DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europeans

Jun 16, 2015

by Carl Zimmer

For centuries, archaeologists have reconstructed the early history of Europe by digging up ancient settlements and examining the items that their inhabitants left behind. More recently, researchers have been scrutinizing something even more revealing than pots, chariots and swords: DNA.

On Wednesday in the journal Nature, two teams of scientists — one based at the University of Copenhagen and one based at Harvard University — presented the largest studies to date of ancient European DNA, extracted from 170 skeletons found in countries from Spain to Russia. Both studies indicate that today’s Europeans descend from three groups who moved into Europe at different stages of history.

The first were hunter-gatherers who arrived some 45,000 years ago in Europe. Then came farmers who arrived from the Near East about 8,000 years ago.

Finally, a group of nomadic sheepherders from western Russia called the Yamnaya arrived about 4,500 years ago. The authors of the new studies also suggest that the Yamnaya language may have given rise to many of the languages spoken in Europe today.


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13 comments on “DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europeans

  • As the settled states of Europe are getting into a lather over the issue of “illegal African Migration” (people traffickers/boat people/drowning) this is a timely alarm call that we are all European/Turkish/Russian, or rather we are all African. Better still we are all Humans, all the same species, all bickering over bits of seized territory. Good thing that none are stupid enough to believe that their local bit of earth was given to them by God… oh, hang on…



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  • 2
    aroundtown says:

    Enjoyed your post and assertions on the distinctions of our underpinnings. Oh, by the way, like the name change too, great play there. Liked the original too though. Anyway, on a smaller scale we have one of these situations blowing in the wind here in the city of Spokane, in Washington State, where a woman, actually the president of the local NAACP chapter (who was by all accounts doing a fine job), was outed as being a white woman pretending to be black. She was outed by her mommy and daddy to sink her I’m thinking, (what else could they have expected with their media admissions), and she was eventually run out of her position.

    It really is ironic that by every measure we are indeed, one and all, Africans who have evolved visual differences due to geographical locality over long periods of time, but tell that to racists, who detest anyone who doesn’t match them sufficiently to make them feel comfortable enough with themselves, and they go deaf, dumb, and blind on the proposal, or worse. Even the institution itself there in Washington State, which works for equality I presume, demanded action against her. I would have loved to see a lot of this racist hatred die out in my lifetime but it is still going strong so that wish is pretty much out the window I’m afraid, and these fights for territory and perceptions of exclusivity rage on and on unfortunately.



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  • It really is ironic that by every measure we are indeed, one and all, Africans who have evolved visual differences due to geographical locality over long periods of time..

    This saddens me to. I’d like the cover of my passport to read, Citizen of Planet Earth. The Palestinians and Jews are indistinguishable at the DNA level. We are all Homo Sapiens, although, I suspect there is a sub species, Homo Troglodyte, that thinks that a football match is actually something important. But I digress.

    Millions of years of evolution have made us tribal. It’s a good survival strategy. You pass on more of your genes if you act together as a team, than if you act in isolation. But this team gene also meant that the tribe from the other valley could improve their survival if they could conduct a surprise attack, kill off all your warriors, and steal your women and resources. So when those silhouettes of warriors appear on the ridge overlooking your valley, we reacted to the “Other”. That threat. That unknown. We define ourselves as us and them. That tribe are a lesser mob. They worship the river god. We worship to tree god. We’re better. They smell. They’re not as smart.

    Roll on 2015, a few millions years of a successful evolutionary strategy still dominates. Belonging to and identifying with a tribe. Now we’ve got nationalism, racism, wars over pieces of planet earth, prejudice, discrimination and all round uncivilized behaviour. Oh and I forgot. Football hooligans, the ultimate expression of the tribal gene.

    The only way this evolutionary imperative can be overcome is through an informed act of intellectual will. The only people capable of performing that act, are a small percentage of homo sapiens who can overrule their tribal brain. So folks, we are stuck with stupidity forever more. White christian homo sapiens terrorists shooting black christian homo sapiens. Deep siiiiggghhhhhh.

    p.s. Yes I know I haven’t used the references to evolution in the correct scientific terms but that shouldn’t poison the substance of my post.



