Many modern European states trace their roots back to a period known as the Migration Period that spans from Late Antiquity to the early Middle Ages. We have conducted the first population-level analysis of people from this era, generating genomic data from 41 graves from archaeological sites in present-day Bavaria in southern Germany mostly dating to around 500 AD. While they are predominantly of northern/central European ancestry, we also find significant evidence for a nonlocal genetic provenance that is highly enriched among resident Early Medieval women, demonstrating artificial skull deformation. We infer that the most likely origin of the majority of these women was southeastern Europe, resolving a debate that has lasted for more than half a century.
Modern European genetic structure demonstrates strong correlations with geography, while genetic analysis of prehistoric humans has indicated at least two major waves of immigration from outside the continent during periods of cultural change. However, population-level genome data that could shed light on the demographic processes occurring during the intervening periods have been absent. Therefore, we generated genomic data from 41 individuals dating mostly to the late 5th/early 6th century AD from present-day Bavaria in southern Germany, including 11 whole genomes (mean depth 5.56×). In addition we developed a capture array to sequence neutral regions spanning a total of 5 Mb and 486 functional polymorphic sites to high depth (mean 72×) in all individuals. Our data indicate that while men generally had ancestry that closely resembles modern northern and central Europeans, women exhibit a very high genetic heterogeneity; this includes signals of genetic ancestry ranging from western Europe to East Asia. Particularly striking are women with artificial skull deformations; the analysis of their collective genetic ancestry suggests an origin in southeastern Europe. In addition, functional variants indicate that they also differed in visible characteristics. This example of female-biased migration indicates that complex demographic processes during the Early Medieval period may have contributed in an unexpected way to shape the modern European genetic landscape. Examination of the panel of functional loci also revealed that many alleles associated with recent positive selection were already at modern-like frequencies in European populations ∼1,500 years ago.