Past human expansions shaped the spatial pattern of Neanderthal ancestry. Sci Adv 2023 Oct;9(42):eadg9817. 10.1126/sciadv.adg9817. 18-10-2023
The worldwide expansion of modern humans () started before the extinction of Neanderthals (). Both species coexisted and interbred, leading to slightly higher introgression in East Asians than in Europeans. This distinct ancestry level has been argued to result from selection, but range expansions of modern humans could provide an alternative explanation. This hypothesis would lead to spatial introgression gradients, increasing with distance from the expansion source. We investigate the presence of Neanderthal introgression gradients after past human expansions by analyzing Eurasian paleogenomes. We show that the out-of-Africa expansion resulted in spatial gradients of Neanderthal ancestry that persisted through time. While keeping the same gradient orientation, the expansion of early Neolithic farmers contributed decisively to reducing the Neanderthal introgression in European populations compared to Asian populations. This is because Neolithic farmers carried less Neanderthal DNA than preceding Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. This study shows that inferences about past human population dynamics can be made from the spatiotemporal variation in archaic introgression.
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