Newly-identified Male Lineage May Reshape the Story of the First Americans


05 July 2022
Kevin Segura, a 62 year-old man from Portland, Ore., was hoping to learn more about his own ancestry when he took a DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) in 2021
An Oregon man discovers his lineage is shared with an ancient man, whose remains were found in Nevada’s Lovelock cave.

Their lineage is distinct to all other previously-known paternal lineages, helping researchers to further understand early human migratory patterns in the Americas.

Kevin Segura, a 62 year-old man from Portland, Ore., was hoping to learn more about his own ancestry when he took a DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) in 2021. Some years before, he had learned from his mother that his biological father was a man of Native American ancestry that he had never met. Although initially surprised by the news, he eventually made efforts to contact his biological father, and learn more about his Native American heritage.

Segura decided to take the Family Finder test and through MyOrigins® learned that he had a large percentage of recent Native American ancestry. However, to learn more about his father’s story Kevin needed a Big Y test, the most-detailed analysis of direct patrilineal ancestry on the market and available only through FTDNA. What he soon learned from his Big Y was that his connection went much deeper than one generation. 

Segura shared ancestry with an ancient man whose remains were discovered in Lovelock cave in northwestern Nevada, and their shared lineage matched no other lineage for nearly 15,000 years. And his unique link could have implications that go back to the story of first Americans, and a possible unknown migration into the continent.

The First Americans

The story of the first Americans is one that fascinates millions of people across both American continents, including Segura. Today, that story continues to be shrouded in mystery.  Various accounts with differing timelines and entry points have taken shape over the years. These accounts range from origin stories born within ancient cultures to data that is continuously updated through research and discovery across multiple scientific disciplines. This new FTDNA finding was one of those discoveries.

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Waves of Migration

The two known haplogroup Q migrations into Americas, Q-M3 and Q-Z780. The Y-DNA from Kevin and Lovelock4 would show a third haplogroup migration that we estimate happened between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago

The most widely-accepted hypothesis as to how the Americas were first populated, suggests there were at least two waves of migrations from northeast Asia through Alaska. Early migrants travelled across the now-submerged landmass of Beringia. When they first crossed Beringia these trekkers met a wall of ice blocking entry into northwestern Canada. Therefore, from Beringia the first pathfinders may have entered North America along the Pacific Coast, possibly as early as 25,000 years ago. To do so, they would have needed to move quickly and precisely on rudimentary watercraft, following the coastline southeast from Alaska’s islands into the unglaciated parts of North America, the Pacific Northwest. 

FTDNA haven’t found any 25,000 year-old human remains that would offer direct evidence, because they’ve presumably long been lost to the receding Pacific coast. Yet, recently-unearthed footprints in New Mexico are indirect evidence that people walked across the southwestern United States by 23,000 years ago. Before that discovery, the earliest date for human presence was from human-altered environments in southern Chile, between 18,000 and 14,500 years ago. 

Both indirect forms of evidence provide dates of entry that are earlier than geologists indicate would have been possible to enter North America across land. Geologists suggest that a traversable ice-free land corridor opened connecting central Alaska, through western Canada, to the great plains of the United States around 12,500 years ago—a path long touted by archaeologists as the doorway of the Americas, but one that remained blocked until that time. 

Anzick-1 and Clovis 

However, that date of 12,500 year ago surfaces again in south central Montana, at the southern end of the land corridor, in association with a set of remains from a young child discovered in 1968 known as Anzick-1. Further, Anzick-1 is directly associated with Clovis spear points, a stone-tool technology found widespread across the Americas by 12,000 years ago. Named for the town of Clovis (also in New Mexico) where the first spearhead was discovered, this technology suggests that early American people were land-dwelling, big-game hunters and lived widespread across both continents. Luckily for the researchers, after 12,000 years, evidence of human occupation is plentiful. 

Lithic and osseous tools recovered from the only known Clovis burial site, discovered in Montana in 1968 and found in association with the Clovis-child, whose genome reveals close genetic affiliation with all contemporary Native Americans. (Photo: Sarah Anzick)

But following through with the two-migration hypothesis would suggest that at 12,500 years ago Clovis was not the first migration, but was possibly the second; and Anzick-1 is directly associated with, and possibly exemplary of, Clovis. So, now the question remains: What happened in the Americas before Clovis 12,500 years ago, and the opening of the corridor.

Haplogroup Q

DNA analysis shows that Anzick-1 was male, and his Y chromosome DNA belonged to haplogroup Q. The researchers can further subgroup him into the Q-Z780 clade. For decades researchers have known haplogroup Q to be quite common among Amerindian populations, in some groups it accounts for 100% of male lineages; however, Q-Z780 is not the one found across thousands of individuals.

