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4 May 2015
More light shed on European origins

The question of 'where did we come from?' has been posed many times over the millennia, particularly when it comes to the origins of European peoples and their cultures.
     Traditional methods of tracing our origins came from archaeology, ranging from analysis of pottery and weapon remains, how people were buried and the languages they spoke. Now two researchers from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, at the University of Adelaide (Australia) have added another level to our understanding, DNA sequencing.
     Genome sequencing technology has been applied to skeletal remains from across the period 6,000 BCE to 1500 BCE, with fascinating results. The studies show three distinct phases of European evolution. The original hunter gatherers were, as generally accepted previously, gradually replaced by farming cultures, pushing the hunter gatherers to the northern and north western fringes of the continent, where they re-grouped and gradually returned, mixing with the farming communities.
     No surprises so far, but here is where the new twist comes in. A previously unknown third distinct genomic element has been found, introduced approximately 4500 years ago, pushing in from the Russian/Ukrainian grasslands. It is believed that this group is responsible for introducing the wheel and domestication of horses into the mix. Whilst DNA analysis alone cannot prove it, it is also thought that this third group was also the possible source of our Indo European languages. Most of the research results have been published in Nature & Science articles.

Edited from The Conversation (22 March 2015)

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