For most of the last 45,000 years Europe was inhabited solely by hunter-gatherers. About 8,500 years ago a new form of subsistence - farming - started to spread across the continent from modern-day Turkey, reaching central Europe by 7,500 years ago and Britain by 6,100 years ago. This new subsistence strategy led to profound changes in society, including greater population density, new diseases, and poorer health. Such was the impact of farming on how we live that scientists have debated for more than 100 years how it was spread across Europe. Many believed that farming was spread as an idea to European hunter-gatherers but without a major migration of farmers themselves.
This week, an international research team led by paleogeneticists of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) publishes a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America showing that early farmers from across Europe have an almost unbroken trail of ancestry leading back to the Aegean. The scientists analyzed the DNA of early farmer skeletons from Greece and Turkey. According to the study, the Neolithic settlers from northern Greece and the Marmara Sea region of western Turkey reached central Europe via a Balkan route and the Iberian Peninsula via a Mediterranean route. These colonists brought sedentary life, agriculture, and domestic animals and plants to Europe. During their expansion they will have met hunter-gatherers who lived in Europe since the Ice Age, but the two groups mixed initially only to a very limited extent. "They exchanged cultural heritage and knowledge, but rarely spouses," commented anthropologist Joachim Burger, who lead the research. "Only after centuries did the number of partnerships increase."