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University of Copenhagen
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Genes will reveal ancient migration secrets

Recent advances in genetic science, including the genome of a Neanderthal, will help chart ancient human migration patterns, says University of Copenhagen researcher

The past few months have been an exciting time for genetic research into ancient humans. Last week saw the publication of a long-awaited draft genome of the Neanderthal.

Just a few months earlier, University of Copenhagen researcher Eske Willerslev sequenced the genome of a 4000-year old Greenlander using a tuft of hair.

Read about Eske Willerslev’s find here.

Now, researchers are comparing ancient genomes with those of modern-day humans to gain insights into human evolution and migration, says Willerslev .

This is according to an article in the scientific journal Nature.

Settling age-old debates

»For the first time, genetic research into ancient and modern humans is going hand in hand,« says Willerslev.

»It is really a fantastic time.«

Willerslev says that genomes will allow researchers to test theories that have been debated for a century. For example, the the research may show whether the first Native Americans included migrants from Europe who crossed the ice-age Atlantic Ocean.

»In the next five years, we will see a whole spectrum of discoveries,« he says. »I honestly believe this new era will change our view of human evolution.«

Human migration and climate

Other international experts on the subject share Willerslev’s hopes for the potential of genetic research.

Jeffrey Long of the University of Mexico in Albuquerque says the hope is ancient-modern genome comparisons can one day be used to chart splits in human populations and correlate them with climatic changes.

»I call this molecular stratigraphy,« says Long, referring to the effort to trace prehistoric migration routes.