Eight Millennia of Matrilineal Genetic Continuity in the South Caucasus

Curr Biol. 2017 Jul 10;27(13):2023-2028.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.05.087. Epub 2017 Jun 29.


The South Caucasus, situated between the Black and Caspian Seas, geographically links Europe with the Near East and has served as a crossroad for human migrations for many millennia [1-7]. Despite a vast archaeological record showing distinct cultural turnovers, the demographic events that shaped the human populations of this region is not known [8, 9]. To shed light on the maternal genetic history of the region, we analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes of 52 ancient skeletons from present-day Armenia and Artsakh spanning 7,800 years and combined this dataset with 206 mitochondrial genomes of modern Armenians. We also included previously published data of seven neighboring populations (n = 482). Coalescence-based analyses suggest that the population size in this region rapidly increased after the Last Glacial Maximum ca. 18 kya. We find that the lowest genetic distance in this dataset is between modern Armenians and the ancient individuals, as also reflected in both network analyses and discriminant analysis of principal components. We used approximate Bayesian computation to test five different demographic scenarios explaining the formation of the modern Armenian gene pool. Despite well documented cultural shifts in the South Caucasus across this time period, our results strongly favor a genetic continuity model in the maternal gene pool. This has implications for interpreting prehistoric migration dynamics and cultural shifts in this part of the world.

Keywords: Armenia; South Caucasus; ancient DNA; genetic continuity; mitogenomes; mtDNA; population genetics.

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bayes Theorem
  • DNA, Ancient / analysis
  • Gene Pool*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genome, Human*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial*
  • Human Migration
  • Humans


  • DNA, Ancient