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  • 4
    aroundtown says:

    Yes I know I haven’t used the references to evolution in the correct scientific terms but that shouldn’t poison the substance of my post.

    Your posts are impressive David, and I will admit somewhat intimidating on occasion, but they always serve to enlighten.

    Not on post here, while I was typing this response the cat snagged a mouse from outside and I had to save it. Job is done and its evolution can continue, it was quite interesting and unexpected but it made it to freedom with my help. From ant to elephant, they can all use a helping hand I think, so they can live their lives too.



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  • it was quite interesting and unexpected but it made it to freedom with my help.

    Those small moments in life to savour. I was in the back yard two days ago, saving a flush in the driest state on the driest continent, when a rat wandered up to within inches of my foot, then strolled away. Little did the rat know that the fifteen year old Jack Russell was fast asleep inside under the quilt. In the 1800’s in Australia, a famous Australian bush ranger was quoted with the last words, “Such is Life”. These little moments fit that saying. I suspect your cat won’t be talking to you till dinner time.

    I’ll take the compliment but will have to review my work if I am intimidating. Apologies to those inflicted. I’d rather sway someone with the rationale of my argument than a gun to their head. Unlike US Foreign Policy.

    Such is Life.



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  • “We are made of star stuff” – Carl Sagan.

    Is there anything beyond that, a prequel; it should go without saying, but no, there is no god(s) hiding in the corner waiting to shout “surprise!”.



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  • […]I had to save it.

    Your sweet natured-ness is much appreciated(!), but I have to ask:

    what if the mouse is a carrier of a fatal disease that could decimate its local population, or, possesses a serious genetic flaw to be passed on to its brood?

    A few weeks ago I replaced a blanket that had blown sideways on an Amish owned horse in the parking lot. Don’t know if it helped, but sure made me feel good. So yeah, I can relate.



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  • 8
    aroundtown says:

    Yes, thought about all of that, ironically only after the event was over. The cat is plenty fat so it needs no further sustenance, and the mouse displayed gymnastics that could have won it an award in competition so it’s courage won my admiration and aid in short order. We take our chances all around and that goes for everyone I guess, but the event made compassion seep into the mix, but not from the cat, it’s intent was certain.



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  • From The Guardian:

    The UN report World population prospects: the 2012 revision, published on Thursday, predicts the world’s population, now at 7.2 billion, will reach 8.1 billion in 2025. By mid-century, the world’s population is expected to top 9.5 billion, reaching nearly 11 billion by 2100.

    More than half of the growth predicted between now and 2050 is expected in Africa, where the number of people is set to more than double, from 1.1 billion to 2.4 billion. Africa’s population will continue to rise even if there is a future drop in the average number of children each woman has, says the report, which predicts the number of people living on the continent could reach 4.2 billion (or more than 35% of total global population) by 2100.

    “We are made of star stuff” – Carl Sagan.
    Whatever stuff we are made of there is too much of it crawling around on the planet. Best of luck to African politicians running on campaigns promising job creation.



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  • Just like a farmers paddock that can only support so many sheep, this planet is just one paddock and it has a carrying capacity of around 1 billion.

    By mid-century, the world’s population is expected to top 9.5 billion, reaching nearly 11 billion by 2100.

    What happens to the sheep in a farmers paddock when he overstocks is the same fate that awaits us. There is an unbreakable rule in nature. Closed systems have limits. There are consequences, not immediately, but always if you break this rule. The most intelligent species that has ever lived, possibly in the universe, is committing voluntary mass extinction of itself. Stupid is as stupid does.



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  • Good analogy, David R. Another analogy might liken Africa to the singularity of the big bang from which the universe expanded. Humanity expanded outward from Africa beginning 200,000+ years ago and with the huge increase in population near the epicenter over the last 60 years, human population density is starting to contract back into the African singularity resulting (metaphorically) in a big crunch. If Africa accounts for 35% of global population by 2100, think what a few good pandemics originating on that continent could do to the other 65% of us.

    ( I know this analogy is flawed based on current cosmology. It’s only figurative).



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