Monday, January 27, 2014
This has actually been obvious for a while now, thanks to both modern and ancient DNA. But the figure below from the new Olalde et al. paper on the complete genome of a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer from Iberia illustrates it more effectively than anything else I've seen to date. Note that the Polish reference set (PL) shows significantly higher allele sharing with the ancient Iberian, La Brana 1, than do Germans (DE). In fact, only Swedes (SE) manage to better Poles in this regard. But it's also worth noting that Poles show the highest allele sharing with the two partial genomic sequences of Neolithic hunter-gatherers from Gotland, Ajv70 and Ajv52.
On the other hand, compared to Poles, Germans clearly show higher allele sharing with Gok4, the Neolithic farmer from Southern Sweden, and Otzi the Iceman from the Copper Age Tyrolean Alps. Unlike the hunter-gatherers, who are genetically more Northern European than any Europeans alive today, these ancient samples are more Mediterranean, and indeed more Near Eastern, than most present-day Europeans, which is something that can be seen clearly on the main Principal Component Analysis (PCA) from Olalde et al. below. This suggests that most of their ancestors arrived in Europe from the Near East during the Neolithic.
This intriguing outcome is perhaps best explained by geography and climate? Germany is situated west of Poland, so it has a warmer climate, and thus its territory was more heavily settled by early farmers from the Mediterranean Basin during the Neolithic. Moreover, much of what is now Germany was part of the Roman Empire, which might have facilitated gene flow between the ancestors of present-day Germans and southern Europeans.
Poles, on the other hand, show stronger genetic links to Baltic populations, especially Lithuanians and Estonians, who are arguably the most Mesolithic-like Europeans alive today (see here). In fact, if they were present on the graphs above, they'd probably easily top the allele-sharing list with La Brana 1 and all of the hunter-gatherers from Gotland. This might be due to the almost impenetrable primeval forests that once covered the areas just south and east of the Baltic, as well as the relatively cold climate in these regions.
Olalde et al., Derived immune and ancestral pigmentation alleles in a 7,000-year-old Mesolithic European, Nature (2014), doi:10.1038/nature12960
The really old Europe is mostly in Eastern Europe
Mesolithic genome from Spain reveals markers for blue eyes, dark skin and Y-haplogroup C6