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Neolithic Farmers

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

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.

By April Holloway



This article confirms various earlier findings that farmers and hunter gatherers coming from separate genetic pools. However, farmers and farming arrived specifically from the Levantine (“Near East”), where farming was first invented. This has been well known for a decade, see for example “European origins laid bare by DNA” (BBC News, 10 October 2013). However, there is still a reluctance to acknowledge this, for example in the BBC documentary on the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Survey, an excellent documentary in itself, but one which implies farming could have arrived by cultural assimilation (the old theory).

We now know that specifically Levantine (including Lebanon, Anatolia and southern Turkey, western Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine) farmers form about half of the modern European genetic heritage. There may have been a secondary wave of Levantine-descended farmers with a slightly different genetic mix into northeast and central Europe from both the Scandinavia-Baltic region and the Spanish peninsula (see BBC News, “European origins laid bare by DNA”, 10 October 2013). However, this does not alter the essential argument (and predates the domesticated horse in the UK).

Indigenous hunter-gatherers (more hunters in the case of the UK) varied in their history (along with coastlines and icelines) but in northern Europe indigenous groups dated back between twenty and forty thousand years, and older.

Why is this important?

The commonality and prevalence of “Indo-European” languages through Europe (which the possible exception of Basque and some very tiny remnant groups in Mediterranean area) can be explained through farming, as set out by the archeologist and linguist Colin Renfrew.

Other articles support the origin of “Indo-European” languages in Anatolia, for example “Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family” (Science magazine, 2012).

There is another key fact of great importance: we now know that the then-fertile Sahara and its nearby environs threw out a set of related languages through Mande, Libya, Nubia, Egypt, the Horn of Africa and the Middle East (Afro-Asiatic), including as branches: Proto-Semitic, Akkadian and later Proto-Arabic. Farming was developed in both Egypt and Mesopotamia about 5000 to 4000 BCE and Semitic (and later Arabic) speaking peoples overran the original heartland of Near Eastern farming, the Levant.

This confused Victorian historians, who knew nothing of such things. They assumed that Levantines had always spoken Semitic.

Victorian historians and linguists were further confused about “Indo-European” origins. For the last decade or two we have known that farming spreads on average at about 100 kilometres per decade. Indigenous hunter-gatherers lived alongside Levantine farmers for up to two thousand years in many cases, but ultimately hunter-gatherer birth goddesses, hunting gods, shamanism, rudimentary astronomy and animistic spirits gave way in large part to the Levantine farming mythos of a pantheon ruled by a Sky Father and Earth Mother, and associated obsession with the interaction of the seasons with astronomy.

By 4000 BCE Levantine farmers had reached the plains of the Ukraine, where wild horses lived. The farmers domesticated the horses (which was also copied by neighbouring Altaic-speaking Proto-Turks, who adopted the Levantine farming pantheon and spread it along with horses into central north Asia and Mongolia).

A new warrior caste based on horses and cart-chariots now streamed downwards from Ukraine into the Balkans, Iran and India. This Levantine-Iranian-Indian group was what the Victorian historians erroneously thought were the original speakers of “Indo-European”, in the trans-Caucasus, and the origin of the “Indo-European” farming pantheon of the Sky Father and Earth Mother. Just to confuse things, some of the Levantine-Iranian-Indian group temporarily invaded part of the original Levantine heartland (the Hittites).

Because of the above, I would argue reform is called for.

“Proto-Indo-European” should be termed “Levantine” and “Indo-European” should be called “Levantine-Iranian-Indian” to clearly distinguish the parent group and the far far younger offshoot.

Victorian historians and linguists did not know about DNA testing or the Ukrainian origins of the domesticated horse or the first farming in the Levant or where and when either Proto-Semitic or Proto-Arabic appeared in the Levantine area.

We do - but even we have known such things conclusively for only twenty years or less. Perhaps this explains the failure to see the blindingly obvious.

In addition, the lack of written languages in the early history of Europe and the lack of written languages in the early history of the Levant make it difficult to oppose Victorian era ideologies. Archeology, statistics and genetics are complex, multi-disciplinary and specialist and lack the “textbook fabric” of Victorian tradition and linguistic theory.

Occam's razor, the simplest explanation, suggests that the common language of Europe, like half its common ancestry, is Levantine, and that Levantine farmer religion explains common European pantheistic mythologies. Any other explanation is incompatible with genetic evidence and archeological evidence of precisely when the first farming occured in each European country (and the first horse domestication).

While the spread of Levantine from Ukraine down south through the Balkans, Iran and India can be explained by military conquest through horse domestication, there is no military conquest going westward into Europe from Ukraine based on horse riding, although horse riding spread culturally. Ukraine is just as much half-Levantine as everywhere in Europe.

As an aside, this means that the likely language of the builders of Neolithic Britain, including those of Stonehenge was an offshoot of Levantine, Proto-Celtic, and that the solar and lunar deities were distantly related to the heavily Christianized written traditions of Irish and Welsh texts.

Possibly there is a connection between Morrigan, Hera and Juno etc.. There is little point speculating too much as local cultural groups such as the Beaker Culture warp and change directions over thousands of years, and Druidism as a class structure may be more a later Bronze Age hill fort kingdom phenomena, but it remains highly likely that the astronomer-priests of the pre-Beaker Culture period and the early Beaker Culture period worshipped a local variant of the Levantine pantheon.

At that very time that indigenous northern European hunter-gatherer languages were dying out in Europe, the Levantine language was itself being conquered in the Levantine heartland and the Levantine pantheon admixed with forces deriving from the Sahara, Egypt and Mesopotamia, where farming had begun later and separately to the Levant.

The historical nexus flows from the Levant to Europe to Ukraine to Iran and finally India - not from the Ukraine to Europe and Iran and India.

I think farmers back then worked too hard to suffer from modern day problems like obesity and the food was wholesome and organic. It is a known fact that flora diversity was greater then. So many types of crops are gone due to industrialized farming and to think that the hundreds of heirloom vegetables and herbs that remain are only a small fraction of what was. The hunters had their expertize to offer the farmers, and vice versa so the idea that one group had leverage over the other would be seasonal and sporadic.

My take on it is that the hunter gatherers were enslaved by the farmers. Hunter gatherers haven't got much to steal from them, but enslaved workers can have all the product of their labour stolen from them. Who would choose farming when the the record shows how unhealthy the early farmers were ? We still suffer the health echoes today but magnified by all the poisons introduced to our food.

aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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