The story of the Ice Age is one that has fascinated scientists for decades. How did humans survive such a harsh and unforgiving time? A new study on ancient Europeans' DNA sheds light on this question and uncovers some surprising findings.
According to the study, western European hunter-gatherers were able to outlast the icy blast of the last Ice Age, thanks to refuge in southwestern Europe. However, their eastern counterparts didn't fare as well and were replaced by genetically distinct hunter-gatherers who likely lived on the Balkan Peninsula. These newcomers carried ancestry from parts of southwestern Asia and began migrating into what's now northern Italy around 17,000 years ago. This discovery completely changes our interpretation of the archaeological record, according to Cosimo Posth, a paleogeneticist at the University of Tübingen in Germany. The researchers' conclusions are based on DNA analysis from 356 ancient hunter-gatherers, including new molecular evidence for 116 individuals from 14 countries in Europe and Asia.
What's particularly interesting is that these findings contradict previous assumptions about southeastern Europe providing lasting respite from the cold for nearby groups. Instead, it seems that southwestern Europe served as a refuge from glaciation more than southeastern Europe and Italy. The study also uncovered surprising information about Gravettian tools - previously thought to be products of a biologically uniform population occupying much of Europe. It turns out that makers of Gravettian tools came from two genetically distinct groups that populated western and eastern Europe for roughly 10,000 years before the Ice Age reached its peak.
These revelations show us that what we previously thought was one genetic ancestry in Europe turned out to be two - a fascinating insight into our ancient past. As Vanessa Villalba-Mouco and colleagues report in Nature Ecology & Evolution, further support for southwestern Europe as an Ice Age refuge comes from DNA extracted from a pair of fossil teeth belonging to an individual linked to the Solutrean culture in southern Spain. Overall, this study is groundbreaking in its scope and provides invaluable insights into how humans survived during one of Earth's harshest periods. Who knows what other secrets our DNA will reveal about our ancient past?