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Cultivating Farmers

Were the ancestors of modern Europeans the local hunter-gatherers who assimilated farming practices from neighboring cultures, or were they farmers who migrated from the Near East in the early Neolithic? By analyzing ancient hunter-gatherer skeletal DNA from 2300 to 13,400 B.C.E. Bramanti et al. (p. 137, published online 3 September) investigated the genetic relationship of European Ice Age hunter-gatherers, the first farmers of Europe, and modern Europeans. The results reject the hypothesis of direct continuity between hunter-gatherers and early farmers and between hunter-gatherers and modern Europeans. Major parts of central and northern Europe were colonized by incoming farmers 7500 years ago, who were not descended from the resident hunter-gatherers. Thus, migration rather than cultural diffusion was the driver of farming communities in Europe.

Abstract

After the domestication of animals and crops in the Near East some 11,000 years ago, farming had reached much of central Europe by 7500 years before the present. The extent to which these early European farmers were immigrants or descendants of resident hunter-gatherers who had adopted farming has been widely debated. We compared new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from late European hunter-gatherer skeletons with those from early farmers and from modern Europeans. We find large genetic differences between all three groups that cannot be explained by population continuity alone. Most (82%) of the ancient hunter-gatherers share mtDNA types that are relatively rare in central Europeans today. Together, these analyses provide persuasive evidence that the first farmers were not the descendants of local hunter-gatherers but immigrated into central Europe at the onset of the Neolithic.

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Published In

Science
Volume 326 | Issue 5949
2 October 2009

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Submission history

Received: 27 May 2009
Accepted: 21 August 2009
Published in print: 2 October 2009

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to W. Guminski (Institute of Archeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland), J. Siemaszko (Suwalki Province Museum, Suwalki, Poland), A. Khokhlov (Institute of Cell Biophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushchino, Moscow oblast, Russia), H. Meller and M. Porr (Landesamt für Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt, Halle/Saale, Germany), and L. P. Louwe Kooijmans and L. Smits (Faculty of Archeology, Leiden University, Leiden, Netherlands) for providing them with the archaeological samples. The authors are indebted to R. Villems, A. Zimmermann, and J. Lüning for comments and to D. Kasperaviciute for Lithuanian sequences. We also thank M. Forster for editorial comments. Research grants were provided by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, and the Estonian Science Foundation (grant no. 6040 to K.T).

Authors

Affiliations

Institute for Anthropology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
M. G. Thomas
Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, and the Arts and Humanities Research Council Centre for the Evolution of Cultural Diversity, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.
W. Haak
Institute for Anthropology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
M. Unterlaender
Institute for Anthropology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
P. Jores
Institute for Anthropology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
K. Tambets
Department of Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of Tartu and Estonian Biocentre, Tartu, Estonia.
I. Antanaitis-Jacobs
Department of Anatomy, Histology and Anthropology, University of Vilnius, Lithuania.
M. N. Haidle
Research Center “The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans” of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Senckenberg Research Institute, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
R. Jankauskas
Department of Anatomy, Histology and Anthropology, University of Vilnius, Lithuania.
C.-J. Kind
Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Germany.
F. Lueth
Römisch-Germanische Kommission (RGK), Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
T. Terberger
Lehrstuhl für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, University of Greifswald, Germany.
J. Hiller§
Biophysics Group, Cardiff School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.
S. Matsumura
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria.
Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany.
P. Forster
Cambridge Society for the Application of Research, Cambridge, UK.
J. Burger
Institute for Anthropology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.

Notes

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected]
Present address: Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia.
Present address: Institute for Zoology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.
§
Present address: Diamond Light Source, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Chilton, UK.
Present address: Faculty of Applied Biological Sciences, Gifu University, Gifu, Japan.

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