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Neolithic farmers

New Study Indicates that Europe Owes Ancestry and Agriculture to Early Anatolian Farmers


Anatolia was a source of not just agriculture but of human ancestry during the advent of farming in Europe around 8,000 years ago, according to a researcher from Stockholm University.

“When farming spread throughout Europe some 8000 years ago, Anatolia functioned as a hub, spreading genes and the new ideas westward,” says a press release from Stockholm University. “An international study coordinated from Stockholm and based on DNA from Anatolian remains indicates the importance of the role Anatolia played, and also in attracting attention both from the east and the west.”

Doctoral student Ayca Omrak took 6,700-year-old human genetic material from the Anatolian site Kumtepe, which was excavated in 1994, and compared it with the DNA of Europeans and others from 5,000 to 2,000 years old and up to modern times. The prehistoric DNA was heavily degraded and very difficult to work with, but Ms. Omrak was able to obtain enough material to address questions about the spread of farming. She did the work at the Archaeological Research Laboratory in Stockholm University. The results will be published in Current Biology January 25, 2016.

Anders Götherstörm, director of the archaeogenetic research at the Archaeological Research Laboratory, said more study is needed. “Our results stress the importance Anatolia has had on Europe’s prehistory. But to fully understand how the agricultural development proceeded we need to dive deeper down into material from the Levant. Jan is right about that,” he said in the Stockholm University press release.

Most of Ms. Omrak’s DNA results come from grave 6 at Kumtepe.

Most of Ms. Omrak’s DNA results come from grave 6 at Kumtepe. (Project Troia, Peter Jablonka)

Ms. Omrak’s research seems to confirm another recent study that says the first European farmers came from ancient Anatolia (now Turkey).

That study, published in the journal  Nature and led by the Harvard Medical School in the United States (among 28 other research centers) has allowed the analysis of 230 samples of prehistoric genetic material. With the results obtained from the samples, including 15 from the Spanish cave of El Mirador de  Atapuerca, a portrait has been sketched of the evolution of the European continent’s inhabitants in recent millennia.

Ron Pinhasi, an associate professor of archaeology at the University College Dublin and a co-author of the Nature study said:

“The Neolithic Revolution is perhaps the most important transition in human prehistory. Now we have evidence that there was a flow of population from Anatolia to Europe which brought agriculture to the area. For more than 40 years it was thought impossible to resolve this issue.”

A Neolithic grinding stone for grain.

A Neolithic grinding stone for grain. (José-Manuel Benito Álvarez/ CC BY SA 2.5 )

A 2012 article at ScienceNordic says people were cultivating einkorn wheat at a site in southeast Turkey about 10,000 years ago. Scholars are unsure if people were farming earlier. The article explains:

 “A settlement site at Abu Hureyra in Syria previously gained plenty of attention because of a discovery of a domesticated rye, dated at 12,000 to 13,000 years old. But the archaeological evidence for this site is rather skimpy – just three grains of rye – and in any case there is no proof that a tradition of rye cultivation occurred here.”

Many researchers agree agriculture started in the region between the Mediterranean and Iran and expanded from there. However, others believe farming started simultaneously in many different places on Earth.

While the first crops appear to have been grains, people were first gathering and later cultivating vegetables, fruits, roots, tubers, nuts and seeds.

While the first crops appear to have been grains, people were first gathering and later cultivating vegetables, fruits, roots, tubers, nuts and seeds. ( Elina Mark /CC BY SA 3.0 )

Excavations conducted at a remote farming village of Ghogha Golan in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in western Iran at a height of 485 meters (1591.2 feet), revealed evidence of plants processing dating back to 12,000 years ago. The research found more than 21,000 plant remains, including large amounts of wild barley, wheat, lentils and grass peas. Simone Riehl of the University of Tubingen in Germany suggested that the people of the village cultivated wheat, lentils and barley independently of other regions of the world.

If agriculture arose east of Turkey, it makes sense that it was propagated to Europe through Anatolia just because of the geography.

Wheat in summer

Wheat in summer ( Dako99/CC BY SA 3.0 )

Featured image: Neolithic farmers. Source: Out of the Woods

By: Mark Miller

Comments

It's really a good thing that wheat helped innovate this area at such an early time

Troy Mobley

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