Lapa do Santo (Brésil) : Skull Similarities Suggest Multiple Migrations into South America

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32237829983 cfff80b52fPaleoamerican skull from Burial 1, Lapa do Santo site, Brazil. Credit: Mauricio de Paiva

Some South Americans, a new report finds, share a last common ancestor with modern populations in Asia – a result that suggests multiple waves of migration into the Americas. The flow of early humans into South America, the last continent to be populated by modern humans, is a subject of intense debate, with some studies supporting one migration from Asia and others suggesting up to four separate waves. South Americans’ crania, or skulls, are highly diverse, but it is unclear whether the differences indicate multiple migrations or local diversification processes. Here, to differentiate between the possibilities of population divergence and gene flow between neighboring populations, Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel et al., studied three-dimensional digital representations of cranial data from Paleoamerican specimens from the Lagoa Santa region of Brazil. The results of the novel approach, which focused on three cranial regions (the vault, face and basicranium), suggested that Lagoa Santa Paleoamericans share a most recent common ancestor with a contemporary population in northeast Asia. The results also agree with some genomic studies, including those suggesting a link between Amazonian populations and Australasians. Additionally, the results support the use of cranial shape data to draw inferences regarding past population history, especially as genomic data may not be available to answer some questions about human prehistory.

33011510306 131998622bDrone view of the Lapa do Santo site, Brazil. Credit: Artur Magalhaes

32207974764 9f858033cfBurial 34 from the Lapa do Santo site, Brazil. Credit: Andre Strauss

Evolutionary population history of early Paleoamerican cranial morphology

Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel / André Strauss / Mark Hubbe

Science Advances  22 Feb 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 2, e1602289
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1602289