Dramatic population change in Europe 15000 years ago DNA evidence shows

A dramatic population change in Europe occurred about 15000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, according to DNA evidence discovered by an international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

This major and unexplained population shift occurred when local foraging (hunter-gathering) populations were nearly entirely replaced by a group from a different area, say the scientists, who had been researching our ancient ancestors’ genetics.

The researchers wrote about their study and findings in the peer-reviewed, scientific journal Current Biology (citation below).

Major population change in Europe 14500 years agoThe study’s findings point to a single and rapid dispersal of all non-Africans populations around 50,000 years ago – not only across the Asian continent, but also into Europe. (Image: MPI for the Science of Human History. Credit: Annette Guenzel)

Genetic evidence from bones and teeth

The discovery was made after researchers carried out an extensive study of DNA evidence gathered from the teeth and bone specimens of ancient humans who lived in Europe from the Late Pleistocene to the early Holocene, a period spanning approximately 30,000 years.

Until this latest study, the dispersal of modern humans outside of Africa had been a long-debated topic, both in terms of how many major expansions there were and when they occurred.



An international team of scientists – from Germany, the USA, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, and the Czech Republic – retrieved DNA from thirty-five hunter-gatherers spanning nearly 30,000 years of European pre-history.

The findings gave them unexpected insights into early modern human population dynamics. About 50,000 years ago, there was a single and rapid dispersal of non-Africans, not only across the Asian continent, but also in Europe.

Surprising discovery of population turnover 14,500 years ago

The researchers also uncovered a previously unknown population turnover about 14,500 years ago, a time of extreme climatic instability at the end of the last Ice Age.

Human skull from Europe pre historyA 30,000 year-old human skull, unearthed at burial 16 in the Dolní Vĕstonice archaeological site, Czech Republic. (Image: MPI for the Science of Human History. Credit: Martin Frouz)

Genetic data about early modern humans who existed for up to 40,000 years as hunter-gatherers in Europe is scarce, while their population dynamics and structure is virtually unknown.

Using bioinformatics and molecular techniques, scientists from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for the Science of Human History in Jena and Tuebingen University in Germany, together with researchers from other institutions, were able to reconstruct complete mtDNA (maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA) genomes of thirty five foragers (hunter-gatherers) who lived in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Romania, France and the Czech Republic from 35,000 to 7,000 years ago.



After analyzing ancient mtDNAs, the researchers were surprised to find that three individuals from before the LGM (Last Glacial Maximum), that were unearthed in present-day France and Belgium, belong to a type of mtDNA called haplogroup M. The Last Global Maximum was the coldest period during the last Ice Age.

Scientists astonished with the result

Lead author, Cosimo Posth of Tübingen University, said:

“I couldn’t believe it. The first time I got this result I thought it must be a mistake, because in contemporary Europeans haplogroup M is effectively absent, but is found at high frequency in modern Asians, Australians and Native American populations.”

The LG started approximately 25,000 years ago. Hunter-gatherer populations retreated to several proposed *refugia in the south of Europe, experts tell us.

* Refugia are areas in which populations can survive through periods of unfavourable conditions, especially glaciation.

The researchers believe that haplogroup M could have been lost due to the smaller population size, which re-expanded later across Europe when the weather improved.

European Hunter GatherersHunter-gatherers were humans who lived in a community where most or all of their food was obtained by picking wild plants and hunting wild animals, in contrast to agricultural societies, which relied mainly on crops and domesticated animals. (Image: geneticliteracyproject.org)

Two-non African populations date back 50,000 years

The authors, who made use of ancient radiocarbon-dated mtDNA as molecular calibration points, were able to revise the mtDNA mutation rate – the rate at which DNA builds up mutation over time – and accurately dated the origin of the two non-African mtDNA types, N and M, to approximately 50,000 years ago.

Director at the MPI for the Science of Human History, Johannes Krause, said:

“This date estimate supports a late and rapid dispersal of all non-African populations carrying both M and N haplogroups, not only across Asia but also into Europe.”

End of last Ice Age surprising population changeThere have been several Ice Ages since the Earth was formed. The population change that surprised the scientists in this study occurred at the end of the last Ice Age. (Image adapted from kaiserscience)

The new data provided even more fascinating results. While we have already known about large-scale population replacement events during the Neolithic and Bronze Age, nobody knew there had been a major shift in Europe about 14,500 years ago. The evidence from this new study showed this had occurred – at the end of the last Ice Age.

