By Michael Marshall, 26 January 2022
WHO were the first people to reach the Americas?
When did they get there, and how?
These are among the most mysterious questions in prehistory, and have long been studied using traditional archaeology: bones, artefacts and so on.
In recent years, however, the field has been revolutionised by genetic data. DNA from living people and preserved remains has both enhanced and transformed our understanding of the continents’ First Peoples (those who were on the continent before Europeans arrived) and how they got there.
Jennifer Raff is a genetic anthropologist at the University of Kansas who has been involved in many studies of ancient American DNA, so she is an ideal guide to the subject. Her book Origin bills itself as “a genetic history of the Americas”, and it largely delivers on that promise. The final third of the book, in particular, draws on genetic and archaeological evidence to tell the story as we see it now.
This section is a model of clear and nuanced explanation: Raff highlights the uncertainties and caveats, but doesn’t allow them to overwhelm the story.