24,000-Year-Old Siberian Boy Sheds New Light on Origins of Native Americans
Results from a DNA study of a young boy’s skeletal remains believed to be 24,000 years old could turn the archaeological world upside down — it’s been demonstrated that nearly 30 per cent of modern Native American’s ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia, according to a research team that includes a Texas A&M University professor.
Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and the University of California-Berkeley.
Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine.
Graf and Willerslev conceived the project and travelled to the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the remains are now housed to collect samples of ancient DNA.
The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.
“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male,” says Graf.
Graf helped extract DNA material from the boy’s upper arm and “the results surprised all of us quite a bit,” she explains.
“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, the Czech Republic and even Germany.
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.”
Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.
“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Graf explains.
The DNA work performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far, the study shows. Also found near the boy’s remains were flint tools, a beaded necklace and what appears to be pendant-like items, all apparently placed in the burial as grave goods.
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.
“Though our results cannot speak directly to this debate, they do indicate Native American ancestors could have been in Beringia — extreme northeastern Russia and Alaska — any time after 24,000 years ago and therefore could have colonized Alaska and the Americas much earlier than 14,500 years ago, the age suggested by the archaeological record.”
“What we need to do is continue searching for earlier sites and additional clues to piece together this very big puzzle.”
Valley of the Kings archaeologists unearth treasures in Siberia dating back 2,500 years
Archaeologists have discovered a large burial mound in the Siberian “Valley of the Kings” dating to more than 2,500 years ago.
The ancient tomb holds the remains of five people, including those of a woman and a toddler who was buried with an array of grave goods, such as a crescent moon-shaped pendant, bronze mirror and gold earrings.
The mounds were made by the Scythians — a term used to describe culturally-related nomadic groups that lived on the steppes between the Black Sea and China from about 800 B.C. to about A.D. 300.
The burial mound, known as a kurgan, is located near a previously excavated kurgan belonging to a Scythian chief. Given the proximity of the woman’s burial mound to the chief’s — only 656 feet (200 meters) away — and the valuable artefacts buried with her, “I think that she was a person of great importance in the society of nomads,” said Łukasz Oleszczak, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, who led the Polish team, which worked alongside Russian archaeologists at the site.
The crescent pendant stood out immediately, he added. “She was buried with this artefact that we had believed to be a sign of male burials,” because similarly shaped pendants had previously been found in men’s burials in kurgans in southern Siberia, Oleszczak told Live Science.
Archaeologists have known about the “Valley of the Kings” (a phrase coined by a journalist years ago, harkening to Ancient Egypt’s Valley of the Kings) for more than a century. This vast valley, known as Touran-Uyuk in Tuva, a Russian republic, is replete with numerous Scythian royal burials.
One of the previously excavated kurgans, dating to the eighth or ninth century B.C., holds the earliest known elite Scythian burial ever found. Most of these kurgans, however, have yet to be formally excavated, Oleszczak said.
At the invitation of Russian archaeologists, Oleszczak and his team conducted excavations in the valley during the 2019 and 2021 field seasons.
The kurgan, detected by aerial laser scanning, is about 82 feet (25 m) in diameter and has a destroyed, flattened centre, according to Science in Poland, a news site coordinated by the Polish government and independent journalists.
The kurgan is relatively short today — just 12 inches (30 centimetres) high, Oleszczak added.
During excavations, the archaeologists found the burials of five people. In one chamber, at the centre of the kurgan, the researchers found a looted burial chamber with weapons, including arrows, suggesting that a warrior had been buried there.
The team found the remains of the woman and child in an unlooted wooden burial chamber with three layers of beams.
The sheer amount of wood was likely a symbol of wealth, as “there are not many trees in that area,” Oleszczak said. “Wood is quite valuable.”
According to an anatomical analysis, the woman died at about age 50, and the child was 2 to 3 years old. Along with the crescent pendant, the woman was buried with a number of other grave goods, including gold ornaments near her head that were possibly part of a hat, an iron knife and an engraved wooden comb tied with a leather loop to a bronze mirror.
This comb-mirror duo had been placed in a leather bag. It’s not yet clear how the woman and toddler died, Oleszczak added.
Another burial in the kurgan held the remains of a young male warrior buried with weapons, including a knife, a whetstone and gold ornaments. The fifth burial was found in a pit on the kurgan’s outskirts.
This grave held the remains of a teenager. “Graves of children on the perimeter or just outside the ditch surrounding the barrow are a typical part of the funeral rites of this early Scythian culture,” Oleszczak told Science in Poland.