Senior author, Adam Powell, who works at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, said:

“During this period of drastic warming, it looks like the European hunter-gatherers were largely replaced by a population from a different maternal source. Our modeling of ancient European hunter-gatherers demonstrates that their *demography was likely far more complicated than previously assumed.”

* Demography is the study of human populations.

The researchers say further analyses of ancient nuclear DNA of specimens found further afield and over a wider time period, will help get a more comprehensive picture.

In an Abstract in the journal, the authors wrote:

“Demographic modeling not only indicates an LGM genetic bottleneck, but also provides surprising evidence of a major population turnover in Europe around 14,500 years ago during the Late Glacial, a period of climatic instability at the end of the Pleistocene.”

Citation: Pleistocene Mitochondrial Genomes Suggest a Single Major Dispersal of Non-Africans and a Late Glacial Population Turnover in Europe,” Cosimo Posth, Gabriel Renaud, Adam Powell, Anja Furtwängler, Annamaria Ronchitelli, Bernard Gély, Cédric Beauval, Christoph Wißing, Christophe Cupillard, Corinne Thevenet, Damien Flas, Dan Grigourescu, David Caramelli, Dorothée G. Drucker, Elena Gigli, Frédérique Valentin, Giulia Capecchi, Hélène Rougier, Hervé Bocherens, Isabelle Crevecoeur, Jiří Svoboda, Johannes Krause, Johannes van der Plicht, Katerina Harvati, Kurt Wehrberger, Maria Malina, Martina Lari, Michael Bolus, Michael Francken, Mietje Germonpré, Nicholas J. Conard, Patrick Semal, Richard Cottiaux, Wolfgang Haak & Alissa Mittnik. Current Biology. Published: February 4, 2016. DOI: org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.01.037.

Video – From Hunter-Gatherer to Farmer

This video explains how we believe our ancient ancestors shifted from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a farming one. In this case, the speaker says it occured at the end (or just after) the last Ice Age.

21 Comments
  1. Geoff Howard says

    Interesting article. If there have been such dramatic ups and downs in temperature over the last XXXX million years without the presence of man, why is the (slight) current increase to do with man?

  2. Roger London says

    The previous `ups and downs` may have been to do with massive forest fires (the size of large countries), and some people want to Double the risk; I like it.

  3. Geoff Howard says

    Maybe – but some fire to last for anything up to 100 million years …. certainly save on the gas bills if we had on now.

  4. Franz von Rintelen says

    Just after the ice melted in the Hudson River.

  5. Geoff Howard says

    Yes. If statistics prove that there is a slight increase in temperature I cannot disagree. I am not so sure it is much to do with us but the result, as you say, is the same. Try not to get too down about it or you will require a name change to Looming Glooming. Regards.

  6. Leslie Graham says

    The current increase is the most rapid spike in temperatures in the entire history of the Earth.
    That’s the first fact you should come to terms with.
    Previous rises took place over thousands and even millions of years – not a few decades.
    And if you really don’t know what caused the gradual changes to the climate in the past you shouldn’t be commenting on climate change topics until you do. It really is very basic schoolboy level geography you know. A topic that is taught to 14 year olds in every British school and has been for decades.

    Any reasonably intelligent 14 year old could tell you that The Milankovitch Cycles are responsible for most of the slow climate changes in the past – notably on the 120,000 year time scale.

    They have three sub-cycles: 26000, 40000, and 100000 years due to the Milankovitch effect. They’re well understood. Their effects are imperceptible even over a 1000 years.

    Didn’t you learn about that at school like everybody else did?

    Solar variations have been another major driver of climate change over the past 10,000 years and are thought to have contributed to the localised warming and cooling periods in the Atlantic basin and western Europe.

    However, the correlation between solar activity and global temperatures ended around 1960.

    That’s important to note.

    At that point, temperatures continued rising rapidly while all solar activity remained flat or even declined slightly.

    This led scientists to conclude that, as during these last 60 years the solar total irradiance, solar UV irradiance and cosmic ray flux has not shown any significant trend, the recent and dramatic global warming episode must have another source.

    Seems logical doesn’t it? Hardly a radical idea is it?

