious significance.

But whatever the religion these people might have had, their DNA has disproved two other daft religious notions:
  • It's ancestors were not from the Middle East 6000 years ago. They were already in the North America at least 6,000 years before that and their ancestors were living around Lake Baikal in Russia 12,000 years before that.
  • The Mormon story, made up by the convicted fraudster Joseph Smith, that Native Americans are descended from a band of Israelites who went to North America in 600 BCE. This story is held to be true by a significant number of otherwise normal people because their parents believed it, including one recent US presidential candidate, apparently.

The Book of Mormon recounts the story of small Israelite groups led by Lehi and Mulek who were brought by the hand of the Lord from ancient Jerusalem to the American continent approximately 600 BC. Prophets who taught of Christ were called from among this people for over a millennium, but eventually the people fell into apostasy and one branch of this civilization was destroyed. Modern prophets from Joseph Smith to the present have taught that the remnant of the other branch, the Lamanites, represent the principal ancestors of modern Native Americans.

The Clovis population seems to be more closely related to South Americans than to native North Americans. That's telling you that the Clovis sample seems to have occurred after the initial split of the lineages that gave rise to native South Americans and native North Americans.

David Reich, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA
The finding has also probably put paid to a plausible but unlikely idea put forward by Dennis Stanford of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC and Bruce Bradley of the University of Exeter, UK in their book Across Atlantic Ice that paleolithic people from the Iberian Peninsula in Western Europe could have crossed the Atlantic when hunting seals on the edge of a North Atlantic ice sheet which may have extended south as far as Spain. This idea had already suffered from the lack of evidence that Paleolithic Iberians were seal hunters and from the lack of evidence that a stable ice-sheet extended that far south for much of the year.

The final blow is that the Anzick boy's DNA is not from Paleolithic Western Europe.

I wonder if any creationists have noticed how all the recent evidence from ancient DNA which we are now able to recover never supports their notion of a special creation 6000 years ago, and always supports the scientific theory of evolution from a common ancestor over several billion years, with humans evolving in Africa 2-3 million years ago from an ancestor common to both us and the other African Great Apes. If so, I doubt they have fully appreciated the significance of that fact.

It's not as though science is actively setting out to disprove these infantile origin myths, though I can understand the fundamentalist paranoia that science is all a satanic conspiracy - it must feel like it at times. It's just that none of the evidence ever supports the daft notions. The simple reason for this is that they aren't true and science is literally incapable of finding irrefutable evidence for something that isn't true. Thats how we know we can rely on it and can confidently say that if your religion disagrees with science then your religion is wrong. Science is what we use to tell what's right and what's wrong.

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  1. "...I doubt they have fully
    appreciated the significance of that fact."

    Or that they care. Creationism is big business in the US. When it comes to money, facts can't be allowed to get in the way!


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