The fully sequenced genomes of 13 ancient European individuals from The Great Hungarian Plain, whose lives spanned approximately 5,000 years of human history, are reported this week in Nature Communications. The study examines how the genetic composition of the people living in this region changed as a result of population mixing and highlights a significant genetic influence from both European hunter-gatherer and Eastern populations.
Ancient genomes may provide valuable clues about European prehistory but, to date, very few ancient human samples have been sequenced. The Great Hungarian Plain in central Europe was a major meeting point of Eastern and Western cultures and has experienced significant cultural and technological transformations as a result.
In this study, Daniel Bradley, Ron Pinhasi and colleagues carry out whole genome sequencing of 13 petrous bone samples (located in the base of the skull) taken from archaeological burial sites in the Great Hungarian Plain. These samples span the Neolithic, Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages and provide a genetic basis from which to study 5,000 years of human genetic history in this area.
The authors show evolutionary selection for genes known to affect hair and skin colour; suggesting a movement towards lighter pigmentation. The study also reveals selection for lactase persistence, which is likely a response to the consumption of milk from domestic cattle. These ancient genomes provide a unique genetic picture of ancient European evolution and can be analysed in combination with archaeological evidence to study migration patterns, population mixing and human evolution, which occurred in this region over 5,000 years.