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Fascinating, unexplainable evolutionary leap made in Europe 4,000 years ago

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Fascinating and mysterious, as recently - in geological terms, as 4,000 years ago, there was a dramatic evolutionary change among human beings in Europe. An Australian team found evidence of this change while analyzing several skeletons unearthed in central Europe, up to 7,500 years old.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Researchers say that the rapid expansion of the Bell Beaker culture, believed to have been instrumental in building the monoliths at Stonehenge, could hold the key.

Beaker folk lived about 4,500 years ago in the temperate zones of Europe. Their name derives from their distinctive bell-shaped beakers, decorated in horizontal zones by finely toothed stamps.

The Beakers, a war-like race, were primarily bowmen. Their extensive search for copper and gold greatly accelerated the spread of bronze metallurgy in Europe. The Beaker race, believed to be originally from Spain, and then spread into central and Western Europe in their search for metals.

The Beakers came into contact with the Battle-Ax culture and gradually intermixed and later spread from central Europe to eastern England. They're thought to have been responsible for erecting some of the megaliths at Stonehenge.

"What is intriguing is that the genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don't know why," study co-author Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide Australian Center for Ancient DNA said. "Something major happened, and the hunt is now on to find out what that was."
 
Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany from 7,500 years ago has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.

The study revealed a dramatic series of events including major migrations from both Western Europe and Eurasia, and signs of an unexplained genetic turnover about 4,000-5,000 years ago.

Researchers used DNA extracted from bone and teeth samples from prehistoric human skeletons.

"This is the first high-resolution genetic record of these lineages through time, and it is fascinating that we can directly observe both human DNA evolving in 'real-time,' and the dramatic population changes that have taken place in Europe," joint lead author Dr. Wolfgang Haak of ACAD says.

"We can follow over 4000 years of prehistory, from the earliest farmers through the early Bronze Age to modern times.

The first ancient population study using a large number of mitochondrial genomes, researchers "have established that the genetic foundations for modern Europe were only established in the Mid-Neolithic, after this major genetic transition around 4000 years ago," Dr Haak says.

"We can not only estimate population sizes but also accurately determine the evolutionary rate of the sequences, providing a far more accurate timescale of significant events in recent human evolution."

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