A new timescale has recently been established for human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages, making mtDNA at present the most informative genetic marker system for studying European prehistory. Here, we review the new chronology and compare mtDNA with Y-chromosome patterns, in order to summarize what we have learnt from archaeogenetics concerning five episodes over the past 50,000 years which significantly contributed to the settlement history of Europe: the pioneer colonisation of the Upper Palaeolithic, the Late Glacial re-colonisation of the continent from southern refugia after the Last Glacial Maximum, the postglacial re-colonization of deserted areas after the Younger Dryas cold snap, the arrival of Near Easterners with an incipient Neolithic package, and the small-scale migrations along continent-wide economic exchange networks beginning with the Copper Age. The available data from uniparental genetic systems have already transformed our view of the prehistory of Europe, but our knowledge of these processes remains limited. Nevertheless, their legacy remains as sedimentary layers in the gene pool of modern Europeans, and our understanding of them will improve substantially when more mtDNAs are completely sequenced, the Y chromosome more thoroughly analysed, and haplotype blocks of the autosomal genome become amenable to phylogeographic studies.
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