Human Biology Open Access Pre-Prints

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Anthropological genetics has revolutionized the way we study variation in human populations, their relationships with each other and past populations. Since the very early days of the discipline, Western Asia has been a major focus (Menozzi et al. 1978). After all, it is the geographical focal point where Africa, Asia, and Europe meet. It is the hotbed of cultural innovation, most notably the emergence of agriculture (Gordon Childe 1936; Mellaart 1967; Barker 2009). As such, it has been central to most major Eurasian civilizations (Kuhrt 1995; Gregory 2010), and, more recently, a dynamic mix of tribal and ethnic units, religious sects, and national identities. Some questions emerge as central within the broader framework of Western Asian genetic variation: Who are the ancestors of Western Asian populations? How did contemporary and ancient Western Asians contribute to the peopling of the rest of Eurasia? Which routes in Western Asia did the first migrants out of Africa take? Who were the first farmers? Where, when, and to what extent did Neanderthals contribute to the gene pools of Eurasian ancestors? In this paper, we review the latest genetics research tackling these questions, with special emphasis on the recently available ancient genomics datasets, as well as the emerging notion that interbreeding among ancient human populations is more important than previously thought.