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The genetic legacy of the last European hunter-gatherers that lived in the Iberian Peninsula is much more diverse than previously believed, according to an international study published in the journal Current Biology and headed by researcher Vanessa Villalba from the Max Planck Institute (Germany) and the University of Zaragoza.
“After the period of the ice age (Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago), only two Palaeolithic lineages survived this critical period for human populations,” explains Villalba.
Add "one related to Magdalenian culture or technocomplex (with representatives from 19,000 to 15,000 years ago found in Belgium, Germany and Spain, where the oldest individual is: that of the Cantabrian cave of El Mirón) and another with the epigravetian, located for the first time in Italy and whose representative is the individual from Villabruna, about 14,000 years ago. Just then the weather improves and The Epigravetian lineage is the one that survives and spreads throughout Europe from that date to 7,000 years ago. '
But what happened during that time with the genetic diversity in the Iberian Peninsula, which is known to have acted as a refuge for animal and plant species during the coldest periods?
To answer the question, the authors have analyzed samples from 15,000 to 8,000 years ago belonging to eleven hunter-gatherers, such as those found in Moita do sabastiäo (Portugal) and Balma de Guilanyà (Spain), and various Neolithic individuals.
«Thus we have seen that the two lineages converge in the hunter-gatherer individuals of the Iberian Peninsula», highlights Villalba, «and this means the two survived and mingled, although it is not known when this hybridization occurred. The individual from El Mirón already shows both components and the one from Balma de Guilanyà, from 12,000 years ago, does so in equal proportions ».
Another author, Wolfgang Haak of the Max Planck Institute, adds: “We can confirm the survival of an additional Paleolithic lineage dating back to the last Ice Age in Iberia. This corroborates the role of the Iberian Peninsula as a refuge during the last glacial maximum, not only for fauna and flora, but also for human populations.
The double legacy passes to Neolithic farmers
The authors have also analyzed samples from Neolithic farmers who came to the Peninsula about 7,500 years ago from the Middle East, bringing with it a new genetic component, but they have verified that the two Paleolithic lineages can also be traced in them.
«This indicates that the last hunter-gatherers and the Neolithics hybridized within the Peninsula«, Emphasizes Villalba.
"The objective was study the influence that the genetic composition of the samples had had in the configuration of the genetic legacy of the populations of the Iberian Peninsula, both hunter-gatherers, as well as the maintenance of genes or certain genes throughout the Neolithic period ”, indicates co-author Manuel Rojo Guerra, professor of Prehistory at the University from Valladolid.
His team has samples of individuals found in the Els Trocs cave sites (San Feliu de Veri, Huesca) and the Tomb of the Mine (Alcubillas de las Peñas, Soria), corresponding to the Old and Middle Neolithic.
"TO late Holocene (which began about 11,700 years ago) in the Peninsula there is a duality of genetic influences from European populations. One of them related to Belgian remains (Goyet Q2) and others to Villabruna (Italy) ”, says Rojo Guerra.
“This same double ancestry has been observed in individuals from the Old and Middle Neolithic., supporting the hypothesis of the survival of these hunter-gatherer populations in Iberia since the beginning of the Neolithic, which is mixed with the new ones that come with the new producer way of life ”, points out the researcher.
«It is fantastic to observe the signs of mixing between local hunter-gatherers and newcomer farmers: it simply shows how much we still have to know about our past ”, concludes Haak, who together with Villlalba has also participated in another study published this year in Science on the peninsular genomic history of the last 8,000 years.
Regarding whether the two genetic lineages of the last hunter-gatherers are conserved in the current inhabitants of the Peninsula, the researcher acknowledges that they still haven't checked it: «It is very difficult to estimate such old mixes, since after the Neolithic there also comes ancestry related to populations of the Russian steppe, the Romans, the Muslims ... To understand our genetic makeup today, we have to move forward in time and carry out studies of other historical periods.
Vanessa Villalba-Mouco, Marieke S. van de Loosdrecht, Cosimo Posth, Rafael Mora Jorge Martínez-Moreno, Manuel Rojo-Guerra, Domingo C. Salazar-García, José I. Royo-Guillén, Michael Kunst, Hélène Rougier, Isabelle Crevecoeur, Héctor Arcusa-Magallón, Cristina Tejedor-Rodríguez, Iñigo García-Martínez de Lagrán, Rafael Garrido-Pena, Kurt W. Alt, Choongwon Jeong, Stephan Schiffels, Pilar Utrilla, Johannes Krause, Wolfgang Haak. "Survival of Late Pleistocene Hunter-Gatherer Ancestry in the Iberian Peninsula". Current Biology 29 (7), April 2019.
Spanish centers participating in the study: University of Valladolid, Autonomous University of Barcelona, University of the Basque Country, General Directorate of Culture and Heritage of the Government of Aragon, German Archaeological Institute of Madrid, Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit-CSIC) and the Autonomous University of Madrid.
Source: SINC / DICYT / Max Planck Institute