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"Beneath the skin we are straight out of the Stone Age"
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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 18:44 GMT
Europe's 10 founding 'fathers'
Graphic BBC
More than 95% of European men alive today are descended from 10 ancient groups of forefathers, according to new genetic evidence.

Scientists believe that 80% of European men inherited their Y chromosomes from primitive hunter-gatherers who lived up to 40,000 years ago.

The other male ancestors are likely to have been migrants who arrived in Europe from the Near East about 10,000 years ago bringing with them farming technology.

The evidence comes from a new study of the male (Y) chromosome, which is passed only from father to son and can be used to trace paternal ancestry.

Genetic markers

An international research team studied genetic information from the Y chromosomes of more than 1,000 men from 25 communities across Europe and the Middle East.

Genetic tests revealed that 95% of the men could be grouped into 10 different categories, each representing a different paternal lineage.

Ornella Semino, a geneticist at the University of Pavia, Italy, and lead author of the Y chromosome research said the results showed "that about 80% of the European Y chromosomes trace back to Paleolithic ancestors and about 20% to the Neolithic farmers".

She said that most European men alive today would be able to trace their genetic roots by analysis of these Y chromosome markers.

Last glacial

The scientists, from eight European countries and the US, believe the male ancestors arrived in separate waves of migration.

The first two waves of migration into Europe happened during the Paleolithic period (25,000 to 40,000 years ago).

The other 20% of founding fathers probably arrived in one migration during the Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago.

The settlers would have formed different clans, isolated by geographical features and glaciers.

But the advent of farming and the melting glaciers as the continent's climate warmed enabled the different groups to mingle.

Ancient settlers

The new data adds to previous evidence that modern European populations arose from the merging of local Paleolithic groups and Neolithic farmers arriving from the Near East after the invention of agriculture.

But scientists have debated whether it was local hunter-gatherers or newcomers bringing farming technology who passed on more of their genes.

The Y chromosome evidence suggests that the genetic template of modern European men was set by the hunter-gatherers as early as 40,000 years ago. Most modern European men still bear their genetic signature.

But the male gene pool was modified with the arrival of Neolithic farmers about 10,000 years ago.

Similar studies of mitochondrial DNA, a scrap of genetic material that is passed from mother to child, have traced the maternal ancestry of modern European women.

The Y chromosome data is "strikingly similar" to new findings on mitochondrial DNA said evolutionary geneticist Martin Richards of the University of Huddersfield, UK.

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