An analysis of 5,000-year-old DNA taken from the Stone Age remains of four humans excavated in Sweden is helping researchers understand how agriculture spread throughout Europe long ago. According to Pontus Skoglund from Uppsala University in Sweden and colleagues, the practice of farming appears to have moved with migrants from southern to northern Europe. Some participating researchers were supported by Marie Curie Actions fellowships.
Agricultural know-how wasn't the only thing that early European farmers introduced to the region. Based on their genetic data, Skoglund and the researchers say that Europe's first farmers eventually mixed their genes with the hunter-gatherers who lived there—a relationship that set the stage for today's modern European genome.
"We analyzed genetic data from two different cultures—one of hunter-gatherers and one of farmers—that existed around the same time, less than 400 kilometers (249 miles) away from each other," said Skoglund. "After comparing our data to modern human populations in Europe, we found that the Stone Age hunter-gatherers were outside the genetic variation of modern populations but most similar to Finnish individuals, and that the farmer we analyzed closely matched Mediterranean populations."