The main discoveries made through the study of ancient DNA

The history of mankind is written not on paper, but in our genes. DNA research of ancient people sheds light on the dark parts of evolution, not only debunking myths, but also asking new questions.

Columbus exchange – the so-called displacement of plants, animals, as well as population and technology from the Old to the New World as a result of the discovery of America. Together with representatives of the Old World, their diseases also came to the new continent, which greatly influenced the Aboriginal population. Smallpox, measles, and tropical fever have changed not only the numbers of Native Americans, but also their genome. Studying DNA tsimshian, Canadian Indians, scientists noticed colossal differences in the genes of ancient and modern Indians associated with immunity. Historical data speak of a smallpox outbreak among the Tsimshians after contact with European guests: smallpox killed 57% of the ethnic group. The genes of the ancient Tsimshians were adapted to the disease, traditionally existence in this region. To survive, their descendants had to not only learn to defend themselves, but also “fit” into their DNA resistance to new diseases.

Origin of the Irish. Bearers of the genome of the ancient Irish are considered to be a woman of the Neolithic age and two men of the Bronze Age. The remains of the woman were found in 1855 near Belfast, their age dates back to 5200 years, and the bones of men were found on the sharp Rutlin, their age is estimated at 4200 years. So, the genome of an ancient woman revealed similarity with the genome of modern inhabitants of Spain and Sardinia, and her ancestors, according to scientists, came from the Middle East. The genome of men from the island of Ratlin differs from the female – according to geneticists, their ancestors were from the Pontic steppes of the Black Sea region, located on the territory of modern Russia and Ukraine. The genome of the ancient inhabitants of the island of Rutlin is closer to the genome of modern Irish, Scots and Welsh than the genome of a woman. Most likely, they were one of the representatives of several groups, which later formed a Celtic civilization.


Como people once inhabited the territory of modern Ghana in West Africa. Interest of archaeologists to this small nationality was caused by one peculiarity: the ancient people of Como left after themselves the fanciful terracotta figures depicting people and animals. The scientists decided to study those DNA that could remain in the artifacts. True, without much hope: an arid climate and being in the hot sand for centuries would likely destroy the DNA. But scientists are lucky! The centuries-old blood vessels preserved DNA, which gave amazing discoveries. In them were found traces of plantain, banana and pine – none of this was found in the territory during the creation of the investigated artifacts (600-1300 AD). Thus, a small figure of a little-known ethnic group told the world about the well-established trade routes between West Africa and the Sahara.

Immutable DNA. It is rare to meet people whose DNA has not changed for the last 8 thousand years: representatives of the ancient world have constantly migrated, which is permanently imprinted in our genes. But there are exceptions. Genetic studies of the remains of a Stone Age woman found in the Far East found her closest relationship to the modern ethnic groups in the region. First of all, this applies to the Evenks (ie the Tungus) living in Russia, China, and Mongolia.

“A Man from Mota.” The skeleton of a man who lived 4,5 thousand years ago, miraculously preserved in the cool dry cave of Mota in the south of Ethiopia, told scientists about the migration of the peoples of Africa. The genome of the “man from Mota” is the first genome of an ancient man in Africa (before it could not be calculated because of the hot and humid climate that destroys DNA). Earlier it was believed that modern people said goodbye to Africa about 70 thousand years ago and spread to the Middle East and beyond Asia, and then, having mastered farming there, farmers from the Middle East and Turkey returned to the continent, giving birth to modern African peoples. However, the “man from Mota” was not genetically similar to “reemigrants” from Europe. He had brown eyes and black skin, he was adapted to high-mountain life, in addition, unlike Eurasians from the territory of Turkey and the Middle East, he could not digest milk. Scientists suggest that the genome of the “man from Mota” is closely related to the genome of representatives of the culture of linear-band ceramics, ie, the first Neolithic culture in Western and Central Europe, formed on the middle Danube. If these data are confirmed, they will fundamentally change the perception of the spread of man in the territory of Africa.

