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Something Completely Unexpected Happened to the First Settlers of South America

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Scott Morell
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One of these groups would eventually go on to settle South America, but as new genetic evidence shows, these two ancestral groups — after being separated for thousands of years — had an unexpected reunion.

Research from 2015 suggests a single wave of settlers arrived to North America from Eurasia, after which time they converged into two ancestral branches, a northern branch and a southern branch.

A research paper published today in Science suggests the latter scenario is the correct interpretation, and that the northern and southern ancestral groups reconverged and interbred thousands of years after splitting apart — an event the authors say could have only happened in North America, south of the receding ice sheets.

What’s more, the authors of the new study say this intermingling of ancestral populations happened before humans ventured into South America, or as the southern continent was receiving its first human visitors.

In total, the researchers presented four different possibilities, as illustrated in the diagram below.

A popular interpretation is that the northern branch spread eastward towards the Great Lakes region, possibly following the retreating glacial edges, and eventually giving rise to many Native communities living today in the the East.

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