Using Ancient DNA to Uncover the Hidden History of Patagonia

Dr. Marta Alfonso examines an 4,000-year-old skull from Patagonia, Chile (by Miguel Vilar)

How far will Genographic Project scientists go to help reveal where we came from? Geographically-speaking the answer may be Puerto Williams, the southern tip of Chile where jagged snow-covered mountains meet the blue sea creating a drastic and unforgettable landscape. Genographic Project grantee Dr. Marta Alfonso has immersed herself in this corner of South America to analyze dozens of ancient human skeletons, some from southern Chile’s earliest known settlers.

Dr. Marta Alfonso examines a 4,000-year-old skull from Patagonia, Chile. (Photo by Miguel Vilar)

Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego, and the surrounding islands of Chile and Argentina are some of the most remote places on Earth where humans have lived since the Ice Age ended some 10,000 years ago. The earliest known evidence of human occupation in southern Patagonia is approximately 12,000 years old in the form of chipped stone tools, while some of the oldest human skeletons found in various parts of Patagonia are almost as old.

“Of all places in the world, southern Chile is one of the most important anthropologically, historically, and biologically-speaking,” noted Dr. Alfonso. “As the southernmost point in the Americas, and arguably the Earth’s southern tip, this area provides a baseline against which we can answer —> Read More Here


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