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Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers

Science  02 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5949, pp. 137-140
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176869

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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.

  • 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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