“Anzick clearly shows direct descendency — and continuity — of Native Americans all the way back to Central Asia,” Waters says. “The Solutrean ship has sunk.”
Anzick-1’s resting place is the oldest credible burial site found in the Americas — and the only one associated with the Clovis culture, known in particular for its fluted spear points. The child’s remains were found in 1968 during construction on land belonging to the Anzick family.
Recognizing the find’s scientific significance but aware of Native American cultural sensitivities, the family kept the remains secure for more than 40 years. They turned down several requests to study Anzick-1’s remains until they were approached by Waters and University of Copenhagen paleobiologist Eske Willerslev.
Sequencing Anzick-1’s genome was no easy task, according to Willerslev. “Without a doubt, this was the most demanding genome to date that I have ever sequenced,” he says. “With Anzick-1, there was a tremendously low amount of human DNA left — less than 2 percent. The rest was microbial [contamination].”
Although Willerslev is accustomed to sequencing ancient DNA samples in about a year, it took him more than three years to sequence Anzick-1’s genome because of the DNA’s poor condition and his desire to deep sequence the material, repeating the process multiple times for the most accurate results.
Those results were impressive: Anzick-1’s genome showed his people were directly ancestral to 80 percent of Native Americans stretching from the Pacific Northwest to southern Chile. And the boy was closely related to the other 20 percent, groups living in Arctic Canada and Greenland.
Meanwhile, in an underwater Mexican cave, the skeleton of a girl, whom researchers call Naia, was revealing secrets of her own.
According to a study published in Science in May, the sequencing of Naia’s mitochondrial DNA — dated between 12,000 and 13,000 years old — confirmed a shared genetic lineage with modern Native Americans.