According to the results of a new groundbreaking study, the earliest Europeans somehow managed to survive the Last Glacial Maximum, during the peak of the last ice age. Scientists came to this conclusion after analyzing DNA samples from the bones of a 36,000 year old fossilized male hunter found in Western Russia. The findings have helped scientists to clarify a few mysteries of our genetic ancestry.
Around 40,000 years ago, Europe was first settled during a period of time known as the Upper Paleolithic. However, as temperatures dropped and weather conditions deteriorated, ice began to cover much of the landmass, until roughly 10,000 years ago. At this time, most of the ice sheets had melted, allowing populations in the south to repopulate northern European.
Until now, the exact relationship between pre-and post-Ice Age Europeans have been unclear. Researchers have raised the possibility that pioneer populations could have gone extinct at some point during the last Ice Age.
However, scientists discovered a surprising genetic “unity” connecting the first modern humans to later populations through the genome sequence of the male hunter. This seems to suggest that the Paleolithic hunter-gatherers – and polar adventurers – managed to survive the peak of the Ice Age to eventually colonize the rest of Europe.
According to Dr. Marta Mirazón Lahr, from Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (LCHES), “That there was continuity from the earliest Upper Paleolithic to the Mesolithic, across a major glaciation, is a great insight into the evolutionary processes underlying human success.
“For 30,000 years ice sheets came and went, at one point covering two-thirds of Europe. Old cultures died and new ones emerged – such as the Aurignacian and the Gravettian – over thousands of years, and the hunter-gatherer populations ebbed and flowed.”
“But we now know that no new sets of genes are coming in: these changes in survival and cultural kit are overlaid on the same biological background.”
The DNA also contained a small portion of Neanderthal genes, which confirm the previous belief that there was an ‘admixture event’ at some point during the early human colonization of Eurasia. Around this time, Neanderthals and the first modern humans to leave Africa briefly interbred.