Mitochondrial DNA and prehistoric settlements: native migrations on the western edge of North America

Hum Biol. 2004 Feb;76(1):55-75. doi: 10.1353/hub.2004.0019.


We analyzed previously reported mtDNA haplogroup frequencies of 577 individuals and hypervariable segment 1 (HVS1) sequences of 265 individuals from Native American tribes in western North America to test hypotheses regarding the settlement of this region. These data were analyzed to determine whether Hokan and Penutian, two hypothesized ancient linguistic stocks, represent biological units as a result of shared ancestry within these respective groups. Although the pattern of mtDNA variation suggests regional continuity and although gene flow between populations has contributed much to the genetic landscape of western North America, some evidence supports the existence of both the Hokan and Penutian phyla. In addition, a comparison between coastal and inland populations along the west coast of North America suggests an ancient coastal migration to the New World. Similarly high levels of haplogroup A among coastal populations in the Northwest and along the California coast as well as shared HVS1 sequences indicate that early migrants to the New World settled along the coast with little gene flow into the interior valleys.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • California
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Haplotypes / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / genetics*
  • Language
  • Northwestern United States


  • DNA, Mitochondrial