Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Genes shed light on spread of agriculture in Stone Age Europe

Date:
April 26, 2012
Source:
Uppsala University
Summary:
One of the most debated developments in human history is the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. Scientists have now shown that agriculture spread to Northern Europe via migration from Southern Europe.

Osteologists Ove and Evy Persson during the excavation of Grave 2 at Ajvide, Gotland, Sweden, in 1983. The skeleton belongs to a young female, c. 20 years of age, dated to around 2700 BC.
Credit: Photo by Göran Burenhult

One of the most debated developments in human history is the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies. A recent issue of Science presents the genetic findings of a Swedish-Danish research team, which show that agriculture spread to Northern Europe via migration from Southern Europe.

Related Articles


"We have been able to show that the genetic variation of today's Europeans was strongly affected by immigrant Stone Age farmers, though a number of hunter-gatherer genes remain," says Assistant Professor Anders Götherström of the Evolutionary Biology Centre, who, along with Assistant Professor Mattias Jakobsson, co-led the study, a collaboration with Stockholm University and the University of Copenhagen.

"What is interesting and surprising is that Stone Age farmers and hunter-gatherers from the same time had entirely different genetic backgrounds and lived side by side for more than a thousand years, to finally interbreed," Mattias Jakobsson says.

Agriculture developed in the Middle East about 11,000 years ago and by about 5,000 years ago had reached most of Continental Europe. How the spread of agriculture progressed and how it affected the people living in Europe have been debated for almost 100 years. Earlier studies were largely based on small amounts of genetic data and were therefore unable to provide univocal answers. Was agriculture an idea that spread across Europe or a technique that a group of migrants took with them to different regions of the continent?

"Many attempts, including using genetics, have been made to come to terms with the problem since the significance of the spread of agriculture was established almost 100 years ago," Anders Götherström says. "Our success in carrying out this study depended on access to good material, modern laboratory methods and a high level of analytical expertise."

The study in question entailed the research team using advanced DNA techniques to characterise almost 250 million base pairs from four skeletons of humans who lived during the Stone Age, 5,000 years ago. Just ensuring that the DNA obtained from archaeological material is truly old and uncontaminated by modern DNA requires the use of advanced molecular and statistical methods.

The study involved thousands of genetic markers from the four Stone Age individuals, of which three were hunter-gatherers and one was from an agricultural culture. All of the archaeological data shows that the Stone Age farmer was representative of his time and group and was born and raised near the place of his burial. The researchers compared their findings with a large amount of genetic data from living individuals.

"The Stone Age farmer's genetic profile matched that of people currently living in the vicinity of the Mediterranean, on Cyprus, for example," says Pontus Skoglund, a doctoral student who developed new analytical methods used in the study. "The three hunter-gatherers from the same time most resembled Northern Europeans, without exactly matching any particular group."

Accordingly, the study strongly supports the thesis that the agricultural revolution was driven by people who migrated from Southern Europe. That they lived side by side with the hunter-gatherers for many generations, to eventually interbreed, explains the patterns of genetic variation that characterise present-day Europeans.

"The process appears in the end to have had the result that nobody today has the same genetic profile as the original hunter-gatherers, although they continue to be represented in the genetic heritage of today's Europeans," Pontus Skoglund says.

Jan Storå, researcher at Stockholm University, says the results are extremely exciting for archaeology in general and research into the Stone Age in particular.

"Archaeology has become a stimulating interdisciplinary field. We have obtained new, concrete biological data about Stone Age people that provides scope for discussions about origins, mobility and social networks pertaining to a period that has lately been the focus of lively debate. Scientific DNA studies have broadened the basis for engaging discussions within archaeology in recent years," Jan Storå says.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Uppsala University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. P. Skoglund, H. Malmstrom, M. Raghavan, J. Stora, P. Hall, E. Willerslev, M. T. P. Gilbert, A. Gotherstrom, M. Jakobsson. Origins and Genetic Legacy of Neolithic Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers in Europe. Science, 2012; 336 (6080): 466 DOI: 10.1126/science.1216304

Cite This Page:

Uppsala University. "Genes shed light on spread of agriculture in Stone Age Europe." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 April 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120426143850.htm>.
Uppsala University. (2012, April 26). Genes shed light on spread of agriculture in Stone Age Europe. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120426143850.htm
Uppsala University. "Genes shed light on spread of agriculture in Stone Age Europe." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120426143850.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Fossils & Ruins News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Bring Player Pianos Back to Life

Researchers Bring Player Pianos Back to Life

AP (Dec. 17, 2014) — Stanford University wants to unlock the secrets of the player piano. Researchers are restoring and studying self-playing pianos and the music rolls that recorded major composers performing their own work. (Dec. 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Domestication Might've Been Bad For Horses

Domestication Might've Been Bad For Horses

Newsy (Dec. 16, 2014) — A group of scientists looked at the genetics behind the domestication of the horse and showed how human manipulation changed horses' DNA. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet Manuscripts to Go on Sale

Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet Manuscripts to Go on Sale

AFP (Dec. 16, 2014) — A collection of rare manuscripts by composers Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert and Bizet are due to go on sale at auction on December 17. Duration: 00:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Old Ship Records to Shed Light on Arctic Ice Loss

Old Ship Records to Shed Light on Arctic Ice Loss

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 15, 2014) — Researchers are looking to the past to gain a clearer picture of what the future holds for ice in the Arctic. A project to analyse and digitize ship logs dating back to the 1850's aims to lengthen the timeline of recorded ice data. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins