The human journey from Asia to the New World was interrupted by a 20,000 -year layover in Beringia, a once-habitable region that today lies submerged under the icy waters of the Bering Strait. Furthermore, the New World was colonized by approximately 1,000 to 5,000 people - a substantially higher number than the 100 or fewer individuals of previous estimates.
The developments, to be reported by University of Florida Genetics Institute scientists in PloS One, help shape understanding of how the Americas came to be populated - not through a single expansion event that is put forth in most theories, but in three distinct stages separated by thousands of generations.
"Our model makes for a more interesting, complex scenario than the idea that humans diverged from Asians and expanded into the New World in a single event," said Connie Mulligan, Ph.D., an associate professor of anthropology at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and assistant director of the UF Genetics Institute. "If you think about it, these people didn't know they were going to a new world. They were moving out of Asia and finally reached a landmass that was exposed because of lower sea levels during the last glacial maximum, but two major glaciers blocked their progress into the New World. So they basically stayed put for about 20,000 years. It wasn't paradise, but they survived. When the North American ice sheets started to melt and a passage into the New World opened, we think they left Beringia to go to a better place."
UF scientists analyzed DNA sequences from Native American, New World and Asian populations with the understanding that modern DNA is forged by an accumulation of events in the distant past, and merged their findings with data from existing archaeological, geological and paleoecological studies.
The result is a unified, interdisciplinary theory of the "peopling" of the New World, which shows a gradual migration and expansion of people from Asia through Siberia and into Beringia starting about 40,000 years ago; a long waiting period in Beringia where the population size remained relatively stable; and finally a rapid expansion into North America through Alaska or Canada about 15,000 years ago.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Waiting at the gate