PerspectiveGenetics

Ancient human genomes—keys to understanding our past

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Science  01 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 964-965
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat7257

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Summary

In 2000, when the term “archaeogenetics” (1) was initially proposed to describe the study of the human past by using the techniques of molecular genetics, ancient DNA studies were in their infancy. At that time, DNA data samples provided by geneticists to archaeologists, anthropologists, and linguists for archaeogenetic studies were almost entirely derived from living populations, with a few ancient DNA samples mainly restricted to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA, or mitogenome). However, it was already clear that ancient DNA could play a much greater role once a number of major technical problems were resolved. Two studies in this issue exemplify the rapid progress that has been made since then. On page 1028, Ebenesersdóttir et al. (2) report the genomes of the first Icelanders, and on page 1024, Scheib et al. (3) use ancient Native American genomes to reconstruct the first phases of the human spread in the Americas.