Who came first: the farmer or the hunter-gatherer?
This is the question being asked by researchers from Uppsala and Stockholm Universities. And now with a genomic analysis of eleven Stone Age human remains from Scandinavia the researchers have concluded that the Stone Age farmers assimilated local hunter-gatherers who were historically lower in numbers than the farmers. There has been much debate as to when the transition between hunting-gathering and farming began. Now with DNA science being used on human material, scientists have a whole new way to learn about this sliver of time.
Despite these advancements, prehistoric population’s transition to an agricultural lifestyle in Europe remains poorly understood.
"For many of the most interesting questions, DNA-information from people today just doesn't cut it, the best way to learn about ancient history is to analyze direct data—despite the challenges", says Dr. Pontus Skoglund of Uppsala University, now at Harvard University, and one of the lead authors of the study.
"We have generated genomic data from the largest number of ancient individuals" says Dr. Helena Malmström of Uppsala University and one of the lead authors. "The eleven Stone-Age human remains were between 5,000 and 7,000 years old and associated with hunter-gatherer or farmer life-styles".
The material used in the study is from mainland Scandinavia as well as from the Baltic island Gotland, and it comprises of hunter-gatherers from various time periods as well as early farmers.
Of the findings, Professor Mattias Jakobsson, of Uppsala University comments, "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".
Jan Storå at Stockholm University shares Mattias' fascination.
"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."
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. Surprisingly, the hunter-gatherers from the Baltic Sea displayed no evidence of introgression from farmers.
Read more at Uppsala University.
Remains of Stone Age woman image via Uppsala University.