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K. Kris Hirst

Transition from Hunting to Farming in Europe: A Photo Essay

By September 3, 2009

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According to a new genetic study reported in Science Express tomorrow, the first farmers of Europe were almost certainly immigrants, perhaps descendants of those first farmers in the Fertile Crescent. The article is a continuation of the study of the archaeological Linearbandkeramik culture, and I've used it as the basis for a new photo essay on the transition from hunting to farming in Europe.

Geographic Range of Linearbandkeramik - the First Central European Farmers
Geographic Range of Linearbandkeramik - the First Central European Farmers. Image
© Science

The archaeological culture known as Linearbandkeramik (or LBK for short) has been long recognized as that of the originators of agriculture in Europe. LBK is marked by a distinctive pottery, house style and stone tool technology, but most importantly, the people carried a farming technology not seen in Europe before that point. Agriculture—the domestication of wheat, barley, peas, lentils and linseed; and cattle, sheep, goats and pigs—was an invention of the Near East and Southwestern Asia about 10,000 years ago. That package of skills spread to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkmenistan over the next 3000 years and was finally brought into central Europe starting with the Balkan states of Hungary and Slovakia about 5500 BC.

But Europe was already inhabited when the LBK arrived, by Mesolithic fisher-hunter-gatherers. it has never been definitively demonstrated whether the LBK was a massive movement of agriculturalists from the Balkan states, or an adoption by the local hunter-gatherers of that technology, or a combination of the two. Evidence supporting the theory that hunter-gatherers merely adopted agriculture includes some similarities in artifacts between the Mesolithic and the early Neolithic LBK sites, including the presence of silex stone tools. Data arguing against it includes the sheer numbers of LBK sites, and the direction of their spread out from the Balkan states.

Mitochondrial DNA and the LBK

A new study published by Barbara Bramanti and colleagues in Science Express on September 4, 2009, supports what some scholars have suspected all along—that the LBK likely were an in-migration of people from the Balkans, and that they did not, initially anyway, do much mixing at all with the earlier inhabitants of Europe.

Bramanti and her colleagues compared the mitochondrial DNA from 20 central European Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic hunter-gatherers to that from 25 Neolithic farmers and 484 modern Europeans, spanning an age range from about 13,400 to 2,300 BC. The data shows that the early farmers and hunter-gatherers were from distinctively different populations.

This paper follows up on and to a degree contradicts with the hypothesis of an earlier paper that looked only at mtDA of the Neolithic farmers. That study (Haak et al. 2005) discovered that the farmers had a distinctive difference between the current residents of Europe, and hypothesized that that meant that the hunter-gatherers might have been more like the modern inhabitants, and thus, the LBK would have been only a minor component.

But this paper, written by the same scholars as a direct progression of the same research, adds mtDNA evidence from the hunter-gatherers to the mix. Bramanti et al. discovered that European hunter-gatherers also are genetically distinct from modern Europeans. Further, European hunter-gatherers are clearly separate from the Neolithic farmers, and that suggests that the suite of farming skills was primarily brought in along with people from outside the region, ad less so a later adaption by the hunter-gatherers. The extent to which the current inhabitants of Europe are descended from either population is unresolved.

Sources and Further Information

Bramanti, B., et al. 2009 Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers. Science Express 3 September 2009

Haak, Wolfgang, et al. 2005 Ancient DNA from the First European Farmers in 7500-Year-Old Neolithic Sites. Science 310:1016-1018.

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Comments

September 6, 2009 at 9:28 am
(1) fernando alcocer says:

esta es una pequeña observacion;dentro del continente americano por geografia mexico pertenece a norteamerica y solo la cultura maya,su territorio abarca parte de centro america,guatemala,el salvador,honduras y belize y por lo tanto las demas culturas como aztecas,miixtecos,zapotecas,toltecas,totonacas etc.son de norteamerica

September 6, 2009 at 9:50 am
(2) Kris Hirst says:

You are right–Fernando is talking about the Atlas of Archaeology, in which I have divided the North American continent incorrectly. The Aztecs, Mixtec, Toltecs, Totonanacs etc do geographically fit in North America, rather than “Central America”. I have two reasons for that–one is that people look for Aztecs, Mixtec, etc. in “central America” (standard usage, even if incorrect, makes things easier for people to find); and I’m limited to 20 links under each geographic grouping, so putting all the cultural groups that belong in North America in the same place doesn’t work.

I think there are two options. I could rename it to Mesoamerica–would that work? Or I could put a disclaimer discussing that in the “central American” category. What do you think, Fernando?

September 6, 2009 at 9:57 am
(3) Kris Hirst says:

After writing that, I decided the best thing was to rename the category to “Mesoamerica”. That’s accurate, and I think clear enough. Thanks, Fernando! for pointing out this error….

Kris

April 15, 2010 at 4:52 am
(4) hog hunting says:

Europe was already inhabited when the LBK arrived, by Mesolithic fisher-hunter-gatherers. it has never been definitively demonstrated whether the LBK was a massive movement of agriculturalists from the Balkan states, or an adoption by the local hunter-gatherers of that technology, or a combination of the two.

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