Eske Willerslev

Eske Willerslev
University of Copenhagen · Centre for GeoGenetics

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786
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Publications (786)
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a modern neuro-inflammatory and -degenerative disease, which is most prevalent in Northern Europe. Whilst it is known that inherited risk to MS is located within or within close proximity to immune genes it is unknown when, where and how this genetic risk originated. By using the largest ancient genome dataset from the St...
Preprint
Due to postmortem DNA degradation, most ancient genomes sequenced to date have low depth of coverage, preventing the true underlying genotypes from being recovered. Genotype imputation has been put forward to improve genotyping accuracy for low-coverage genomes. However, it is unknown to what extent imputation of ancient genomes produces accurate g...
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The Pleistocene presence of the genus Homo in continental Southeast Asia is primarily evidenced by a sparse stone tool record and rare human remains. Here we report a Middle Pleistocene hominin specimen from Laos, with the discovery of a molar from the Tam Ngu Hao 2 (Cobra Cave) limestone cave in the Annamite Mountains. The age of the fossil-bearin...
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Multi-proxy palaeoecological analyses of lake cores from two sites on northern Vancouver Island reveal previously undocumented non-arboreal environments in the region during the late Pleistocene. Radiocarbon, pollen, sedimentary ancient DNA (sedaDNA), diatom, and grain size analyses indicate that Topknot Lake on the west coast of northern Vancouver...
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Although the first ancient DNA molecules were extracted more than three decades ago, the first ancient nuclear genomes could only be characterized after high-throughput sequencing was invented. Genome-scale data have now been gathered from thousands of ancient archaeological specimens, and the number of ancient biological tissues amenable to genome...
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A great-grandson of the legendary Lakota Sioux leader Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake), Ernie LaPointe, wished to have their familial relationship confirmed via genetic analysis, in part, to help settle concerns over Sitting Bull’s final resting place. To address Ernie LaPointe’s claim of family relationship, we obtained minor amounts of genomic data...
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This paper is a reply to Chatters et al. (2021. “Evaluating Claims of Early Human Occupation at Chiquihuite Cave, Mexico.” PaleoAmerica 8, doi:10.1080/20555563.2021.1940441), in which they raise a large number of doubts about the legitimacy of our claims of earlier-than-expected human presence at Chiquihuite Cave, in northern Zacatecas, Mexico, mai...
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During the last glacial–interglacial cycle, Arctic biotas experienced substantial climatic changes, yet the nature, extent and rate of their responses are not fully understood1–8. Here we report a large-scale environmental DNA metagenomic study of ancient plant and mammal communities, analysing 535 permafrost and lake sediment samples from across t...
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Dogs have been essential to life in the Siberian Arctic for over 9,500 y, and this tight link between people and dogs continues in Siberian communities. Although Arctic Siberian groups such as the Nenets received limited gene flow from neighboring groups, archaeological evidence suggests that metallurgy and new subsistence strategies emerged in Nor...
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Little is known about how mammalian biogeography on islands was affected by sea-level fluctuations. In the Japanese Archipelago, brown bears ( Ursus arctos ) currently inhabit only Hokkaido, the northern island, but Pleistocene fossils indicate a past distribution throughout Honshu, Japan's largest island. However, the difficulty of recovering anci...
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The woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was a cold-adapted herbivore, widely distributed from western Europe to north-east Siberia during the Late Pleistocene. Previous studies have associated the extinction of the species ∼14,000 calendar years before present to climatic and vegetational changes, suggesting the later survival of population...
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In less than a decade, analyses of ancient genomes have transformed our understanding of the Indigenous peopling and population history of the Americas. These studies have shown that this history, which began in the late Pleistocene epoch and continued episodically into the Holocene epoch, was far more complex than previously thought. It is now evi...
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Analysis of ancient environmentalDNA(eDNA) has revolutionized our ability to describe biological communities in space and time, by allowing for parallel sequencing of DNA from all trophic levels. However, because environmental samples contain sparse and fragmented data from multiple individuals, and often contain closely related species, the field...
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A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03328-2.
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The use of lake sedimentary DNA to track the long-term changes in both terrestrial and aquatic biota is a rapidly advancing field in paleoecological research. Although largely applied nowadays, knowledge gaps remain in this field and there is therefore still research to be conducted to ensure the reliability of the sedimentary DNA signal. Building...
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The Gjerrild burial provides the largest and best-preserved assemblage of human skeletal material presently known from the Single Grave Culture (SGC) in Denmark. For generations it has been debated among archaeologists if the appearance of this archaeological complex represents a continuation of the previous Neolithic communities, or was facilitate...
