The recent discovery of the history of Americas’ peopling relied on the sequencing of 15 ancient human genomes - some older than 10,000 years old – scattered from Alaska to Patagonia. It provided direct genetic evidence of the spread of the first humans to arrive in, and spread across both North and South America, about 14,000 years ago.

One of the key findings of the paper suggests that the initial peopling of the Americas has been a quick process: “It only took the first people a few centuries to radiate from each other and expand across North America, and then another couple of thousand years to reach the Southernmost parts”, says Moreno-Mayar. “This reflects how fast these first Americans have been able to progress, exploit and adapt to completely new landscapes with dramatic weather differences, including desert, mountains, rainforests and swamps”.

The study of ancient migrations: a multidisciplinary endeavor
By studying ancient DNA, scientists are able to document the footsteps of the first people to explore the Earth. But such understanding hinges upon a tight interdisciplinary collaboration between local Indigenous groups, archaeologists, wet lab experts as well as computational biologists who use bioinformatics tools and approaches to make sense of the – often poor-quality – genetic data.

After this quick initial wave of peopling, the study also revealed subsequent migrations and interactions between the various groups – thereby painting a much complex vision of the peopling process than previously proposed, and raising new questions that now need to be investigated.
And following up on these findings with more local studies – for which more samples are required – is on Moreno-Mayar’s plans for the future. A PhD student at the University of Copenhagen under Eske Willerslev’s and Malaspinas' supervision at the time of the research, he has since joined Malaspinas’ group in Lausanne as a postdoc: “With a strong tradition in population genetics, statistics, and bioinformatics, Switzerland really is a good place to be to study ancient bones!” he says.

In Malaspinas’ Evolutionary Genomics Group, whose focus is the study of ancient and contemporary DNA to retrace the human colonization of the world, Moreno-Mayar plans to follow-up on the Americas’ peopling. He will also further his PhD research on Polynesian and Native Americans transpacific contacts that occurred about 2,000 years ago.


Moreno-Mayar J V et al. Early human dispersals within the Americas. Science 2018. DOI: 10.1126/science.aav2621