A new genetic study of prehistoric human bones has helped researchers unlock secrets of Europe’s population history during the Ice Age. The analysis showed changes witnessed by these ancient inhabitants thousands of years ago.
A team of researchers led by David Reich, an investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, studied DNA of 51 ancient inhabitants who have been thought to live between 45,000 years ago and 7,000 years ago. They found details on these people’s skin, the color of the eye and other attributes. They also found how the different ancient people were linked to each other.
The study published in journal Nature has provided information on ancient migratory patterns. It added that a few of the earliest arrivals had an impact on later inhabitants. From 37,000 years ago to about 14,000 years ago, a number of different European groups descended from one founder population.
“Because we’ve studied so many ancient humans from Europe from the beginning of the modern human occupation, we’re able to form a picture of how populations transformed over time”, said Reich, who is also co-author of the study.
Professor Reich and other study researchers also found that individuals from Europe’s most important Ice Age cultures, also called Aurignacian, moved around 34,000 ago by another human community, called Gravettians.
In history, there were huge movements of human communities displacing previous human group, said Reich. It is very difficult to completely understand those movements as they are very complex, the professor added.
“The genetic data shows that beginning 37,000 years ago, all Europeans come from a single founding population that persisted through the Ice Age. The founding population has deep branches in different parts of Europe, one of which is represented by a specimen from Belgium. In fact, present-day Europeans can trace their ancestry back to this group of humans who lived in northwest Europe 35,000 years ago,” according to a news report published by Daily Mail.
‘We see very different genetics spreading across Europe that displaces the people from the southwest who were there before. ‘These people persisted for many thousands of years until the arrival of farming.’ The study, published in Nature, also detected some mixture with Neanderthals, around 45,000 years ago, as modern humans spread across Europe. The prehistoric human populations contained three to six percent of Neanderthal DNA, but today most humans only have about two percent.
According to a report in BBC by Paul Rincon, “Researchers analyzed the genomes of 51 individuals who lived between 45,000 years ago and 7,000 years ago. The results reveal details about the biology of these early inhabitants, such as skin and eye color, and how different populations were related. It also shows that Neanderthal ancestry in Europeans has been shrinking over time, perhaps due to natural selection.”
After 14,000 years ago, Europeans became more closely related to populations from the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Turkey. This happens to coincide with the first major warming period at the end of the Ice Age and could reflect an expansion of people from the South-East.
A report published in Science 2.0 informed, “The new genetic data, published May 2, 2016 in Nature, reveal two big changes in prehistoric human populations that are closely linked to the end of the last Ice Age around 19,000 years ago. As the ice sheet retreated, Europe was repopulated by prehistoric humans from southwest Europe (e. g., Spain). Then, in a second event about 14,000 years ago, populations from the southeast (e. g., Turkey, Greece) spread into Europe, displacing the first group of humans.”
The genetic data show that beginning 37,000 years ago, all Europeans come from a single founding population that persisted through the Ice Age, said, Reich. The founding population has some deep branches in different parts of Europe, one of which is represented by a specimen from Belgium. This branch seems to have been displaced in most parts of Europe 33,000 years ago, but around 19,000 years ago, a population related to it re-expanded across Europe, Reich explained. Based on the earliest sample in which this ancestry is observed, it is plausible that this population expanded from the southwest, present-day Spain after the Ice Age peaked.