The 7,700-year-old remains of two female hunter-gatherers discovered in a Russian cave have been genetically analyzed. The results reveal an unexpected similarity in their genetic makeup to that of the population living in the area today.
The study published in the journal Science Avance details DNA analyzes of the teeth and bones of two women found in 1973 at the bottom of a cave called « the Devil’s Gate », located in the Basin of Love – a region of the far east of Russia, near the coast where Russia borders North Korea. The site dates back to around 9,000 years ago, but the found remains of these two women have been dated to around 7,700 years old. One was in her twenties and the other was in her fifties. The results of analyzes revealed unexpected genetic similarities with the local population suggesting an unbroken genetic lineage in the region with very little « population turnover » since about 5600 BCE.
Thus, there would have been very little migration in the area for at least 8,000 years. This is surprising since the gene pool of most regions of the world has diversified significantly over the same period of time, especially with the arrival of agriculture. » Genetically speaking, the populations of North-East Asia have evolved very little for about eight millennia. “, explains Andrea Manica, of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and main author of this study.
Analyzing this ancient DNA is incredibly tricky since the genetic information degrades over time. But the researchers were able to get enough mitochondrial DNA, a more durable type of DNA passed down to children from their mothers. In particular, they were able to collect enough genetic information to draw a fairly clear portrait of the woman in her fifties. Their results suggest she had brown eyes, straight hair and was lactose intolerant. But more importantly, she was genetically very similar to the local people (the Oultches) who had maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle until recently.
» This unbroken genetic lineage is very surprising and completely different from that of Western Europeans over the past 10,000 years. », explains the researcher. » Continued migration of early farmers from Jordan and Syria overwhelmed local hunter-gatherer populations, and introduced unprecedented genetic diversity « . This little corner of East Asia was much more isolated from the rest of the world and researchers are now trying to understand why, but the team is leaning towards an extreme variation in climate in the region over the past eight millennia.