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The 15th to 19th century voyages of exploration produced exquisite maps of the Earth, and eventually studies of its inhabitants. But we know next to nothing about how the present-day people of the world got to be how they are today – how humans migrated across the earth, and how our biology adapted to new circumstances. The reason for this ignorance is that studies of the DNA of world populations have mostly depended on samples taken from people today. But now a technological revolution has made it possible to sequence whole genomes from ancient bones, giving us an unanticipated opportunity to understand how our species is changing over time.

We propose to build an Ancient DNA Atlas of Humanity that will generate genome-scale data from 10,000 ancient humans (after screening 30,000) from all parts of the world over the last 50,000 years, increasing the amount of published data by around 8-fold. This will make it possible to interrogate what makes humans distinct from other animals, to learn about how human biology responds to changing lifestyles, and to gain insight into present and future disease susceptibility in ways that were not possible with smaller sample sizes. It will:

(1) Provide insights into human origins and migrations.

(2) Provide insights into how our genetic makeup changes over time in response to changing lifestyles.

(3) Provide insights into how modern lifestyles are changing our genomes compared to the past, raising new susceptibilities for disease. This may lead to new approaches for preventing disease.

The project will address the hypothesis that ancient DNA can reveal as much about biology as history; it will democratize ancient DNA by making it available to archaeologists; it will extend ancient DNA from its current focus on Europeans to global coverage; and it will create an intellectual resource of enduring value. The study will provide insights into who we are today and the diseases that may afflict us in the future.