    Another thing that has caused the climate to change many times in the past was a rise in atmospheric levels of CO2.

    In the past every time CO2 levels have gone up (or down) the climate has changed.

    Every single time. All other forcings being equal:

    CO2 goes down = The Earth gets cooler.

    CO2 goes up = The Earth gets warmer.

    Every single time.

    Just like now.

    The laws of physics don’t give a damn WHERE the extra 41% of CO2 came from – whether it is outgassing from some ancient warming ocean or whether some species of mammal is digging up and burning 30 billions tons of fossilised carbon every year thereby putting it back into the atmosphere.

    Nope the laws of physics don’t give a damn about that and they don’t give a damn about you. They just do their thing.

    The great thing about science is it’s true whether you ‘believe’ in it or not.

    CO2 goes up = The Earth gets warmer.

    Every single time.

  7. Leslie Graham says

    If you ‘are not so sure’ then you haven’t understood the science.
    There is no doubt whatsoever that the incredible 41% increase in the levels of heat trapping gases in the atmosphere over the last century are trapping more heat.
    There is no doubt whatsoever that the increase is from human emissions as they can be identified by their distinctive isotopes.
    Last week CO2 levels hit a new record of 405ppm. – a level not seen on Earth for over 15 million years.
    Methane levels are also at record highs.
    Also last week the Arctic ice extent hit a new record low for midwinter not seen since the Holocene Thermal Optimum over 7,000 years ago.
    At the end of December it was above freezing in the pitch dark at the north pole!!
    Last year was, globaly averaged, the hottest year since the Eemian interglacial over 120,000 years ago.
    Next year will – barring a massive volcanic eruption – be even hotter.
    You think the fact that this was first projected over 118 years ago and is now coming true is just some kind of fantastic coincidence?

  8. Leslie Graham says

    They weren’t. The CO2 emissions from the fires added a maximum of 1pmm to atmospheric CO2 levels.There is a lag time, due to oceanic thermal inertia, of up to 30 years anyway before it takes effect. The climate changes we have seen so far are due to emissions from the 70’s and 80’s.
    The fires contributed 1 ppm out of an accumulated total of 405 ppm of which 41% is from recent human emissions.
    All this information and much much more is all freely available on many excellent climate research sites.

  9. CossGeorgiou says

    Because of our extensive use of hydro-carbons. Apparently global warming has thwarted a new ice age, which was due about now.

  10. Leslie Graham says

    We can probably survive up to 1.5C and still keep some semblance of a global agricultural system going.
    Anything over 3C is “not compatible with global civilisation”
    We are currently headed for at least 3C and there is a definite possibility that we could hit 6C.
    6C is a global extinction level event.
    All we have to do to nearly totally destroy a billion years of evolution, including ourselves, is to simply carry on doing what we are doing now.
    Easy.

  11. Geoff Howard says

    The last “dip” in the graph towards an ice age was, as I read it, 3 million years ago at which point it started to slowly warm up – as it does on a regular basis.. Are you saying that the reversal of that dip was the result of our use using hydro-carbons – 3 million years ago? Mr Ford is older than we thought.

  12. Geoff Howard says

    Whereas others would disagree………..many more if you search…….

    These scientists have said that the observed warming is more likely to be attributable to natural causes than to human activities. Their views on climate change are usually described in more detail in their biographical articles.

    Khabibullo Abdusamatov, astrophysicist at Pulkovo Observatory of the Russian Academy of Sciences[68][69]

    Sallie Baliunas, retired astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics[70][71][72]

    Timothy Ball, historical climatologist, and retired professor of geography at the University of Winnipeg[73][74][75]

    Ian Clark, hydrogeologist, professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa[76][77]

    Chris de Freitas, associate professor, School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, University of Auckland[78][79]

    David Douglass, solid-state physicist, professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester[80][81]

    Don Easterbrook, emeritus professor of geology, Western Washington University[82][83]

    William M. Gray, professor emeritus and head of the Tropical Meteorology Project, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University[84][85]

    William Happer, physicist specializing in optics and spectroscopy; emeritus professor, Princeton University[86][87]

    Ole Humlum, professor of geology at the University of Oslo[88][89]

    Wibjörn Karlén, professor emeritus of geography and geology at the University of Stockholm.[90][91]

