In the heated controversy about DNA and the Book of Mormon, critics have insisted that science has “proven” that the origins of ancient Americans were exclusively from northern Asia via the Bering Strait. Part of the typical LDS response has been to point out that a scientific understanding of the origin of ancient Americans is still in its infancy and far from complete. We have also pointed out that genes from ancient immigrant groups can vanish from the collective gene pool or be overlooked, and that some ancient groups may have come from other places even if the majority of ancient Americans came from Asia. The accuracy of such statements has just been underscored by news about an important discovery: a portion of ancient Americans may have come from Australia, southern Asia, and the Pacific rather than from northern Asia. This is reported in a BBC news story, “Tribe Challenges American Origins” by Paul Rincon on Sept. 7, 2004 (also see First Americans May Have Been Aussies from Reuters). This does not directly relate to Book of Mormon issues, but does underscore the inconclusive state of studies on ancient origins of the Americans, and shows how inaccurate our critics have been in their interpretation of science.
The article discusses evidence for the theory that some of the first inhabitants of this continent came “from Australia via Japan and Polynesia and down the Pacific coast of America.” (Say, doesn’t that imply boats were used?) A portion of these ancient Americans survived as the Pericues tribe of Baja California, but they died out in the 17th century.
If the claims about Australian origins for the earliest Americans are correct, it would seem that a significant source of genes in the ancient Americas has been missed by DNA analysis. Studies of mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes among Native Americans and in remains of ancient Americans have highlighted Australia as a source of origin for ancient inhabitants. How could the Australian connection have been missed in previous studies? It could easily happen. The genes of a minority group may be spread all over a continent without any of the mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome surviving. These two types of DNA are passed along purely maternal or paternal lines, and can easily be lost due to intermixing, even though other genes from the minority group persist. If you go back 10 generations in your own ancestry, your genealogy tree will have 1024 slots for all the ancestors who contributed to your genetic makeup, but your mitochondrial DNA came from only one woman out of that group, and your Y chromosome (if you are male) came from one man. Testing your mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosome only tells you something about 2 people out of 1024. The others have essentially “vanished” from the test results.
Stayed tuned: there is so much that we have yet to learn about the origins of ancient Americans. One thing is for sure: the fact that many modern Native Americans may have genes pointing to north Asian origins says nothing about the possibility of a man named Lehi bringing a small group of people to this continent around 600 B.C. Book of Mormon critics are making far too much out of the molehill they are dancing on.