Spain’s oldest human DNA found in Granada showing life here 23,000 years ago

Spain's oldest human DNA found in Granada showing life here 23,000 years ago. Image: Diputacion de Granada

A new study reports on genomic data from a 23,000-year-old individual who took refuge in the warmest place in Europe at the peak of the last Ice Age—the southern tip of modern Spain.

The study fills important gaps in our knowledge and reports on the oldest genome to date from Cueva del Malalmuerzo near Granada in southern Spain, as well as the 7,000 to 5,000-year-old genomes of early farmers from other well-known sites, such as Cueva de Ardales.

DNA from 2 million years ago recovered from sediments in Greenland is the oldest preserved DNA found to date, reported in December 2022.

This is the oldest human genome found in Spain by the international team of researchers that analysed ancient human DNA from several archaeological sites in Andalucía. The Iberian Peninsula offers significant data on human population history as previous studies had reported on the genomic profiles of 13,000 to 8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers in this part of Europe and provided evidence for the survival and continuation of a much older Palaeolithic lineage that has been replaced in other parts of Europe.

Researchers can now investigate the role of southern Spain as a refuge for Ice Age populations and potential population contacts across the Strait of Gibraltar during the last Ice Age, when sea-levels were much lower than today.

The 23,000-year-old individual from Cueva de Malalmuerzo finally adds data from the time when large parts of Europe were covered by massive ice sheets.

To the researchers’ surprise there was no genetic link found too date between the southern Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, even though the land is separated by only 13 km of ocean.

Gerd-Christian Weniger from the University of Cologne commented that, “Why the Strait of Gibraltar was a barrier at the end of the last Ice Age is still one of the unresolved questions of archaeological research in the western Mediterranean region.”

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