Quirks & Quarks

Early modern humans in Europe had a rocky road

Prehistoric human pioneers in Europe came in many waves over tens of thousands of years, and many groups died out or were replaced

Prehistoric human pioneers in Europe came in many waves, and many groups didn't thrive

35,000 year-old skulls from the Czech Republic. (Martin Frouz & Jiri Svoboda)
Modern humans first entered Europe, and began to replace the Neanderthals, about 45,000 years ago. But new research by Dr. David Reich, a professor of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and his colleagues, suggests that the colonization of Europe got really complicated after that.

Dr. Reich and his team studied DNA recovered from the remains of 51 Europeans, who lived between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago in different places across Europe. By studying how they are genetically related, the researchers were able to determine which generations in which places prospered and which failed.

The story that emerged suggests the first colonists actually died out. And over time, different groups moved from East to West and back again, displacing established populations multiple times.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
- Harvard Medical School release
- BBC news story
New Scientist story