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Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers

Farmers and Hunter-Gatherers coexisted but did not mix for two millenia

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New research published in the Journal Science has revealed that European hunter-gatherers and farmers lived alongside each other for more than 2,000 years but there was very little contact and mixing between the groups, a finding which has surprised anthropologists.

Until now it was believed that hunter-gatherers effectively died-out shortly after the introduction of farming in central Europe. But the latest study shows that they actually coexisted for a prolonged period of time.

"We thought up till now that shortly after the introduction of farming in central Europe all hunter-gatherers kind of vanished," said study co-author Ruth Bollongino, an archaeogeneticist at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. "This is mainly because we hardly find any artifacts. We have absolutely no ongoing proof of a hunter-gatherer lifestyle after the early Neolithic," around the time when farmers were first migrating from the Middle East.

The farmers and fishers shared the same burial place, so they must have had some contact.  “I think it's very unlikely they did not know of each other or trade, but for some reason, they stayed amongst themselves," Bollongino said.

The team of scientists came to the conclusion after analysing fossil skeletons which were first discovered in 2004 in the Blätterhöhle, a long, narrow cave in Hagen, Germany.  The cave was filled with more than 450 skeletal fragments that belonged to at least 29 individuals, covering an age span dating from the Mesolithic period, between 9210 and 8340 BC and the Neolithic period, between 3986 and 2918 BC.  The more ancient samples came from hunter-gatherers, while the Neolithic skeletons contained some genetics consistent with farming, and other lineages more consistent with hunter-gatherers.

The cool, dry environment within the cave meant that the DNA within the bones had been preserved, enabling scientists to analyse the samples in depth. The results revealed that the two populations remained mostly separate for two millennia, despite living in the same region.  It is unusual for two groups of live side-by-side like this without any mixing, either socially or physically.

By April Holloway

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