Using a metal detector, the archaeologists discovered evidence of bronze objects that were left around the kurgan’s perimeter, including dozens of horse-riding equipment pieces, a bronze axe and a goat-shaped ornament. These objects likely became scattered due to deep ploughing from a farm collective that existed in the area in the 20th century.
Discovery of “unique” burial containing 140 pieces of amber jewellery
A team of archaeologists from Petrozavodsk State University in Russia have unearthed the burial site of a Copper Age “amber man” who was painted with ocher upon his death and laid to rest with more than 100 pieces of jewellery.
The expedition took place on the western shore of Lake Onega, the second-largest lake in Europe, where archaeologist Alexander Zhulnikov led a team of students on the dig, according to a press release issued by the university.
The students discovered what a research paper describes as a “unique burial” surrounded by amber jewellery and flint objects.
Inside the narrow chamber, the man was painted with ocher, a red pigment often used to mark a grave so it wouldn’t be disturbed, and surrounded by about 140 pieces of amber jewellery from the Baltic region.
The man buried in the chamber was almost certainly of high social standing and may have been a trader himself from the Eastern Baltic States.
The objects included pendants, discs, and amber buttons “arranged in rows face down” and sewn onto a covering made of leather and placed over the body.
Another two tiers of amber buttons were found along the edges of the small grave.
The flint chips found are likely from tools placed over the body and “are clearly so-called votive items—offerings apparently symbolizing whole knives and arrowheads,” researchers said in their paper.
The unique aspect of this particular burial, they said, is that it is an individual grave.
Other burials dating to the Mesolithic era and found in the forest belt of Europe are large cemeteries.
Burials with such a large number of jewels were previously unheard of in this area of Karelia, nor have they been uncovered in nearby northwestern regions.
Flint deposits are also unknown in the region, indicating that ancient people must have obtained them through the exchange.
In a statement, Zhulnikov said the discovery “testifies to the strong ties of the ancient population of Karelia with the tribes that lived on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea” and to the “formation of the so-called ‘prestigious’ primitive economy” among those living in Northern Europe, where high-value objects like jewellery and tools helped create and maintain social hierarchies.
A Message From a Mysterious Ancient Culture in Siberia
On the right bank of the Askiz river, a unique archaeological site from the early first millennium C.E. has been found. It is associated with the enigmatic Tashtyk culture in ancient Siberia and for a change, it sheds light not only on how they died, but who they were.
The Tashtyks’ unusual funerary practices had already been described in numerous articles and research but we know little about how they lived before the evil day. Now at the new site dubbed Kazanovka 14, archaeologists have gained rare insight into their culture, their adaptations to the environment and their relationships in this “oasis” in southern Siberia.
The Askiz is a tributary of the Abakan River. It passes through the balmy Minusinsk Basin in the southern Siberian republic of Khakassia, where the previously unknown site was found during the field season of 2021.
The Minusinsk Basin is a territory bordered by mountains and forests, with abundant lakes, fertile land and the mildest climate in Siberia. One might call it an oasis of the steppe. The winter winds blow the snow away from the mountains, making the area a perfect place to keep sheep, who can roam freely. It is therefore little wonder that the Minusinsk hollow attracted semi-nomadic tribes and their flocks throughout history. Archaeologists over the years have uncovered sites of a number of cultures from the third millennia B.C.E. onward.
While performing construction works along the Mezhdurechensk–Tayshet railroad from 2019 to 2021, various sites from the Early Bronze Age to the later Middle Ages were discovered. These included burials of many cultures and settlements. One of the sites, called “Kazanovka 14,” was excavated in 2021.
The salvage excavation of Kazanovka 14 was carried out by Anton Vybornov of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS Novosibirsk, Russia, under the leadership of Timoshenko Alexey. It was here that the scholars found new evidence of how the Tashtyks lived their life, after finding the remains of a burned-down wooden structure, and a remarkable petroglyph – an engraved sandstone slab.
Their discoveries were reported in the journal of Problems of Archaeology, Ethnography, Anthropology of Siberia and Neighboring Territories. As Anton Vybornov told Haaretz, Kazanovka 14 was a Tashtyk seasonal camp, as indicated by characteristic finds known from the vast majority of burial grounds of which this “culture” is famous.
A little bit Scythian
The Tashtyk culture was common in the Khakassian Minusink basin, in southern Siberia, from almost 2,000 to about 1,600 years ago. But the culture is not easy to define, Vybornov says. In some ways, they seem to have carried on some Scythian traditions. In other ways, they evince Hunnic – Sarmatian types of cultures, mixed with local traditions known in the Basin. The Tashtyk culture is also considered to be a local southern Siberian phenomenon on which basis the later medieval Yenisei Kirgizian state would arise.
