Smithsonian Institution's 1996 Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon. Genetic data are just becoming available to allow us to examine the relationships of Native Americans to other peoples in the world. The picture is far more complex than was previously thought. Interestingly, recent scientific research points to a possible link between Eurasians, including some Israelis, and Native Americans. See Virginia Morell, "Genes May Link Ancient Eurasians, Native Americans" in Science, vol. 280, April 24, 1998, p. 520. This work must be viewed with caution pending further evidence. In fact, one LDS scientist sent me e-mail saying that a more recent study about to be published fails to find evidence for non-Asian origins. But in spite of our ability or inability to detect traces of ancient genes in present populations, remains have been found of ancient Americans that resemble Caucasians. More work is needed! For your information, here are a few small excerpts from the April '98 Science publication: Anthropologists have long assumed that the first Americans, who crossed into North America by way of the Bering Strait, were originally of Asian stock. But recently they have been puzzled by surprising features on a handful of ancient American skeletons, including the controversial one known as Kennewick Man - features that resemble those of Europeans rather than Asians (Science, 10 April 1998, p. 190). Now a new genetic study may link Native Americans and people of Europe and the Middle East, offering tantalizing support to a controversial theory that a band of people who originally lived in Europe or Asia Minor were among the continent's first settlers. The new data, from a genetic marker appropriately called Lineage X, suggest a "definite - if ancient - link between Eurasians and Native Americans," says Theodore Schurr, a molecular anthropologist from Emory University in Atlanta, who presented the findings earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Salt Lake City.... The team, led by Emory researchers Michael Brown and Douglas Wallace, and including Antonio Torroni from the University of Rome and Hans-Jurgen Bandelt from the University of Hamburg in Germany, was searching for the source population of a puzzling marker known as X. This marker is found at low frequencies throughout modern Native Americans and has also turned up in the remains of ancient Americans. Identified as a unique suite of genetic variations, X is found on the DNA in the cellular organelle called the mitochondrion, which is inherited only from the mother. Researchers had already identified four common genetic variants, called haplogroups A, B, C, and D, in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of living Native Americans (Science, 4 October 1996, p. 31). These haplogroups turned up in various Asian populations, lending genetic support for the leading theory that Native Americans descended primarily from these peoples. But researchers also found a handful of other less common variants, one of which was later identified as X. Haplogroup X was different. It was spotted by Torroni in a small number of European populations. So the Emory group set out to explore the marker's source. They analyzed blood samples from Native American, European, and Asian populations and reviewed published studies. "We fully expected to find it in Asia," like the other four Native American markers, says Brown. To their surprise, however, haplogroup X was only confirmed in the genes of a smattering of living people in Europe and Asia Minor, including Italians, Finns, and certain Israelis. The team's review of published mtDNA sequences suggests that it may also be in Turks, Bulgarians, and Spaniards. But Brown's search has yet to find haplogroup X in any Asian population. "It's not in Tibet, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, or Northeast Asia," Schurr told the meeting. "The only time you pick it up is when you move west into Eurasia." The article goes on to quote Dr. Brown about the possibility of an ancient migration. He said that there are several theories offered for how this genetic marker was distributed. One likely explanation is that a small band of Caucasians migrated from Europe right across Asia and into North America, leaving no genetic traces in Asia. Of course, I would add that an ancient oceanic voyage also ought to be considered. A related article is on the Web: "Europeans Colonised America in 28,000 BC" by Roger Highfield, Science Editor for Britain's Electronic Telegraph news service. Here's an excerpt: The find has led to some speculation that ancient people crossed the Atlantic from the Old World, because evidence of the group has not so far been found in Asia, though [Schurr] stressed that not all central Asian groups had been analysed. Dr Schurr said: "Haplogroup X was brought to the New World by an ancient Eurasian population in a migratory event distinct from those bringing the other four lineages to the Americas." The haplogroup X occurs most among Algonkian-speaking groups such as the Ojibwa, and has been detected in two pre-Colombian north American populations. Today, haplogroup X is found in between two and four per cent of European populations, and in the Middle East, he said, particularly in Israel. Now this doesn't prove the Book of Mormon is true. The haplogroup X which links "certain Israelis" and Europeans with Native Americans may have no relation to the Nephites, the Jaredites, or the Mulekites. But this new study does much to eliminate a common allegation of Book of Mormon critics. They claim that there are no scientific reasons and particularly no genetic evidence to accept the possibility of ancient migrations from the Middle East to the Americas. Based on the latest findings in science, they are wrong. Please look at my page on the Smithsonian Statement for a discussion of evidence