One of the most debated developments in human history is the transition from hunter‑gatherer to agricultural societies. This week's edition of Science presents the genetic findings of a Swedish‑Danish research team, which show that agriculture spread to Northern Europe via migration from Southern Europe.
"We have been able to show that the genetic variation of today's Europeans was strongly affected by immigrant Stone Age farmers, though a number of hunter-gatherer genes remain," says Assistant Professor Anders Götherström of the Evolutionary Biology Centre, who, along with Assistant Professor Mattias Jakobsson, co-led the study, a collaboration with Stockholm University and the University of Copenhagen.
"What is interesting and surprising is that Stone Age farmers and hunter-gatherers from the same time had entirely different genetic backgrounds and lived side by side for more than a thousand years, to finally interbreed," Mattias Jakobsson says.
Agriculture developed in the Middle East about 11,000 years ago and by about 5,000 years ago had reached most of Continental Europe. How the spread of agriculture progressed and how it affected the people living in Europe have been debated for almost 100 years. Earlier studies were largely based on small amounts of genetic data and were therefore unable to provide univocal answers. Was agriculture an idea that spread across Europe or a technique that a group of migrants took with them to different regions of the continent?