Agriculture gave humanity a reliable source of food. Its introduction is also attributed for changes in the society such as the emergence of new diseases, poorer health and greater population. The impact of settled agriculture is so significant earlier studies have associated it with changes in the human body.
Farming began to spread in Europe about 8,500 years ago. How farming spread across Europe, however, has long been a subject of debate among researchers. One theory proposed that farming was an idea that spread to European hunter-gatherers, who once dominated the continent.
Findings of a new study though have revealed that agriculture was introduced by stone-age people from the Aegean Sea region as they moved to Europe.
For the new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 6, researchers looked at the genetic samples from skeletons of early farmers in Turkey and Greece.
They found evidence that Neolithic settlers from northern Greece and western Turkey arrived in central Europe via a Balkan route and then reached the Iberian Peninsula via a Mediterranean route bringing with them agriculture and sedentary life.
Along with agricultural practices, the migrant farmers also brought with them plants and domestic animals and into their new home. This group of people eventually met European hunter-gatherers.
The findings undermine the theory that farming spread among European hunter-gatherers and was not brought by migrating farmers.
"We recover genome-wide DNA sequences from early farmers on both the European and Asian sides of the Aegean to reveal an unbroken chain of ancestry leading from central and southwestern Europe back to Greece and northwestern Anatolia," study researcher Mark Thomas, from University College London (UCL), and colleagues wrote in their study.
"Our study provides the coup de grâce to the notion that farming spread into and across Europe via the dissemination of ideas but without, or with only a limited, migration of people."
The migrants also exchanged cultural traditions with their new neighbors but evidence hints the two groups only mixed to a very limited extent and that interbreeding was initially rare. Researchers said that the partnerships increased only after centuries.
"When it comes to the big picture on how farming spread into Europe, this debate is over," Thomas said.
"Thanks to ancient DNA, our understanding of the Neolithic revolution has fundamentally changed over the last seven years."