Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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DNA Round-Up Volume 54 Number 4, July/August 2001
by Mark Rose

Did modern humans coming out of Africa stick to themselves or get together with earlier humans, such as Homo erectus in Asia? A new study based on DNA from the Y chromosome, which is passed only from fathers to sons, looked at the DNA from more than 12,000 men from 163 populations in East Asia, checking for differences among them. What they found was a surprising degree of uniformity, indicating that little or no mixing took place in regions where H. erectus persisted the longest.

In another study, genetic fingerprints of people from Sweden, Nigeria, and Central Europe were compared. Conclusion: modern Europeans may be descended from no more than a few hundred Africans who entered Asia, then continued into Europe as recently as 35,000 years ago.

If DNA seems to be the answer to all archaeological questions these days, hold on. For early human fossils, such as Neandertal remains, DNA may be preserved only in extremely unusual circumstances, and low temperatures are critical according to a new study. So don't grind up that bone and assume you'll get results every time, the recent successful recovery of DNA from the Mezmaiskaya and Feldhofer Neandertal specimens notwithstanding.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America