Walking with the Ancestors Part 5-A

At this point in the series, there are two major branches we could follow. While we will end up exploring both branches in time, I have decided to tackle them one at a time. So the question before me was, east or west?

After much deliberation with folks on Facebook, which ultimately was futile and full of comments such as “weast” or “north”, I have decided to follow the eastern branch of my ancestry first. I have a couple of reasons why I choose the eastern branch. First, it’s not going to take as much time, as there are far fewer points on the eastern branch. Second, it is the one that piques my curiosity. I have a pretty good understanding of my ancestry, but doing this kind of thing always comes with its surprises. The eastern branch was one of those surprises, and something I didn’t really expect to show up.

But, it wouldn’t be any fun without discovering something new.

In addition, this post bridges better with the last chapter anyway, as I took some liberties to construct the story. Some of those liberties come from the time of the Mal’ta Boy, which is who we will be talking about this time around.

Mal’ta Boy Match; 11.64%

So let’s start with some context shall we?

The Danish-US research was carried out on the bones of a Siberian boy whose remains were found near the village of Mal’ta close to Lake Baikal in the 1920s in a grave adorned with flint tools, pendants, a bead necklace and a sprinkling of ochre. The remains are held in the world famous Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and analysis of a bone in one of his arms represents ‘the oldest complete genome of a modern human sequenced to date’, according to Science magazine.

‘His DNA shows close ties to those of today’s Native Americans. Yet he apparently descended not from East Asians, but from people who had lived in Europe or western Asia,’ said ancient DNA expert Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen. ‘The finding suggests that about a third of the ancestry of today’s Native Americans can be traced to ‘western Eurasia’.’ “ – Siberian Times

Malta

(We are at the yellow dot today, Ca. 27 kya) 

Just as a side note, I will say that the Siberian Times article is certainly worth the look, as it tells a lot of entangled stories. There is the tattooed “Princess Ukok” that was found in the Altai mountains, and dated to about 2,500 years ago. Ancient tattooing! Neat!

But I digress, so how about a little more context, this time from the New York Times, stating that the boy’s DNA held a couple of surprises;

The first is that the boy’s DNA matches that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed. Though none of the Mal’ta boy’s skin or hair survives, his genes suggest he would have had brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin.

The second surprise is that his DNA also matches a large proportion — about 25 percent — of the DNA of living Native Americans. The first people to arrive in the Americas have long been assumed to have descended from Siberian populations related to East Asians. It now seems that they may be a mixture between the Western Europeans who had reached Siberia and an East Asian population.

The Mal’ta boy was 3 to 4 years old and was buried under a stone slab wearing an ivory diadem, a bead necklace and a bird-shaped pendant. Elsewhere at the same site about 30 Venus figurines were found of the kind produced by the Upper Paleolithic cultures of Europe. The remains were excavated by Russian archaeologists over a 20-year period ending in 1958 and stored in museums in St. Petersburg.” – New York Times

This selection gives us a great deal of information, from what the boy actually looked like, to some of the items he was buried with. There are plenty of curiosities here, and I won’t have the space in a single post to detail them all.

But in the context of this piece, the interesting part is how his DNA shares traits with both Western Europeans, as well as Native American’s. This shows long migration routes all across the ancient world stretching from Western Europe to Asia and beyond. In addition, unlike some of the other sites I have discussed on this blog, the Mal’ta Boy was found with an assortment of other objects. Context is everything in archaeology, and it is the context that the boy was found it that tells us a lot about how he lived and the people he spent his life with.

I made no secret of the fact that I used some of the finds from Mal’ta as inspiration for the previous story in this series. Unlike the finds of femurs, or teeth, when archaeologists come across finds like Mal’ta, they tell us a great deal. Here is just a brief example from the New York Times article;

The Mal’ta people built houses that were partly underground, with bone walls and roofs made of reindeer antlers. Their culture is distinguished by its many art objects and its survival in an unforgiving climate.” – New York Times

And at least one of my ancestors was there, living in one of those houses. That is something that is kind of mind blowing to think about. I would have been related to both his parent’s as well, and this young boy would have likely been raised in a village/tribe of hunter-gatherer’s in ancient Siberia.

But before I digress too much, there are some important elements of this story that still need to be told. The Mal’ta Boy is but one link in a chain, of a long migration route across the ancient world, and across the Beringian land bridge and into North America. I did say we were heading east after all.

Here is a quote from the New York Times;

The other surprise from the Mal’ta boy’s genome was that it matched to both Europeans and Native Americans but not to East Asians. Dr. Willerslev’s interpretation was that the ancestors of Native Americans had already separated from the East Asian population when they interbred with the people of the Mal’ta culture, and that this admixed population then crossed over the Beringian land bridge that then lay between Siberia and Alaska to become a founding population of Native Americans… “ -New York Times

Which is where we are heading next with this series, across the Beringian land Bridge and into North America. But that is the next chapter of this series.

Over the ocean and through the woods, to the Clovis Culture we go…

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

There are plenty of other goodies to be found out in internet land! I have included a couple more articles here that I did not specifically reference in my post. Enjoy!

Nature

BBC

Siberian Times

New York Times

Wikipedia (Mal’ta-Buret Culture)

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

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