Strange Fossils in South China Reveal Interesting Link to Early Americans

Remains discovered in a cave in China’s Yunnan province more than 10 years ago have finally revealed their secrets, and DNA analysis has revealed not only who left them, but ultimately where their ancestors went.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences evaluated nuclear and mitochondrial sequences recovered from a 14,000-year-old skull and found that the woman it once belonged to, named Mengzi Ren, was closely related to the population that would eventually become the first. who will set foot in America.

Since their discovery in 2008, dozens of Late Paleolithic human bones at Malu Dong (Red Deer Cave) in southwest China have left anthropologists confused as to who they might have belonged to.

Without enough collagen for carbon dating analysis, his age can only be estimated from the features surrounding the burial site. It is not even clear whether the mixture of bones, including part of the skull and the upper end of the femur, belongs to the same person.

To pinpoint Mengzi Ren’s place in the vast family tree, the researchers sequenced the DNA they were able to extract and mapped it according to a standard genetic reference model.

Since mitochondrial DNA only passes through the egg from the mother, they were able to identify its maternal lineage as a now extinct branch, now represented by only two modern subgroups.

A closer look at her DNA proves that Mengzi has close ties to anatomically modern humans, all to rule out her legacy among her ancient ancestors.

“Ancient DNA technology is a really powerful tool,” says Ping Su, an archaeologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “It strongly argues that the people in Red Deer Cave were modern humans and not ancient species like Neanderthals or Denisovans, despite their unusual morphological features are “normal”.

Although the Mengzi are more closely related to the populations of present-day southern China than to the peoples of the north, they do not have much in common with the people now living throughout Southeast Asia, suggesting that the region had a well-organized and diverse population. thousands of years ago.

There is strong evidence that a relatively small number of people also ventured down from the north to settle in the east, a group that split up to cross the ice-covered expanse of the Bering Strait to settle the vast wilderness of America.

The linking of Mengzi Ren’s DNA to sequences from northern populations means that there is now strong evidence for a connection between modern Asians, indigenous peoples, and ancient Asian lineages.

“This data will not only help us paint a more complete picture of how our ancestors migrated, but also provide important information about how people change their appearance to adapt to local conditions over time, such as differences in skin color in response to changes in sun exposure,” Su says.

Not only does Red Deer Cave have many more secrets to uncover, there are numerous Late Pleistocene sites throughout Asia.

This study was published in Current biology.

Source: Science Alert.