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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Human evolution in Siberia: from frozen bodies to ancient DNA

Eric Crubézy1*, Sylvain Amory123, Christine Keyser12, Caroline Bouakaze12, Martin Bodner3, Morgane Gibert1, Alexander Röck4, Walther Parson3, Anatoly Alexeev5 and Bertrand Ludes12

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire AMIS, FRE 2960 CNRS, Université de Toulouse, 37 allées Jules Guesde, 31073 Toulouse, France

2 Laboratoire d'Anthropologie Moléculaire, Institut de Médecine Légale, Université de Strasbourg, 11 rue Humann, 67085 Strasbourg, France

3 Institute of Legal Medicine, Innsbruck Medical University, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria

4 Institute of Mathematics, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 13, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria

5 Presidency of the University, Yakutsk University, Sakha Republic, Russia

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-25

Published: 25 January 2010

Abstract

Background

The Yakuts contrast strikingly with other populations from Siberia due to their cattle- and horse-breeding economy as well as their Turkic language. On the basis of ethnological and linguistic criteria as well as population genetic studies, it has been assumed that they originated from South Siberian populations. However, many questions regarding the origins of this intriguing population still need to be clarified (e.g. the precise origin of paternal lineages and the admixture rate with indigenous populations). This study attempts to better understand the origins of the Yakuts by performing genetic analyses on 58 mummified frozen bodies dated from the 15th to the 19th century, excavated from Yakutia (Eastern Siberia).

Results

High quality data were obtained for the autosomal STRs, Y-chromosomal STRs and SNPs and mtDNA due to exceptional sample preservation. A comparison with the same markers on seven museum specimens excavated 3 to 15 years ago showed significant differences in DNA quantity and quality. Direct access to ancient genetic data from these molecular markers combined with the archaeological evidence, demographical studies and comparisons with 166 contemporary individuals from the same location as the frozen bodies helped us to clarify the microevolution of this intriguing population.

Conclusion

We were able to trace the origins of the male lineages to a small group of horse-riders from the Cis-Baïkal area. Furthermore, mtDNA data showed that intermarriages between the first settlers with Evenks women led to the establishment of genetic characteristics during the 15th century that are still observed today.