for Transoceanic Contact with the Ancient Americas. Updates from 2000: Dr. Theodore G. Schurr has published further work in the highly respected publication, American Scientist. His article, "Mitochondrial DNA and the Peopling of the New World" (Vol. 88, No. 3, May-June 2000, pp. 246-253) discusses the wide diversity of Native American genotypes and provides many intriguing photographs showing great diversity. He demonstrates that the distribution of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) groups in the New World is much more complicated than previously thought, and cannot be explained solely by Siberian genes arriving via the Bering Strait. Some excerpts: Most notably, the new mtDNA data suggest not only a very early movement of peoples into the New World but also the genetic contributions of populations originating outside of Siberia, from other parts of Asia. Overall, the mtDNA research implies that the colonization of Siberia and the Americas was more complex than previously supposed - that there were, in fact, multiple expansions of ancient peoples that contributed to the genetic diversity in aboriginal Siberian and Amerindian populations.... A number of mtDNAs found in Native Americans do not fall into the haplogroups A-to-D [the most common New World group, groups which are also found in various parts of Asia]. These were originally designated as "other" (OTHER) haplotypes, and the majority were attributed to non-native admixture because of their apparent affinities to European mtDNAs. In particular, the OTHER haplotypes detected in the Ojibwa and Navajo resembled the haplogroup X mtDNAs seen in French Canadians and other European groups. A single haplotype in the Maya also appeared to belong to the European haplogroup H, the most commonly observed mtDNA lineage in Caucasian American and European populations. These findings suggested that most of the OTHER haplotypes seen in Native Americans were likely to be of European origin, and, hence, of more recent derivation in New World populations. However, recent work has shown that the OTHER haplotypes that looked similar to the European haplogroup X mtDNAs actually belong to a divergent branch of this particular mtDNA lineage.... Also, four distinct sublineages of haplogroup X have been identified in Amerindian populations, implying that it has been in the New World long enough to have undergone considerable genetic diversification.... [The] data imply that haplogroup X was present in the New World long before Europeans first arrived.... Schurr estimates haplogroup X has been on this continent for 13,000 to 35,000 years (though I would suggest that a recent migrant group already having a diversity of haplogroup mutations could bring new DNA that appears old). He also discusses other haplogroups, such as H, T, J, and L. Not enough work has been done yet to clearly determine whether these are all due to mixing with Old World peoples since the time of Columbus, or whether these haplogroups were present more anciently. One thing to keep in mind about mitochondrial DNA studies: they trace DNA passed from female to female. A boatload of men landing in the New World may contribute a lot of genes to New World peoples, but no trace will be found in mitochondrial DNA. And even if an ancient boat from the Old World brought men and women to the shores of the New World, it is possible for the mitochondrial DNA from the Old World to be quickly lost in the ensuing population if the men tend to take New World wives or the migrant women die off. And even if they survive, again, what impact will one boatload of genes have on a continent already holding many peoples? We need to be careful about what we should expect in terms of DNA evidence. Another update: A paper at the Oct. 2000 "Clovis and Beyond" conference sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and Scientific American discusses the genetic diversity of Native Americans, something more consistent with the Book of Mormon than with the "Bering Strait only" theory of Native American origins. Recall that the Book of Mormon does not purport to explain the origins of all Native Americans, but does tell of three different groups coming from by boat from the Old World to the Americans, which would be expected to increase whatever degree of genetic diversity had previously existed on this continent. Here's the abstract, posted at http://clovisandbeyond.org/clovispost.html: Title: "Patterns of Regional mtDNA Variation in the Ancient Americans" Presenters: Shawn W. Carlyle, M. Geoffrey Hayes, and Dennis H. O'Rourke Abstract: Ancient (a)DNA analyses are beginning to provide insight into the colonization of the Americas and the establishment of regional patterns of genetic variation. We report original aDNA research from the US Southwest, Eastern Great Basin, and North American Arctic, comparing the results to published aDNA data from North, Central, and South America. We then compare the results from aDNA to similar data gained from contemporary inhabitants of the Americas. Our analyses suggest that: (1) the earliest colonists possessed considerable mitochondrial genetic variation, weakening claims for a genetic bottleneck during the initial colonization of the New World; (2) regional patterns observed among contemporary populations were present in antiquity; and (3) these regional patterns were minimally influenced by post-contact admixture and subsequent reductions in population size. (Emphasis mine.) Dennis H. O'Rourke is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Utah. The other authors are Ph.D. candidates in anthropology. I don't know if any of them are LDS, but this abstract is consistent with other DNA work and with the many new evidences against the old theories based on simple explanations of American origins across the Bering Strait.
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