Czech, German scientists identify hitherto unknown prehistoric migrations through Bohemia

A team of Czech and German scientists has found DNA evidence of at least three hitherto unknown migratory waves that passed through Bohemia in prehistoric times. By studying the remains of 271 people who lived between the years 4900 to 1600 BCE, they have traced some surprising genetic changes and social processes.

Previous archaeogenetic studies have shown that human movements – like migrations and significant expansions of various populations – played a key role in driving the spread of both cultures and genes in prehistoric Europe.

Source: Science Advances

But thanks to detailed regional studies and dense sampling along the banks of ancient rivers, German and Czech scientists have shed new light on the magnitude, rate and social implications of these changes in Bohemia.

Among the experts who worked on the ground-breaking study, published in the prestigious journal Science Advances last month, is Michal Ernée of the Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences. He told Czech Radio that the detailed DNA sampling along the Elbe (Labe) region, for example, changes the view of the Bronze Age culture in central Europe.

Michal Ernée | Photo: Czech Academy of Sciences

“We have chosen at each moment the samples that allow us to make a better general picture of each period. We took only a few bones, because DNA is conserved differently in each one…

“It has been possible to penetrate down to the level of specific communities and identify the interaction of different cultures in a small region. This gives us an idea of relations between different cultures – such as those who came from elsewhere, and those who settled there first, the more or less Neolithic population.”

Bohemia attracted many different archaeological cultures because of its location along many trade routes and important waterways, such as the Elbe River. According to the authors of the study, who include researchers from two Max Planck Institutes –the Science of Human History and Evolutionary Anthropology – this renders Bohemia a key region for understanding the prehistory of Europe.

Photo: Czech Academy of Sciences

Apart from expansions associated with the spread of agriculture and “steppe”-related ancestry – phenomena discovered previously – the Czech and German scientists have identified at least another three migratory events that shaped central European prehistory.

The genetic profiles of people associated with the Funnelbeaker and Globular Amphora cultures, for example, appear to have been among the more recent migrants to the region. And people with ancestors from the Eurasian Steppe were buried along with unrelated peoples buried according to the same customs of the Corded Ware culture

Such findings show that the period between the arrival of agriculture and “steppe”-related ancestry, hitherto thought of as an uneventful period, was more dynamic and culturally diverse than previously thought. Michal Ernée of the Institute of Archaeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences again:

Source: Science Advances

“The study offers us enormous possibilities, for example, for further investigation of the social systems of prehistoric populations and how they changed. Because it is now clear, among other things, that social systems did change quite radically.”

Among the migratory waves through Bohemia were peoples from present-day Belarus and northern Ukraine. But the study has yielded other surprising results, such as that about 4,500 years ago, five male lines were reduced to just one, suggests that a few men fathered a majority of offspring, perhaps due to the rise of a new social structure.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Katka Brezovská
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