New DNA analysis has revealed that Israel was completely transformed 6,500 years ago, when two different groups of immigrants moved to the region, carrying with them the special mutation that is able to produce blue eyes in individuals.
As Live Science reports, immigrants, departing from what are now the nations of Turkey and Iran, arrived in ancient Israel thousands of years ago and introduced people with blue eyes to the region.
This new discovery was made rather recently after scientists closely scrutinized the DNA of skeletons that were found in Peqi’in Cave in Israel. As there were over 600 bodies found in said cave that date back to 6,500 years ago, scientists had plenty of information to analyze for their new study.
DNA analysis has shown that many of the skeletons found in the Israeli cave were completely different from those who had lived in this region before them, with the DNA of the bodies found in the cave showing that they would have emigrated from the Zagros Mountains and Anatolia, which are now the countries of Turkey and Iran.
During this period of time Israel would have been known as Galilee — and while previous research has suggested that large changes to the culture of these people came from within their own society — this new study shows that large genetic changes actually came after these blue-eyed immigrants who moved to Israel brought their own genes, rituals and beliefs with them.
Peqi’in Cave — which would have been part of an area known as Upper Galilee during this period of history 6,500 year ago — was found to contain not only 600 skeletons, but also a multitude of beautiful funeral offerings and delicately inscribed jars. This indicated to scientists that this burial site was most likely intended for the Chalcolithic people who were native to the region.
But according to the new study’s co-author Dina Shalem, it was quickly discovered that not everything found inside the Israeli cave originated locally.
“Some of the findings in the cave are typical to the region, but others suggest cultural exchange with remote regions.”
To learn more about the mysterious origins of the others who were laid to rest here, scientists subjected bone powder that had been extracted from 48 skeletons contained within to DNA testing. The results of the DNA research granted the on-site scientists the ability to determine the genomes of 22 of these ancient Israeli residents. When the results came back, scientists learned that the genes of these people were completely different from local farmers who had previously lived in this area.
Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this disparate heritage was offered up when scientists learned that 49 percent of the remains analyzed in the Israeli cave came from people who would have carried the gene responsible for blue eyes. What this illustrated to researchers is that at this point in history, at least a sizable constituency of humans who were living in Upper Galilee would have been walking around with blue eyes.
And, as another allele was also discovered in the test subjects, one that produces fair skin — this new study gave credence to the idea that 6,500 years ago there would have been a large influx of people in Israel with blue eyes and light skin as a result of these two waves of immigrants.
Harvard University’s Eadaoin Harney explained that the new study indicates that, due to the results of the DNA tests, the alleles responsible for blue eyes and light skin were perhaps present in a notable portion of the ancient Israeli population.
“Both eye and skin color are traits that are controlled by complex interactions between multiple alleles, many — but not all — of which have been identified. The two alleles that we highlight in our study are known to be strongly associated with light eye and skin color, respectively, and are often used to make predictions about the appearance of various human populations in ancient DNA studies.”
The academic study, entitled “Ancient DNA from Chalcolithic Israel reveals the role of population mixture in cultural transformation,” was published in the August edition of Nature Communications.