|15 November 2012
Genetic tests prove that Oetzi was Central Europe native
Oetzi the Iceman, an astonishingly well-preserved Neolithic mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991, was a native of Central Europe, not a first-generation émigré from Sardinia, new research shows. And genetically, he looked a lot like other Stone Age farmers throughout Europe. The new findings, reported at the American Society of Human Genetics conference, support the theory that farmers, and not just the technology of farming, spread during prehistoric times from the Middle East all the way to Finland.
"The idea is that the spread of farming and agriculture, right now we have good evidence that it was also associated with a movement of people and not only technology," said study co-author Martin Sikora, a geneticist at Stanford University.
Scientists sequenced Oetzi's genome earlier this year, yielding a surprising result: The Iceman was more closely related to present-day Sardinians than he was to present-day Central Europeans. But the researchers sequenced only part of the genome, and the results didn't resolve an underlying question: Did most of the Neolithic people in Central Europe have genetic profiles more characteristic of Sardinia, or had Oetzi's family recently emigrated from Southern Europe? "Maybe Oetzi was just a tourist, maybe his parents were Sardinian and he decided to move to the Alps," Sikora said. That would have required Oetzi's family to travel hundreds of miles, an unlikely prospect, Sikora said.
To answer that question, Sikora's team sequenced Oetzi's entire genome and compared it with those from hundreds of modern-day Europeans, as well as the genomes of a Stone Age hunter-gatherer found in Sweden, a farmer from Sweden, a 7,000-year-old hunter-gatherer iceman found in Iberia and an Iron Age man found in Bulgaria. The team confirmed that, of modern people, Sardinians are Oetzi's closest relatives. But among the prehistoric quartet, Oetzi most closely resembled the farmers found in Bulgaria and Sweden, while the Swedish and Iberian hunter-gatherers looked more like present-day Northern Europeans.
The findings support the notion that people migrating from the Middle East all the way to Northern Europe brought agriculture with them and mixed with the native hunter-gatherers, enabling the population to explode, Sikora said. While the traces of these ancient migrations are largely lost in most of Europe, Sardinian islanders remained more isolated and therefore retain larger genetic traces of those first Neolithic farmers, Sikora said.
Edited from NBC News (9 November 2012)
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