Preprint
Full-text available
The woolly rhinoceros ( Coelodonta antiquitatis ) was a cold-adapted herbivore, widely distributed from western Europe to north-east Siberia during the Late Pleistocene. Previous studies associate the extinction of the species ~14,000 years before present to climatic and vegetational changes, and suggest that later survival of populations in north-...
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Full-text available
The maritime expansion of Scandinavian populations during the Viking Age (about ad 750–1050) was a far-flung transformation in world history1,2. Here we sequenced the genomes of 442 humans from archaeological sites across Europe and Greenland (to a median depth of about 1×) to understand the global influence of this expansion. We find the Viking pe...
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Anatomically modern humans reached East Asia more than 40,000 years ago. However, key questions still remain unanswered with regard to the route(s) and the number of wave(s) in the dispersal into East Eurasia. Ancient genomes at the edge of the region may elucidate a more detailed picture of the peopling of East Eurasia. Here, we analyze the whole-...
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An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.
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Ancient DNA has significantly improved our understanding of the evolution and population history of extinct megafauna. However, few studies have used complete ancient genomes to examine species responses to climate change prior to extinction. The woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was a cold-adapted megaherbivore widely distributed across...
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Smallpox, one of the most devastating human diseases, killed between 300 million and 500 million people in the 20th century alone. We recovered viral sequences from 13 northern European individuals, including 11 dated to ~600-1050 CE, overlapping the Viking Age, and reconstructed near-complete variola virus genomes for four of them. The samples pre...
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The initial colonization of the Americas remains a highly debated topic1, and the exact timing of the first arrivals is unknown. The earliest archaeological record of Mexico—which holds a key geographical position in the Americas—is poorly known and understudied. Historically, the region has remained on the periphery of research focused on the firs...
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Paleogenetics is a relatively new and promising field that has the potential to provide new information about past Indigenous social systems, including insights into the complexity of burial practices. We present results of the first ancient DNA (aDNA) investigation into traditional mortuary practices among Australian Aboriginal people with a focus...
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Sled dog arctic adaptations go far back Dogs have been used for sledding in the Arctic as far back as ∼9500 years ago. However, the relationships among the earliest sled dogs, other dog populations, and wolves are unknown. Sinding et al. sequenced an ancient sled dog, 10 modern sled dogs, and an ancient wolf and analyzed their genetic relationships...
Preprint
Full-text available
Paleogenetics is a relatively new and promising field that has the potential to provide new information about past Indigenous social systems, including insights into the complexity of burial practices. We present results of the first ancient DNA (aDNA) investigation into traditional mortuary practices among Australian Aboriginal people with a focus...
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Full-text available
Re-theorising mobility and the formation of culture and language among the Corded Ware Culture in Europe—CORRIGENDUM - Volume 94 Issue 375 - Kristian Kristiansen, Morten E. Allentoft, Karin M. Frei, Rune Iversen, Niels N. Johannsen, Guus Kroonen, Łukasz Pospieszny, T. Douglas Price, Simon Rasmussen, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Martin Sikora, Eske Willersle...
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Background: The archaeological incidence of ancient human faecal material provides a rare opportunity to explore the taxonomic composition and metabolic capacity of the ancestral human intestinal microbiome (IM). Here, we report the results of the shotgun metagenomic analyses of an ancient South African palaeo-faecal specimen. Methods: Following...
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The Arctic is warming at an unprecedented rate, with unknown consequences for endemic fauna. However, Earth has experienced severe climatic oscillations in the past, and understanding how species responded to them might provide insight into their resilience to near-future climatic predictions. Little is known about the responses of Arctic marine ma...
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The phylogenetic relationships between hominins of the Early Pleistocene epoch in Eurasia, such as Homo antecessor, and hominins that appear later in the fossil record during the Middle Pleistocene epoch, such as Homo sapiens, are highly debated1,2,3,4,5. For the oldest remains, the molecular study of these relationships is hindered by the degradat...
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Grey wolves (Canis lupus) are one of the few large terrestrial carnivores that have maintained a wide geographic distribution across the Northern Hemisphere throughout the Pleistocene and Holocene. Recent genetic studies have suggested that, despite this continuous presence, major demographic changes occurred in wolf populations between the late Pl...
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The ancient catacombs of Egypt harbor millions of well-preserved mummified Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) dating from ~600BC. Although it is known that a very large number of these ‘votive’ mummies were sacrificed to the Egyptian God Thoth, how the ancient Egyptians obtained millions of these birds for mummification remains unresolved. Anci...
