Saturday 28 April 2012

Greeks, Cypriots and Neolithic Mediterranean Farmers Spread Agriculture to Scandinavia

Source: Kathimerini, 28.04.2012 (Translated from Greek and referenced by A.M.)

Agriculture spread to Europe thousand of years ago from the South to the distant North, with successive steps, according to the Swedish-danish scientific research. The study analysed the DNA of the four [inhabitants of Scandinavia] of the Neolithic period and found that they had many more genes in common with today’s Southern Europeans, as the Greeks, Cypriots the inhabitants of Sardinia, than with any other European people.

The researchers of the Universities of Upsala, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, having at their head Pontus Skoglund and Mattias Jakobsson who published the study in the American journal “Science” according to the French Agency and “Nature”, analysed using new developed techniques, the genetic material that they took from the skeletons of one farmer and three hunter-gatherers, who had been discovered in Sweden and are dated to about 5000 years from the present. The two distinct civilisations, one agricultural and one of hunter-gatherers, coexisted for about 1000 years at a distance of about 400 km, the first in the Swedish hinterland and the second on the island of Gotland, south of Stockholm.

By comparing the DNA of these people of the Stone Age with the DNA of modern populations of Europe, the team found that, from a genetic point of view, the hunter-gatherers were less developed and had a greater relation with the Northern populations – especially the inhabitants of today’s Finland, while the farmer had a very close genetic relationship with today’s Mediterranean populations, especially Cypriots and Greeks.

This discovery by the Scandinavian scientists shows that the ancient farmers transported their agricultural knowledge and technique from the South to the rest of Europe, up to the frozen North, where they finally mingled with the indigenous populations, while teaching them how to grow their food rather than hunt and gather fruits.

As Skoglund stated, the genetic findings reveal that agriculture spread to the whole of Europe by people who live in the Mediterranean and this happened through migratory waves and not just by the cultural transmission of agricultural knowledge from mouth to mouth. “If farming had spread only as a cultural process, we would not find a farmer in the North who has such a genetic relation to the Southern populations”, declared the Swedish scientist.

 The Scandinavian research illuminates a longstanding dispute among scientists concerning the way that farming reached Europe from the Middle East, where it appeared approximately 11000 years ago. At about 3000 B.C. farming had already spread to the greater part of Europe. The basic dispute concerns the way that the transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that of farmer, and whether farming spread through the migration of farmers or if just ideas and the agricultural know-how spread slowly from civilisation to civilisation. The new study gives more weight to the first view, confirming previous DNA analyses, which had found similar indications about the migration of people themselves from the Mediterranean, who brought their farming knowledge with them.

Furthermore earlier this year scientists published almost all of the genome of “Ötzi”, the Neolotic mummy that was discovered in the Alp in 1991. In this case as well, the genetic analysis shows a very possible Mediterranean origin.

Abstract from Science, 27.04.2012: Origins and Genetic Legacy of Neolithic Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers in Europe

The farming way of life originated in the Near East some 11,000 years ago and had reached most of the European continent 5000 years later. However, the impact of the agricultural revolution on demography and patterns of genomic variation in Europe remains unknown. We obtained 249 million base pairs of genomic DNA from ~5000-year-old remains of three hunter-gatherers and one farmer excavated in Scandinavia and find that the farmer is genetically most similar to extant southern Europeans, contrasting sharply to the hunter-gatherers, whose distinct genetic signature is most similar to that of extant northern Europeans. Our results suggest that migration from southern Europe catalyzed the spread of agriculture and that admixture in the wake of this expansion eventually shaped the genomic landscape of modern-day Europe.

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