Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume, the world's deepest lake, the world's clearest lakes and possibly the world's oldest lake. That probably made it attractive to early humans, since the area contains evidence of some of the oldest settlements in Russia. (It may also be why it’s attractive to UFOs.) The significance and history of Lake Baikal make a recent discovery in North America even more exciting – researchers sequencing the oldest known human genomes from the area have found significant connections to the First Peoples of the Americas.
“The Upper Paleolithic genome will provide a legacy to study human genetic history in the future.”
Dr. Cosimo Posth is the leader of the Human Paleogenomics group at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science and senior author of a new research paper published in the journal Cell. The Upper Paleolithic genome he’s referring to came from a fragmented 14,000-year-old found in 1976 at the Ust-Kyahta-3 site on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. The Upper Paleolithic age occurred between 50,000 and 12,000 years ago. Using the latest tools, Posth and his team matched the genetic mixture of this tooth to that of a Mesolithic era (15,000 to 5,000 years ago) individual from northeastern Siberia. This showed the early Lake Baikal humans had the wanderlust gene … at least in
and around Siberia. But did they eventually wander thousands of miles across the frozen link to North America during the Bronze Age (3100–300 BCE)?
“This individual from southern Siberia, along with a younger Mesolithic one from northeastern Siberia, shares the same genetic mixture of Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) and Northeast Asian (NEA) ancestry found in Native Americans, and suggests that the ancestry which later gave rise to Native Americans in North- and South America was much more widely distributed than previously assumed. Evidence suggests that this population experienced frequent genetic contacts with NEA populations, resulting in varying admixture proportions across time and space.”
According to the Max Planck press release, the answer is a qualified “yes.” The Lake Baikal wanderers intermingled in a gene-sharing way with the early Northeast Asians, who then crossed the bridge to become the first inhabitants of North America and the ancestors of the First Peoples. That’s close enough for headline writers and Dr. Posth, who says more genetic evidence from Upper Paleolithic Siberian groups will help fill in the gaps in the ancestral gene pool of Native Americans.
In this age of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s interesting to note that this same genetic study uncovered more evidence of how the plague (bubonic, pneumonic and septicemic) first spread. The researchers tracked Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that can infect humans with the plague via the Oriental rat flea. The two Siberian individuals both showed evidence of it, which was significant to co-author Maria Spyrou of the Max Planck Department of Archaeogenetics.
“This easternmost appearance of ancient Y. pestis strains is likely suggestive of long-range mobility during the Bronze Age.”
Proof once again that you can run but you can’t hide from your genome.