Two Separate Paleolithic Populations Are Revealed By The UK's Oldest Human DNA
DNA dating back 13,500 years in the UK reveals two distinct paleolithic populations.
According to new research, two different groups migrated to Britain at the end of the last Ice Age as indicated by the first genetic data from Paleolithic human individuals in the UK, the earliest human DNA ever retrieved from the British Isles. The research team examined DNA evidence from two individuals who lived more than 13,500 years ago: one from Gough's Cave in Somerset and the other from Kendrick's Cave in North Wales. Their findings were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
There are only a handful of these skeletons in Britain; a total of six sites have yielded about a dozen. The study, which included DNA extraction and sequencing along with radiocarbon dating and analysis, reveals that these samples reflect the earliest period of British genetic history.
The DNA from the individual from Gough's Cave, who passed away about 15,000 years ago, revealed to the researchers that her ancestors were a part of the first migration into northwest Europe around 16,000 years ago. The individual discovered in Kendrick's Cave, on the other hand, is from a later time, roughly 13,500 years ago, and is from a western hunter-gatherer culture. It is believed that this group's ancestors came to Britain from the Near East around 14,000 years ago.
The famous Cheddar Man from Britain, who was unearthed in 1903 and dated to 10,564–9,915 years BP, was also found in Gough's Cave. The ancestry of Cheddar Man was discovered to be a combination in this study, with some (15%) of the older type from the initial migration and the majority (85%) of western hunter-gatherers.
Large sea mammals and other marine and freshwater species were among the meals that the inhabitants of Kendrick's Cave frequently consumed, according to chemical studies of the bones. However, at Gough's Cave, humans did not exhibit any signs of consuming aquatic or marine foods and instead focused on eating terrestrial herbivores like red deer, bovids (such as aurochs, a type of wild cattle), and horses. Furthermore, the researchers found that the two groups' burial customs varied as well. At Kendrick's Cave, animal bones were discovered, but they also contained little works of art, such a decorated horse jawbone. The absence of animal bones that had signs of having been consumed by humans suggests that the cave's inhabitants used it as a burial ground, according to the experts.
Human skulls that had been reshaped into "skull-cups" are among the bones from both animals and humans that were discovered in Gough's Cave, which the researchers consider to be proof of ceremonial cannibalism. This earlier group, which is equally famed for its distinctive cave art and bone artifacts, appears to have been made up of the same individuals that produced the Magdalenian stone tools.
The two groups were discovered to be culturally unique, with variations in what they ate and how they buried their dead, in addition to genetically different. The discovery of the two ancestries in Britain, which are only a few millennia apart in time, adds to the developing picture of a dynamic and fluctuating population in Paleolithic Europe.
The scientists point out that these migrations took place following the last glaciation, when glaciers covered almost two-thirds of Britain. Significant ecological and climatic changes occurred as a result of the warming temperature and melting glaciers, and people started returning to northern Europe. The Paleolithic, also known as the Old Stone Age, encompasses the period between 20 and 10,000 years ago. It is a crucial time period for Britain's environment because it would have seen significant climatic warming, increases in the amount of forest, and modifications in the kinds of animals that could be hunted.
Western hunter-gatherers were already in Britain by about 10,500 years ago, according to earlier research, such as the study of Cheddar Man, but we didn't know when they originally arrived or whether they were the only people living there at the time.
Charlton, S., Brace, S., Hajdinjak, M., Kearney, R., Booth, T., Reade, H., Tripp, J. A., Sayle, K. L., Grimm, S. B., Bello, S. M., Walker, E. A., Gilardet, A., East, P., Glocke, I., Larson, G., Higham, T., Stringer, C., Skoglund, P., Barnes, I., & Stevens, R. E. (2022). Dual ancestries and ecologies of the Late Glacial Palaeolithic in Britain. Nature Ecology & Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-022-01883-z