Five centuries before Columbus reached the Americas, Vikings briefly settled on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Now the DNA of four Icelandic families reveals it wasn't just Europeans traveling to the Americas...at least one Native American went back with them.
Eleven modern Icelanders carry an unusual variant of mitochondrial DNA known as C1e. This particular variant is very closely related to those found in Native Americans but practically unheard of in Europe. Mitochondrial DNA is only passed down by the mother, so the common ancestor who originally possessed the C1e must have been a woman.
Research shows all these people are descended from generations of Icelanders, meaning the mitochonidrial DNA can't have come from a relatively recent immigrant. Indeed, based on Iceland's centuries of isolation, the only real way to account for this finding is that a Native American woman lived and had children on Iceland about 1000 years ago.
Of course, that fits perfectly with the known Viking expeditions in the Americas, but until now it was thought it was only Europeans who made the voyage across the Atlantic. Now we know at least one Native American woman made the trip, and it's possible future DNA research will reveal more Amerindians came with her.
Either way, it means this woman was the first Native American to set foot on European soil, and indeed it's quite possible she was the first inhabitant of the Americas to visit the Eurasian landmass since her distant ancestors crossed the Bering strait land bridge about 14,000 years ago.
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[American Journal of Physical Anthropology; top image is of the L'Anse aux Meadows site, the only known Viking settlement in the Americas.]