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The last Ice Age shaped the early genetic history of modern humans in Europe

Marcello A. Mannino from Aarhus University is the co-author of a Nature article about the genetic history of Ice Age Europe, showing that migrations were recurring events in the human history of the continent.

2016.05.13 | Ulrik Albert Vosgerau

Marcello Mannino in the Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) laboratory of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany).

Modern humans arrived in Europe more than 45,000 years ago, but until now little has been known about their genetic composition before the start of farming around 8,500 years ago. However, a new study published in Nature, involving associate professor Marcello Mannino from the School of Culture and Society at Aarhus University, sheds new light on the topic.    

“Our study presents the analysis of the largest genome-wide dataset for prehistoric European hunter-gatherers published to date and shows that the climatic fluctuations before and after the peak of the last Ice Age had a strong influence on the genetic history of Europe,” explains Mannino. 

Recurring migrations from the East
The data acquired by an international multi-disciplinary team of researchers shows that population turnover prevented the genetic composition of the earliest modern humans, who colonised our continent around 45,000 ago, from being handed down to present-day Europeans. 

“Moreover, our study suggests that at least three major population movements may have taken place during the period between the first arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe and the end of the last glacial period,” says Marcello Mannino.

This implies that, from very early on, migrations from the East were recurring events in the human history of our continent. It is clear, for instance, that movements of people from the so-called Near East took place around 14,000 years ago, along a trajectory which was followed, many millennia later, by the Neolithic people who introduced farming to Europe.

A comprehensive study
The study presented in the Nature article, “The genetic history of Ice Age Europe”, was comprehensive, involving the analysis of genome-wide data from 51 prehistoric Eurasians and a researcher group comprising 64 participants. As part of this group, Marcello Mannino conducted isotope analyses and radiocarbon dating of three Palaeolithic and Mesolithic humans from Italy together with colleagues (Sahra Talamo and Michael P. Richards) at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. 

“My work has involved providing the archaeological and chronological framework for some of the specimens from Italy. These were originally going to be part of a study focusing on Palaeolithic and Mesolithic individuals from the Italian Peninsula. However, as the collaboration with the geneticists leading the project progressed, it became apparent that a large-scale study including prehistoric hunter-gatherers from different parts of Europe would have yielded far more interesting results. From an archaeological point of view, our study shows that many of the changes in material culture that occurred in the Upper Palaeolithic are matched by changes in the genes. This is a very important finding that, in my view, will force a re-evaluation of the culture history of Upper Palaeolithic Europe” explains Mannino. 

It is the ambition that future studies on a similar scale, combined with detailed interpretation of contextual archaeological data, will make it possible to define the areas of origin and migratory trajectories of the different peopling events.

Marcello A. Mannino
Associate Professor in Archaeological Science
School of Culture and Society, Department of Archaeology
Mail: marcello.mannino@cas.au.dk
Phone: +45 87162956








Research, Arkæologi