Skull. Photo: Anna Arnberg

“Our results are an important step towards a better understanding of how Europe was populated over the millennia. It's amazing how the new field aDNA, which stands for Ancient DNA, develops and how the new technologies that are constantly evolving give us new opportunities to answer old and new archaeological issues. Of course we have not been able to answer the question of the Indo-European languages origin but we can contribute to a small part of their history on how it has spread. We have high hopes that, with the new technologies that are constantly evolving, we’ll be able to analyse many more samples from prehistoric individuals and answer more interesting questions about our past”, says Christos Economou.

Origin of languages

The Indo-European languages ​​origin has been a controversial issue in archeology. The Indo-European language family includes over 400 languages, including Hindi, Persian, Greek, Latin, German, Gaelic and the Nordic languages. What researchers have done is that they sequenced the DNA from the remains of people who lived in Europe between 3000 and 8000 years ago, to answer a number of questions in such diverse fields as genetics and linguistics. The results show that there have been several large population movements in prehistory.

“Our study shows that there are strong genetic links between the Corded Ware culturethat occurs in northern/central Europe for about 4500 years ago, and shepherd culture Yamnaya, whose remains are found in a steppe area of ​​present-day Russia. This means that individuals rediscovered in the Corded Ware culture would have an origin in the Eurasian steppe, which in turn can give us clues into how some of the Indo-European languages ​​reached Europe”, says Christos Economou.

Prehistoric population movements

By analysing DNA from sixty-nine prehistoric individuals found in Europe, together with previously published DNA sequences from prehistoric individuals, dated to everything from Paleolithic era to the Iron Age, the researchers also concluded that there were large prehistoric population movements from the Eurasian steppes to the northern/central Europe. The study also shows that the first farmers who came to Europe have an almost identical genetic origin. The hunter-gatherers who were already in Europe when the new farmers arrived persisted for a long time and that their genomes over time mixed with the incoming farmers.

DNA from individuals buried in Yamnaya also helps to solve another mystery. Previous studies have shown that genetically, Europeans today are a mixture of three prehistoric populations; hunter-gatherers, the first farmers and a prehistoric populations originating in the north-eastern Eurasia. Traces from this unknown population have not been found in hunter-gatherers populations from the European mainland, but strangely enough in the remains of a group of hunter-gatherers from the Scandinavian Peninsula, specifically in Motala.”