Thursday, November 21, 2013

An ancient Siberian child

Artist's drawing of the remains of the Mal'ta Boy and associated artifacts.
Image source.
DNA analysis of the remains of a human child from Russia has shed a bit more light on how humanity spread around the globe.  The Mal'ta Boy, as the specimen is called, was found in the late 1920s near the village of Mal'ta (not to be confused with the island nation of Malta) in south-central Siberia and was found buried with simple jewelry and tools.  The gender of the child was not known until the recent DNA analysis confirmed that he was male.  The results of the study were published online yesterday in Nature (subscription is required for viewing the entire article).

Upon comparing the Mal'ta Boy's DNA to modern people groups, the international team of researchers found that he had strong genetic links to both Native Americans and to western Europeans.  According to the authors, this means that early Europeans spread through Siberia, across the Bering Strait, and into North America without much mixing with eastern Asians.  Kelly Graf, one of the authors of the study and a professor of anthropology at Texas A&M added, "We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe."

The popular versions of both evolutionist and creationist models of human migration maintain that Native Americans originated in Siberia and migrated to North America via a land bridge between Russia and Alaska during the Ice Age.  The timing of these events, of course, differs between models.  In the evolutionary view, the first Americans arrived from Siberia around 14,500 years ago, likely following herds of mammoths and other tasty animals across the Bering land bridge.  In the creationist view, humans dispersed from Babel around 4200 years ago and quickly migrated around the globe, using the short-lived Bering land bridge to cross to North America.

The Mal'ta boy was dated at 24,000 years old, though the method of dating was not described, so I am unable to comment on it.  That date, however, is significantly older than the date of migration given in either migration model.  To the evolutionist, this means that the migrations may have happened earlier than archaeological evidence seems to suggest.  Obviously, the date does not fit into the creationist timeline, and it is unknown whether any evolutionary assumptions were made in the dating process.  The nature of the genome, however, does match nicely with the creationist model.  As Kelly Graf noted, these early people appeared to be very mobile, which would be expected if humans spread so quickly around the world from Babel.  This also explains the "primitive" nature of their tools and jewelry.  Creationists believe that ancient humans were much more intelligent than modern humans, but the fast and constant migrations would not have been conducive to developing advanced tools to carry around.  Rather, any tools that were needed were made on site and were left as the group moved on, possibly in search of arable land and/or in pursuit of productive animal herds.

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