Scientists have analyzed the genomes of nearly 300 individuals that lived in the Iberian Peninsula to chart the complex genetic history of the region.
In one study, a team looked at hunter-gatherers that lived in Iberia (Spain and Portugal) between 13,000 and 6,000 years ago. They found that the ancient population had more diversity than originally thought.
The data of ancient Iberian DNA, published in the journal Current Biology, reflected the region’s complex genetic history. The Iberian Peninsula, over thousands of years ago, was a place where people from different cultures met and mingled.
The researchers confirmed that the genetic profile of Iberians change to mark when certain populations entered the gene pool. However, they also found that the Iberian Peninsula has been a crossroads for various populations as far back as the last Ice Age.
Earlier evidence shows that toward the end of the last Ice Age, western and central Europe were largely dominated by a hunter-gatherer group related to a 14,000-year-old individual unearthed from Villabruna, Italy. The group replaced another hunter-gatherer ancestry associated with individuals born between 19,000 and 15,000 years ago called the Magdalenian cultural complex.
The study found that the population in the Iberian Peninsula had a mixture of ancestry from both groups, suggesting that the Magdalenian and Villabruna groups mingled in the region.
“We can confirm the survival of an additional Paleolithic lineage that dates back to the Late Ice Age in Iberia,” stated Wolfgang Haak, the senior author of the study.
Haak also added that the findings prove the major role that the Iberian Peninsula played during the latter part of the last Ice Age. The region became a refuge to ancient humans as far back as 19,000 years ago.
The researchers also traced back the events after the early farmers have arrived from the Near East. They discovered that the hunter-gatherers in the region contributed to the genetic makeup of early farmers who arrived and settled at the region.
“The signs of mixing between local hunter-gatherers and newly arriving farmers is fantastic to witness, even though we have virtually no overlap in the radiocarbon record in many areas of Iberia,” explained Vanessa Villalba-Mouco, also an author of the study. “It just shows how much of the past we are still missing.”
The researchers believe that the study will lead to a better understanding of the prehistory and history of Europe, especially the transition to the Neolithic lifestyle brought by the early farmers moving from the Near East. They hope to continue the study by adding more genomic data from ancient people.