Demographic history and genetic adaptation in the Himalayan region

Open access Demographic history and genetic adaptation in the Himalayan region inferred from genome-wide SNP genotypes of 49 populations, by Arciero et al. Mol. Biol. Evol (2018), accepted manuscript (msy094).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

We genotyped 738 individuals belonging to 49 populations from Nepal, Bhutan, North India or Tibet at over 500,000 SNPs, and analysed the genotypes in the context of available worldwide population data in order to investigate the demographic history of the region and the genetic adaptations to the harsh environment. The Himalayan populations resembled other South and East Asians, but in addition displayed their own specific ancestral component and showed strong population structure and genetic drift. We also found evidence for multiple admixture events involving Himalayan populations and South/East Asians between 200 and 2,000 years ago. In comparisons with available ancient genomes, the Himalayans, like other East and South Asian populations, showed similar genetic affinity to Eurasian hunter-gatherers (a 24,000-year-old Upper Palaeolithic Siberian), and the related Bronze Age Yamnaya. The high-altitude Himalayan populations all shared a specific ancestral component, suggesting that genetic adaptation to life at high altitude originated only once in this region and subsequently spread. Combining four approaches to identifying specific positively-selected loci, we confirmed that the strongest signals of high-altitude adaptation were located near the Endothelial PAS domain-containing protein 1 (EPAS1) and Egl-9 Family Hypoxia Inducible Factor 1 (EGLN1) loci, and discovered eight additional robust signals of high-altitude adaptation, five of which have strong biological functional links to such adaptation. In conclusion, the demographic history of Himalayan populations is complex, with strong local differentiation, reflecting both genetic and cultural factors; these populations also display evidence of multiple genetic adaptations to high-altitude environments.

Population samples analysed in this study. A. Map of South and East Asia, highlighting the four regions examined, and the colour assigned to each. B. Samples from the Tibetan Plateau. C.Samples from Nepal. D. Samples from Bhutan and India. The circle areas are proportional to the sample sizes. The three letter population codes in B-D are defined in supplementary table S1.

Relevant excerpts:

Genetic affinity to ancestral populations

We explored the genetic affinity between the Himalayan populations and five ancient genomes using f3-outgroup statistics. Himalayans show greater affinity to Eurasian hunter-gatherers (MA-1, a 24,000- year-old Upper Palaeolithic Siberian), and the related Bronze Age Yamnaya, than to European farmers (5,500-4,800 years ago; Fig. 5A) or to European hunter-gatherers (La Braña, 7,000 years ago; Fig. 5B), like other South and East Asian populations. We further explored the affinity of Himalayan populations by comparing them with the 45,000-year-old Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer (Ust’-Ishim) and each of MA-1, La Braña, or Yamnaya. Himalayan individuals cluster together with other East Asian populations and show equal distance from Ust’-Ishim and the other ancient genomes, probably because Ust’-Ishim belongs to a much earlier period of time (supplementary fig. S15). We also explored genetic affinity between modern Himalayan populations and five ancient Himalayans (3,150 1,250 years old) from Nepal. The ancient individuals cluster together with modern Himalayan populations in a worldwide PCA (supplementary fig. S16), and the f3-outgroup statistics show modern high-altitude populations have the closest affinity with these ancient Himalayans, suggesting that these ancient individuals could represent a proxy for the first populations residing in the region (supplementary fig. S17 and supplementary table S4). Finally, we explored the genetic affinity of Himalayan samples with the archaic genomes of Denisovans and Neanderthals (Skoglund and Jakobsson 2011), and found that they show a similar sharing pattern with Denisovans and Neanderthals to the other South and East Asian populations. Individuals belonging to four Nepalese, one Cambodian, and three Chinese populations show the highest Denisovan sharing (after populations from Australia and Papua New Guinea) but these values are not significantly greater than other South and East Asian populations (supplementary figs. S18 and S19).

Genetic structure of the Himalayan region populations from analyses using unlinked SNPs. A. PCA of the Himalayan and HGDP-CEPH populations. Each dot represents a sample, coded by region as indicated. The Himalayan region samples lie between the HGDP-CEPH East Asian and South Asian samples on the right-hand side of the plot. B. PCA of the Himalayan populations alone. Each dot represents a sample, coded by country or region as indicated. Most samples lie on an arc between Bhutanese and Nepalese samples; Toto (India) are seen as extreme outlier in the bottom left corner, while Dhimal (Nepal) and Bodo (India) also form outliers.

NOTE. The variance explained in the PCA graphics seems to be too high. This happened recently also with the Damgaard et al. (2018) papers (see here the comment by Iosif Lazaridis).

