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Inferring ancient migrations

From ancient lands to ancient Empires

Knowledge about ancestry is central to the study of populations. The present-day genetic diversity was shaped by biological and demographic events that marked their signatures in the genome. We ask questions such as: can we predict the geographical origin of species based on their DNA? Can we construct their migration route over time using ancient DNA? Can we use this information to improve clinical predictions? How did populations arrive at where they currently reside? 

We previously showed that geographical origin can be accurately inferred from genomic data, but can we use this technology to address unresolved question of inferring the ancient geographical origin of skeletal finds, thus far assumed to be synonymous with their burial site. Whereas geographical inference based on anatomical or morphological information is highly complex and error-prone, particularly when the remains are physically damaged or fragmented, using ancient DNA for localization entails different challenges due to the lack of intermediate samples over space or time, the small number of SNPs, and their spurious nature. 

A map over ancient Europe and Middle East.
Ancient GPS predictions for 2523 BC

We developed an ancient Geographic Population Structure (aGPS), an admixture-based method that uses the relationship between admixture and geography to predict the geographical locations of samples. aGPS localize ancient genomes with extreme accuracy and more importantly can identify human migration routes. aGPS revealed “biodiversity centers”, which correspond with ancient Empires that drew immigrants from other countries and many other patterns never seen before. aGPS is the first bio-localization tool designed for ancient DNA samples and it allows addressing long standing questions in history concerning the identity of the Old World residents for the first time.


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