Recent genetic analysis have demonstrated that certain lineages of the very first Europeans mysteriously disappeared towards the end of the last Ice Age, substituted by other genetically different groups. The discovery comes from some German researchers that have analysed tens of fossils across all Europe.
The genetic exchange was most likely result of a rapid climatic change which occurred in our continent 14,500 years ago. According to Cosimo Posth, doctorate researcher in archaeogenetics in Tubinga University, Germany, the first inhabitants could not bear such new climatic conditions.
Below: Homo Sapiens skull, picture by Tim Dorr shared via Flickr – licence Creative Commons 2.0
The variation of temperature that happened in that historical period “..were enormous compared to the ones we are accustomed to in our century. We have to imagine that the environment has changed quite drastically..” declared Posth.
The Europeans have long and intricate genetic material: the first human beings who moved to Africa between 40,000 and 70,000 years ago, started reproducing with the local Neanderthals.
10-12,000 years ago, when in Middle East the agriculture started to be implemented, the hunters/harvesters from Europe were wiped out from the farmers of the Fertile Crescent. Around 5,000 years ago, a group of nomad knights called Yamnaya arose from the Steppe of Ukraine and got mixed up with the local Europeans. Furthermore, around 4,500 years ago, an entire genetic lineage of the ancient Europeans mysteriously disappeared altogether.
Not much was known of the human occupation of Europe between the first migration from Africa and the last Ice Age, around 11,000 years ago. For part of that period, a great portion of the ice cap was covering Northern Europe, whilst the glaciers of the Pyrenees and Alps would block the East-West passage across the continent.
To have a better understanding of the genetic heritage of the Europeans during this cold moment, Posth and his colleagues have analysed the mitochondrial DNA, the genetic material transmitted from mother to daughter, of the 55 human fossils 35,000 to 70,000 years old; this DNA was coming from all over the continent, from Spain all the way to Russia. By studying these mutations, the geneticists have identified huge genetic populations, or super-haplogroup, which share old mutual ancestors.
“..basically all the modern humans from Europe to the lowest part of America, apart from the Africans, belong to these two super haplogroups which are either “M” or “N” “, declared Posth. Nowadays, all people with European ancestry have the mitochondrial haplotype “N” while the “M” type is common throughout Asia and Australasia.
The team has discovered that the ancient European populations from the M group were the predominant ones until 14,500 years ago then they suddenly vanished. The M Haplotype is today not present anymore in Europe, but it was the one from the old Europeans that shared, until approximately 50,000 years ago, a common ancestor with the current populations that still have this genetic heritage.
According to the researchers, the genetic analysis reveals that the European, Asian and Australian people can descend from a group of humans who had left Africa and rapidly had spread amongst the continents, but not before 55,000 years ago. At the end of the Ice Age, between 19,000 and 22,000 years ago, our progenitors in order to survive were after “climatic shelters”, or European ice-free regions such as the moderate Spain, the Balkans and Southern Italy. The populations which managed to survive in Northern places decreased drastically in number.
Then 14,500 years ago, the temperature rose up in a significant way, the tundra was replaced by forests and some animals such as mammoths and machairodontinae disappeared from Eurasia.
For some reason the already reduced populations belonging to the M group were not able to survive to the changes of their habitat and a new population, this time from the N subtype, took over according to the researchers. From where the N-type came out is still a mystery but, based on Posth’s words, the most recent European generation could have arrived from those shelters in Southern Europe not isolated from ice any longer. Those people supposedly managed to fit better the new climate of Central Europe.