Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Major Population Upheaval in Ice Age Europeans Linked to Climate Change

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Major Population Upheaval in Ice Age Europeans Linked to Climate Change

Article excerpt

Little is known about human migrations and population changes in prehistory. Scientists often rely on scant archeological evidence to map anatomically modern humans' settlements.

So a team of geneticists dug into the genomes of ancient individuals unearthed across Europe to better understand who was living in the region. The specimens lived before, during, and after the last ice age, offering the researchers a glimpse into how the population handled the extreme conditions.

And the ancient hunter-gatherers' genomes suggested times were tough. When the massive glaciers retreated, the population of Europe looked dramatically different than it had before the land froze over.

"This change, which we call a turnover, was indeed strong and drastic," first author of the study Cosimo Posth tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview. And this dramatic population turnover likely wiped out a human lineage scientists thought never reached Europe, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers analyzed the mitochondrial DNA, inherited along the maternal lineage, from individuals living across Europe at varying times to map shifts in population.

When the ice spread across the continent, the people living in the northern regions were forced to migrate south for survival. As hunter-gatherers, these early Europeans were dependent on the environment for survival. This created a genetic bottleneck, with a significant loss of diversity from such a massive change.

Then, when the ice retreated some 14,500 years ago, there was an influx of new genetics. One explanation is that the glacial retreat allowed a new population to move into the region and intermingle their DNA.

"There was always this idea that for almost 35,000 years of human history, of prehistory from the first arrival into Europe until the Neolithic started, hunter-gatherers were kind of a continuum," Posth says. "But during these 35,000 years, there was a drastic change in climatic conditions. Those humans had to face these strong climatic events."

A surprise population erased by iceWhen modern humans began dispersing across the globe, two main lineages emerged in mitochondrial genetics outside of Africa: haplogroup N and haplogroup M. …

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