Ancient migrations tracked through DNA

May 8, 2012 at 7:11 PM   |   Comments

HUDDERSFIELD, England, May 8 (UPI) -- DNA analysis has provided new insights into how human beings repopulated Europe as the Ice Age relaxed its grip and retreated, researchers say.

Writing in the American Journal of Human Genetics, scientists said research shows the Near East was a major source of replenishment when huge areas of European territory became habitable again about 19,000 years ago.

Previously, it had been thought humans survived in two areas when the Ice Age, or Last Glacial Maximum, descended on Europe about 26,000 years ago: an area roughly coinciding with northern Spain/southern France, and a region of the Ukrainian plains.

In a study, researchers at the University of Huddersfield in Britain analyzed mitochondrial DNA from Europeans who belong to two major lineages known to have originated in the Middle East and thought to have migrated to Europe in the Neolithic age, about 9,000 years ago.

But the analysis showed humans belonging to those genetic groups actually migrated to Europe much earlier than previously believed, as the Ice Age drew to a close.

"The end of the Last Glacial Maximum allowed people to recolonize the parts of Europe that had been deserted and this expansion allowed increase of human populations," archaeo-genetics research Maria Pala said.

Archaeo-genetics -- which combines archaeology with genetics to learn about the early history of humans and how they colonized the planet -- has important lessons to teach humanity, she said.

"It helps us to reevaluate the perception of our identity," she said. "We are highly focused on identifying ourselves as Italians, British or whatever, but by analyzing DNA we discover that originally, not such a long time ago, we came from a common source."

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