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Paleogenetic investigations of hominin diversity and dispersals in Eurasian prehistory


Posth,  Cosimo
Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Posth, C. (2017). Paleogenetic investigations of hominin diversity and dispersals in Eurasian prehistory. PhD Thesis.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-1BAA-C
Ancient DNA (aDNA) is able to provide genetic snapshots into the human past that can be linked together to study evolutionary processes and demographic patterns impossible to uncover with the study of modern-day DNA alone. In this thesis I make use of major methodological “game changers” in the field of aDNA in order to reconstruct complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), as well as genome-wide nuclear data (nDNA) from ancient human specimens. The combination of next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies and target enrichment paired up with sampling of different anatomical elements, enabled me to expand the amount of analyzable hominin remains ranging from Pleistocene European hunter-gatherers to Holocene farmers in Remote Oceania. I first investigated the mtDNA of late Neandertals from Goyet cave in Belgium and of an archaic femur from Hohlenstein-Stadel in southwest Germany to explore the changes in genetic diversity of this extinct hominins through time and provide the temporal interval for a putative African gene flow event into Neandertal populations. In addition, I carried out two studies that explored demographic changes in European Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers by means of both mtDNA and nDNA, and revealed population structure and unexpected genetic turnovers in Ice Age Europe. By expanding the temporal and geographical distribution of genomic data it was able to infer population movements in European prehistory and compare them to climatic and archaeological records over almost 40,000 years. While the formation of some genetic clusters tightly matches to the associated archaeological changes across Europe, other major genomic transformations seem to be more influenced by environmental fluctuations. In the last project, I contributed in producing aDNA of four individuals among the first settlers of Vanuatu and Tonga in the Southwest Pacific. Sampling the petrous portion of their temporal bones allowed me to retrieve genomic data from climatic conditions unfavorable for DNA preservation. Those genomes highlight the role of previously unknown dispersals in shaping the ancestry of present-day people in Remote Oceania. Here, I take a time trip to shed light into the genetic history of our ancestors and closest extinct relatives.