DNA evidence shows farming was not indigenous but was imported into Europe from the East

A new paper published in PLoS Biology today uses “high precision ancient DNA methods” to  create a detailed genetic picture of one of the first farming communities in Europe (from central Germany) which reveals that this ancient farming population was radically different to the nomadic populations already present in Europe.

Haak W, Balanovsky O, Sanchez JJ, Koshel S, Zaporozhchenko V, et al. (2010) Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities. PLoS Biol 8(11): e1000536. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000536

The hunter-gatherers of Europe it seems did not change rapidly to become farmers. The farmers moved in (invaded?) from the near east and some 8,000 years ago gradually dominated the scene. From Science Daily:

A team of international researchers led by ancient DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has resolved the longstanding issue of the origins of the people who introduced farming to Europe some 8000 years ago. A detailed genetic study of one of the first farming communities in Europe, from central Germany, reveals marked similarities with populations living in the Ancient Near East (modern-day Turkey, Iraq and other countries) rather than those from Europe.

Project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, says: “This overturns current thinking, which accepts that the first European farming populations were constructed largely from existing populations of hunter-gatherers, who had either rapidly learned to farm or interbred with the invaders.”

“We have finally resolved the question of who the first farmers in Europe were — invaders with revolutionary new ideas, rather than populations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers who already existed in the area,” says lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak, Senior Research Associate with ACAD at the University of Adelaide. “We have also been able to use genetic signatures to identify a potential route from the Near East and Anatolia, where farming evolved around 11,000 years ago, via south-eastern Europe and the Carpathian Basin (today’s Hungary) into Central Europe,” Dr Haak says.

The Author summary:

The transition from a hunter–gatherer existence to a sedentary farming-based lifestyle has had key consequences for human groups around the world and has profoundly shaped human societies. Originating in the Near East around 11,000 y ago, an agricultural lifestyle subsequently spread across Europe during the New Stone Age (Neolithic). Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. Ancient DNA from the earliest farmers can provide a direct view of the genetic diversity of these populations in the earliest Neolithic. Here, we compare Neolithic haplogroups and their diversity to a large database of extant European and Eurasian populations. We identified Neolithic haplotypes that left clear traces in modern populations, and the data suggest a route for the migrating farmers that extends from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe. When compared to indigenous hunter–gatherer populations, the unique and characteristic genetic signature of the early farmers suggests a significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming in Europe.

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