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Am J Hum Genet. 1993 Sep; 53(3): 549–562.
PMCID: PMC1682422

mtDNA sequences suggest a recent evolutionary divergence for Beringian and northern North American populations.


Conventional descriptions of the pattern and process of human entry into the New World from Asia are incomplete and controversial. In order to gain an evolutionary insight into this process, we have sequenced the control region of mtDNA in samples of contemporary tribal populations of eastern Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland and have compared them with those of Amerind speakers of the Pacific Northwest and with those of the Altai of central Siberia. Specifically, we have analyzed sequence diversity in 33 mitochondrial lineages identified in 90 individuals belonging to five Circumpolar populations of Beringia, North America, and Greenland: Chukchi from Siberia, Inupiaq Eskimos and Athapaskans from Alaska, Eskimos from West Greenland, and Haida from Canada. Hereafter, we refer to these five populations as "Circumarctic peoples." These data were then compared with the sequence diversity in 47 mitochondrial lineages identified in a sample of 145 individuals from three Amerind-speaking tribes (Bella Coola, Nuu-Chah-Nulth, and Yakima) of the Pacific Northwest, plus 16 mitochondrial lineages identified in a sample of 17 Altai from central Siberia. Sequence diversity within and among Circumarctic populations is considerably less than the sequence diversity observed within and among the three Amerind tribes. The similarity of sequences found among the geographically dispersed Circumarctic groups, plus the small values of mean pairwise sequence differences within Circumarctic populations, suggest a recent and rapid evolutionary radiation of these populations. In addition, Circumarctic populations lack the 9-bp deletion which has been used to trace various migrations out of Asia, while populations of southeastern Siberia possess this deletion. On the basis of these observations, while the evolutionary affinities of Native Americans extend west to the Circumarctic populations of eastern Siberia, they do not include the Altai of central Siberia.

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