Similarities and differences between high-altitude Himalayan

The most striking example is provided by the Toto from North India, an isolated tribal group with the lowest genetic diversity of the Himalayan populations examined here, indicated by the smallest long-term Ne (supplementary fig. S5), and a reported census size of 321 in 1951 (Mitra 1951), although their numbers have subsequently increased. Despite this extreme substructure, shared common ancestry among the high-altitude populations (Fig. 2C and Fig. 3) can be detected, and the Nepalese in general are distinguished from the Bhutanese and Tibetans (Fig. 2C) and they also cluster separately (Fig. 3). In a worldwide context, they share an ancestral component with South Asians (supplementary fig. S2). On the other hand, the Tibetans do not show detectable population substructure, probably due to a much more recent split in comparison with the other populations (Fig. 2C and supplementary fig. S6). The genetic similarity between the high-altitude populations, including Tibetans, Sherpa and Bhutanese, is also supported by their clustering together on the phylogenetic tree, the PCA generated from the co-ancestry matrix generated by fineSTRUCTURE (supplementary fig. S10 and S11), the lack of statistical significance for most of the D-statistics tests (Yoruba, Han; high-altitude Himalayan 1, high-altitude Himalayan 2), and the absence of correlation between the increased genetic affinity to lowland East Asians and the spatial location of the Himalayan populations (supplementary figs. S12 and S13). Together, these results suggest the presence of a single ancestral population carrying advantageous variants for high-altitude adaptation that separated from lowland East Asians, and then spread and diverged into different populations across the Himalayan region. (…)

Recent admixture events

Genetic structure of the Himalayan region populations from analyses using unlinked SNPs. C. ADMIXTURE (K values of 2 to 6, as indicated) analysis of the Himalayan samples. Note that most increases in the value of K result in single population being distinguished. Population codes in C are defined in supplementary table S1.

Himalayan populations show signatures of recent admixture events, mainly with South and East Asian populations as well as within the Himalayan region itself. Newar and Lhasa show the oldest signature of admixture, dated to between 2,000 and 1,000 years ago. Majhi and Dhimal display signatures of admixture within the last 1,000 years. Chetri and Bodo show the most recent admixture events, between 500 and 200 years ago (Fig. 4, supplementary tables S3). The comparison between the genetic tree and the linguistic association of each Himalayan population highlights the agreement between genetic and linguistic sub-divisions, in particular in the Bhutanese and Tibetan populations. Nepalese populations show more variability, with genetic sub-clusters of populations belonging to different linguistic affiliations (Fig. 3B). Modern high-altitude Himalayans show genetic affinity with ancient genomes from the same region (supplementary fig. S17), providing additional support for the idea of an ancient high-altitude population that spread across the Himalayan region and subsequently diverged into several of the present-day populations. Furthermore, Himalayan populations show a similar pattern of allele sharing with Denisovans as other South-East Asian populations (supplementary fig. S18 and S19). Overall, geographical isolation, genetic drift, admixture with neighbouring populations and linguistic subdivision played important roles in shaping the genetic variability we see in the Himalayan region today.


Haplogroup J spread in the Mediterranean due to Phoenician and Greek colonizations


Open access A finely resolved phylogeny of Y chromosome Hg J illuminates the processes of Phoenician and Greek colonizations in the Mediterranean, by Finocchio et al. Scientific Reports (2018) Nº 7465.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

In order to improve the phylogeography of the male-specific genetic traces of Greek and Phoenician colonizations on the Northern coasts of the Mediterranean, we performed a geographically structured sampling of seven subclades of haplogroup J in Turkey, Greece and Italy. We resequenced 4.4 Mb of Y-chromosome in 58 subjects, obtaining 1079 high quality variants. We did not find a preferential coalescence of Turkish samples to ancestral nodes, contradicting the simplistic idea of a dispersal and radiation of Hg J as a whole from the Middle East. Upon calibration with an ancient Hg J chromosome, we confirmed that signs of Holocenic Hg J radiations are subtle and date mainly to the Bronze Age. We pinpointed seven variants which could potentially unveil star clusters of sequences, indicative of local expansions. By directly genotyping these variants in Hg J carriers and complementing with published resequenced chromosomes (893 subjects), we provide strong temporal and distributional evidence for markers of the Greek settlement of Magna Graecia (J2a-L397) and Phoenician migrations (rs760148062). Our work generated a minimal but robust list of evolutionarily stable markers to elucidate the demographic dynamics and spatial domains of male-mediated movements across and around the Mediterranean, in the last 6,000 years.

J2-L397. The star indicates the centroid of derived alleles. The solid square indicates the centroid of ancestral alleles, with its 95% C.I. (ellipse). In the insets: distributions of the pairwise sampling distances (in Km) for the carriers of the ancestral (black) and derived (white) allele, with solid and dashed lines indicating the respective averages. At right: median joining network of 7-STR haplotypes and SNPs in the same groups, with sectors coloured according to sampling location. Haplotype structure is detailed for some nodes, in the order YCA2a-YCA2b-DYS19-DYS390-DYS391-DYS392-DYS393 (in italics).

Interesting excerpts:

Two features of our tree are at odds with the simplistic idea of a dispersal of Hg J as a whole from the Middle East towards Greece and Italy and an accompanying radiation26. First, there is little evidence of sudden diversification between 15 and 5 kya, a period of likely population increase and pressure for range expansion, due to the Agricultural revolution in the Fertile Crescent. Second, within each subclade, lineages currently sampled in Turkey do not show up as preferentially ancestral. Both findings are replicated and reinforced by examining the previous landmark studies. Our Turkish samples do not coalesce preferentially to ancestral nodes when mapped onto these studies’ trees.

