June 30, 2006

Comment on mtDNA from European Neolithic farmers

Albert J. Ammerman, Ron Pinhasi, and Eszter Bánffy have published a comment (Science 30 June 2006:Vol. 312. no. 5782, p. 1875) on the article about the mtDNA of early central European farmers.
On the basis of analysis of ancient DNA from early European farmers, Haak et al. (Reports, 11 November 2005, p. 1016) argued for the Paleolithic ancestry of modern Europeans. We stress that the study is more limited in scope than the authors claim, in part because not all of the skeletal samples date to the time of the Neolithic transition in a given area of Europe.


Haak et al. (1) report findings on mitochondrial DNA that are of interest, and such work needs to be encouraged. However, the argument they set forth with respect to the ancestry of modern Europeans rests on two working assumptions: (i) that the occurrence of the N1a type among the first farmwomen of Central Europe has its source in the first farmwomen of southeastern Europe (who spread to Central Europe as part of the Neolithic transition) and (ii) that N1a is not present in the local Mesolithic (late hunter-gatherer) populations of Central Europe. Empirical studies have yet to be carried out in either case. More work remains to be done before definite conclusions can be drawn about European ancestry as a whole.

There is also a reply (Science 30 June 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5782, p. 1875) in the same issue.

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