Skull Similarities Suggest Multiple Migrations into South America

Some South Americans, a new report finds, share a last common ancestor with modern populations in Asia – a result that suggests multiple waves of migration into the Americas. The flow of early humans into South America, the last continent to be populated by modern humans, is a subject of intense debate, with some studies supporting one migration from Asia and others suggesting up to four separate waves. South Americans’ crania, or skulls, are highly diverse, but it is unclear whether the differences indicate multiple migrations or local diversification processes. Here, to differentiate between the possibilities of population divergence and gene flow between neighboring populations, Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel et al., studied three-dimensional digital representations of cranial data from Paleoamerican specimens from the Lagoa Santa region of Brazil. The results of the novel approach, which focused on three cranial regions (the vault, face and basicranium), suggested that Lagoa Santa Paleoamericans share a most recent common ancestor with a contemporary population in northeast Asia. The results also agree with some genomic studies, including those suggesting a link between Amazonian populations and Australasians. Additionally, the results support the use of cranial shape data to draw inferences regarding past population history, especially as genomic data may not be available to answer some questions about human prehistory.



 Drone view of the Lapa do Santo site, Brazil. Credit: Artur Magalhaes



 Burial 34 from the Lapa do Santo site, Brazil. Credit: Andre Strauss



 Paleoamerican skull from Burial 1, Lapa do Santo site, Brazil. Credit: Mauricio de Paiva


Article Source: Science Advances. Science Advances is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the nonprofit science society.


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 This richly illustrated issue includes the following stories: Recent findings shedding new light on the whereabouts of the remains of Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great; how an archaeologist-sculptor is bringing bones of the dead back to life; archaeologists uncovering town life at the dawn of civilization; an exclusive interview with internationally acclaimed archaeologist James M. Adovasio about what makes the Meadowcroft Rockshelter prominent in the ongoing search for the first Americans; what archaeologists are finding at the site of the ancient city of Gath, the home town of the biblical Philistine giant, Goliath; and how scientists are redrawing the picture of human evolution in Europe.  Find it on