Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mongolia and the Altai Mountains: Origins of genetic blending between Europeans and Asians

A group of researchers led by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) has discovered the first scientific evidence of genetic blending between Europeans and Asians in the remains of ancient Scythian warriors living over 2,000 years ago in the Altai region of Mongolia. Contrary to what was believed until now, the results published in PLoS ONE indicate that this blending was not due to an eastward migration of Europeans, but to a demographic expansion of local Central Asian populations, thanks to the technological improvements the Scythian culture brought with them. 

The Altai is a mountain range in Central Asia occupying territories of Russia and Kazakhstan to the west and of Mongolia and China to the east. Historically, the Central Asian steppes have been a corridor for Asian and European populations, resulting in the region's large diversity in population today. In ancient times however the Altai Mountains, located in the middle of the steppes, represented an important barrier for the coexistence and mixture of the populations living on each side. And so they lived isolated during millennia: Europeans on the western side and Asians on the eastern side. 

The research conducted by researchers from the UAB, the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC) sheds new light on when and how this Eurasian genetic blending took place. 

At the UAB palaeogenetic laboratory researchers analysed mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother, it allows us to trace our ancestors) extracted from the bones and teeth of 19 skeletons from the Bronze Age (7th to 10th century BCE) and from the Iron Age (2nd to 7th century BCE) from the Mongolian Altai Mountains. The remains were extracted from the tombs discovered seven years ago, in which the skeletons of Scythian warriors were discovered and which represented the first scientific evidence of this culture in East Asia.

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