Mystery invaders conquered hunter-gatherers who had fled south during the last ice age, redrawing the map of Europe around 14,500 years ago, a new study of ancient DNA suggests.
What researchers call the “unknown chapter in human history” began as the ice age closed in and hunter-gatherer populations in Europe began retreating to the south, seeking warmth.
Some groups survived the long winter only to then be wiped out and replaced by another family line, of invaders who moved in as the climate began to warm.
“The descendants of the hunter-gatherers who survived through the Last Glacial Maximum were largely replaced by a population from another source,” says lead author Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.
While no one is sure where these invaders may have come from, Krause assumes it must be from warmer areas, possibly in southeast Europe.
While the ice age could be expected to cause major population upheavals, “the major post-glacial turnover that was induced by warming events came as a surprise”, co-author Wolfgang Haak, told reporters.
The findings, published in Current Biology, focus on mitochondrial DNA gleaned from ancient bones of 35 hunter-gatherers who lived in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, and Romania.
Mitochondria live within cells, and can provide clues to maternal lineage.
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