Despite 7,700 years passing, "genetic continuity" exists between populations from East Asia's Stone and modern ages, says a study published in Science Advances.
The first to acquire nuclear genome information from ancient East Asia's mainland region and compare it to modern groups, the study showed that Stone Age hunter-gatherers that roamed the Russian Far East had remarkable genetic similarities to certain contemporary ethnic groups, meaning that there was no dramatic "population turnover," or a migratory interruption, for more than 7,000 years.
This is significantly different from populations in Western Europe, where hunter-gatherers were overwhelmed by steady migration from early farmers of the Levant and the arrival of Central Asia's horse riders at the time of the Bronze Age. Emerging technologies during that period, such as metallurgy and agriculture, likely contributed to these events succeeding.
Separated By Time But Not Genetics
Despite having thousands of years between them, the ancient hunter-gatherers found in a cave situated close to the native land of the Ulchi and the Ulchi people living in the Amur Basin - close to where Russia forms borders with North Korea and China - have exceptional genetic proximity.
According to the researchers, East Asia's sheer vastness and dramatic differences in climate may have had a role in preventing Neolithic agriculture as well as its accompanying migrations from replacing hunter-gatherers from large areas of Europe. They also noted that the Ulchi remained hunter-gatherers until more recent times.
"Once we accounted for some local intermingling, the Ulchi and the ancient hunter-gatherers appeared to be almost the same population from a genetic point of view," said Andrea Manica, the study's senior author.
The study also offered further evidence supporting the theory of "dual origin" involving modern populations in Japan, which states that they descended from a mix of agriculturists and hunter-gatherers that brought southern China's wet method of rice farming eventually to the Japanese. This is also a pattern similarly observed in Koreans, who possess genetics closely resembling that of the Japanese.
To pinpoint, however, where the agriculturists originated exactly, more Neolithic China DNA data will be needed.
Ancient DNA From Devil's Gate
DNA used in the study was extracted from remains discovered in a cave called Devil's Gate in Russia's far eastern coast's mountainous area facing northern Japan. There were five incomplete human bodies in the cave but prime samples were gathered from skulls from two females: one about 50 years old and the other in her early 20s.
Devils Gate dates back to more than 9,000 years. However, it is estimated that the women died about 7,700 years ago. Researchers learned the most from the older woman, thanks to her DNA revealing that she likely had thick and straight hair, brown eyes, and lactose intolerance but did not suffer from "alcohol flush," which is a common skin reaction for alcohol exposure now prevalent in East Asia.
Samples from Devil's Gate specifically showed the remains had high levels of genetic affinity for the Ulchi, who are fishermen who speak the Tungusic language, but also closely resembled other groups speaking Tungusic in China today, like the Hezhen and Oroqen.