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Eur J Hum Genet. 2000 Sep;8(9):669-77.

Mitochondrial DNA sequences in prehistoric human remains from the Alps.

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Dipartimento di Biologia, Università di Ferrara, Italy.


The spread of agriculture that started in the Near East about 10 000 years ago caused a dramatic change in the European archaeological record. It is still unclear if that change was caused mostly by movement of people or by cultural transformations. In particular, there is disagreement on what proportion of the current European gene pool is derived either from the pre-agricultural, paleolithic and mesolithic people, or from neolithic farmers immigrating from the south-east. To begin to characterise the mtDNA gene pool of prehistoric Europe we examined five human remains from the Eastern Italian Alps, dated between 14 000 and 3000 years ago. Three of them yielded sufficient amount of mtDNA for analysis. DNA extracts were prepared in two independent laboratories, and PCR products from the first hypervariable segment of the mtDNA control region were cloned and sequenced. Together with the 5200 year old 'ice man', these DNA sequences show that European mtDNA diversity was already high at the beginning of the neolithic period. All the neolithic sequences have been observed in contemporary Europeans, suggesting genealogical continuity between the neolithic and present-day European mtDNA gene pool. The mtDNA sequence from a 14 000 year-old specimen was not observed in any contemporary Europeans, raising the possibility of a lack of continuity between the mesolithic and present-day European gene pools.

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