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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 15;106(50):21230-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907844106. Epub 2009 Dec 2.

Mitochondrial genome evidence reveals successful Late Paleolithic settlement on the Tibetan Plateau.

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State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming 650223, Yunnan Province, China.


Due to its numerous environmental extremes, the Tibetan Plateau--the world's highest plateau--is one of the most challenging areas of modern human settlement. Archaeological evidence dates the earliest settlement on the plateau to the Late Paleolithic, while previous genetic studies have traced the colonization event(s) to no earlier than the Neolithic. To explore whether the genetic continuity on the plateau has an exclusively Neolithic time depth, we studied mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome variation within 6 regional Tibetan populations sampled from Tibet and neighboring areas. Our results confirm that the vast majority of Tibetan matrilineal components can trace their ancestry to Epipaleolithic and Neolithic immigrants from northern China during the mid-Holocene. Significantly, we also identified an infrequent novel haplogroup, M16, that branched off directly from the Eurasian M founder type. Its nearly exclusive distribution in Tibetan populations and ancient age (>21 kya) suggest that M16 may represent the genetic relics of the Late Paleolithic inhabitants on the plateau. This partial genetic continuity between the Paleolithic inhabitants and the contemporary Tibetan populations bridges the results and inferences from archaeology, history, and genetics.

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