July 14, 2024

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A DNA dive into the genetic and cultural past of Europe

A DNA dive into the genetic and cultural past of Europe

An example of pottery dating back nearly 6,000 years from agricultural culture in Lublin-Volhynian, Ksenice 2, Poland. Credit: Stanisław Wilk

New genetic research provides new insights into the European Paleolithic, revealing how different groups mixed based on geography and how agriculture affected gene flow. The study also revealed unique burial practices and isolated groups of hunter-gatherers, adding further layers to the understanding of Europe’s genetic history.

new DNA The study outlined a picture of how different groups mixed during the European Paleolithic, and also revealed how certain groups of people were actually isolated. The study, conducted by researchers at Uppsala University in collaboration with an international team of researchers, has generated new genetic data from 56 Central and Eastern European individuals from the Stone Age. The results are scheduled to be published today (9 August) in the journal Communication biology.

The importance of interdisciplinary research

“Conducting studies like this requires a broad multidisciplinary discussion. In this study, this discussion has been exceptionally fruitful,” says Tina Mattella, a population geneticist at Uppsala University and lead author of the study.

Historical context

Over the past 15 years, previous DNA research has pieced together the history of the European Stone Age. Before agriculture made its way to Europe, different groups of hunter-gatherers occupied different parts of Eurasia, overlapping each other. This study shows that the fusion of these hunter-gatherer genetic lines was strongly influenced by geography.

Individual from Książnice 2, Poland

An individual from Książnice 2, Poland, who lived about 6,000 years ago and was part of the new study. Credit: Stanisław Wilk

Linking cultivation and gene flow

Several previous DNA studies related to the earlier history of Europe also showed that the spread of agriculture was strongly linked to the gene flow from Anatolia. This group was genetically and culturally quite distinct from European hunter-gatherers. However, agriculture spread differently in different geographic regions, resulting in ethnic groups being mixed differently across Europe.

“These differences in the mixing of genetic lines and cultures can tell us about the power relations between different groups,” says Tina Mattella.

A study of family relationships and burial practices

The new study also investigated close relatives.

“Common graves are often assumed to be family tombs, but in our study, this was not always the case. This shows that even during the Stone Age other social factors played a role in burial practices,” says Helena Malmström, an archaeologist at Uppsala University.

A comprehensive look at genetic history

A more comprehensive view of the genetic history of Stone Age Europeans has been revealed in recent years, and this new study adds more detail to this complex puzzle.

“We can show that some parts of Europe – such as the area around the Dnipro River delta – have been inhabited by isolated groups of hunter-gatherers for thousands of years, although many other parts of Europe changed their way of life when new groups established themselves,” says Matthias Jacobson, professor of science. Genetics at Uppsala University, “Those who produced food arrived by tilling the soil.”

Reference: “Genetic continuity, isolation, and gene flow in the Paleolithic of Central and Eastern Europe” 9 Aug. 2023, Available here. Communication biology.
DOI: 10.1038/s42003-023-05131-3

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