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2000 Years of Parallel Societies in Stone Age Central Europe

Science  25 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6157, pp. 479-481
DOI: 10.1126/science.1245049

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Farming or Fishing

Evidence has been mounting that most modern European populations originated from the immigration of farmers who displaced the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic. Bollongino et al. (p. 479, published online 10 October) present analyses of palaeogenetic and isotopic data from Neolithic human skeletons from the Blätterhöhle burial site in Germany. The analyses identify a Neolithic freshwater fish–eating hunter-gatherer group, living contemporaneously and in close proximity to a Neolithic farming group. While there is some evidence that hunter-gatherer women may have admixed into the farming population, it appears likely that marriage or cultural boundaries between the groups persisted for over two millennia. Thus, the transition from the Mesolithic involved a more complex pattern of coexistence among humans of different genetic origins and cultures in the Neolithic, rather than a more abrupt transition.

Abstract

Debate on the ancestry of Europeans centers on the interplay between Mesolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers. Foragers are generally believed to have disappeared shortly after the arrival of agriculture. To investigate the relation between foragers and farmers, we examined Mesolithic and Neolithic samples from the Blätterhöhle site. Mesolithic mitochondrial DNA sequences were typical of European foragers, whereas the Neolithic sample included additional lineages that are associated with early farmers. However, isotope analyses separate the Neolithic sample into two groups: one with an agriculturalist diet and one with a forager and freshwater fish diet, the latter carrying mitochondrial DNA sequences typical of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. This indicates that the descendants of Mesolithic people maintained a foraging lifestyle in Central Europe for more than 2000 years after the arrival of farming societies.

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