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Ancient DNA Reveals Key Stages in the Formation of Central European Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity

Science  11 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6155, pp. 257-261
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241844

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The Origins of Europeans

To investigate the genetic origins of modern Europeans, Brandt et al. (p. 257) examined ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and were able to identify genetic differences in 364 Central Europeans spanning the early Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Observed changes in mitochondrial haplotypes corresponded with hypothesized human migration across Eurasia and revealed the complexity of the demographic changes and evidence of a Late Neolithic origin for the European mtDNA gene pool. This transect through time reveals four key population events associated with well-known archaeological cultures, which involved genetic influx into Central Europe from various directions at various times.

Abstract

The processes that shaped modern European mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation remain unclear. The initial peopling by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers ~42,000 years ago and the immigration of Neolithic farmers into Europe ~8000 years ago appear to have played important roles but do not explain present-day mtDNA diversity. We generated mtDNA profiles of 364 individuals from prehistoric cultures in Central Europe to perform a chronological study, spanning the Early Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age (5500 to 1550 calibrated years before the common era). We used this transect through time to identify four marked shifts in genetic composition during the Neolithic period, revealing a key role for Late Neolithic cultures in shaping modern Central European genetic diversity.

  • * Corresponding author. E-mail: brandtg{at}uni-mainz.de (G.B.); wolfgang.haak{at}adelaide.edu.au (W.H.)

  • § Consortium members are listed in the supplementary materials.

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