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Native American population dropped by half after European contact

A DNA study has revealed that the thriving Native American population shrank by half after European contact.

Using samples of ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA—which is passed down only from mothers to daughters—the researchers calculated a demographic history for American Indians. (Get an overview of human genetics.)

Based on the data, the team estimates that the Native American population was at an all-time high about 5,000 years ago.

The population then reached a low point about 500 years ago—only a few years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World and before extensive European colonization began.

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Story: Ker Than, National Geographic News | Photo: Richard Schlecht, National Geographic

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