Additional relevant information on the entire Hg J comes from the discontinuous distribution of J2b-M12. The northern fringe of our sample is enriched in the J2b-M241 subclade, which reappears in the gulf of Bengal38,45, with low frequencies in the intervening Iraq46 and Iran47. No J2b-M12 carriers were found among 35 modern Lebanese, as contrasted to one of two ancient specimens from the same region35.

In summary, a first conclusion of our sequencing effort and merge with available data is that the phylogeography of Hg J is complex and hardly explained by the presence of a single population harbouring the major lineages at the onset of agriculture and spreading westward. A unifying explanation for all the above inconsistencies could be a centre of initial radiation outside the area here sampled more densely, i.e. the Caucasus and regions North of it, from which different Hg J subclades may have later reached mainland Italy, Greece and Turkey, possibly following different routes and times. Evidence in this direction comes from the distribution of J2a-M41045,48 and the early-49 or mid-Holocene50 southward spread of J1.

Supplemental Figure 7. Maps of sampling locations for the carriers of the derived allele (white triangle point down) at the indicated SNP vs carriers of the ancestral allele (black triangle point-up), conditioned on identical genotype at the same most terminal marker. Coastlines were drawn with the R packages18 “map” and “mapproj” v. 3.1.3 (, and additional features added with default functions. The star triangle indicates the centroid of derived alleles. The solid square indicates the centroid of ancestral alleles, with its 95% C.I. (ellipse). In the insets: distributions of the pairwise sampling distances (in Km) for the carriers of the ancestral (black) and derived (white) allele, with solid and dashed lines indicating the respective averages. At right: median joining network of 7-STR haplotypes and SNPs in the same groups, with sectors coloured according to sampling location. Haplotype structure is detailed for some nodes, in the order YCA2a-YCA2b-DYS19-DYS390-DYS391-DYS392-DYS393 (in italics).

The lineage defined by rs779180992, belonging to J2b-M205, and dated at 4–4.5 kya, has a radically different distribution, with derived alleles in Continental Italy, Greece and Northern Turkey, and two instances in a Palestinian and a Jew. The interpretation of the spread of this lineage is not straightforward. Tentative hypotheses are linked to Southward movements that occurred in the Balkan Peninsula from the Bronze Age29,53, through the Roman occupation and later54.

The slightly older (5.6–6.3 kya) branch 98 lineage displays a similar trend of a Eastward positioning of derived alleles, with the notable difference of being present in Sardinia, Crete, Cyprus and Northern Egypt. This feature and the low frequency of the parental J2a-M92 lineage in the Balkans27 calls for an explanation different from the above.

Finally, we explored the distribution of J2a-L397 and three derived lineages within it. J2a-L397 is tightly associated with a typical DYS445 6-repeat allele. This has been hypothesized as a marker of the Greek colonizations in the Mediterranean55, based on its presence in Greek Anatolia and Provence (France), a region with attested Iron Age Greek contribution. All of our chromosomes in this clade were characterized also by DYS391(9), confirming their Anatolian Greek signature. We resolved the J2a-L397 clade to an unprecedented precision, with three internal markers which allow a finer discrimination than STRs. The ages of the three lineages (2.0–3.0 kya) are compatible with the beginning of the Greek colonial period, in the 8th century BCE. The three subclades have different distributions (Fig. 2B), with two (branches 57, 59) found both East and West to Greece, and one only in Italy (branch 58). As to Mediterranean Islands, J2a-L397 was found in Cyprus56 and Crete43. Its presence as one of the three branches 57–59 will represent an important test. In Italy all three variants were found mainly along the Western coast (18/25), which hosted the preferred Greek trade cities. The finding of all three differentiated lineages in Locri excludes a local founder effect of a single genealogy. Interestingly, an important Greek colony was established in this location, with continuity of human settlement until modern times. The sample composed of the same subjects displayed genetic affinities with Eastern Greece and the Aegean also at autosomal markers57. In summary, the distributions of branches 57–59 mirror the variety of the cities of origin and geographic ranges during the phases of the colonization process58.

So, there you have it, another proof that haplogroup J and CHG-related ancestry in the Mediterranean was mainly driven by different (and late) expansions of historic peoples.


Population structure in Argentina shows most European sources of South European origin


Open access Population structure in Argentina, by Muzzio et al., PLOS One (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

We analyzed 391 samples from 12 Argentinian populations from the Center-West, East and North-West regions with the Illumina Human Exome Beadchip v1.0 (HumanExome-12v1-A). We did Principal Components analysis to infer patterns of populational divergence and migrations. We identified proportions and patterns of European, African and Native American ancestry and found a correlation between distance to Buenos Aires and proportion of Native American ancestry, where the highest proportion corresponds to the Northernmost populations, which is also the furthest from the Argentinian capital. Most of the European sources are from a South European origin, matching historical records, and we see two different Native American components, one that spreads all over Argentina and another specifically Andean. The highest percentages of African ancestry were in the Center West of Argentina, where the old trade routes took the slaves from Buenos Aires to Chile and Peru. Subcontinentaly, sources of this African component are represented by both West Africa and groups influenced by the Bantu expansion, the second slightly higher than the first, unlike North America and the Caribbean, where the main source is West Africa. This is reasonable, considering that a large proportion of the ships arriving at the Southern Hemisphere came from Mozambique, Loango and Angola.

