Origin: What genetics tells us about the peopling of the Americas

Sep 29, 2022, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
219 Aaron Burr Hall
Event Description

How--and when--did people first come to the American continents? 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, and how these narratives can be situated with respect and humility alongside the ancient knowledge held by present-day Indigenous descendants.

A picture of this biological history is gradually coming into focus, but there are still many unanswered questions. We will discuss the future of genetics and archaeological research, the history of harms done to Native peoples through the study of their origins by scientists, and the ethical directions in which this field needs to go.

Jennifer Raff
is an American geneticist and an assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Kansas. She specializes in anthropological genetics relating to the initial peopling of the Americas and subsequent prehistory of Indigenous populations throughout North America.

Agustín Fuentes
is a Professor in the Anthropology Department. His research focuses on the biosocial, delving into the entanglement of biological systems with the social and cultural lives of humans, our ancestors, and a few of the other animals with whom humanity shares close relations.