One thing we can be sure about is their idiosyncratic and colourful burial practices.
Tashtyk funerary practices involved either cremation or inhumation. The remains were buried either in box graves dug into the ground and lined by wood, or massive crypt burial mounds. The ash and cremated bones were put inside a leather bag that was then stuffed with dry grass. The bag was arranged inside a leather-dressed dummy, and a mask was placed on the area of the face.
In the case of Inhumation, which was also common, the deceased was dressed in leather. Their heads were wrapped with shrouds, orin any case a cloth tissue, and a mask was placed on top.
The masks were the most extraordinary feature of these burials. They were essentially portraits of the dead made using clay and plaster and embellished with red paint. On the forehead, a spiral was drawn, and the cheeks and chin were blushed with the paint as well.
Once the dummies or bodies had been prepared, they were placed in box graves or crypts, among grave goods, including pottery and metal vessels. The crypts were big, with a corridor leading inside. When its mortuary duty was finished, the crypt was sealed, burned, and covered, to stand for eternity overlooking the Basin. While we can say plenty about their way of death, as revealed by the abundance of Tashtyk burial sites and practices, we cannot say much about their way of life. Barely any Tashtyk settlements have been found, hence the importance of Kazanovka 14.
Just below the surface, three to 20 centimetres below the modern deposits, the archaeologists unearthed what seems to have been a seasonal campsite of this semi-nomads, who moved from winter to summer camps and practised farming throughout the years in this fertile land. In the southern part of the camp, they found a charred destruction layer that they believe came from a collapsed structure built of wooden sticks attached horizontally or vertically together. The excavators also detected holes in the ground in the area of the structure, indicating the placement of wooden posts that supported the walls and/or the ceiling.
There was also a hearth, and together with pottery vessels, bone and metal objects, and animal remains, there were several spots of burnt clay accumulations. This leads Anton to surmise that the structure might have been a potter’s workshop, a possibility worth considering even though the research is still basic and further analysis is required. Alternatively, the structure could have been a simple house, a hut, or even a yurt. It seems the site ceased to exist when the fire consumed the wooden structure and what was within, sealing the place for good – until it was uncovered by the expedition in 2021.
Kazanovka 14 not only sheds light on the Tashtyk way of life. It also opens a window to their artistic world and their perception of themselves and their surroundings. The fire might have burned down their house, but signs of the Tashtyks’ artistic spirit survived the conflagration long after their death. Among the ash and debris, the archaeologists found astragalus bones, which are animal ankle bones, with marks incised on them, including crosses, circles, and lines. These are familiar from other sites and might have been used as game pieces. A sense of spaceBut the most exciting discovery of the season was the engraved sandstone slab.
The depictions on the sandstone are divided into three panels. The lower has what seemed to be a stylistic representation of trees. The upper features three horizontal lines with smaller stripes in between. The middle panel was bordered by three vertical lines on each side with stripes in between, similar to the upper panel.
The panel’s centre is oddly empty, with some elements on the side and a semicircle in the middle. Despite its cryptic nature, Vybornov and his team were extremely excited by the find, a whisper left behind by these enigmatic people about themselves and their world, an unintentional message from the past. Learning about the finds and the burnt structure found in Kazanovka 14, and the petroglyphs on the slab, one wonders if it might show that very structure.
When asked about it, Vybornov said that it had been his first thought as well, but at this stage that remains pure speculation. Only further research and analysis of the material, and correlation to old and new finds hopefully to be made, can unveil what the message the Tashtykians wanted to deliver actually was.
How did an 8000-year-old community deal with climate change?
Cosmos Magazine reports that archaeologists including Rick J. Schulting of the University of Oxford have determined that Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov, a cemetery on an island in northern Russia’s Lake Onega, was used for a 200-year period during the so-called mini–Ice Age.
Some 8200 years ago, a great sluice of meltwater from a now-vanished ice sheet pulsed into the North Atlantic, causing a mini-Ice Age that lasted for around 200 years.
Across vast swathes of northern Europe, plant life began to change – broadleaf trees were outcompeted by hardier pines suited to the frigid temperatures – and animals and humans alike would have been forced to adapt to the sudden, drastic changes.
Now, in a new study out today in Nature Ecology & Environment, archaeologists from the University of Oxford have opened a small, misty window into this early Holocene upheaval, to see how one community changed in response.
The site, the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov (YOO) cemetery in northern Russia, sits on an island in the vast Lake Onega, 350 kilometres northeast of St Petersburg.
Radiocarbon dating of remains in the cemetery shows that it was mainly used for a short window of around 200 years, spanning some 10 generations and that its use coincided with this mini-Ice Age.
