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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: https://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.