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Ancient DNA discovers the dawn of agriculture

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A huge collection of genomes shows how hunter-gatherers became some of the world’s first farmers 12,000 years ago. By abandoning nomadism and staying in their places to work the land, they began one of the most important transitions in human history.

Around 12,000 years ago, the nomadic hunter-gatherers of the Middle East made a momentous change: they decided to leave behind their nomadic and wandering lives to settle in a specific place and obtain the fruits of the earth.

was born like this farmingthe axis of a social, economic and cultural change that marked humanity forever, mainly until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the predominance of cities.

According to an article published in the journal Nature, two studies of Ancient DNA, including one of the largest sets of ancient human genomes analyzed so far, zeroed in on the identity of hunter-gatherers who settled the Anatolian peninsula in what is now Turkey.

The revolution of the earth

Archaeological and genetic evidence indicates that humans began to engage in agriculture in the Middle East. This profound change, which also subsequently occurred independently in other parts of the world, is known as neolithic revolution: is linked to the domestication of the first plants and animals.

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However, the two investigations, published respectively in bioRxiv and Cell, shed light on the way in which this crucial “agricultural revolution” took place: it is known that the first European farming populations They come mainly from farmers on the Anatolian Peninsula, but scientists wondered what happened before they started spreading farming across Europe.

To clarify this question, in one of the studies, the researchers sequenced the genomes of 15 hunter-gatherers and early farmers living in Southwest Asia and Europe, who left their trail along the Danube River, one of the main routes of migration that the first farmers chose to go to Europe.

The remains from which the ancient DNA was extracted come from various archaeological sites, including part of the early farming towns in western Anatolia.

westward expansion

Going further in the analyses, they discovered that ancient Anatolian farmers descended from repeated genetic admixture between different hunter-gatherer groups from Europe and the Middle East, that created different communities and divided about 25,000 years ago, at the height of the Ice Age.

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The results of the studies suggest that Western hunter-gatherer groups nearly died out after that period, until they slowly began to recover as the climate warmed.

Already established in Anatolia, the first farming populations descended from the former splinter groups began to move west of Europe, about 8,000 years ago. In that context, they occasionally mixed with local hunter-gatherers: for scientists, it was the expansion of people and farming communities that drove agriculture further west on the old continent.

In the same vein, the second study analyzed the genomes of 317 hunter-gatherers and early farmers from across Eurasia, making it the largest ancient genome analysis to date from this period. The researchers also discovered a divide between eastern and western hunter-gatherer groups, and pinpointed the arrival of Anatolian farmers in Europe about 8,700 years ago, in the Balkan area.

References

The genomic origins of the world’s first farmers. Marchi, N. et al. Cell (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2022.04.008

Population Genomics of Stone Age Eurasia. Morten E. Allentoft et al. BioRxiv (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.05.04.490594

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