Stone age hunters and farmers co-existed in Europe

10th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

Farmers and hunter-gatherers lived side by side in Europe for about 2,000 years and sometimes intermingled, according to genetic research Thursday that counters the notion that farmers swiftly overtook foragers.

This co-existence persisted until about 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought, said a pair of studies by international researchers in the journal Science.

The findings are based on the largest ancient DNA set ever compiled, gathered from the remains of 364 people at 25 sites in the Mittelelbe-Saale region of Germany, an ancient crossroads.

A second study in Science focused on the remains of 25 people in a cave in what is now Germany, according to an analysis of DNA from bones in the Blatterhohle cave in Westphalia.

"Neither hunter-gatherers nor farmers can be regarded as the sole ancestors of modern-day Central Europeans," said researcher Adam Powell, population geneticist at the Johannes Gutenberg University Institute of Anthropology in Mainz, Germany.

Hunter-gatherers were there first, as descendants of the first wave of modern humans to arrive on the land mass 45,000 years ago, researchers said.

"They survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago," said Mark Thomas professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London.

"And now it seems they also survived the initial wave of farmers spreading across Europe from the southeast of the continent."

Farming cultures from the Near East swept across central Europe about 7,500 years ago.

But contrary to popular belief, these agricultural people whose traditions included growing cereal grains, herding cattle and crafting pottery, did not immediately wipe out the hunter gatherers they encountered.

Instead, they lived in close proximity for at least 2,000 years.

"This contact was not without consequences," said lead author Joachim Burger of JGU.

"Hunter-gatherer women sometimes married into the farming communities, while no genetic lines of farmer women have been found in hunter-gatherers," he said.

"Farmer women regarded marrying into hunter-gatherer groups as social demotion."

Hunter-gatherer traditions eventually died out 5,000 years ago, giving way to the farming life.

Researchers said about 30 percent of Europeans today carry the genetic signatures of these early farmers. The rest of the population's makeup is dominated by more recent waves of migration.

© 2013 AFP

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