Science & Environment

Genetic history of Europeans revealed

Anatolian Neolithic specimen Image copyright Songul Alpaslan-Roodenberg
Image caption Anatolian Neolithic specimen

A study of ancient DNA has shed new light on European genetic history.

It confirms that farming spread across Europe due to the influx of ancient people from what is now eastern Turkey.

Many modern Europeans owe their taller stature to these early farmers - and a later influx of Bronze Age "horsemen" - say international researchers.

In the study, researchers mapped the genes of 273 ancient people who lived in West Europe and Asia from about 8,500 to 2,500 years ago.

Of these, 26 were part of a population that gave rise to Europe's first farmers.

Prof Ron Pinhasi of the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin, a lead researcher on the study, said: "We now have the first clear evidence that agriculture in Europe started with the first farmers coming from what is now Turkey.

"This is very exciting because there's been a dispute for the last 40 years over whether that's the case or not.

"Some have argued that it was diffusion of ideas but not of people. We now have the evidence that it was actually movement of people."

The study, published in the journal, Nature, adds to growing evidence that two events in prehistoric times have had a big impact on the genetic make-up of modern Europeans.

The first was the arrival of an ancestral "tribe" of early farmers from Anatolia around 8,500 years ago.

Image copyright Fokke Gerritsen
Image caption Ancient DNA was extracted from 230 ancient Eurasians

The later arrival of a tribe of ancient "horsemen" in Bronze Age times also shaped the genes of modern Europeans.

Both had an influence on the way genes for skin colour, eye colour and susceptibility to various diseases were shaped in prehistoric times.

Two populations appear to have had an impact on the height of Europeans - early farmers and horse-riding herders called the Yamnaya who entered Europe from the eastern Steppe region - in present day Ukraine and Russia - about 5,000 years ago.

Prof Pinhasi told BBC News. "Early farmers were already tall when they came into Europe.

"Part of the modern day higher stature - for example in Northern Central Europe - has its origins in the first farmers coming from Turkey into Europe."

Ancient tribes

Most modern Europeans have a genetic make-up that suggests they are descended from three ancient "tribes" - western hunter gatherers, early European farmers and "horsemen" known as the Yamnaya.

The first layer of European ancestry, the hunter-gatherers, entered Europe before the Ice Age 40,000 years ago.

But 7,000 years ago, they were swept up in a migration of people from the Middle East, who introduced farming to Europe, followed 2,000 years later by the Yamnaya.

Eppie Jones of Trinity College Dublin, co- researcher on the study, said: "This paper is taking our journey back in time ever further.

"It is looking at our genes and how the interactions and innovations through history have shaped who Europeans are today."

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