Researchers reveal Europeans’ fourth ancestral ‘tribe’

DNA extracted from 10,000-year-old skeletal remains, found in the Caucasus Mountains, have revealed the “fourth strand” of European ancestry. Photo by Eppie Jones

CAMBRIDGE, England, Nov. 16 (UPI) — The origins of modern Europeans’ genetic makeup is becoming clearer. Scientists have found the “fourth strand” of European ancestry.

A small but significant portion of Europe’s genome is derived from a unique population of hunter-gatherers who for several thousand years sat out the frigid intolerance of the Ice Age in the shelter of the Caucasus mountains.

Shortly after the Out of Africa movement, a group of hunter-gatherers split off from western populations and settled the lands along the present day Russian-Georgian border. There, hemmed in by ice and snow, they remained isolated for several thousand years, there genetic makeup growing more distinct.

At some point after the the last Ice Age finally began to recede, approximately 22,000 years ago, the Caucasus peoples joined the Yamnaya culture, the horse-borne Steppe herders of Eastern Europe. Around 5,000 years ago, the Yamnaya culture swept into Western Europe.

They brought considerable metal-working skills with them, and some anthropologists believe their arrival ushered in the Bronze Age. They also brought the family of Indo-European languages that would birth the tongues of modern Europe. Central and Northern Europe owe as much as half of their ancestry to the Yamnaya herders.

Researchers have long been aware the Yamnaya’s influence of Europe’s genome and vocabulary, but the Steppe herders themselves were a mixed people. The latest discovery, made possible by the sequencing of ancient genomes from the Caucasus region, shows where exactly some of that mixing came from.

The DNA was extracted from skeletal remains found in the caves of Western Georgia. The remains dated between 10,000 and 13,000 years old.

“The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now,” Andrea Manica, from Cambridge’s zoology department, said in a press release.

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