Ice Age Europeans had dark complexions and brown eyes. The genetic analysis also shed light on the complex migration patterns in Europe during the last Ice Age.
A team of international researchers have sequenced the genomes of 51 prehistoric individuals that lived between 45,000 and 7,000 years ago and came up with some surprising details.
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Researchers have found that two major yet complex events took place at the time which is closely linked to the end of the Last Ice Age around 19,000 years ago.
As the ice sheet was clearing out, people from southwest Europe such as from Spain repopulated Europe. Then, some 14,000 years ago, populations from Greece and Turkey ventured into Europe and displaced the first group of prehistoric humans.
Previous research suggested that modern humans spread across Europe 45,000 years ago and their arrival led to the demise of Neanderthals, now extinct relatives of modern humans. During the Ice Age, glaciers were covering Scandinavia to northern Europe to northern France. As the ice sheet retreat began 19,000 years ago, prehistoric humans went back to Northern Europe.
But previously archeologists had very limited fossil record at their disposal. In fact, there were only four examples of prehistoric European modern humans ranging 45,000 to 7,000 years, making it virtually impossible to understand the migration patterns taking place during that long period.
“Trying to represent this wide period of European history with just four samples is like trying to summarize a movie with four still images,” said lead researcher David Reich from Harvard Medical School. “With 51 samples, everything changes, we can follow the narrative arc; we get a vivid sense of the dynamic changes over time and what we see is a population history that is no less complicated than that in the last 7,000 years, with multiple episodes of population replacement and immigration on a vast and dramatic scale, at a time when the climate was changing dramatically.”
Genetic analysis revealed that Ice Age Europeans had dark complexions and brown eyes which became blue around 14,000 years ago while pale skin began to appear some 7,000 years ago.
Beginning 36,000 years ago, all different groups of Europeans came from a single founding population which persisted through the last Ice Age.
“An early branch of this fonder population which was then displaced across a broad region, before reappearing in southwest Europe at the height of the last Ice Age 19,000 years ago.” Study reads.
Then, around 14,000 years ago another big event took place when Europeans became more closely related to the populations from the Middle East instead of west.
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"We see very different genetics spreading across Europe that displaces the people from the southwest who were there before.” Reich said. These people survived thousands of years until the arrival of farmers."