Principal component analysis.
On the x axis is PC 1 while PC2 is the y axis. Plus symbols represent Argentinian samples and circles are for reference panels. Fig 2a (left) Argentinians with YRI and LWK for African references (“African”), IBS and TSI for European references (“European”) and the PEL, MXL, PUR and CLM as a Latin American references. Fig 2b (right) samples from Argentina with IBS, MXL, CLM and PEL.


Pre-Roman and Roman mitogenomes from Southern Italy


Ph.D. thesis Assessing Migration and Demographic Change in pre-Roman and Roman Period Southern Italy Using Whole-Mitochondrial DNA and Stable Isotope Analysis, or The Biogeographic Origins of Iron Age Peucetians and Working-Class Romans From Southern Italy, by Matthew Emery, McMaster University (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Assessing population diversity in southern Italy has traditionally relied on archaeological and historic evidence. Although informative, these lines of evidence do not establish specific instances of within lifetime mobility, nor track population diversity over time. In order to investigate the population structure of ancient South Italy I sequenced the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from 15 Iron Age (7th – 4th c. BCE) and 30 Roman period (1st – 4th c. BCE) individuals buried at Iron Age Botromagno and Roman period Vagnari, in southern Italy, and analyzed δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr values from a subset of the Vagnari skeletal assemblage.

Phylogenetic analysis of 15 Iron Age mtDNAs together with 231 mtDNAs spanning European prehistory suggest that southern Italian Iapygians share close genetic affinities to Neolithic populations from eastern Europe and the Near East. Population pairwise analysis of Iron Age, Roman, and mtDNA datasets spanning the pan-Mediterranean region (n=357), indicate that Roman maternal genetic diversity is more similar to Neolithic and Bronze Age populations from central Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, respectively, than to Iron Age Italians. Genetic distance between population age categories imply moderate mtDNA turnover and constant population size during the Roman conquest of South Italy in the 3rd century BCE.

In order to determine the local versus non-local demographic at Vagnari, I measured the 87Sr/86Sr and 18O/16O of composition of 43 molars, and the 87Sr/86Sr composition of an additional 13 molars, and constructed a preliminary 87Sr/86Sr variation map of the Italian peninsula using disparate 87Sr/86Sr datasets. The relationship between 87Sr/86Sr and previously published δ18O data suggest a relatively low proportion of migrants lived at Vagnari (7%).

This research is the first to generate whole-mitochondrial DNA sequences from Iron Age and Roman period necropoleis, and demonstrates the ability to gain valuable information from the integration of aDNA, stable isotope, archaeological and historic evidence.

mtDNA haplogroup composition between Botromagno (7th – 4th century BCE; n=15) and Vagnari (1st – 4th century CE; n=30) skeletal assemblages.

Interesting excerpts:

Taken together, population pairwise ΦST, and the distribution of mtDNA haplotypes in relation to the comparative mtDNA data set show that the Iron Age southern Italians likely descended from early to late Neolithic farmers from Anatolia and possibly as far East as the Caucasus, and from migrants arriving from eastern Europe around the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age. These findings support previous hypotheses that the ancestors of the Iapygians may have originated in the eastern Balkan region, or derive shared ancestry with a common source population from eastern Europe. Alternatively, southern Italian Iron Age mtDNA variation might also reflect LGM gene flow between southwestern European, Mediterranean, and Carpathian basin refugia, which was suggested for haplogroup subclusters of U5 and J (Malyarchuk et al., 2010; Pala et al., 2012). Future mtDNA (and nuclear DNA) analysis comprised of a larger Iron Age data set from southern Italy is necessary to answer Theodor Mommsen’s initial hypothesis that the Iapygians were the oldest immigrants to the southern Italian region.

Our investigation provides the first mtDNA evidence for the maternal ancestral affiliations of a subset of the Iapygian individuals recovered from southern Italy, and suggests a closer genetic link to European Neolithic and Iron Age Armenians, than to Bronze Age Aegeans. Future comparative ancient DNA data using whole-genome SNP, mtDNA, and NRY-chromosome analysis of pre-Roman populations will provide complementary evidence for the ancestral roots of understudied Iron Age individuals from Italy.

