Population Replacement

DNA research is exploding established history everywhere we look. When I was growing up, everyone assumed that modern humans moved into Europe from the Middle East, spread out, and stayed. So, for us, history was pretty much invasions where different peoples took over new land, and (probably) exterminated or enslaved everyone who lived there before.

It turns out it wasn’t like that.

“Ancient DNA studies published in the last five years have transformed what we know about the early peopling of Europe. The picture they paint is one in which successive waves of immigration wash over the continent, bringing in new people, new genes and new technologies.

“These studies helped confirm that Europe’s early hunter-gatherers – who arrived about 40,000 years ago – were largely replaced by farmers arriving from the Middle East about 8000 years ago. These farmers then saw an influx of pastoralists from the Eurasian steppe about 4500 years ago, meaning modern Europe was shaped by three major population turnover events.

“The latest study suggests things were even more complicated. About 14,500 years ago, when Europe was emerging from the last ice age, the hunter-gatherers who had endured the chilly conditions were largely replaced by a different population of hunter-gatherers.”

“As conditions improved, it was these southern hunter-gatherers who took advantage and migrated into central and northern Europe, he says – meaning there was a genetic discontinuity with the hunter-gatherer populations that had lived there earlier [emphasis added].”

I don’t think this is the last word. The picture is getting clearer but it still seems fuzzy to me. We’ll see.

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