A new ancient DNA study bolsters accounts that European arrival in the Americas decimated indigenous populations.
An international team of scientists has sequenced mitochondrial DNA from skeletons and mummies of Native Americans ranging from 8,600 to 500 years ago. They compared this new data to the DNA of modern Native American populations and found that the old sequences were mysteriously missing.
This doesn't mean that all indigenous Americans died off, study lead author Bastien Llamas points out. There still are Native Americans alive today across both continents. But of the 92 archaic individuals that the team looked at, none of their mitochondrial sequences survived to the present day.
It could have been disease, warfare, societal collapse or some other catastrophe, Dr. Llamas tells The Christian Science Monitor. All the study indicates is that something significant happened to reduce the genetic diversity of this population.
But historical accounts suggested the European arrival coincided with a significant reduction of the populations already living in South, Central, and North America. Estimates have ranged from around 50 to 90 percent of the population died off at the time. "Even those low, low numbers, that's an incredible calamity," John Walker, an archeologist at the University of Central Florida who was not part of the study, tells the Monitor.