Sunday, November 14, 2010


Farming in Europe did not just spread by word-of-mouth, but was introduced by migrants from the ancient Near East, a study suggests. Scientists analyzed DNA from the 8,000 year-old remains of early farmers found at an ancient graveyard in Germany.
They compared the genetic signatures to those of modern populations and found similarities with the DNA of people living in today's Turkey and Iraq.

Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide in Australia led the team of international researchers from Germany, Russia and Australia.

Up until now, many scientists believed that the concept of farming was brought to Europe merely by the transfer of ideas. They thought that European hunter-gatherers living in close proximity to ancient farmers in the Near East were spreading the information about more settled ways and agriculture further north.

But the recent study challenges that hypothesis.

"We have shown that the first farmers in Europe had a much greater genetic input from the Near East and Anatolia, than from populations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers who already existed in the area," said Dr Haak.

"This helps to overturn 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," he said.

The scientists used the most modern techniques to extract the mitochondrial DNA - genetic code that is passed down via the maternal line - from the 8,000-year-old bones of 22 people buried at a graveyard at the town of Derenburg in Saxony-Anhalt in central Germany. Past studies had already confirmed that the remains belonged to ancient European farmers from the Early Neolithic "Linear Pottery Culture".

The analysis also revealed that the hunter-gatherer population living in Europe did not die out as a result of the "invasion" of the migrants from the Near East. Instead, the two groups mingled together, which resulted in "mixed" ancestry, signs of which the team discovered at the graveyard.


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