A new study titled “Upper Palaeolithic Genomes Reveal Deep Roots of Modern Eurasians” and published in the journal Nature Communications by researchers Cambridge University, Trinity College Dublin, and the University College Dublin – suggesting that present European ancestry is made up of hunter-gatherers that survived the Ice Age and contributed DNA known as the “fourth strand” and gave rise to the Yamnaya culture.
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A genome sequencing of human remains dated back to the Late Upper Palaeolithic period some 13,000 years revealed that a new lineage is part of the ancestry of the present Europeans. It is believed that when human hunter-gatherers moved out of Africa some 45,000 years ago and settled in the intersection of southern Russia and Georgia in what is now known as Caucasus, the people were cut off by the Ice Age that came about 25,000 years ago and they survived the Glacial Maximum by sheltering in mountains and caves until they emerged to mix with other populations from further east.
The merging of these populations gave rise to the Yamnaya culture that had mixed genetic composition – Steppe herders that rode on horses who entered Western Europe about 5,000 years ago, before the rise of the Bronze Age. The rise of their culture ushered in the use of metallurgy and animal herding skills.
“The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now,” said Dr. Andrea Manica of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.
“We can now answer that as we’ve found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation. This Caucasus pocket is the fourth major strand of ancient European ancestry, one that we were unaware of until now,” Manica added.
And the leader of the Trinity team, Professor Daniel Bradley, noted that this latest discovery now completes the missing picture in the jigsaw puzzle, and that the influence of this is now in all European populations and even beyond.
Scientists had earlier thought that three ancestral populations made up European ancestry in varying measures, but it is now evident that that those that colonized Europe also colonized a large part of Spain to Hungary after moving north-west from Africa as hunter-gatherers, and another population settled in Levant and in eastern Mediterranean, starting out as farmers some 10,000 years ago. Then about 5,000 years ago, the Yamnaya culture developed with other populations moved from central Eurasia into Western Europe.
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“We knew that the Yamnaya had this big genetic component that we couldn’t place, and we can now see it was this ancient lineage hiding in the Caucasus during the last Ice Age,” Manica said.