So why might people suddenly decide to organise their dead at a time of stress? The clue, the researchers say, lies in the lake.
Lake Onega would have been a relative paradise as freezing temperatures closed in. With its own microclimate and lush stores of fish and plant life, it would have drawn big game such as elk to its milder shores, as well as beleaguered humans on the hunt for food. At the same time, shallower lakes in the region would likely have experienced harsh winter fish kills.
That’s an awful lot of people milling into a small area – a well-known recipe for disaster. But humans are a resilient bunch, and the researchers believe the Lake Onega communities responded by building a more complex, more united society – their cemetery, the final resting place of their loved ones, was yet another display of social belonging and organisation.
The claim is a bold scientific leap, but it’s not unconvincing. Some 200 years on, when the climate improved, the cemetery was abandoned.
“Whatever ‘complexity’ we see at YOO,” the authors write, “was thus situational and reversible.”
Did this tight band of people disperse back into the landscape in smaller, nomadic groups? We’ll probably never know the exact truth of the events, but archaeology offers a tantalising vision of an ancient community in flux, at the mercy of a changing climate.
24,000-Year-Old Animal Found Alive After Being Preserved in Siberian Permafrost
During the Upper Paleolithic era, a multicellular organism was frozen almost the time in history when humans first set foot into North America. About 24,000 years later, it has been found alive after sleeping for millennia.
This turned out to be a very huge discovery and might have changed the theory of how long organisms and perhaps humans can be preserved for generations.
Discovery of Bdelloid Rotifer
Bdelloid rotifer – a freshwater creature – is too tiny to see with the naked eye, measuring around 150 and 700 μm. The microorganism can be found in waters around the world. This animal survived being frozen for many years through a remarkable means of cloning itself multiple times through an asexual reproduction form called parthenogenesis, according to Accuweather.
This discovery, therefore, brought about questions on the reversible standstill lack of life theory or mechanism of the cryptobiosis.
These findings were done by researchers from the Soil Cryology Laboratory in Pushchino, Russia. It was discovered from a soil sample collected from permafrost in northeastern Siberian.
This age discovery was really surprising to the researcher as it felt really unbelievable that the animal was alive and doing well.
The permafrost sample of this creature was collected from the Alazeya River, which flows from Siberia into the Arctic. Researchers also confirmed that there was no movement of the bdelloid rotifer due to the icy nature of the ground.
“The takeaway is that a multicellular organism can be frozen and stored as such for thousands of years and then return back to life – a dream of many fiction writers,” Malvin, an author on this study stated.
He further talked about how big this discovery was and how it has totally changed the ideology of organism preservation.
This discovery might have been revolutionary and has added to the small number of organisms that have been found to be able to survive such extraordinary timespans but more are still yet to be uncovered.
The more complex an organism becomes, the more difficult it is to preserve alive, like in mammals, as per Smithsonian Magazine.
Other Organisms That Survived Extraordinary Timespans
In Russia, a pair of prehistoric nematodes, also called roundworms, were discovered and successfully revived, it is said to have been between 30,000 and 42,000 years old.
Studies have shown that over the years, a lot of organisms have been revived from their frozen state but what makes this new discovery more interesting is that none of these past organisms is as complex as the bdelloid rotifer.
Additionally, there have been discoveries on the dead but frozen larger species like the 20,000-year-old woolly rhino that was discovered by a Siberian farmer in the area of Yakutia in 2021 and the 57,000-year-old Pleistocene grey wolf puppy, the most perfectly preserved animal of its kind.
More research is still to be made on this study. The hope is that insights from these tiny animals will offer clues as to how better to cryo-preserve the cells, tissues, and organs of other animals, including humans.
Did ‘unicorns’ co-exist with humans? Yes, but they were just rhinos
Sorry, guys, but I’m going to be a killjoy on this one. But first, the good news: According to a study published last month in the American Journal of Applied Science, a species called Elasmotherium sibiricum — the “Siberian unicorn” — went extinct much later than previously thought.
Researchers from Tomsk State University believe they’ve found fossil evidence of a Siberian unicorn prancing around just 29,000 years ago — more than 300,000 years after they were thought to have gone extinct.
Homo sapiens was stomping around by then, which means our ancestors may have encountered this beast.
Despite the image on that post, the Siberian unicorn was far from being, you know, a unicorn. It was a rhino.
Note that this finding isn’t cool: Whenever scientists discover evidence that something survived for hundreds of thousands of years past its assumed expiration date, it’s worth noting.
If the fossil — which is just a small fragment of the skull — was correctly categorized and radiocarbon dated, then it suggests that a small group of the species was able to survive in what’s now Kazakhstan, even as the rest of its kind died off.
