Linguistics has confirmed the prehistoric links between Siberia and the New World.
A new language study shows that the Beringia land bridge between Asia and North America was a two-way street 20,000 years ago. That’s when the Yeniseians, a central Siberian people, moved through Beringia to North America, where their descendents, the Na-Dene, settled along the North Pacific coast of America.
To confirm existing DNA and archaeological evidence of this Dene-Yeniseian connection, Researchers Mark Sicoli (Georgetown University) and Gary Holton (University of Alaska Fairbanks) used the computational phylogenetics tools of evolutionary biology researchers to trace the branches of this linguistic family tree.
By coding a linguistic data set from each of 40 North American languages and establishing relationships between the data using Bayesian analysis, Sicoli and Holton were able to match these linguistic links to previously known migration patterns from Asia to North America.
The researchers were also able to discover that the Dene-Yeniseians didn’t just cross the land bridge, but settled there for thousands of years, with some groups heading back to Siberia too.
The researchers modeled both an Out-of-Beringia hypothesis and an Out-of-Asia hypothesis and tested these against the linguistic data. “We found substantial support for the out-of-Beringia dispersal adding to a growing body of evidence for an ancestral population in Beringia before the land bridge was inundated by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age.”
“Our results support an argument that, if the Dene-Yeniseian connection is true, it more likely reflects radiation out of Beringia with both eastward migrations into North America and westward migration into Asia rather than a unidirectional migration from Asia to North Americam,” Sicoli writes.
“Sicoli and Holton are now applying computational phylogenetics to other languages around the world, such as the Alor-Pantar languages of Southern Indonesia and the Oto-Manguean language family of Meso-America,” reports Ker Than in a great summary. For the full monty, see Linguistic Phylogenies Support Back-Migration from Beringia to Asia
in PLOS ONE, open access, peer reviewed journal for scientific research.