It has long been recognized that the ancient European population was different than the Upper Paleolithic population of the continent. Carleton Coon ascribed this differentiation to migration of narrow-faced Mediterraneans into the territory of the robust broad-faced Upper Paleolithics. Ilse Schwidetzky also viewed migration from the Southeast of gracile Mediterraneans who gradually replaced broad-faced Cro-Magnoids.
So, it is nice to read that the re-analysis of a wide assortment of skulls on 15 cranial variables has revealed that:
The major shape differences separating hunter-gatherer Mesolithic populations and farming Neolithic populations are coded by PC1 with Neolithic specimens having longer and taller vaults, and Mesolithic specimens having larger, and broader faces.There are two (or three) puzzles in European prehistory:
- How the robust, low-skulled, broad-faced hunter-gatherers became more high-skulled, narrow-faced and gracile
- How the latter became brachycephalized until early modern times
- Why they have become partially debrachycephalized in the most recent of times
From the paper:
Nonetheless, the craniometric analysis allows us to discern certain patterns. For example, the ‘Forest Neolithic’ specimens are clearly much more similar to other Mesolithic hunter-gatherers than to Neolithic farmers in terms of their craniometric shape, suggesting a large degree of cultural diffusion in this region. However, it is also evident that the earliest potential colonisers of southeast and central Europe are very similar to the Anatolian Çatal Höyük population, congruent with an initial demic diffusion from the Near East/Anatolia.The "Forest Neolithic" included pottery-using groups of eastern Europe (hence Neolithic, since pottery is one of the hallmarks of that period), but should not be confused with the early agriculturalists who apparently practiced farming without pottery early on in the Near East and Greece, and then acquired pottery and expanded with it into the rest of Europe, together with their full "package" of domesticated crops and animals.
Human Biology vol. 84
Cranial variation and the transition to agriculture in Europe
Ron Pinhasi, Noreen Von Cramon-Taubadel
Debates surrounding the nature of the Neolithic demographic transition in Europe have historically centred on two opposing models; a 'demic' diffusion model whereby incoming farmers from the Near East and Anatolia effectively replaced or completely assimilated indigenous Mesolithic foraging communities and an 'indigenist' model resting on the assumption that ideas relating to agriculture and animal domestication diffused from the Near East, but with little or no gene flow. The extreme versions of these dichotomous models have been heavily contested primarily on the basis of archaeological and modern genetic data. However, in recent years there has been a growing acceptance of the likelihood that both processes were ongoing throughout the Neolithic transition and that a more complex, regional approach is required to fully understand the change from a foraging to a primarily agricultural mode of subsistence in Europe. Craniometric data have been particularly useful for testing these more complex scenarios, as they can reliably be employed as a proxy for the genetic relationships amongst Mesolithic and Neolithic populations. In contrast, modern genetic data assume that modern European populations accurately reflect the genetic structure of Europe at the time of the Neolithic transition, while ancient DNA data are still not geographically or temporally detailed enough to test continent-wide processes. Here, with particular emphasis on the role of craniometric analyses, we review the current state of knowledge regarding the cultural and biological nature of the Neolithic transition in Europe.