Ancient Mitochondrial DNA From the North Pontic Steppe Spanning the Transition From Farming to Pastoralism

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Riley, Jessica; Nikitin, Alexey
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The goal of this research project is to assess maternal genetic lineages of pre-historic human populations from the semi-arid grassland region of the Great European Plain north of the Black and Caspian Seas (the Ponto-Caspian steppe). Sixteen internments from five burial mounds, or kurgans, from the northern Black Sea region (North Pontic Region or NPR) were selected for genetic analysis. The interments date between 5,400 and 3,200 years before present (YBP), which was the transition time from sedentary Neolithic farming to Bronze Age pastoral nomadic lifestyle. To evaluate the genetic affiliation of the interred individuals, we extracted mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from bone and analyzed the nucleotide variation in phylogeographically informative regions of the molecule. Our results were then assigned a place in the mtDNA “molecular genealogy” tree, which groups human mtDNA lineages (called haplogroups) in relation to the most recent common ancestor thus allowing human migration to be traced over space and time. The results of this ongoing research revealed that the mtDNA lineages of the NPR’s Copper-Bronze Age individuals can be grouped into three clusters, representing two haplogroups of West Eurasian origin (H and U) and one with East Eurasian roots (haplogroup C). So far, our results correlate well with the hypothesis suggested in earlier reports from our lab concerning the genetic ties between Neolithic NPR residents and succeeding Copper-Bronze Age populations.