Trinity researchers have found that the genetic makeup of modern East Asians closely resembles that of their hunter-gatherer ancestors due to little genetic disruption in East Asian populations since the early Neolithic period.
“Genetically speaking, the populations across northern East Asia have changed very little for around eight millennia”, said senior author Andrea Manica from the University of Cambridge, who conducted the work with an international team, including colleagues from Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.
Findings indicate there was no major migratory interruption in the region over seven millennia, in contrast to Western Europe, where sustained migration of early farmers and horse riders from Central Asia during the Bronze Age overwhelmed hunter-gatherer populations. The migration was likely driven by the success of emerging technologies such as agriculture and metallurgy.
The research suggests that the vast size of the region, as well as dramatic variations in its climate, may have prevented the influence of Neolithic agriculture and accompanying migrations that replaced hunter-gatherers across much of Europe.
The team from Trinity were responsible for extracting DNA from 8,000 year old human remains in a cave in the Russian Far East. Eppie Jones, a member of the Trinity team said: “We attempted to extract DNA from all five of these individuals but found that only in the skulls of two females – one in her early twenties and the other close to fifty – had enough DNA survived to allow us to explore the genetics of these ancient people.”
They found an exceptional genetic proximity between the Ulchi people of the Amur Basin, where Russia borders China and North Korea, and the ancient hunter-gatherers in a cave close to the Ulchi’s native land. “The Ulchi and the ancient hunter-gatherers appeared to be almost the same population from a genetic point of view, even though there are thousands of years between them,” said Manica.
Along with the high genetic affinity to the Ulchi, fishermen from the same area who speak the Tungusic language are also close to other Tungusic-speaking populations in present day China, such as the Oroqen and Hezhen, of which populations are rapidly dwindling.