The genetic history of Ice Age Europe

Nature. 2016 Jun 9;534(7606):200-5. doi: 10.1038/nature17993. Epub 2016 May 2.


Modern humans arrived in Europe ~45,000 years ago, but little is known about their genetic composition before the start of farming ~8,500 years ago. Here we analyse genome-wide data from 51 Eurasians from ~45,000-7,000 years ago. Over this time, the proportion of Neanderthal DNA decreased from 3-6% to around 2%, consistent with natural selection against Neanderthal variants in modern humans. Whereas there is no evidence of the earliest modern humans in Europe contributing to the genetic composition of present-day Europeans, all individuals between ~37,000 and ~14,000 years ago descended from a single founder population which forms part of the ancestry of present-day Europeans. An ~35,000-year-old individual from northwest Europe represents an early branch of this founder population which was then displaced across a broad region, before reappearing in southwest Europe at the height of the last Ice Age ~19,000 years ago. During the major warming period after ~14,000 years ago, a genetic component related to present-day Near Easterners became widespread in Europe. These results document how population turnover and migration have been recurring themes of European prehistory.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / isolation & purification
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Founder Effect
  • Genetics, Population
  • History, Ancient
  • Human Migration / history
  • Humans
  • Ice Cover*
  • Male
  • Middle East
  • Neanderthals / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Population Dynamics
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Time Factors
  • Whites / genetics*
  • Whites / history*


  • DNA