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‘Origin’ explores the controversial science of the first Americans


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‘Origin’ explores the controversial science of the first Americans

A new book looks at competing theories of how the Western Hemisphere was settled


Scientific understanding of the peopling of the Americas is as unsettled as the Western Hemisphere once was. Skeletal remains, cultural artifacts such as stone tools and, increasingly, microscopic pieces of ancient DNA have sparked heated debates about which of several origin stories best explains available evidence. Additional conflict stems from a tragic scientific legacy of ignoring and exploiting Indigenous groups whose ancestries are on the line.

Anthropologist and geneticist Jennifer Raff offers her take on the state of this fascinating and turbulent research field in Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas.

Raff wants to tell the most accurate, if still incomplete, story of how humans settled the Americas by integrating research on ancient and modern DNA with archaeological finds. She refers to people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere before Europeans arrived as First Peoples, a term favored by some of her Indigenous colleagues.

Most researchers think that ancestors of the First Peoples lived in Siberia and East Asia 20,000 years ago or more during the Ice Age, Raff explains. A consensus view holds that those groups eventually crossed a now-submerged expanse of land — the Bering Land Bridge — that connected northeastern Asia and North America. Analyses of ancient human DNA indicate that these migrants gave rise to populations that lived south of an ice sheet that ran across northern North America from around 80,000 to 11,000 years ago. But much remains unexplained.:snip:

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