According to extensive research by an international team of scientists, including archaeologist Jan Kolář from the Faculty of Arts, today's inhabitants of Eurasia owe their genetic makeup to people who came to Europe from the Caucasus in the Bronze Age.
Having studied the genome of 101 human individuals from archaeological excavations in territories from Denmark and Germany to the Altai Mountains in the Siberia, experts found that today's Eurasian populations are genetically much more similar to those from the bronze age rather than to the previous Neolithic farmers or Mesolithic hunters or gatherers. This significant discovery was published in the prestigious journal Nature.
The research, conducted by scientists at universities in Copenhagen and Gothenburg under a project financed by the European Research Council (ERC), dealt with the emergence of Bronze Age societies in 3000–2000 BC. “In European regions, the bronze age marked major changes in the organisation of society and saw the rise of decentralised societies with supraregional economy based on metals. However, discussions have been held about the origin of changes at the beginning of the bronze age as to whether the roots lie in slow dissemination of ideas, goods and people, or major population migration,” says Jan Kolář from the Department of Archaeology and Museology at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University.
A part of the study of genes in human remains from the beginning of the Bronze Age has now supported the idea that the societal changes were brought about by migration. This may correspond to the fact that the beginning of the Bronze Age is associated with the spread of Indo-European languages. The results of a genetic analysis of unprecedented quantities of samples show that an impulse from the Caucasus area appeared in the DNA of populations of the Northern and Central Europe.
“In archaeology we could connect it with the expansion of the Yamna culture from the area of the Black Sea and Caspian steppes. However, people of this culture would leave eastbound, which thus genetically connected areas from the Scandinavia to the Altai Mountains at the beginning of the Bronze Age,” Kolář says.
Research into the Bronze Age genome also brought other interesting and unexpected discoveries. One of them is that genetically encoded lactose tolerance was very low in the Bronze Age Central Europe. On the contrary, it was high in steppe Yamna culture populations, which suggests that it was thanks to this primeval expansion that lactose tolerance spread in the European genetic information.
“Migration from the period of approximately five thousand years ago can therefore be associated not only with societal changes, spread of Indo-European languages but also the capacity to digest milk in adulthood,” Kolář added.