The current human mitochondrial (mtDNA) phylogeny does not equally represent all human populations but is biased in favour of representatives originally from north and central Europe. This especially affects the phylogeny of some uncommon West Eurasian haplogroups, including I and W, whose southern European and Near Eastern components are very poorly represented, suggesting that extensive hidden phylogenetic substructure remains to be uncovered. This study expanded and re-analysed the available datasets of I and W complete mtDNA genomes, reaching a comprehensive 419 mitogenomes, and searched for precise correlations between the ages and geographical distributions of their numerous newly identified subclades with events of human dispersal which contributed to the genetic formation of modern Europeans. Our results showed that haplogroups I (within N1a1b) and W originated in the Near East during the Last Glacial Maximum or pre-warming period (the period of gradual warming between the end of the LGM, ∼19 ky ago, and the beginning of the first main warming phase, ∼15 ky ago) and, like the much more common haplogroups J and T, may have been involved in Late Glacial expansions starting from the Near East. Thus our data contribute to a better definition of the Late and postglacial re-peopling of Europe, providing further evidence for the scenario that major population expansions started after the Last Glacial Maximum but before Neolithic times, but also evidencing traces of diffusion events in several I and W subclades dating to the European Neolithic and restricted to Europe.
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