Simplistic map of Illyrian colonies in Italy 550 BCE, from Wikipedia

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Iapygians traded and incorporated Hellenistic elements into their material and cultural traditions (Small, 1992; Peruzzi, 2016). These changes are most apparent in burial custom and ceramic production, and become increasingly prominent by 2400 BP (Peruzzi, 2016). Further evidence shows that Iron Age communities across South Italy retracted in size amidst ongoing conflict between colonies in Magna Graecia, and Rome and Carthage (Small, 1992). This apparent change was interpreted as a decline in local populations throughout the region. However, Bayesian Skygrid analysis using the mtDNA profiles of 15 Iapygians and 30 Roman period individuals suggest that female effective population size was comparable between the two populations. In Chapter 4, population distance (measured as population pairwise ΦST values) across a range of mtDNAs obtained from the pan-Mediterranean, European, and western Asian regions suggest closer maternal affinities to Neolithic and Bronze Age populations from the eastern Mediterranean as a cohort, than with Iron Age Italians. This finding points to moderate mtDNA turnover, and is likely the consequence of Roman gene flow stemming from central and northern Italy via the migration and subsequent occupation by Roman colonies after 2250 BP.

Roman Imperial pursuits peaked by ~2050 BP. This extension of power, coupled with an increase in food and materials procurement, was driven by a substantial labour force comprised of both low status Romans and slaves (Harris, 1980; Bradley, 1987, 1994, 2000). Although several attempts have been made to quantify the number of slaves required to maintain the Roman economy, it is unknown what fraction of the Roman population was slave-owned (~approximately 1 to 3 million by 2050 BP) (Scheidel, 2005). Rome’s slave acquisition during the early centuries of the Republic was likely maintained through military campaigns and conquest, a trend that is well documented in Italy (Scheidel, 1997, 1999, 2005; Harris, 1999; Small, 2002). However, once territory was secured, local slave populations were likely maintained through one or a combination of the following: i) the importation of slaves from non-local regions, ii) were born to slave-owned parents, or iii) were voluntarily self-enslaved to acquire subsistence (Harris, 1999). The importation of foreign slaves was likely more costly than maintaining a self-reproducing slave population, especially in rural areas. As such, rural Roman necropoleis, such Vagnari, provide an opportune case to determine the local versus non-local demographic. Archaeological evidence suggests that Vagnari was involved in agriculture and industrial procurement, and was likely staffed by low-class individuals possibly including slaves (Small et al., 2000). However, without direct archaeological or epigraphic evidence, it is impossible to identify the proportion of slaves at rural sites.

Multi-dimensional scaling plots showing pairwise ΦST values by a) age and b) country. We removed age and geographic categories with less than 5 mtDNA sequence representation to reduce scaling stress, which decreased the sample size from 402 mtDNAs to n = 378 by age, and n= 382 by country. a) MDS plot of the mtDNA categorized by country of origin; b) MDS of mtDNA dataset by age spanning the Upper Paleolithic (pre-LGM) to the Roman period. IronAge 1 = Italian Iron Age samples; IronAge 2 = Armenian Iron Age samples; Roman 1 = Italian Roman samples; Roman 2 = Egyptian Roman samples; TIP = Third Intermediary Period (Egypt); LP = Late Period (Egypt); PP = Ptolemaic Period (Egypt).

(…) The isotope values presented in Chapter 3 obtained from 56 Roman individuals buried at Vagnari suggest that over half (58%) were born directly at Vagnari, with a further 34% originating from South Italy. Only 7% (3/43 with both δ18O and 87Sr/86Sr values) of the individuals sampled resulted in isotope values non-local to the southern peninsula. Two of these individuals originated from either northern Italy or, more broadly, from central Europe, while one individual likely originated from North Africa. Overall, the isotope data suggest a low number of immigrants at Vagnari, which conforms with the population pairwise (ΦST) data for the Iron Age and Roman mtDNAs, and suggests that as the Romans occupied the region, they populated their Imperial properties with people from central Italy (possible the region of Latium, and the surrounding environs of Rome). These results also integrate with the historical evidence concerning the Roman slave economy during the Imperial period. Future research using a larger comparative dataset comprised of pre-Roman and Roman period mtDNAs, δ18O and, 87Sr/86Sr results will refine the interpretations outlined here.

A paper from this thesis is already published in a peer-review journal, Mapping the origins of Imperial Roman workers (1st–4th century CE) at Vagnari, Southern Italy, using 87Sr/86Sr and δ18O variability, Am J Phys Anthropol (2018).


How an empire of steppe nomads coped with environmental stress


Recent paper (behind paywall), Environmental Stress and Steppe Nomads: Rethinking the History of the Uyghur Empire (744–840) with Paleoclimate Data, by Di Cosmo et al. JINH (2018) XLVIII(4):439-463.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Newly available paleoclimate data and a re-evaluation of the historical and archaeological evidence regarding the Uyghur Empire (744–840)—one of several nomadic empires to emerge on the Inner Asian steppe—suggests that the assumption of a direct causal link between drought and the stability of nomadic societies is not always justified. The fact that a severe drought lasting nearly seven decades did not cause the Uyghur Empire to collapse, to wage war, or to disintegrate gives rise to speculations about which of its characteristics enabled it to withstand unfavorable climatic conditions and environmental change. More broadly, it raises questions about the complex suite of strategies and responses that may have been available to steppe societies in the face of environmental stress.

