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European populations display low genetic diversity as the result of long term blending of the small number of ancient founding ancestries. However it is still unclear how the combination of ancient ancestries related to early European foragers, Neolithic farmers and Bronze Age nomadic pastoralists can fully explain genetic variation across Europe. Populations in natural crossroads like the Italian peninsula are expected to recapitulate the overall continental diversity, but to date have been systematically understudied. Here we characterised the ancestry profiles of modern-day Italian populations using a genome-wide dataset representative of modern and ancient samples from across Italy, Europe and the rest of the world. Italian genomes captured several ancient signatures, including a non-steppe related substantial ancestry contribution ultimately from the Caucasus. Differences in ancestry composition as the result of migration and admixture generated in Italy the largest degree of population structure detected so far in the continent and shaped the amount of Neanderthal DNA present in modern-day populations.

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