What is it about?

While the last ice age peaked about 19,000 years ago, human populations in Western Europe contracted into small patches of land that still had a survivable climate. In this paper we build a computer simulation of how those surviving populations could have moved and interacted with each other leading to a specific pattern of genetic inheritance over the landscape. We find that southern France and northeastern Spain likely represented a core area where populations were still able to survive and even grow, while other areas like Italy or Portugal may not have been survivable on their own. Instead, the southern France groups may have grown enough to continually spread new people out into these other areas leading to a single similar genetic population surviving this harsh climatic period.

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Why is it important?

Previous studies have suggested the existence of these survivable climatic areas, and our simulation builds on that research by suggesting which areas were most survivable and why, and how this would have led to a less diverse genetic population. This is particularly important because this more limited surviving population were the ones to re-occupy the rest of Europe when the climate began to warm again during the post-glacial period.


In writing this paper, I wanted to make some concrete predictions about the genetic landscape of Europe during and after the peak of the Ice Age. So while we don't simulate the actual complexity of genomes with billions of base pairs in our model, we can still quite accurately simulate the interaction between thousands of Ice Age people and how their pattern of genetic inheritance could have resulted in specific patterns of relatedness over space. I realize the agent-based model we developed might be a bit of an unusual approach compared to routine archaeological excavation and analysis, but the code for the model is freely available to anyone who would like to expand on our results or to use a similar approach to ours for another time period or region of the world.

Prof. Colin D. Wren
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Habitat suitability and the genetic structure of human populations during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in Western Europe, PLoS ONE, June 2019, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0217996.
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