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A recent study, led by researchers from Harvard University, has shed light on the formation of modern-day human populations based in the regions of Central and Southern Asia. The team of researchers found that the primary source of ancestry in modern South Asian populations is a prehistoric genetic gradient between people related to early hunter-gatherers of Iran and Southeast Asia. Their findings also reveal similarities between the ancestry of South Asians and Bronze Age Eastern Europeans, concurrently matching previously reported evidence concerning movements of people affecting both regions, who are deemed to have likely spread the distinctive features shared between Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic languages.

The team sequenced the genomes of the ancient individuals, some of whom lived as far back as 8,000 years ago. This also included analysing the first genome of an individual from the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation. The findings are thought to answer longstanding questions within academia concerning this field, particularly with respect to the origins of farming and the origin of Indo-European languages in South and Central Asia. Further, the study, which involved the analysis of 523 ancient humans from South and Central Asia is, to date, the largest-ever ancient DNA study, thus illuminating scientists and academics on millennia of South and Central Asian prehistory.

Co-author of the study, Dr David Reich, suggests that their findings ‘speak to two of the most profound cultural transformations in ancient Eurasia – the transition from hunting and gathering to farming and the spread of Indo-European languages […] – along with the movement of people’.

Students planning to apply for Oriental and Middle Eastern Studies, along with applicants for Archaeology and Anthropology, can explore this topic in greater depth, by further researching these populations, and their cultures and movement across regions throughout history up until the present day.

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