Interesting excerpts:

The heart of the matter is whether the apparent capacity to withstand adverse climatic conditions was due to a set of cultural and/or political choices, unrelated to climate, or to a modification of their nomadic ways toward a greater reliance on agriculture and trade. In support of the first alternative, the Uyghur Empire’s initial military rise and expansion (c. 744 to 780) may have been aided by conditions of high moisture that would have made the grasslands especially productive. The alliance with China, the conversion to Manichaeism, and the growing incorporation of Sogdian elites in their empire that took place during this period may have aided the Uyghurs, serendipitously, to withstand the climatic crisis. In the long run, however, some areas of society most likely suffered adverse effects, which might explain the internal splits and the final defeat at the hands of the Kirgiz. These developments owe as much to the sedentary habits of the Uyghur elites and their ineffective leadership as to the erosion of the pastoral resources that constituted the main support of a nomadic army.

The findings are based on scPDSI reconstructions at 0.5-degree grid derived from tree
ring records across Asia.

The evidence from tree-ring data points to environmental conditions that alter the historical narrative of the rise and fall of the Uyghur Empire. Although several studies have focused on how climatic extremes affected agricultural societies, the fate of complex nomadic societies did not necessarily follow the same path. Steppe empires, at least from the first Türk Empire (established in the sixth century C.E.), and possibly earlier, were based on expansive geographical networks, diversified economies, and a degree of co-dependency with merchant classes. Even though these elements varied greatly between empires, they probably reacted to climatic variability in ways radically different from the ways in which agricultural and urban polities did. Once we account for socio-economic complexity, the case of the Uyghur Empire belies the general assumption that nomadic peoples are more vulnerable to climatic stress. The severe and protracted drought did not trigger migration, pillaging, or conquest. Sudden shocks, however, could have had a devastating effect on an economy already weakened.

The catastrophic event of the winter of 839/40, which appears to be a dzud (a weather condition of extreme cold and heavy snowfall that causes high animal mortality) was likely the coup de grâce to an already compromised pastoral production. Contemporary studies of the dzud emphasize that the degree of calamity of the winter disaster is closely related to the drought conditions that preceded it. Thus, the collapse of the Uyghur Empire, generally understood as a rapidly evolving political crisis compounded by a catastrophic weather event, is also connected to multidecadal climatic change, dependency mechanisms, and geopolitical constraints.

I found it interesting mainly because of the potential application of this kind of studies to other previous steppe societies.

Discovered via news on, posted by Spencer Wells.


Ancient DNA study reveals HLA susceptibility locus for leprosy in medieval Europeans


Open access Ancient DNA study reveals HLA susceptibility locus for leprosy in medieval Europeans, by Krause-Kyora et al., Nature Communications (2018)


Leprosy, a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae), was very common in Europe till the 16th century. Here, we perform an ancient DNA study on medieval skeletons from Denmark that show lesions specific for lepromatous leprosy (LL). First, we test the remains for M. leprae DNA to confirm the infection status of the individuals and to assess the bacterial diversity. We assemble 10 complete M. leprae genomes that all differ from each other. Second, we evaluate whether the human leukocyte antigen allele DRB1*15:01, a strong LL susceptibility factor in modern populations, also predisposed medieval Europeans to the disease. The comparison of genotype data from 69 M. leprae DNA-positive LL cases with those from contemporary and medieval controls reveals a statistically significant association in both instances. In addition, we observe that DRB1*15:01 co-occurs with DQB1*06:02 on a haplotype that is a strong risk factor for inflammatory diseases today.

Relationship of 53 medieval leprosy-positive Danes to contemporary Europeans. Principal component analysis plot for 53 medieval St. Jørgen individuals in relation to European population samples from the 1000 Genomes project. (CEU, Northern Europeans from Utah; GBR, British in England and Scotland; IBS, Iberian population in Spain; TSI, Tuscans in Italy; FIN, Finnish in Finland)

The study shows mtDNA haplogroups comparable to those of northern Europeans today, and findings in general indicate no major genome-wide changes in the Danish population structure in the past 1000 years.

The paper may be of interest for earlier migrations:


Discovered via Iain Mathieson:


Latin Americans show widespread Mediterranean and North African ancestry

Recent preprint Latin Americans show wide-spread Converso ancestry and the imprint of local Native ancestry on physical appearance, by Chacon-Duque et al. bioRxiv (2018).


Historical records and genetic analyses indicate that Latin Americans trace their ancestry mainly to the admixture of Native Americans, Europeans and Sub-Saharan Africans. Using novel haplotype-based methods here we infer the sub-populations involved in admixture for over 6,500 Latin Americans and evaluate the impact of sub-continental ancestry on the physical appearance of these individuals. We find that pre-Columbian Native genetic structure is mirrored in Latin Americans and that sources of non-Native ancestry, and admixture timings, match documented migratory flows. We also detect South/East Mediterranean ancestry across Latin America, probably stemming from the clandestine colonial migration of Christian converts of non-European origin (Conversos). Furthermore, we find that Central Andean ancestry impacts on variation of facial features in Latin Americans, particularly nose morphology, possibly relating to environmental adaptation during the evolution of Native Americans.

