The Settlement of Europe: Population genetic history of Pleistocene modern humans in Europe. (DFG KR 4015/1-1)

Upper Paleolithic triple burial of Dolní Věstonice (Czech Republic) dated to around 31,000 years before present.

Ancient DNA research offers a great potential to gain insights into genetic relationships and population structure of extinct human populations. Despite a tremendous amount of genetic information that has recently become available from extinct humans such as Neandertals and Denisovans, very little is known about the genetic structure of Pleistocene modern humans that were contemporary with both extinct hominins, such as the European Cro-Magnon that colonized Europe about 35,000 years ago. However, population genetic data from Pleistocene modern humans plays a key role in understanding the complex picture emerging from the ancient human genetic data that involves gene flow between different Pleistocene hominins, genetic bottlenecks and extinctions.

Using recently established DNA capture approaches in combination with high-throughput sequencing, this project will provide population genetic data from a large set of Pleistocene early modern humans from Europe and Western Asia. To establish the authenticity of the ancient modern human DNA recently published protocols that enable the verification of ancient DNA based on DNA damage and degradation patterns are applied. This project will thus provide us with direct insights into the population history of Cro-Magnon and the settlement of Europe by modern humans that are not addressable with traditional archaeological approaches.

First results of ancient modern human mtDNA indicate continuity in the human population pre and post of the last glacial maximum (LGM). Only at the beginning of the Neolithic larger changes can be observed in the European human mtDNA diversity, likely caused by migration of Early Farmers into central Europe.

Ancient modern human DNA furthermore allows to do a direct calibration of the human mitochondrial clock. The radiocarbon dates of the ancient human fossils can be directly used as tip calibrations for phylogenetic trees. The results suggest a rather late migration of human mtDNAs out of Africa, around 60-90 thousand years ago.

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