In the last two decades, models to answer this question have been rapidly evolving. As researchers have worked to construct and test new models for the initial peopling of the Americas, they have increasingly incorporated evidence from the genomes of ancient peoples, which provide an archive of human population history. Ancient DNA has revealed a complex story of migrations, isolation, and adaptation, one which is still unfolding as more genomes are studied every year.
In this talk, we will examine the latest genetic and archaeological evidence for the origins of the First Peoples. We will piece together a story told by fragments of DNA recovered from a tooth in Siberia, by a small broken knife found deep below the surface of a muddy pond in Florida, by the footprints of children left thousands of years ago on the banks of an ancient lake in New Mexico. We will explore why the same pieces of evidence tell different stories to different groups of scholars.
A picture of this history is gradually coming into focus, but there are still many unanswered questions. We will discuss the future of genetics and archaeological research, and the ethical directions in which this field needs to go.
Jennifer Raff is an anthropological geneticist and science writer. She studied molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and biological anthropology at Indiana University, earning a dual-major PhD in the Biology and Anthropology departments before doing postdoctoral research at the University of Utah, Northwestern University, and the University of Texas. She is currently an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Affiliate Faculty with the Indigenous Studies Program, working with tribes and communities across North America to use ancient and contemporary genomes as tools for investigating historical questions. Her research focuses on the initial peopling of the Americas as well as more recent histories in the North American Arctic and mid-continent. She has written for the public on genetics, history, race, and science literacy at various places including the New York Times, The Guardian, Scientific American, and Forbes, and just published a New York Times bestselling book on the initial peopling of the Americas called “Origin: A genetic history of the Americas”. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
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