Reference population samples, fineSTRUCTURE groups and SOURCEFIND ancestry estimates for the five Latin American countries examined. (A) Colored pies and grey dots indicate the approximate geographic location of the 117 reference population samples studied. These samples have been subdivided on the world map into five major biogeographic regions: Native Americans (38 populations), Europeans (42 populations), East/South Mediterraneans (15 populations), Sub-Saharan Africans (15 populations) and East Asians (7 populations). The coloring of pies represents the proportion of individuals from that sample included in one of the 35 reference groups defined using fineSTRUCTURE (these groups are listed in the color-coded insets for each region; Supplementary Fig. 2). The grey dots indicate reference populations not inferred to contribute ancestry to the CANDELA sample. Panels (B) and (C) show, respectively, the estimated proportion of sub-continental Native American and European ancestry components in individuals with >5% total Native American or European ancestry in each country sampled (the stacked bars are color-coded as for the reference population groups shown in the insets of panel (A)). Panel (D) shows boxplots of the estimated sub-continental ancestry components for individuals with >5% total Sephardic/East/South Mediterranean ancestry. In this panel colors refer to countries as for the colored country labels shown in (A).

I don’t know how I missed this. It is probably the biggest sample of Latin American populations used for genetic analysis, and it seems it is due for publication soon.

One of its most interesting finds is the eastern Mediterranean and North African ancestry found in almost a quarter of the individuals sampled all over Latin America, which the authors attribute to Sephardic Jews or Conversos.

Although these Conversos were forbidden from migrating to the colonies, historical records document that some individuals made the journey, in an attempt to avoid persecution14. Since this was a clandestine process, the extent of Converso migration to Latin America is poorly documented. Genetic studies have provided suggestive evidence that certain Latin American populations, arguably with a peculiar history, could have substantial Converso ancestry1,18. Our findings indicate that the genetic signature of Converso migration to Latin America is substantially more prevalent than suggested by these special cases, or by historical records.

However, strictly speaking, Converso refers to a recent convert, while this ancestry could have also been part of older Sephardic (and obviously other North African) admixture found in Iberian populations during the Reconquista.

Geographic variation of Native American (A), European (B), and East/South Mediterranean (C) ancestry sub-components in Latin American individuals. Each pie represents an individual with pie location corresponding to birthplace. Since many individuals share birthplace, jittering has been performed based on pie size and how crowded an area is. Pie size is proportional to total continental ancestry and only individuals with >5% of each continental ancestry are shown. Coloring of pies represents the proportion of each sub-continental component estimated for each individual (color-coded as in Fig. 1; Chaco2 does not contribute >5% to any individual and was excluded). Pies in panel (C) have been enlarged to facilitate visualization.

Discovered via Lizzie Wade’s article Latin America’s lost histories revealed in modern DNA, Science (2018).


Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations


Open access Genetic structure, divergence and admixture of Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations, by Wang, Lu, Chung, and Xu, Hereditas (2018) 155:19.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean, the three major ethnic groups of East Asia, share many similarities in appearance, language and culture etc., but their genetic relationships, divergence times and subsequent genetic exchanges have not been well studied.

We conducted a genome-wide study and evaluated the population structure of 182 Han Chinese, 90 Japanese and 100 Korean individuals, together with the data of 630 individuals representing 8 populations wordwide. Our analyses revealed that Han Chinese, Japanese and Korean populations have distinct genetic makeup and can be well distinguished based on either the genome wide data or a panel of ancestry informative markers (AIMs). Their genetic structure corresponds well to their geographical distributions, indicating geographical isolation played a critical role in driving population differentiation in East Asia. The most recent common ancestor of the three populations was dated back to 3000 ~ 3600 years ago. Our analyses also revealed substantial admixture within the three populations which occurred subsequent to initial splits, and distinct gene introgression from surrounding populations, of which northern ancestral component is dominant.

These estimations and findings facilitate to understanding population history and mechanism of human genetic diversity in East Asia, and have implications for both evolutionary and medical studies.

Population level phylogenetic Tree and Principal component analysis (PCA). (A) The maximum likelihood tree was constructed based on pair-wise FST matrix. And the marked number are bootstrap value; (B) The top two PCs of individuals representing six East Asian populations, mapped to their corresponding geographic locations (generated by R 2.15.2 and Microsoft Excel 2010)

Interesting excerpts:

It is obvious that the genetic difference among the three East Asian groups initially resulted from population divergence due to pre-historical or historical migrations. Subsequently, different geographical locations where the three populations are located, mainland of China, Korean Peninsular and Japanese archipelago, respectively, apparently facilitated population differentiation due to physical isolation and independent genetic drift. Our estimations of population divergence time among the three groups, 1.2~ 3.6 KYA, are largely consistent with known history of the three populations and those related. However, considering that recent admixture could have reduced genetic difference between populations, it is likely the divergence time was underestimated.

