Page URL:

DNA of Ice Age Europeans revealed

9 May 2016
Appeared in BioNews 850

A study of ancient DNA obtained from prehistoric human remains has revealed details about modern humans before farming began, going back to their arrival in Europe around 45,000 years ago.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, researchers on four continents analysed DNA from 51 Eurasians dating back to the beginning of modern human occupation and identified significant population changes linked to the end of the last Ice Age.

In particular, the DNA analysis revealed that modern humans who lived in Eurasia between around 37,000 and 14,000 years ago descended from a single founder population that persisted through the Ice Age. 

Following this period, and probably driven by fluctuations in the climate, European populations became more closely related to those migrating from the Near East. The researchers speculate that the warm weather that followed the Ice Age around 14,000 years ago could have driven early Near East residents to Europe and could have led to gene fusion.

'We see that the founding European populations persisted over the last glacial maximum some 25,000 to 14,000 years ago, but afterward there were dramatic re-jiggerings as people moved back from warm-weather refuges in the southwest and the southeast, transforming the human landscape of Europe,' said co-senior author Professor Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The study, which was published in Nature, provides a picture of how migration events have been recurring throughout European history. Branches of the founder population were found in different parts of Europe, with one specimen from Belgium showing how a population was displaced and then re-expanded thousands of years later.

Professor David Reich, co-author of the study from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, told BBC News: 'During this first four-fifths of modern human history in Europe, history is just as complicated as it is during the last fifth that we know so much more about. We see multiple, huge movements of people displacing previous ones.'

The test results also showed that, over the same period of time, the proportion of Neanderthal DNA in the genome of modern humans decreased from around 3–6 percent to around two percent. The decrease was more pronounced in areas of the genome that encode for proteins, suggesting that Neanderthal DNA probably had a negative effect on modern humans and therefore was progressively lost due to natural selection.

Future work to generate similar ancient genomic data from South East Europe and the Near East could help draw a more complete picture of Eurasian population history.

Ancient DNA Sequencing Sheds Light on Ice Age European Population History
GenomeWeb |  2 May 2016
DNA secrets of Ice Age Europe unlocked
BBC News |  2 May 2016
Drawing the genetic history of Ice Age Eurasian populations
Eurekalert (press release) |  4 May 2016
New DNA Research Sheds New Light on Ice Age Europe
History |  5 May 2016
The genetic history of Ice Age Europe
Nature |  2 May 2016
The genetic history of Ice Age Europe
Eurekalert (press release) |  2 May 2016
17 August 2020 - by Dr Maria Botcharova 
Homo sapiens are likely to have bred with other ancient tribes much earlier than previously thought, according to new research...
22 July 2019 - by Dr Maria Botcharova 
Scientists have discovered two previously unrecorded human ancestor groups by analysing the genomes of modern human populations...
29 January 2018 - by Professor Marcus Pembrey 
The recent demonstration that friends share more of their genetic makeup in common than two people picked at random from their population has been making the headlines...
22 January 2018 - by Ewa Zotow 
The programme starts with a bold statement: 'No other field of science has experienced such an upheaval in the last few years as human evolution.' There is a reason for it: the recent addition of the DNA research to the toolbox of techniques available to evolutionary scientists has led to remarkable findings...
24 July 2017 - by Charlotte Spicer 
Genome-wide analysis in South Asian populations may provide insight into rare genetic diseases, suggests research...
4 April 2016 - by Anastassia Bolotkova 
Researchers have found a genetic variant in populations that have favoured vegetarian diets over many generations...
22 February 2016 - by Isobel Steer 
Neanderthal-derived DNA influences our risk of certain diseases, including addiction, blood clots, skin conditions and depression, a recent study has found....
21 September 2015 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Decades of advice on the protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids are being challenged by a study of the genomes of the Inuit population in Greenland...
17 August 2015 - by Isobel Steer 
Compared to ancestral humans, most modern people have lost 40.7 million base pairs of DNA...
7 July 2014 - by Matthew Thomas 
Tibetan people inherited a genetic variant from an extinct subspecies of humans that helps them survive on the 'roof of the world'...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.