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8 November 2017
40,000-year-old man reveals genetic history of Asia

The archaeological record in China shows a rich history for early modern humans. Though several ancient humans have been sequenced in Europe and Siberia, few have been sequenced from East Asia, but the genome of a man from 40,000 years ago found in the Tianyuan Cave near what is now Beijing suggests the biological makeup of humans in East Asia is a complex story with greater diversity and more distant contacts than previously known.
     In 2013 it was found that Tianyuan man showed a closer relationship to present-day Asians than present-day Europeans, and a fresh study by the same laboratory applying new techniques to sequence and analyse more regions of his genome confirms this, however the first surprise came when researchers found that a 35,000-year-old individual from Belgium shared some similarity to the Tianyuan individual unknown in other ancient Europeans. The suggestion is that the two populations derived some of their ancestry from the same sub-population prior to the European-Asian separation.
     A 2015 study showed that some Native American populations from South America had an unusual connection to some populations south of mainland Asia. The proposal then was that the population that crossed into the Americas around 20,000 years ago could not be thought of as a single unit - that one or more related but distinct populations crossed at around the same time period, and at least one of which had additional ties to an Asian population that also contributed to the present-day connections.
     Tianyuan man also possesses genetic similarities to those same South Americans, confirming that multiple ancestries represented in Native Americans all come from populations in mainland Asia. Migration to the Americas occurred approximately 20,000 years ago, but the Tianyuan man is twice that age, so the diversity represented in the Americas must have persisted in mainland Asia since that earlier time.
     Tianyuan man derives from a population related to present-day East Asians, but not directly ancestral to these populations, suggesting that multiple genetically distinct populations were in Asia from 40,000 years ago.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (13 October 2017)

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