    William Kininmonth, meteorologist, former Australian delegate to World Meteorological Organization Commission for Climatology[92][93]

    David Legates, associate professor of geography and director of the Center for Climatic Research, University of Delaware[94][95]

    Anthony Lupo, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri[96][97]

    Tad Murty, oceanographer; adjunct professor, Departments of Civil Engineering and Earth Sciences, University of Ottawa[98][99]

    Tim Patterson, paleoclimatologist and professor of geology at Carleton University in Canada.[100][101][102]

    Ian Plimer, professor emeritus of mining geology, the University of Adelaide.[103][104]

    Arthur B. Robinson, American politician, biochemist and former faculty member at the University of California, San Diego[105][106]

    Murry Salby, atmospheric scientist, former professor at Macquarie University and University of Colorado[107][108]

    Nicola Scafetta, research scientist in the physics department at Duke University[109][110][111]

    Tom Segalstad, geologist; associate professor at University of Oslo[112][113]

    Nir Shaviv, professor of physics focusing on astrophysics and climate science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem[114][115]

    Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia[116][117][118][119]

    Willie Soon, astrophysicist, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics[120][121]

    Roy Spencer, meteorologist; principal research scientist, University of Alabama in Huntsville[122][123]

    Henrik Svensmark, physicist, Danish National Space Center[124][125]

    George H. Taylor, retired director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University[126][127]

  13. illEez says

    …and with the worlds population steadily rising over this same period, in itself a significant factor, but not only for the fact that this leads to an increase in the aforementioned fossil fuel usage, but also, the increase in agriculture, livestock needed to sustain this population increase, and key i believe, is the amount of fresh water all of this takes out of the planets ‘reserves’, and it being ‘locked’ up in our bodies for increasingly extended lifetimes, as well as in livestock, crops, waterworks and the millions of miles they must cover servicing all corners of the Earth, bottled water/beverages et al…by taking that ‘x’ amount out of a natural planetary atmospheric process, at increasing rates, well, for every action…

  14. Geoff Howard says

    All that said without a full stop puts up your temperature and contributes to global warming. I am ill at Eez with your argument but we all have to believe something. Yours is, however, given as grist to the debate and not, unlike others, as a lecture. All a long way from my original comment on the repeated ice ages and their recovery over millions of years, none of which was in the slightest due to man.

  15. Geoff Howard says

    I merely pointed out that there is a list of “experts” with another view – I did not manufacture it and therefore I feel able to use it. Because they express a view which you don’t like does not make them wrong. You, in the same way point out and use statistics. Are you burying your head under those facts? To answer your question , it may not be prudent to “emit…etc” which may add to the current slight warming, a regular event in Earth’s history all of which previous events occurred long before Wayne was running his Ford Cortina and his Missus was turning up the central heating. I choose to believe one opinion on the causes of Global Warming and You another – which is why we join these “debates”. Or so I thought.

  16. illEez says

    There was none needed, until now…fool, stop! I Hope that didn’t get your blood boiling…haha

    Seriously though, it is a fair point you make about the numerous preceding ice ages, which are of course a completely natural planetary process, as is climate change itself, but thats not to say we are not having an effect on it. It’s good that you are taking an interest though.

  17. Geoff Howard says

    It was never about solving the problem, but what was the cause. We agree. I understood that was the issue of the debate. G’day.

  18. Geoff Howard says

    No – it did not. As you know I am averse to anything which raises temperatures – mine or the planet’s…..haha!
    And we agree that we may be having SOME effect on it. I am still not convinced that by eating uncooked food, sitting in the cold and dark and walking everywhere, we could improve matters to any great extent. “These legs weren’t made for walking”……………Wow…I could pen a song about that….maybe. I look forward to crossing thermometers again.

  19. Crippled by UK State goons says

    I guess you are just a stupid fcukwit who puts too much reliance on pseudo-science comments in half-assed web-sites.

  20. Crippled by UK State goons says

    Well, the result of some fires (perhaps where meteors were involved), may have been caused to turn into coalfields, where you can extract methane gas (due to bio-degradation [trapped over time and fermented]). Covered over by tectonic shifts and/or mud from massive tsunamis.

  21. Geoff Howard says

    Anything and everything is possible, if unlikely. We will never know – hopefully. All is peaceful at the mooo……AAAGGGGGG!!!…………………………………………..

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