Science Advances, AAAS—Through genetic analyses of remains from 40 individuals spanning the Stone Age to the Medieval era, scientists traced shifts in ancient northeast Asian populations over thousands of years and identified ancestors of early Arctic inhabitants.* The researchers also uncovered genetic evidence for the most northeastern occurrence of ancient Yersinia pestis, a bacterium that causes the plague, in individuals from two Siberian regions. Gülşah Kılınç and colleagues suggest this bacterium may have played a role in shaping human population dynamics in regions around Siberia’s massive Lake Baikal, noting that its presence coincided with a reduction in population size and genetic diversity about 4400 years ago. With its infamously harsh winters, Siberia is one of the least-populated regions on Earth. However, its inhabitants may have been instrumental to human history, giving rise to populations that eventually spread to the Americas. To better understand how northeast Asian populations shifted over time, Kılınç et al. sequenced genetic data from the remains of ancient individuals dating back 16,900 to 550 years in the Yakutia, Trans-Baikal, Cis-Baikal, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Amur Oblast regions. The findings suggest that populations east of Lake Baikal remained virtually unchanged from the middle of the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, while populations west of the lake underwent transformations beginning in the Late Stone Age. Using statistical modeling, the researchers identified the Belkachi people from Yakutia as the ancestors of the ancient Saqqaq Arctic inhabitants. The researchers also discovered that the oldest individual sequenced, an almost 17,000-year-old female excavated from the Khaiyrgas Cave, represents one of the first known human groups to have settled the Central Siberian Plateau after the Last Glacial Maximum. This group marks the region’s first major genetic shift after this interval and left a genetic legacy visible in the region 6,000 years later.
*“Human population dynamics and Yersinia pestis in ancient northeast Asia,” by G.M. Kılınç; R. Rodríguez-Varela; N. Kashuba; M. Krzewińska; A. Götherström; L. Dalén; N. Bergfeldt; J. Storå at Stockholm University in Stockholm, Sweden; G.M. Kılınç at Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey; N. Kashuba; T. Günther; M. Jakobsson at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden; D. Koptekin; M. Somel at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey; L. Dalén; N. Bergfeldt; R. Rodríguez-Varela; M. Krzewińska; A. Götherström; E. Kırdök at The Centre for Palaeogenetics (CPG) in Stockholm, Sweden; H.M. Dönertaş at European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, UK; D. Shergin; E. Ineshin at Irkutsk State University in Irkutsk, Russia; G. Ivanov at Irkutsk Museum of Regional Studies in Irkutsk, Russia; D. Kichigin; A. Kharinskii at Irkutsk National Research Technical University in Irkutsk, Russia; K. Pestereva; A. Stepanov at M.K. Ammosov North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, Russia; D. Volkov at The Center for Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage of the Amur Region in Blagoveshchensk, Russia; P. Mandryka at Siberian Federal University in Krasnoyarsk, Russia; A. Tishkin at Altai State University in Barnaul, Russia; E. Kovychev at Transbaikal State University in Chita, Russia; E. Kırdök at Mersin University in Mersin, Turkey.