Where our feet have taken us : Examples of human contact, migration, and adaptation as revealed by ancient DNA

Abstract: In spite of our extensive knowledge of the human past, certain key questions remain to be answered about human prehistory. One involves the nature of cultural change in material culture through time from the perspective of how different ancient human groups interacted with one another. The other is how humans have adapted to the different environments as they migrated and populated the rest of the world from their origin in Africa. For my thesis I have investigated examples of human evolutionary history using genetic information from ancient human remains. Chapter 1 focused on the nature of possible interaction between the Pitted Ware Culture (PWC) and Battle Axe Culture (BAC) on the island of Gotland, in the Baltic Sea. Through the analysis of 4500 year old human remains from three PWC burial sites, I found that the existence of BAC influences in these burial sites was the result of cultural and not demic influence from the BAC. In chapter 2, I investigated the ancestry of a Late Stone Age individual from the southwestern Cape of South Africa. Population genetic analyses revealed that this individual was genetically affiliated with Khoe groups in southern Africa, a genetic make-up that is today absent from the Cape. Chapter 3 investigated the genetic landscape of prehistoric individuals from southern Africa. Specifically, I explored frequencies of adaptive variants between Late Stone Age and Iron Age individuals. I found an increase in disease resistance alleles in Iron Age individuals and attributed this to the effects of the Bantu expansion. Chapter 4 incorporated a wider range of trait-associated variants among a greater number of modern-day populations and ancient individuals in Africa. I found that many allele frequency patterns found in modern populations follow the routes of major migrations which took place in the African Holocene. The thesis attests to the complexity of human demographic history in general, and how migration contributes to adaptation by dispersing novel adaptive variants to populations.