Exploring Human Prehistory through Genome Sequencing

This educational module examines a piece of the human genome to understand what it can tell us about topics such as human history and prehistory, notable evolutionary events in our past, and genes that may have driven our evolution as a unique species. It builds on the work of the Human Genome Project, which determined the full sequence of a typical human genome for the first time, and the Thousand Genomes Project, which is beginning to explore the rich diversity of our species. It also makes use of genome sequences for two important evolutionary relatives: Neanderthals and chimpanzees.

Drawing on these sources, we will explore human Chromosome 6 in a sample of European individuals. Understanding the heritage of these few individuals, however, will turn out to involve the full history of the human species and its closest relatives.

In navigating these pages, blue-bordered buttons lead to blue-background pages which form the main line of the exercise. Green-bordered buttons lead to green pages which present useful background information. You can always visit a green page and then return to where you left off using the "Previous" link at the top of each page. The "Index" link will always return you to this page, from which you can revisit any part of the module.

Technical terms which may be unfamiliar are highlighted in blue. You can click on such terms for a short definition.

The symbol indicates an external link: a link to a site that is not part of this module. If you are using the module without an Internet connection you'll want to avoid these links. Note that external content is not under our control and may change or disappear without warning. If you find a dead external link in this module please contact us.

If you are intrigued by the material presented here, the end of the module presents resources for conducting genomics research yourself. The data from the Human Genome Project and Thousand Genomes Project are freely accessible to all, and many important findings are still hidden in this immense wealth of available data.

Some scientists, including one of the authors of this module, initially doubted that the Human Genome Project would really be useful. We couldn't have been more wrong. To start our project, let's consider some big questions about human prehistory which genomic data may help us answer.