It seems there is no end these days to what genetics might be telling us about our past. To add to the profusion of new findings are the conclusions of another study that suggest an early human population boom around 60,000 – 80,000 years ago, marking perhaps the first great population expansion of human history, or pre-history, as the case would be.
The prevailing theory is that, as humans transitioned to domesticating plants and animals around 10,000 years ago, they developed a more sedentary lifestyle, leading to settlements, the development of new agricultural techniques, and relatively rapid population expansion from 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.
But hold on, say the authors of a recently completed genetic study. Carla Aimé and her colleagues at Laboratoire Eco-Anthropologie et Ethnobiologie, University of Paris, conducted a study using 20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations, and compared the genetic results with archaeological findings. They concluded that the first big expansion of human populations may be much older than the one associated with the emergence of farming and herding, and that it could date as far back as Paleolithic times, or 60,000-80,000 years ago. The humans who lived during this time period were hunter-gatherers. The authors hypothesize that the early population expansion could be associated with the emergence of new, more sophisticated hunting technologies, as evidenced in some archaeolocal findings. Moreover, they state, environmental changes could possibly have played a role.
The researchers also showed that populations who adopted the farming lifestyle during the Neolithic Period (10,200 – 3,000 B.C.) had experienced the most robust Paleolithic expansions prior to the transition to agriculture. “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aimé.
The details of the study have been published in the scientific journal, Molecular Biology and Evolution, by Oxford University Press.
Source: Adapted and edited from a press release of the journal, Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Cover Photo, Top Left: Part of a DNA double helix. Ude, Wikimedia Commons
Read about the most fascinating discoveries with a premium subscription to Popular Archaeology Magazine. Find out what Popular Archaeology Magazine is all about. AND MORE:
Popular Archaeology’s annual Discovery edition is a selection of the best stories published in Popular Archaeology Magazine in past issues, with an emphasis on some of the most significant, groundbreaking, or fascinating discoveries in the fields of archaeology and paleoanthropology and related fields. At least some of the articles have been updated or revised specifically for the Discovery edition. We can confidently say that there is no other single issue of an archaeology-related magazine, paper print or online, that contains as much major feature article content as this one. The latest issue, volume 2, has just been released. Go to the Discovery edition page for more information.
Subscription Price: A very affordable $5.75 for those who are not already premium subscribers of Popular Archaeology Magazine (It is FREE for premium subscribers to Popular Archaeology). Premium subscribers should email [email protected] and request the special coupon code. Or, for the e-Book version, it can be purchased for only $3.99 at Amazon.com.