Kiel archaeologist contributes to the largest genome analysis of ice-age and post-glacial ancestors to date
Modern humans have inhabited Europe for more than 45,000 years. However, the Late Glacial maximum about 25,000 years ago represented a decisive break in the history of human settlement. Were the Homo sapiens populations that previously lived in Europe related to each other? And who repopulated Central Europe after the end of the Ice Age? These questions have been puzzling scientists for more than 100 years.
With the largest genome dataset of European hunter-gatherers ever compiled, an international research team led by the University of Tübingen, the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Peking University, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, with participation of Kiel University, has now rewritten the genetic history of our ancestors. The study also places a number of individuals from the Middle Stone Age burial site of Groß Fredenwalde in the Uckermark region in a larger European context. For the first time it demonstrates contacts between Central European and Eastern European human groups 8000 years ago. The results have now been published in the international journal Nature.
For the study, a total of 125 scientists analyzed the genomes of 356 prehistoric individuals from different archaeological contexts, including new genome datasets from 116 individuals from 14 different European and Central Asian countries.
Among the study's co-authors is Dr. Henny Piezonka, professor of ethnoarchaeology at CAU's Institute of Prehistory and Early History and a member of the ROOTS Cluster of Excellence and CRC 1266. Together with colleagues, she has been researching important Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic) human remains from northern Germany since 2019.
The study, now published in Nature, shows, among other things, that a population change occurred in Central Europe about 14,000 years ago with the warming at the end of the Ice Age, resulting in the hunter-gatherer population of the post-glacial period. This post-glacial hunter-gatherer population also includes the people buried at Groß Fredenwalde, the topic of research Prof. Henny Piezonka is conducting together with partners of Göttingen University, the Berlin University of Applied Sciences (HTW) and the Brandenburg State Office for the Preservation of Archaeological Monuments.
The new study also for characterizes this population in terms of appearance: the individuals had dark skin and blue or green eyes. "What is new is that, for the first time, contacts with hunter-gatherer communities in Eastern Europe can be detected in the genes of the individuals from Groß Fredenwalde. These early eastern Europeans had lighter skin and dark eyes, judging from the evaluation of their genes," explains Henny Piezonka. 8000 years ago, when the individuals in Groß Fredenwalde were buried, the Baltic Sea developed, which presumably promoted east-west contacts.
The burial site Groß Fredenwalde holds another surprise: A young man buried around 7,000 years ago who lived in the region at the same time as early farmers with southeastern European roots and certainly had personal encounters with the immigrants, shows no genetic mixing. The late hunter-gatherers and the first farmers in the area of today's Brandenburg had been in contact for generations at that time, but they obviously did not share bread and bed," says Henny Piezonka's colleague and project partner Prof. Dr. Thomas Terberger of Göttingen University and the Lower Saxony State Office for the Preservation of Monuments.
Overall, the new study provides crucial new insights into the population history of early modern humans: Whereas hypotheses about his development were previously based primarily on archaeological evidence, a more reliable and detailed understanding of the colonization processes and contacts of Ice Age and post-Glacial hunter-gatherer societies in Europe is now available.
The research at Groß Fredenwalde was funded by the German Research Foundation (project "The Mesolithic Burial Site at Groß Fredenwalde, Brandenburg - Late Hunter-Gatherers in a Changing World").
Cosimo Posth et al. Paleogenomics of Upper Paleolithic to Neolithic European hunter-gatherers. Nature 2023. www.nature.com/articles/s41586-023-05726-0
University of Tübingen press release: uni-tuebingen.de/universitaet/aktuelles-und-publikationen/pressemitteilungen/newsfullview-pressemitteilungen/article/ueberleben-in-der-eiszeit/
The Cluster of Excellence "ROOTS - Social, Environmental, and Cultural Connectivity in Past Societies" explores the roots of social, environmental, and cultural phenomena and processes that substantially marked past human development. In a broad interdisciplinary conceptual framework, archaeological and historical ‘laboratories’ are investigated under the basic assumption that humans and environments have deeply shaped each other, creating socio-environmental connectivities which still persist today. A better understanding of interwoven past socio-environmental dynamics will shed light on the ‘roots’ of current challenges and crises.
More Information www.cluster-roots.uni-kiel.de