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The sequencing of ancient DNA has enabled the reconstruction of speciation, migration and admixture events for extinct taxa¹. However, the irreversible post-mortem degradation² of ancient DNA has so far limited its recovery—outside permafrost areas—to specimens that are not older than approximately 0.5 million years (Myr)³. By contrast, tandem mass...
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The Viking maritime expansion from Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, and Sweden) marks one of the swiftest and most far-flung cultural transformations in global history. During this time (c. 750 to 1050 CE), the Vikings reached most of western Eurasia, Greenland, and North America, and left a cultural legacy that persists till today. To understand the...
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Background: Viruses and other infectious agents cause more than 15% of human cancer cases. High-throughput sequencing-based studies of virus-cancer associations have mainly focused on cancer transcriptome data. Methods: In this study, we applied a diverse selection of presequencing enrichment methods targeting all major viral groups, to characte...
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Northeastern Siberia has been inhabited by humans for more than 40,000 years but its deep population history remains poorly understood. Here we investigate the late Pleistocene population history of northeastern Siberia through analyses of 34 newly recovered ancient genomes that date to between 31,000 and 600 years ago. We document complex populati...
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Both the total amount and the distribution of heterozygous sites within individual genomes are informative about the genetic diversity of the population they belong to. Detecting true heterozygous sites in ancient genomes is complicated by the generally limited coverage achieved and the presence of post-mortem damage inflating sequencing errors. Ad...
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The third millennium BCE was a period of major cultural and demographic changes in Europe that signaled the beginning of the Bronze Age. People from the Pontic steppe expanded westward, leading to the formation of the Corded Ware complex and transforming the genetic landscape of Europe. At the time, the Globular Amphora culture (3300–2700 BCE) exis...
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Objectives Sample preparation for High-throughput sequencing (HTS) includes treatment with various laboratory components, potentially carrying viral nucleic acids, the extent of which has not been thoroughly investigated. Our aim was to systematically examine a diverse repertoire of laboratory components used to prepare samples for HTS in order to...
Preprint
The ancient catacombs of Egypt harbor millions of well-preserved mummified Sacred Ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus) dating from ~600BC. Although it is known that a very large number of these votive mummies were sacrificed to the Egyptian God Thoth, how the ancient Egyptians obtained millions of these birds for mummification remains unresolved. Ancien...
Preprint
Full-text available
Anatomical modern humans reached East Asia by >40,000 years ago (kya). However, key questions still remain elusive with regard to the route(s) and the number of wave(s) in the dispersal into East Eurasia. Ancient genomes at the edge of East Eurasia may shed light on the detail picture of peopling to East Eurasia. Here, we analyze the whole-genome s...
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Identifying the causes of similarities and differences in genetic disease prevalence among humans is central to understanding disease etiology. While present-day humans are not strongly differentiated, vast amounts of genomic data now make it possible to study subtle patterns of genetic variation. This allows us to trace our genomic history thousan...
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After European colonization, the ancestral remains of Indigenous people were often collected for scientific research or display in museum collections. For many decades, Indigenous people, including Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, have fought for their return. However, many of these remains have no recorded provenance, making their repa...
Article
Full-text available
After European colonization, the ancestral remains of Indigenous people were often collected for scientific research or display in museum collections. For many decades, Indigenous people, including Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians, have fought for their return. However, many of these remains have no recorded provenance, making their repa...
Article
Full-text available
Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, many Neolithic societies declined throughout western Eurasia due to a combination of factors that are still largely debated. Here, we report the discovery and genome reconstruction of Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, in Neolithic farmers in Sweden, pre-dating and basal to all modern and ancient kn...
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The composition of ancient oral microbiomes has recently become accessible owing to advanced biomolecular methods such as metagenomics and metaproteomics, but the utility of metaproteomics for such analyses is less explored. Here, we use quantitative metaproteomics to characterize the dental calculus associated with the remains of 21 humans retriev...
Preprint
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The long-term preservation of DNA requires a number of optimal conditions, including consistent exposure to cool, dry, and dark environments. As a result, the successful recovery of ancient DNA from material from warmer climates such as those in Egypt has often been met with scepticism. Egypt has an abundance of ancient mummified animals and humans...
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Studies of the peopling of the Americas have focused on the timing and number of initial migrations. Less attention has been paid to the subsequent spread of people within the Americas. We sequenced 15 ancient human genomes spanning Alaska to Patagonia; six are ≥10,000 years old (up to ~18× coverage). All are most closely related to Native American...