Scientists from Sweden have found new evidence that sheds light on how early humans transitioned from small bands of hunter-gatherers to an agricultural society. The new research shows that hunter gatherers were eventually assimilated by agricultural communities back in the Stone Age.
The study conducted by Swedish researchers took into consideration newfound genetic evidence obtained from human remains found in Scandinavia.
"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", said Uppsala University researcher Pontus Skoglund of Uppsala University. Skoglund is now based at the Harvard University in the U.S.
The remains date back to the Stone Age, a period of time when early humans were thought to have evolved into a farming culture. The evidence revealed that the smaller groups of hunter-gatherers settled down and were assimilated by farmer groups.
"We have generated genomic data from the largest number of ancient individuals" said Helena Malmström, another researcher from the Uppsala. "The eleven Stone-Age human remains were between 5,000 and 7,000 years old and associated with hunter-gatherer or farmer life-styles."
As farming communities were gradually spreading throughout Europe during the Stone Age, the roaming bands of hunter-gatherers were eventually folded into the expanding communities. The Swedish researchers are also hopeful that the new information they uncovered regarding the spread of farming in Europe could also shed light on the spread of farming in other areas of the world. The genetic information gathered by the researchers may also help scientists understand more about early humans.
"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", said Mattias Jakobsson, another researcher who was part of the team that published the study.
The lower amount of genetic variation in hunter-gathered groups can be attributed to their somewhat nomadic culture. Due to constant changes in their environment, the total population of hunter-gatherers could have been severely affected. Smaller numbers is known as one of the most probable causes of low genetic diversity in populations.
By analyzing the flow of genes between hunter-gatherers and farmers, the researchers determined that the assimilation was one way. This means that most hunter-gatherers became farmers while farmers turning into hunter-gatherers may have been very rare.
The researchers published their findings in the online journal Science. The scientists who worked on the study also believe that the information they uncovered only scratched the tip of the iceberg and further research into the subject may yield even more information about early human societies.