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UK DNA study reveals two prehistoric human groups

UK DNA study reveals two prehistoric human groups

Scientists have studied remains found in Gough Cave in England. (Photo: Reproduction)

A team of British scientists has obtained the oldest human DNA ever found in England, which corresponds to two different groups of individuals who migrated to the British Isles during the Paleolithic at the end of the last ice age. The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, was carried out by researchers from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (UCL), the Natural History Museum and the Francis Crick Institute, and for the first time, Great Britain’s recolonization of Brittany was led by at least two groups with different backgrounds and cultures.

The authors believe that the two groups arrived after the last ice age and about a thousand years apart.

To do the research, they analyzed DNA from the remains of a woman from Gough’s Cave in Somerset, England, and from Kendrick Cave in North Wales, who lived 13,500 years ago. According to the analysis, Goff’s wife died about 14,900 years ago and her ancestors were part of a population that migrated to northwestern Europe about 16,000 years ago.

In fact, this woman shares genetic ancestry data from Goyet Cave (Belgium) and El Miron Cave (Spain) that are about 15,000 years old. The Kendrick Cave individual, however, dates to around 13,500 years ago, and is descended from a group of Western hunter-gatherers from the Near East who migrated to Britain around 14,000 years ago.

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Climate change

This man shares ancestry with a man from Villabruna, Italy 14,000 years ago. About 19,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, Great Britain was already inhabited, but occupation was limited because the ice had made two-thirds of the islands uninhabitable. However, as the climate warmed and glaciers melted, drastic environmental changes occurred and humans began to migrate to northern Europe.

This period, 20,000 to 10,000 years ago, is part of the Palaeolithic and was “an important period for the environment in Britain, where there was a significant warming of the climate, an increase in size. Changes in the types of forests and animals available for hunting,” explains Sophie Charlton of the Natural History Museum.

Isotopic analysis showed that the two groups were culturally distinct, with differences in diet and mortuary practices. Chemical analysis of the bones showed that the Kendrick Cave people ate a lot of freshwater and marine foods “including large marine mammals”, says UCL’s Rhiannon Stevens. “However, Goff Cave humans show no evidence of eating marine and freshwater foods, but mostly terrestrial herbivores such as deer, bovines and horses.”

In terms of mortuary practices, the bones found at Kendrick Cave were carved into small artefacts, with no signs of human consumption, indicating that the cave was used as a burial ground. In turn, animal and human bones from Goff Cave showed important modifications, such as “skull cups”, human skulls modified to celebrate ritual and cannibalism.

Furthermore, the Goff people appear to be the same people who made the stone tools of the Magdalenian, a culture known for its iconic rock art and bone artifacts.

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BC Gough Cave is also where the famous “Cedar Man” was discovered in 1903 between 10,564 and 9,915. In this study, they concluded that the cited individual had a mix of ancestors, mainly (85%) western hunter-gatherers. Collectors and some (15%) of the older type early migration.