Figuring out why that happened could help scientists understand how the planet was changing during that period and how resilient these kinds of animals are to climate shifts.
I just don’t get why we’re trying to pretend this rhino was a unicorn.
My roommate tried to convince me:
“Well, what’s the relative length and girth of the horn?” “I guess it’s slightly longer than a modern rhino.” “I rest my case.”
So that’s something, I guess. Forbes reports that the horn was “likely multiple feet long.”
Still, I have to agree with Ben Guarino at Inverse, who argues that the Siberian unicorn “was a unicorn in the same way that a seahorse is a mustang.”
We can’t even really entertain the idea that this shaggy beast inspired unicorn mythology, because the time and place it lived just doesn’t jibe with that.
Golden Pectoral and Bronze Mirror- Discoveries of Archaeologists in a Siberian Barrow
The archaeological site Chinge-Tey is located in the Touran-Uyuk valley in northern Tuva, a republic in the Asian part of the Russian Federation. It is called the ‘Siberian Valley of the Kings’ because of the many large barrows with rich equipment, dating back more than 2.5 thousand years. Some of them are referred to as princely barrows.
Last year, Polish archaeologists from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków discovered two intriguing graves. The first of them was in the central part of a destroyed, almost completely flattened barrow with a diameter of approx. 25 m. Almost invisible to the naked eye, It was detected by aerial laser scanning.
The wooden burial chamber, built in the framework of solid beams, contained the remains of two bodies. The chamber itself was covered with three layers of beams. The floor was covered with planks. According to the researchers, the deceased were a woman who died at the age of approx. 50 years old and a 2-3 years old child.
Next to the remains of the woman, the researchers found gold ornaments, an iron knife, a bronze mirror and a very well preserved wooden comb decorated with engraved ornament.
‘A particularly interesting artefact was a golden pectoral ornament, a decoration hung at the neck in the shape of a sickle or crescent’, says the head of the Polish part of the expedition, Dr Łukasz Oleszczak from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He emphasises that objects of this type, known from mounds in southern Siberia, have so far been found almost exclusively in the graves of men.
‘They were considered symbols of belonging to a social group, caste, perhaps warriors – in any case, men. Its presence in the grave of a woman is a very interesting deviation from this custom. This certainly confirms the unique role of the deceased in the community of the +Valley of the Kings+’, the archaeologist says.
He points out that the woman was buried in the central part of the tomb located in the immediate vicinity of the great barrow that, according to the researchers, belongs to a nomad prince. ‘It seems that, like the others buried in this barrow, she belonged to the prince’s entourage’, says Oleszczak.
He mentions the condition of the grave goods made from organic material. The researchers from the Polish-Russian expedition had previously found arrow shafts, an ice axe handle, a piece of a quiver. The woman’s grave contained a wooden comb connected with a leather loop to a mirror made of bronze. This set of cosmetic items was placed in the grave in a leather pouch.
The second grave discovered in the last season of excavation was located outside the ditch surrounding the barrow. It was the skeleton of a teenage child, placed in a small pit surrounded by stones. It did not contain any equipment.
‘Graves of children on the perimeter or just outside the ditch surrounding the barrow are a typical part of the funeral rites of this early Scythian culture’, adds Dr. Oleszczak.
The archaeologists also found evidence that a treasure of objects made of bronze was most likely deposited around the perimeter of the barrow at some point. Evidence of this is the discovery of tens of horse tack parts, a bronze ice axe, as well as an ornament in the form of a goat.
They were located with a metal detector. According to Dr. Oleszczak, the treasure was scattered by deep ploughing in the 20th century, when a kolkhoz operated near the cemetery.
In 2021, Polish archaeologists continued their research within the barrow they started to excavate two years earlier. Back then, they found two burials – a central, robbed one, and an intact side grave that contained the body of a young warrior, richly equipped with weapons, a knife, a whetstone and gold ornaments. This is one of the 10 tombs located in a row on the north-south axis in the western part of the cemetery.
According to the researchers, the graves come from the 6th century BCE, when the peoples of Scythian origin lived in these areas. According to the experts, it was the Aldy-Bel culture. In the early Scythian period, the Touran-Uyuk valley was one of the most important ritual centres of the Scythian and Siberian worlds. It was from there, from the mountains of southern Siberia, that the people originated who dominated the steppes of Eastern Europe.
The Scythians were known for being warlike. Their achievements have been described, among others, by the famous Greek historian Herodotus.
The research was supported by a grant awarded by the Polish National Science Centre. The excavations were carried out in cooperation with scientists from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, under the supervision of Konstantina V. Chugunova.