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He argues that the 5,000-year gap between the earliest inhabitants at Monte Verde, which Dillehay excavated, and the earliest Lauricocha skeletons leaves the door open for earlier migrations.
“There may well be a single migration — they don’t have the evidence for it,” he says.
Researchers studying ancient DNA have found evidence for a massive migration from present-day Russia and Ukraine into western Europe around 4,500 years ago, and Bolnick says that similar upheavals are bound to have happened in the Americas.
In a 2014 paper, for instance, Fehren-Schmitz documented a migration into the Central Andes about 1,400 years ago, possibly driven by drought in lower-lying areas.
More than half a century after the site’s discovery, Fehren-Schmitz’s team got permission to look at five human skeletons excavated from Lauricocha and held at the National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru in Lima.The team redated the remains, remeasured the skulls and extracted DNA.Their work, presented by Fehren-Schmitz at the SAA meeting, paints a complicated picture of Lauricocha.Ancient genomes from the Americas may also reveal how humans adapted to shifts in diet — early Americans domesticated maize (corn), potato and other crops — and to diseases imported from Europe, such as smallpox.South American prehistory, it seems, is about to get a lot more complicated.The males’ Y chromosomes put them on a lineage that arose in the region around the Bering Strait some 17,000 years ago — the most widely accepted time and place for the original human migration into the Americas.These and other DNA data suggested that all the Lauricocha humans are descended from the first humans to reach the Americas, supporting one migration into South America. Such a wide-ranging conclusion cannot be drawn from a handful of remains found at a single site, says Tom Dillehay, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.To gauge whether the Lauricocha residents were descended from members of more than one migration, the team sequenced the DNA from their mitochondria, cellular organelles that are passed directly from mother to child, and thus trace maternal ancestry.All five people were found to be descended from maternal lines that are common among modern and ancient indigenous people of North and South America.Ancient South American genomes may also show how humans adapted to the New World.In a separate study, Fehren-Schmitz and his colleagues looked at a gene variant that protects against altitude sickness.