Earliest Europeans weathered the worst of Ice Age


London, Nov 7 : The earliest European humans’ genetic ancestry survived the Last Glacial Maximum, the peak of the last Ice Age, new research has found.

The ground-breaking study is based on DNA recovered from a fossil of one of the earliest known Europeans - a man who lived 36,000 years ago in Kostenki, now western Russia.

The study not only confirms that humans and Neanderthals interbred, it also offers a more accurate timescale for when the interbreeding happened.

"This work reveals the complex web of population relationships in the past, generating for the first time a firm framework with which to explore how humans responded to climate change, encounters with other populations, and the dynamic landscapes of the ice age," said lead author Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The researchers found evidence for an early contact between the European hunter-gatherers and those in the Middle East - who would later develop agriculture and disperse into Europe about 8,000 years ago, transforming the European gene pool.

The Kostenki genome also contained a small percentage of Neanderthal genes, confirming previous findings which show there was an "admixture event" early in the human colonisation of Eurasia.

This was a period when Neanderthals and the first humans to leave Africa for Europe briefly interbred.

The new study allowed scientists to closer estimate this "event" as occurring around 54,000 years ago, before the Eurasian population began to separate.

This means that, even today, anyone with a Eurasian ancestry - from Chinese to Scandinavian and North American - has a small element of Neanderthal DNA.

The study appeared in the journal Science.


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