Ancient North Eurasians lived in Siberia during the Ice Age. Their DNA is a genetic ‘missing link’ between Europeans, Iranians, Siberians and the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Japan.
Ancient North Eurasians lived 25,000 years ago, during the last Glacial Maximum. At the time, homo sapiens lived-in scattered bands across Africa, Eurasia and Australia who seldom met. Some groups survived and passed on their genes; others did not. As these bands lived in different climates and lived distinct lifestyles for thousands of years, they tended to look different. Because most modern peoples descend from numerous lineages, groups like the Ancient North Eurasians do not correspond to any one people today.
Ancient hunter-gatherers periodically returned to the same sites where they deposited tools, the bones of hunted animals and their dead. Archaeologists link sites to common cultures. Archaeogeneticists connect archaeological sites with genetic lineages.
Three sites are associated with the Ancient North Eurasians:
- Mal’ta Buret’ culture
- Yana Rhinocerous Site
- Anfontova Gora
Remains indicate the ANE were hunter-gatherers with partial Neanderthal ancestry. They hunted hares, bears, bison, mammoths, horses and reindeer and built their houses from antlers and bone. Their tools were made from ivory and flint, their clothes from wool and hide. The Mal’ta Buret culture left over 30 ‘Venus figurines’ made from mammoth ivory (pictured). A 2021 study suggests ANE were the first people to domesticate dogs.
The Mal’ta boy was a four-year-old child buried near Lake Baikal, Siberia. He wore an ivory crown, a bead necklace and a pendant shaped like a bird. Genetic sequencing indicates the boy was a typical Ancient North Eurasian who shares DNA with both modern Europeans and Native Americans.
Until the 2000s, scientists thought Native Americans were of entirely East Asian origin. The Mal’ta boy, however, shares no DNA with modern East Asians, indicating the humans who first crossed the Bering Landbridge were of mixed East Asian and ANE ancestry.
Preserved bodies like the Mal’ta boy had brown hair, dark eyes and medium-light skin. The Anfontova Gora site contains the oldest known person to have blonde hair – a woman living around 16,000 BC.
Over time, the Ancient North Eurasians dispersed and interbred with different populations. In the west, they became herders who spoke proto-Indo-European languages. Others interbred with hunter-gatherers from East Asia, crossed the Bering Land bridge and populated the Americas.
Estimated ANE ancestry among modern peoples:
- Indigenous Americans – 14-38 (highest among Andean peoples)
- Modern Europeans – 10-25%
- Ainu – 21%
- South Asians (Indians) – 10 – 20%
- Iranians – 10-20%
The Kets (above), an isolated group of Siberian hunter-gatherers, have 40% Ancient North Eurasian ancestry.
By noting common elements across mythologies, legends and folk beliefs of their descendants, we can theorise what the ANE might have believed. The traditions of India, Scandinavia, Greece, Siberia and the Americas – from the Sioux to the Aztec – have only one ‘mytheme’ in common: a dog who guards the entrance to the afterlife.
Sources: BBC, DNA Consultants, Nature, National Library of Medicine
- ANE descended groups:
- Norse Mythology