The title of most common Amerindian male lineage goes to Q-M3. Q-M3 is found from Alaska to Greenland, down to Tierra del Fuego. Quick calculations suggest that all Q-M3 DNAs across the continents share a common ancestor 12,000 years ago and the group shares an ancestor with Eurasian types 14,000 years ago. Furthermore, all Q-M3 and Q-Z780 share an even older ancestor some 14,800 years ago. 

So, if we assume that Q-Z780 is the signature for Clovis, which entered through the land corridor, then Q-M3 could have only entered the Americas after they split, either through the same corridor and/or a contemporary coastal route. Following that reasoning, neither of the two Q lineages would be a candidate for the earliest Americans or the New Mexico footprint culprits. Researchers need to find a lineage that split from the rest of haplogroup Q 23,000 years ago or earlier, and they don’t have it.

How Segura and Lovelock are linked

Segura understood that anthropological reasoning perfectly when we discussed it on the phone. How so? Well in 2018, before FTDNA sequenced Segura’s Y chromosome DNA, a group of us researchers published an Ancient DNA manuscript that included DNA from four 1,800 year-old individuals unearthed in the Lovelock cave of northern Nevada. One of those individuals, Lovelock-4, had a unique haplogroup Q signature (Q-FTC17883) that matched neither Q-M3 nor Q-Z780. In 2022, FTDNA’s phylogenetic specialist Michael Sager discovered that Segura’s DNA matched Lovelock-4, and neither matched any other Q individual for more than 15,000 years of evolution. 

The lineage shared between Segura and Lovelock-4 split apart from the rest of the Q lineages during the Pleistocene era, a time when the ice-free corridor was impassable and the only entryway to the unglaciated Americas, including Oregon and Nevada, was along the Pacific Coast. Could their shared lineage be evidence of an early coastal migration, a signature that was almost entirely lost upon the subsequent arrival of Q-M3, which would then become the dominant lineage across both continents?

Cave where Lovelock-4 was found.

Segura was elated to learn about his ancient connection to the Lovelock Sample unearthed in Paiute territory in northwestern Nevada. He has never met his father, but learned his father’s name from his mother, as well as the fact that he was Native American. Through some luck and genealogical research, he eventually found an online video of his father, a member of the Oregon Paiute community. Upon watching the video, the inescapable family resemblance made him realize that he was watching an older version of himself, confirming in his heart the family connection. Nonetheless, Segura currently remains disconnected from the Burns-Paiute tribe, since he does not have a genealogical nor a confirmed biological connection to them or to his father. 

That said, Segura shares Q-FTC17883 with an ancient Lovelock sample in traditional Paiute territory, adding data to his story and showing a previously unknown ancient link between him and this region of the Pacific Northwest. Furthermore, that connection could be indicative of a very ancient surviving Native American lineage. Likewise, a man from haplogroup Q-FTC17883 could also have entered the Americas from Asia as recently as 1,800 years ago. In either case, more data is needed before making any grand conclusions, including the discovery of other closely-related lineages in either Asia or other parts of the Americas. And for that, stay tuned as more testing is already underway.

Meanwhile, Segura hopes to grow closer to the tribe and hopes to meet tribal members with whom he may share some deep connections. FTDNA hope new data from groups in Nevada, Oregon and other parts of the region continue to pour in. Each new data point adds bits of information to the fascinating, and evolving story of the Peopling of the Americas.

About the author

Dr. Miguel Vilar was a Senior Program Officer for the National Geographic Society (NGS) and Lead Scientist for NGS’ Genographic Project, a multi-year anthropology study that aims to map human migration patterns by collecting and analyzing DNA samples from hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. By training, Vilar is a molecular anthropologist and science writer.

Vilar earned his Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Haverford College and Master of Arts in Journalism from Columbia University.  After a few years of science writing he returned to school to earn his Master of Arts and Doctorate in Anthropology from Binghamton University. After earning his doctorate, Vilar worked for the University of Pennsylvania leading several field projects across Latin America for the Genographic Project’s North America Research Center.

Today, his fieldwork takes him to Micronesia, Melanesia, South and Central America, and the Caribbean; and in the laboratory he studies the modern genetic diversity of human populations from the Pacific, South America, and the Caribbean. He also researches the genetics of domestic animals (pigs, chickens, dogs and horses) and the cultural and biological implications of animal domestication on human evolution, population history and migration.

In addition, Vilar is a professor of Biology and Anthropology and publishes in both anthropology and genetics academic journals, as well as in popular print and online magazines. Vilar is also a public speaker, writer, and consultant with Family Tree DNA.


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