She died 11,500 years ago at the tender age of six weeks in what is now the interior of Alaska.
Dubbed “Sunrise Girl-child” by the local indigenous people, the remains of the Ice Age infant—uncovered at an archaeological dig in 2013—contained traces of DNA, allowing scientists to perform a full genomic analysis.
Incredibly, this baby girl belonged to a previously unknown population of ancient Native Americans—a discovery that’s changing what we know about the continent’s first people.
Genetic evidence published today in Nature is the first to show that all Native Americans can trace their ancestry back to a single migration event that happened at the tail-end of the last Ice Age.
The evidence—gleaned from the full genomic profile of the six-week-old girl and the partial genomic remains of another infant—suggests the continent’s first settlers arrived in a single migratory wave around 20,900 years ago.
But this population then split into two groups—one group that would go on to become the ancestors of all Native North Americans, and another that would venture no further than Alaska—a previously unknown population of ancient North Americans now dubbed the “Ancient Beringians.”