Neolithic farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers
A new study published in the journal Science has revealed that Neolithic farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers into their communities in Scandinavia, according to a new report in Phys Org. The research sheds new light on the transition between a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and an agricultural way of life.
Researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University conducted a genomic analysis of eleven Stone Age human remains from Scandinavia, dated to between 5,000 and 7,000 years old, in order to gain insight into prehistoric population structures. The remains belonged to individuals found on mainland Scandinavia, as well as from the Baltic island Gotland, and comprises of hunter-gatherers from various time periods as well as early farmers.
Ove och Evy Persson at Ajvide in Sweden. The skeleton is a young woman dated to 2700 BC. Credit: Goran Burenhult
The results revealed that expanding Stone Age farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers into their community. In addition, Professor Mattias Jakobsson, who led the Uppsala University team, explained that: "Stone-Age hunter-gatherers had much lower genetic diversity than farmers. This suggests that Stone-Age foraging groups were in low numbers compared to farmers".
"The low variation in the hunter gatherers may be related to oscillating living conditions likely affecting the population sizes of hunter-gatherers. One of the additional exciting results is the association of the Mesolithic individual to both the roughly contemporaneous individual from Spain but also the association to the Neolithic hunter-gatherers," said Jan Storå from Stockholm University.
The study confirms that Stone-Age hunter-gatherers and farmers were genetically distinct and that migration spread farming practices across Europe, but the team was able to go even further by demonstrating that the Neolithic farmers had substantial admixture from hunter-gatherers.
"We see clear evidence that people from hunter-gatherer groups were incorporated into farming groups as they expanded across Europe", says Dr Pontus Skoglund of Uppsala University. "This might be clues towards something that happened also when agriculture spread in other parts of the world."
Previous analyses of the isotopes in the bones of the 11 Stone Age individuals also showed the hugely different diet the two groups had. The hunter-gatherers relied primarily on seals and fish, while the farmers ate mostly land protein – presumably from the animals that they took care of.
Anders Götherström, who led the Stockholm University team said, "We have only begun to scratch the surface of the knowledge that this project may bring us in the future". The research has been described as a breakthrough in understanding the demographic history of Stone Age humans.
Featured image: An artist’s depiction of ancient Neolithic farmers. Image source.