Early Alpine occupation backdates westward human migration in Late Glacial Europe

Curr Biol. 2021 Jun 7;31(11):2484-2493.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.078. Epub 2021 Apr 21.


Before the end of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ∼16.5 ka ago)1 set in motion major shifts in human culture and population structure,2 a consistent change in lithic technology, material culture, settlement pattern, and adaptive strategies is recorded in Southern Europe at ∼18-17 ka ago. In this time frame, the landscape of Northeastern Italy changed considerably, and the retreat of glaciers allowed hunter-gatherers to gradually recolonize the Alps.3-6 Change within this renewed cultural frame (i.e., during the Late Epigravettian phase) is currently associated with migrations favored by warmer climate linked to the Bølling-Allerød onset (14.7 ka ago),7-11 which replaced earlier genetic lineages with ancestry found in an individual who lived ∼14 ka ago at Riparo Villabruna, Italy, and shared among different contexts (Villabruna Cluster).9 Nevertheless, these dynamics and their chronology are still far from being disentangled due to fragmentary evidence for long-distance interactions across Europe.12 Here, we generate new genomic data from a human mandible uncovered at Riparo Tagliente (Veneto, Italy), which we directly dated to 16,980-16,510 cal BP (2σ). This individual, affected by focal osseous dysplasia, is genetically affine to the Villabruna Cluster. Our results therefore backdate by at least 3 ka the diffusion in Southern Europe of a genetic component linked to Balkan/Anatolian refugia, previously believed to have spread during the later Bølling/Allerød event. In light of the new genetic evidence, this population replacement chronologically coincides with the very emergence of major cultural transitions in Southern and Western Europe.

Keywords: Epigravettian; Late Glacial; Southern Europe; Upper Palaeolithic; WHG; paleogenomics; population turnover.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Climate
  • Europe
  • Human Migration*
  • Humans
  • Ice Cover*
  • Occupations