By analyzing mitochondrial haplogroups groups of closely related maternal lineages present within individuals from all three populations, Dugan et al. This happens to be one of the most fundamental questions that arises when studying the past: In the case of Newfoundland, the three groups were genetically distinct; they do not share any maternal haplogroups except for haplogroup X2a, lineages of which were found in both the Maritime Archaic and Beothuk.
The presence of haplogroup X2a in North American populations has sometimes been cited as evidence for European ancestry in ancient Americans. Apart from that single exception, the Maritime Archaic, Paleo-Inuit, and Beothuk are clearly genetically distinctive from one another.
While they indicate that the groups are genetically different from each other, does that mean that there was no shared ancestry between them at all? I hope that the authors of this study will follow up with analyses of complete genomes from these ancient individuals, as there is a great deal more to be learned by looking more deeply at their ancestry. As this study shows, we can learn a lot about the past by characterizing the genomes of ancient and contemporary peoples.
This paper by Duggen et al. While writing up this article, I was appalled although not surprised that there is at least one personal ancestry testing company that has made the claim that they can help you determine whether or not you are Beothuk based on your DNA. First, this is because there simply are no currently known genetic markers that allow us to identify individual tribes or nations; although we see geographically patterned genetic variation throughout the Americas in ancient and contemporary populations which allows us to differentiate them as done in this study , genetic lineages are not tribal or nation-specific.
For more in-depth discussions of the issues regarding genetics and Native American identity, see here and here and the reading below.
Duggan AT et al. Current Biology 27 A new history of the first peoples in the Americas.
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