We detected substantial gene flow among the three populations and also from the surrounding populations. For example, based on our analysis with the F3 test, Korean received gene flow from Han Chinese and Japanese, and gene flow also happened between Han Chinese and Japanese (Additional file 12: Table S3). These gene flows are expected to have reduced the genetic differentiation between the three ethnic groups. On the other hand, we also detected considerable gene flow from surrounding populations to the three populations studied. For instance, an ancestral population represented by Ryukyuan have contributed greater to Japanese than to Han Chinese, while southern ethnic group like Dai have contributed more to continent populations than to island and peninsula populations. Contrary to the gene flow among the three populations, these gene flows from surrounding populations are expected to have increased genetic difference among the three populations if they occurred independently and from different source populations. According to our results, the major source of gene flow to the three ethnic groups were substantially different, for example, the major source of gene flow to Han Chinese was from southern ethnic groups, the major source of gene flow to Japanese was from southern islands, and the major source of gene flow to Korean were from both mainland and islands. Therefore, those gene flows might have significantly contributed to further genetic differentiation of the three populations.

The three populations have similar but not identical demographical history; they all experience a strong population expansion in the last 20,000 years. However, according to different geographic distribution, their effective population size and population expansion are different.

Although based on modern populations, the study is interesting in light of the potential implications for a Macro-Altaic proposal.


Ancient Patagonian genomes suggest origin and diversification of late maritime hunter-gatherers


Genomic insights into the origin and diversification of late maritime hunter-gatherers from the Chilean Patagonia, by de la Fuente et al. PNAS (2018) published ahead of print.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Patagonia was the last region of the Americas reached by humans who entered the continent from Siberia ∼15,000–20,000 y ago. Despite recent genomic approaches to reconstruct the continental evolutionary history, regional characterization of ancient and modern genomes remains understudied. Exploring the genomic diversity within Patagonia is not just a valuable strategy to gain a better understanding of the history and diversification of human populations in the southernmost tip of the Americas, but it would also improve the representation of Native American diversity in global databases of human variation. Here, we present genome data from four modern populations from Central Southern Chile and Patagonia (n = 61) and four ancient maritime individuals from Patagonia (∼1,000 y old). Both the modern and ancient individuals studied in this work have a greater genetic affinity with other modern Native Americans than to any non-American population, showing within South America a clear structure between major geographical regions. Native Patagonian Kawéskar and Yámana showed the highest genetic affinity with the ancient individuals, indicating genetic continuity in the region during the past 1,000 y before present, together with an important agreement between the ethnic affiliation and historical distribution of both groups. Lastly, the ancient maritime individuals were genetically equidistant to a ∼200-y-old terrestrial hunter-gatherer from Tierra del Fuego, which supports a model with an initial separation of a common ancestral group to both maritime populations from a terrestrial population, with a later diversification of the maritime groups.

PCA of ancient and present-day South American populations. All of the ancient individuals were projected onto the first two PCs by using the lsq option from smartpca.


Ancient DNA reveals temporal population structure of pre-Incan and Incan periods in South‐Central Andes area

Ancient DNA reveals temporal population structure within the South‐Central Andes area, by Russo et al. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The main aim of this work was to contribute to the knowledge of pre‐Hispanic genetic variation and population structure among the South‐central Andes Area by studying individuals from Quebrada de Humahuaca, North‐western (NW) Argentina.

Materials and methods
We analyzed 15 autosomal STRs in 19 individuals from several archaeological sites in Quebrada de Humahuaca, belonging to the Regional Developments Period (900–1430 AD). Compiling autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y‐chromosome data, we evaluated population structure and differentiation among eight South‐central Andean groups from the current territories of NW Argentina and Peru.

Location of the archaeological sites analyzed in this study (stars) and the South-central Andean populations used for comparisons (triangles). The punctuated line indicates the north-south subdivision of Quebrada de Humahuaca.1: Pe~nas Blancas, 2: San José, 3: Huacalera, 4: Banda de Perchel, 5: Juella, 6: Sarahuaico, 7: Tilcara, 8: Muyuna, 9: Los Amarillos, 10: Las Pirguas, 11: Tompullo 2, 12: Puca, 13: Acchaymarca, 14: Lauricocha. Map constructed from the obtained with the R package ggmap (Kahle & Wickham, 2013)

Autosomal data revealed a structuring of the analyzed populations into two clusters which seemed to represent different temporalities in the Andean pre‐Hispanic history: pre‐Inca and Inca. All pre‐Inca samples fell into the same cluster despite being from the two different territories of NW Argentina and Peru. Also, they were systematically differentiated from the Peruvian Inca group. These results were mostly confirmed by mitochondrial and Y‐chromosome analyses. We mainly found a clearly different haplotype composition between clusters.

Population structure in South America has been mostly studied on current native groups, mainly showing a west‐to‐east differentiation between the Andean and lowland regions. Here we demonstrated that genetic population differentiation preceded the European contact and might have been more complex than thought, being found within the South‐central Andes Area. Moreover, divergence among temporally different populations might be reflecting socio‐political changes occurred in the evermore complex pre‐Hispanic Andean societies.

Principal coordinates analysis (PCoA) based on individual genetic distances obtained with autosomal STRs data. Percentage of variance explained by each coordinate is shown in parenthesis. Colors were assigned according to the two clusters discovered with structure

See also: