Origins of Farming in Europe Result of Human Migration and Cultural Change, Study Suggests
It has long been debated as to whether the transition from a largely hunter-gatherer to an agricultural subsistence strategy in Europe was the result of the migration of farmers from the Near East and Anatolia, or whether this transition was primarily cultural in nature. A new study, co-authored by researchers at University College Cork and the University of Kent suggests that the prehistoric adoption of farming practices in outlying regions of Europe, Scandinavia, the Baltic, European Russia and the Ukraine, was the result of cultural diffusion.
Results provide evidence that indigenous hunter-gatherers in central Europe were largely replaced or assimilated by incoming Near-Eastern farmers in the core region of south-east and Central Europe. However, hunter-gatherer populations survived in outlying regions and adopted some of the cultural practices from neighbouring farming communities.
The new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, B uses craniometric data from 30 Mesolithic and Neolithic populations to address these questions, as it has previously been shown that cranial measurements can be used as a reliable proxy for genetic information. The results show that while the initial transition to agriculture in central Europe was the result of migrating farmers from the Near-East and Anatolia, agricultural practices were adopted by indigenous hunter-gatherer populations in outlying regions of Europe. Therefore, instead of employing two competing and mutually exclusive models of biological versus cultural diffusion, a mosaic model of both biological and cultural diffusion is a more appropriate model for this demographic change across Europe as a whole
Looking at the cranial distances table the distance between Çatal Höyük and Nea Nikomedeia 0.00001, which could very well be the smallest in the table leaves little doubt about the affinities of the Neolithic in Macedonia. It is unfortunate that other series from the rest of Greece were not included, but this may not be as important in the context of this paper, as the Neolithic cultures of the Balkans would be derived from those of northern Greece.
Another point of interest is to pay close attention to the different sites. For example, the Russian Neolithic is a late 2,400BC site from NW Russia belonging to the Pit-Comb Ware culture. This culture is labeled Neolithic on account of its use of pottery (one of the hallmarks of the Neolithic), but is essentially a boreal culture of pottery using hunter-gatherers.
Another point of interest is that the Dnieper-Donetz samples from Dereivka and Aleksandrija have close parallels to the Portuguese Mesolithic! This tends to reinforce the view that has emerged from the study of mtDNA of a fairly homogeneous pre-farming substratum that stretched from the Atlantic well to the east.
The Mesolithic and some Forest "Neolithic" samples of hunter-gatherers cluster together, described by the authors as follows:
In the circum-Baltic area, a number of ‘Forest Neolithic’ cultures emerged during the seventh millennium BP, continuing the Mesolithic hunting–gathering–fishing lifestyle by incorporating wild fauna and edible plant species into their diets but also living in semi-permanent locales [23,26].
Proc. R. Soc. B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2678
Craniometric data support a mosaic model of demic and cultural Neolithic diffusion to outlying regions of Europe
Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel, and Ron Pinhasi
The extent to which the transition to agriculture in Europe was the result of biological (demic) diffusion from the Near East or the adoption of farming practices by indigenous hunter–gatherers is subject to continuing debate. Thus far, archaeological study and the analysis of modern and ancient European DNA have yielded inconclusive results regarding these hypotheses. Here we test these ideas using an extensive craniometric dataset representing 30 hunter–gatherer and farming populations. Pairwise population craniometric distance was compared with temporally controlled geographical models representing evolutionary hypotheses of biological and cultural transmission. The results show that, following the physical dispersal of Near Eastern/Anatolian farmers into central Europe, two biological lineages were established with limited gene flow between them. Farming communities spread across Europe, while hunter–gatherer communities located in outlying geographical regions adopted some cultural elements from the farmers. Therefore, the transition to farming in Europe did not involve the complete replacement of indigenous hunter–gatherer populations despite significant gene flow from the Southwest Asia. This study suggests that a mosaic process of dispersal of farmers and their ideas was operating in outlying regions of Europe, thereby reconciling previously conflicting results obtained from genetic and archaeological studies.