Ancient DNA from France Outline Complex Interactions Between Mesolithic Hunter-gatherers & Neolithic Farmers

About 12,000 years ago in the Near East, the emergency of farming, animal domestication and subsequent changes to prehistoric human lifestyles emerged. This is known as the Neolithic revolution. This culture spread through Europe, along the Danube and the Mediterranean coasts by 5,000 to 4,500 years ago. Little was known about how the carriers of this new life integrated with existing Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

Science Advances published a report from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History on a new genome-wide study of 101 prehistoric individuals from 12 archaeological sites in today’s France and Germany, dating from 7000-3000 BCE. The results show that early migrant farmers and local hunter-gatherers in France had higher levels of admixture than what we previously assumed.

The burial of Pendimoun F2 (5480-5360 BC), woman carrying about 55% of hunter-gatherer component. Credit: Henri Duday

The genetic contribution of hunter-gatherers is particularly high in what is now southern France, roughly 31% on average, compared to 3% seen in groups in Central Europe or 13% in the Iberian Peninsula. Curiously, one prehistoric female from the Pendimoun site in Provence (5480-5360 BCE), contributing as high as 55% to the local hunter-gatherers. Prolific. That makes this level of admixture in this region unprecedented compared to the rest of Europe during the early stages of the Neolithic expansion.

Based off this, the authors were able to retrace two distinct routes of the Neolithic expansion. Since there was little admixture in Central Europe, Neolithic farmers carried a very small contribution from hunter-gatherers. Which means they likely rapidly spread and did not integrate much with local hunter-gatherers. But west of the Rhine, in areas like France and Spain, these groups carry genes from local Mesolithic groups. This implies a slower integration.

Studies like this one highlight how different regions varied in biological and ultimately also cultural exchanges between hunter-gatherer communities and farmers. It also highlights how complex events like rate of expansions and integrations can be represented in ancient genomes.

One thought on “Ancient DNA from France Outline Complex Interactions Between Mesolithic Hunter-gatherers & Neolithic Farmers

  1. There’s a lot to research yet: even the more HG-admixed groups in this study are still far from what we see from Bell Beaker onwards, which requires double HG component approx (plus also different Y-DNA and the LCT allele). My take is that the paper barely addresses the issue of the Western Atlantic facade of Europe (three samples from the Seine, that’s all, one of which is already surprisingly “modern” but the others aren’t). More research is needed but IMO there was clearly one or several “proto-Basque” (or you could equally say “proto-Irish” but not yet Celtic) populations that would be decisive in the Late Chalcolithic. The question is: before Bell Beaker, where, who carried that type of genetics? And my best guess, tentative as it may be, would be that the Artenacian culture (of which Le Gord is its northern facies, not clear in the maps): Artenacian shares with Bell Beaker to be a culture of archers, bowmen, but is otherwise maybe more humble (Artenacian strongly correlates with the abandonment of “mega megalithism” in favor of more egalitarian “mini megalithism”). Artenacian (and northern facies) manages to stay relatively apart from Bell Beaker, even if BB surrounds it by all sides.

    In any case Bell Beaker is not homogeneous: Southern (and older) BB is rather a pattern of pots and buttons scattered without any other unifying feature (except to some extent continuity of Megalithism and development or popularization of new more sophisticated megaliths such as hypogees and tholoi, probably princely tombs, and the very active trade that this scatter seems to imply). Eastern (more recent and clearly of local Indoeuropean continuity) BB in the Czech Republic and nearby areas is instead a very well defined non-megalithic culture, which seems a partial reaction to “the excesses of Corded Ware” (return to pre-IE burial schemes by gender, but otherwise BB-specific burial goods set, not found elsewhere, not with that sistematicity at least). In between there is the Rhine-Islands BB region and the Nordic BB region, both also more recent than Southern BB, which probably were inhabited by people resembling modern Irish and Welsh, who have (and already had in the BB epoch) a Basque-like genetic pattern but with lesser Indoeuropean admixture. My take is that the Rhine-Islands region was mostly Vasconic-speaking, while the Nordic region was probably Indoeuropean speaking (because of older Corded Ware major impact but unsure); the Eastern region was definitely Indoeuropean in both language and R1a-dominated genetics, and of course the Southern or SW region (Iberia and “Gaul”) was Basque-like in genetics, with maybe areas of more ancient Sardinian-like genetics, Vasconic-speaking in any case (as Basque, ancient Iberian and “paleo-Sardinain” attest).

    We still need to find the source population(s) of this Artenacian-BB expansion, which is more and more clear that it happened.

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