Does DNA Prove Asian Origins?

There were many migrations from the Old World in the peopling of the New World, and it is not certain that all of them were from Asia according to Thomas D. Dillehay in his book The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistory. Recent discoveries in southern Chile at Monte Verde and elsewhere are proving conclusively that there were already people here when the Clovis point people came across the Bering land bridge from Asia at the end of the last ice age. Dillehay’s research, according to the reviews of this book, is overturning more than a century of “scientific” dogma and creating a new paradigm in the understanding of American paleoanthropology. One review states:

The first authoritative account to present the new paradigm in American archaeology about the origin of early American culture.Who were the first Americans? Where did they come from, when did they get here, and how did they settle the Americas? Until three years ago, the “Clovis” people were credited as the pioneers, arriving across the Bering land bridge at the end of the last Ice Age, no earlier than 12,000 B.C. Now that standard scientific account has been demolished.

As the principal investigator since 1977 at Monte Verde, Chile, the most important site in overturning the old theories, Thomas Dillehay spent many years being dismissed for his insistence on the presence of “impossibly” ancient human artifacts dating back 20,000 years. In the past few years he has been soundly vindicated, and in this book he presents a highly readable account of who the earliest settlers are likely to have been, where they may have landed, and how they dispersed across two continents.

Dillehay, in the last chapter of his book, also suggests that there may have been ancient immigration from Europe by people following ancient shorelines and the ice sheets that covered much of the northern hemisphere at one time. Further, he makes the point that many of these groups may have become extinct. At one point he writes:

How did the first Americans get here? Again, our most confident answers are the vaguest: They likely came from somewhere in Asia. There are a few hints in the genetic and archaeological records of a late Ice Age migration from ancient Europe as well. We don’t know whether people came by way of the Bering land bridge or followed the Pacific coastline into the New World. Yet whether by land or by sea, archaeologists often suppose that people followed a straight path from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, as if they had been issued a road map or the force of gravity pulled them toward Antarctica. In reality, there was undoubtedly much backtracking and lateral movement as people spread out into new environments. In fact, recent genetic evidence suggests that North American populations may have been migrating back into Siberia around 10,000 B.P. or earlier. And as David Meltzer has pointed out, some migrations may have failed, leaving behind no genetic or linguistice traces. And any archaeological remains they left behind would be hard to detect or understand.

How is this book relevant to Mormonism? It is relevant in that it clearly demonstrates how ignorant science is on the subject of human migrations into the New World. Apparently much of what has been taught is proving to be mistaken. In the discussion of linguistic and genetic evidence it becomes clear that humans have been in the New World since long, long before scientists thought. What other mistakes may the scientists have made? Recent discoveries leave more questions than answers. Why should we assume that DNA research “disproves” the Book of Mormon when it cannot even determine the origins of all the various groups that have come to the Americas in the past? As pointed out in Dillehay’s book, and as suggested by the Kennewick Man recently discovered in eastern Washington state, modern American Indians are probably not related to groups who arrived earlier and whom they displaced.

Another point that Dillehay makes is how reluctant scientists are to abandon their long cherished dogmas. And as a result of that reluctance, the profession as a whole is apt to dismiss evidence that does not already fit into their cherished beliefs, not to mention their reluctance to look for evidence that they are certain they won’t find. In past years, American paleoanthropologists have dug only until they found Clovis point remains, and then they have stopped digging because they assumed they had reached the earliest level. Who knows what they might have found if they had continued to dig?

For myself, I’d like to have a little more scientific evidence before I give up my fervent belief in the Book of Mormon. Even with the fossil record, linguistics and DNA research, there is a lot we don’t know about the peopling of the Americas. Who knows? Maybe Zelph really was an ancient Lamanite warrior.


5 Responses to Does DNA Prove Asian Origins?

  1. Lyn H. Wall says:

    John-Has President Hinckley made any official statement reguarding this issue? I, like you, am going to need much more proof positive evidence before I sacrifice my beliefs, but I think that this is an issue that serves to tear the church apart more so than any other of it’s kind. I think our Prophet should be seeking Guidance from the Lord, in order to sustain his church. Now mind you, there are too many positive things in this gospel that magnify my testimony, and if I found out that the DNA issue was not resolved in our favor, I would remain in this church, because I still believe it ‘s core of organization and basic belief system is closer to that of the original Church as established by the Savior, than any other Church on the face of the earth. Given that opinion, I have to believe, or I almost know, that eventually, the church will battle the forces of Satan in it’s conclusion that DNA of American Indians is revelant to those in Ancient Israel. However, this will be a hard ball to knock out of the park.

  2. I am not deriding science. Rather I am quoting a prominent, genuine scientist to deride those pseudo-scientists who make a personal religion out of science. Those who use science in an effort to discredit the Book of Mormon invariably overstate their case and state as “facts” what real scientists would call “theories” or “hypotheses.”

    In the present case, Dillehay clearly uses tentative language underlining how little is known about the peopling of the New World. As long as scientists remain humble and stick to the relatively meager evidence, there is plenty of room for Nephites, Lamanites, Jaredites and all kinds of peoples and migrations about which we know nothing.

    Unfortunately, some ignorant people like to use science to beat up those who are religious. Real scientists don’t do that.

  3. John,

    No human knowledge, including religious knowledge, is ever certain. Even prophets backtrack sometimes. To deride science for not being certain is really a straw man.

    Most people in archaeology think that the ancient southern Chilean settlements also came from Asia, just along a different, nautical route. And Europeans and other groups who went extinct several thousand years before the Book of Mormon period are relevant how?

  4. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me that I am not overstating things. I’m just following this man’s lead. The areas of our ignorance in this topic are far greater than those things that we know for certain. His language suggests that. In his summary chapter he says,

    “How did the first Americans get here? Again, our most confident answers are the vaguest: They likely came from somewhere in Asia. There are a few hints in the genetic and archaeological records of a late Ice Age migration from ancient Europe as well.”

    Why does he use the word “likely” in this statement? Isn’t he sure that the first Americans came from Asia? We don’t even know how many migrations there were, much less where each of them originated, or where they settled, or where they moved to later.

    Most good scientists will readily admit that our ignorance is far greater than our knowledge in almost any field of learning. It is only those that make a personal religion out of science that are offended by such an idea. Science itself is rarely certain about any of its conclusions.

  5. Clark Goble says:

    John, don’t you think you’re overstating things a lot when you say science is largely ignorant on these matters? It is one thing to say there are things science doesn’t know about. Quite an other to make the stronger claim that science doesn’t know much.

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