Scientists have had a difficult time unravelling the mysteries of human cultural and linguistic evolution, especially since there isn’t so much evidence to base one’s conclusions on. Geneticists have attempted to shed light on the matter by using DNA genome sequencing to offer insights into Bronze Age cultural evolution.
Two teams of scientists have detailed the way they used DNA mapping to reveal human migratory patterns thousands of years ago.
During the Eurasian Bronze Age, which occurred between 3,000 BC and 1,000 BC, humans developed not only new technologies and weaponry but also cultural customs and burial practices which slowly spread all through Europe and Asia.
Geneticists are convinced that by following the DNA footprint that these Bronze Age populations left behind, they will be able to accurately re-construct the ways in which modern humanity was shaped by ancient events.
This novel approach is only possible because of technological advancement: DNA sequencing is becoming increasingly cheaper while lab techniques are more and more sensitive in separating degraded DNA from current-day contaminants.
Despite the fact that such old DNA samples are particularly quality-deficient, geneticists were able to obtain sufficient information in order to discern precisely how these populations migrated through Europe and Asia.
The two distinct studies in question attempt to shed light on a matter over which anthropologists have quarreled for some time: was it population relocation that helped ideas spreading or was it the spread of culture itself that contributed to the widespread cultural similarities in Eurasia?
Both studies involving DNA sequencing argue that population migration is what contributed to the cultural heritage that seems to be shared all across Europe and Asia.
“Our findings show that these transformations involved migrations,” Eske Willerslev, lead author of one study wrote.
Willerslev and Morten Allentoft’s team sequenced the genomes of 101 people who lived all across Asia and Europe during the Bronze Age. Both authors joked that they could have stopped at 80 genomes but decided to cross the 100-people mark for the gist of it.
“Why the hell not? Let’s go above 100,” they said.
Combined with the second study involving genome sequencing, led by Harvard Medical School geneticist David Reich, scientists obtained DNA information stemming from 170 Bronze Age individuals.
Both teams concluded that there were noteworthy genetic similarities between Bronze Age populations stemming in the Russian Yamnaya culture and members of the Corded Ware culture. These similarities reveal possible migratory patterns from the Russian steps towards the north and west.
But such conclusions come to support additional hypotheses, such as the steppe hypothesis. It argues that language precursors of today’s Hindi, Germanic, Romanic and Slavic languages lie in the steppes and spread throughout Europe because of Corded Ware culture members.
“It will be exciting to see what the careful use of ancient DNA will reveal about the history of other language families and their speakers,” study authors wrote.
Image Source: Archaeology News Network