The teeth of the Danish king. King of Denmark Sven II Estridsen, also called the last king of the Vikings, was buried in 1076 in a grave with his mother – at least, it was considered until recently. The scientists examined the DNA of the royal teeth and found out: the woman with whom the last Viking king had rest, not only can not be his mother genetically, but also much younger than him. According to historical data, the mother of Sven, Estrid, died at the age of 70, while the stranger in his grave was no more than 35 years old at the time of death. Perhaps the king was buried with one of his daughters-in-law, and the real mother of Estridsen rests nearby.

London variety. Native residents of London – it’s not those who own real estate in the second generation, and who settled in this area about 2 thousand years ago. The Museum of London stores four skeletons of the first inhabitants of the British capital. Recent studies of the remains proved that the ancient inhabitants of London were not his natives. The most valuable for geneticists was the skeleton of a 14-year-old girl, who was called “a teenager with Lant Street.” The “teen” genome says that the young lady grew up … in North Africa! A mitochondrial DNA (the one that is transmitted only on the maternal line) gave out ancestors from Southern and Eastern Europe. Another skeleton, known as “Man with Mansell Street,” also had African roots, but it grew in the territory of modern London: this is evidenced by the diseases found in its bone tissue, typical for Western Europeans. The third Londoner was nicknamed the “gladiator” – he was clearly killed by a violent death and led a harsh life, which resulted in multiple injuries and injuries. Like the “teenager with Lant Street,” the “gladiator” was born not in London, but mitochondrial DNA speaks about ancestors from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The only of the four first Londoners who were born and raised in Britain is “a woman with Harper Road.” Two interesting facts about the ancient British. First, it was buried with Roman relics: at the time of its death in these lands the Romans commanded, and perhaps the local resident tried to fit into the new way that came with the invaders. Secondly, she was a woman physically, and genetically – a man. It turns out that one of the first inhabitants of London was a transgender.

Sudden disappearance of Europeans. As is often the case in science, they searched for one thing, but found another. Trying to find out if emigrants from Turkey settled in Europe 7,5 thousand years ago, scientists examined the DNA of ancient Europeans who lived in Italy and Germany. It turned out that DNA belongs to completely different cultures. Yes, the first pan-Europeans really came to this land from Turkey, settled and prospered. But, apparently, something went wrong: all these genetic markers break off approximately 4,5 thousand years ago. In other words, some sudden event caused a massive migration – those who inhabited these areas, quickly left them, and in their place came people with completely different genetic roots.

Influential Greek woman. Until recently, archaeologists were convinced that the position of a woman in Ancient Greece was so insignificant that it could be compared to movable property. However, genetics has helped here too. Studying the history of Mycenae, in particular, the graves of the rulers of the ancient citadel, scientists discovered among the regal remains of women. At first it was decided that they could belong to the wife of one of the privileged men, and her magnificent grave served as a symbol of his status. But DNA research showed that she was not the wife, but the sister of one of the men. It turns out that women in ancient Greece could be influential and even be in power.

Blue-eyed cave man. In 2006, a skeleton of an ancient man, who lived 7 thousand years ago, was found in the North-West of Spain. He was called the “man of La Bran 1”, by the name of the cave, where his remains were found. The good preservation of the skeleton provided rich material for geneticists who made a revolutionary discovery. Thus, the “man of La Bran” was swarthy and blue-eyed. Earlier, it was believed that a person (who was originally dark and brown-eyed) mutated in a different order – first the pigmentation of the skin (to a lighter one) and then the color of the eyes was changed. “The man of La Bran scattered this myth”: it turns out that the color of the blue eyes of people appeared earlier than the light skin. This is not the only merit of the Spanish find. So, it was believed that the immunity of immunity to diseases transmitted from animals, developed with the beginning of agriculture. But the genome of the “man of La Bran” says something else: living in the era of hunters and gatherers, his body was already resistant to many pathogenic organisms.