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DNA recovered from a 37,000-year-old fossil skeleton from Russia shows a deep, shared ancestry of Europeans

last modified Nov 07, 2014 01:36 PM
An international team of researchers, including Dr Philip Nigst, Division of Archaeology (University of Cambridge), recovered DNA from a fossil of one of the earliest known Europeans.


The researchers recovered and sequenced the complete genome of a man who was buried about 37,000 years ago at the site of Kostenki 14 (also known as Markina Gora) in western Russia. The study provides unique insights into the history of the continent. The genome shows that once modern humans had dispersed out of Africa and into Eurasia, they separated at least before 37,000-years ago into at least three populations, whose descendants would develop the unique features that reflect the core of the diversity of non-African modern humans.

Since then, despite major climatic fluctuations, one of these groups - Palaeolithic Europeans - persisted as a population, ebbing and flowing by moments of contraction and expansion, but persisting intertwined until the arrival of farmers from the Middle East in the last 8,000 years, with whom they mixed extensively. The Kostenki and other ancient genomes show that for 30,000-years there was a single meta-population in Europe, consisting of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups that split up, mixed, dispersed and changed. Only when farmers from the Near East arrived approximately 8,000 years ago, did the structure of the European population change significantly.

The study also shows that, as with all living Eurasians, the Kostenki 14 man's genome included a small percentage of Neanderthal genes. While this confirms earlier findings, the current study revealed that the Kostenki 14 individual had a slightly higher percentage of Neanderthal genes than ever observed before. Further, the genetic fragments that this individual inherited from a Neanderthal ancestor are larger, i.e. not yet broken by the thousands of recombination events that have occurred since. This allowed the team of scientists to estimate the time of human-Neanderthal admixture to 54,000 years ago.

Original publication in Science
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa0114

An Oral History of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research