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 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.