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Yamnaya nomads left a strong genetic mark on Europeans and Asians

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By Ann Gibbons

Republication from www.sciencemag

The Bronze Age came to Europe and Asia 5000 years ago, leaving a trail of metal tools, axes, and jewelry that stretches from Siberia to Scandinavia. But was this powerful new technology an idea that spread from the Middle East to European and Asian people, or was it brought in by foreigners? Two of the largest studies of ancient DNA from Bronze Age and Iron Age people have now found that outsiders deserve the credit: Nomadic herders from the steppes of today’s Russia and Ukraine brought their culture and, possibly, languages with them—and made a relatively recent and lasting imprint on the genetic makeup of Europeans and Asians.

In the studies, published online today in Nature, two rival teams of geneticists analyzed the DNA from 170 individuals who lived at key archaeological sites in Europe and Asia 5000 to 3000 years ago. Both teams found strong evidence that a wave of nomadic herders known as the Yamnaya from the Pontic-Caspian, a vast steppeland stretching from the northern shores of the Black Sea and as far east as the Caspian Sea, swept into Europe sometime between 5000 and 4800 years ago; along the way, they may have brought with them Proto-Indo-European, the mysterious ancestral tongue from which all of today’s 400 Indo-European languages spring. These herders interbred with local farmers and created the Corded Ware culture of central Europe, named for the twisted cord imprint on its pottery. Their genes were passed down to northern and central Europeans living today, as one of the teams posted on a preprint server earlier this year and published today.

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The earliest modern humans outside Africa

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Republication from science.sciencemag.org

Earliest modern humans out of Africa

Recent paleoanthropological studies have suggested that modern humans migrated from Africa as early as the beginning of the Late Pleistocene, 120,000 years ago. Hershkovitz et al. now suggest that early modern humans were already present outside of Africa more than 55,000 years earlier (see the Perspective by Stringer and Galway-Witham). During excavations of sediments at Mount Carmel, Israel, they found a fossil of a mouth part, a left hemimaxilla, with almost complete dentition.

The sediments contain a series of well-defined hearths and a rich stone-based industry, as well as abundant animal remains. Analysis of the human remains, and dating of the site and the fossil itself, indicate a likely age of at least 177,000 years for the fossil—making it the oldest member of the Homo sapiens clade found outside Africa.

Science, this issue p. 456; see also p. 389

 

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Anatolia as the Source of the European Neolithic Gene Pool

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Republication from Current biology

Anatolia and the Near East have long been recognized as the epicenter of the Neolithic expansion through archaeological evidence. Recent archaeogenetic studies on Neolithic European human remains have shown that the Neolithic expansion in Europe was driven westward and northward by migration from a supposed Near Eastern origin [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. However, this expansion and the establishment of numerous culture complexes in the Aegean and Balkans did not occur until 8,500 before present (BP), over 2,000 years after the initial settlements in the Neolithic core area [6, 7, 8, 9]. We present ancient genome-wide sequence data from 6,700-year-old human remains excavated from a Neolithic context in Kumtepe, located in northwestern Anatolia near the well-known (and younger) site Troy [10]. Kumtepe is one of the settlements that emerged around 7,000 BP, after the initial expansion wave brought Neolithic practices to Europe.

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How Europeans evolved white complexion

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Republication from sciencemag.org

By Ann Gibbons

Approximate Yamna (Yamnaya) culture extent c. 3300–2600 BC.

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ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI—Most of us think of Europe as the ancestral home of white people. But a new study shows that pale skin, as well as other traits such as tallness and the ability to digest milk as adults, arrived in most of the continent relatively recently. The work, presented here last week at the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, offers dramatic evidence of recent evolution in Europe and shows that most modern Europeans don’t look much like those of 8000 years ago.

The origins of Europeans have come into sharp focus in the past year as researchers have sequenced the genomes of ancient populations, rather than only a few individuals. By comparing key parts of the DNA across the genomes of 83 ancient individuals from archaeological sites throughout Europe, the international team of researchers reported earlier this year that Europeans today are a mix of the blending of at least three ancient populations of hunter-gatherers and farmers who moved into Europe in separate migrations over the past 8000 years. The study revealed that a massive migration of Yamnaya herders from the steppes north of the Black Sea may have brought Indo-European languages to Europe about 4500 years ago.

 

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Early farmers from across Europe directly originated from Neolithic Aegeans

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Republication from  pnas.org

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Significance

One of the most enduring and widely debated questions in prehistoric archaeology concerns the origins of Europe’s earliest farmers: Were they the descendants of local hunter-gatherers, or did they migrate from southwestern Asia, where farming began? We recover genome-wide DNA sequences from early farmers on both the European and Asian sides of the Aegean to reveal an unbroken chain of ancestry leading from central and southwestern Europe back to Greece and northwestern Anatolia. Our study provides the coup de grâce to the notion that farming spread into and across Europe via the dissemination of ideas but without, or with only a limited, migration of people.

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Ancient DNA and human history

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Republication from  pnas.org

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We review studies of genomic data obtained by sequencing hominin fossils with particular emphasis on the unique information that ancient DNA (aDNA) can provide about the demographic history of humans and our closest relatives. We concentrate on nuclear genomic sequences that have been published in the past few years. In many cases, particularly in the Arctic, the Americas, and Europe, aDNA has revealed historical demographic patterns in a way that could not be resolved by analyzing present-day genomes alone.

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