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A 1999 episode of the BBC documentary series Ancient Voices claimed that the first people in the Americas were not the people we call Native Americans, but a much earlier group of Africans who shared a recent common ancestor with Australian aborigines. The scientists featured in the documentary identified remains found in Brazil as African based on cranial features. I don't think there was a single mention of DNA testing, which makes sense considering the date the documentary was made.

How did contemporary archaeologists respond to these claims? Has the evidence collected before 1999 been subjected to modern DNA testing?

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    The 1990's had DNA testing. – user36688 Apr 17 '17 at 22:15
  • @notstoreboughtdirt AFAIK, the kind of testing that could reveal the ancestry of an individual was just coming into existence in 1999, and was extremely expensive until around 2010. – Kevin Krumwiede Apr 17 '17 at 23:04
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    And if it aired in 1999, it happened as long as two years earlier. – fredsbend Apr 17 '17 at 23:06
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There is very little that can be said with great confidence about the earliest Americana. Various methods over the decades have been used to try to piece together American prehistory, and pretty much every attempt had given different conclusions. This is even true of normally reliable methods like mitochondrial DNA. There is a consensus that there are 4 distinct haplotypes (Toroni 2000 "Mitochondrial DNA and the origin of Native Americans", in "America past, America present) but no agreement of what history they represent.

Satoshu Horai (1993) argued for 4 separate waves of migration between 21 and 14,000 years ago. Toroni (1994) argued for 2 waves, the first around 29-22,000 years ago, the second somewhat later. Bonatto and Salzano (1997) ton much the same data as showing a single migration wave more than 25,000 years ago.

The problem is partly lack of data: by 2000 there were only 37 individuals whose remains date to before 9000 BC, and they are mostly just a few bone fragments (Chatters, 2000, "The recovery and first analysis of an early Holocene human skeleton from Kennewick, Washington", American Antiquity 65, 291-316)

The specific claim mentioned in the question appears to derive from Steele and Powell (1994, "Paleobiological evidence for the peopling of the Americas: a morphometric view" Method and Theory for Investigating the Peopling of the Americas pp 141-163) which is the origin of the claim that the pre 9000 BC remains are morphologically distinct from modern Native Americans, and have more in common with modern African features, or early aboriginal Australians (60,000 years ago).

Morphological similarity is far from being evidence of a close evolutionary association however.

All of which seems to amount to a resounding "nobody really knows right now, and there isn't conclusive evidence to support any particular theory".

  • Did you mean to type "the earliest Americana" or "...Americans"? – phoog Apr 17 '17 at 23:15
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    Please provide fuller citations than (e.g.) "Satoshi Horai (1993)". Ideally: a doi, URL and actual quote from the paper. – Oddthinking Apr 18 '17 at 1:40
  • All your citations predate the fast, cheap DNA sequencing that has revolutionized our understanding of human evolution and migration. AFAIK, this is the currently accepted hypothesis, and the evidence is considered conclusive: One Migration from Siberia Peopled the Americas. But note that this refers only to the people we know as Native Americans. It doesn't address the question of whether the skeletons in Brazil were of some other ancestry. – Kevin Krumwiede Apr 19 '17 at 5:37
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Currently the answer is 'no'. The first Homo-Sapiens migrated out of Africa across the Persian gulf into Asia. From there they migrated North and East eventually arriving in North America across the Bering Strait, then down the western seaboard into South America.

We are talking here though about Clovis and pre-Clovis people.

It is also possible that many thousands of years later, in early ancient history, people crossed directly from Africa to South America. This was tested a hypothesis by someone named Thor Heyerdahl, who took a boat made of reeds from Africa to South America. There is also a lot of circumstantial evidence, some of it quite powerful that suggests a direct link between the people of north africa and the people of western south and central america.

But certainly any people that did cross this way came in smaller numbers, and far later than the original human inhabitants of the Americas.

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    Welcome to Skeptics!Please provide some references to support your claims. – Oddthinking May 2 '17 at 14:12
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    Please read the actual claim. The claim is that the first group of Americans were more closely related to Africans and Australian aborigines than those we call Native Americans. Pointing out that all humans have an origin in Africa does nothing to address this claim. Also, Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki expedition that you link to was across the Pacific Ocean from South America to Polynesia. Wrong ocean. You need to link to something about the Ra boats, which were based on Egyptian designs I believe (and therefore wouldn't have been about the origin of Native Americans). – KAI May 2 '17 at 16:34
  • I think then I should have said, currently the answer is 'no'. All evidence (except the Brazil anomaly) suggests that humans spread from south asia north into America and south into Australia at roughly the same time, by different routes. He did it both ways history.com/this-day-in-history/heyerdahl-sails-papyrus-boat – Richard May 2 '17 at 16:50

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