Researchers from Sweden's Uppsala University said DNA taken from 5,000-year-old skeletons excavated in Sweden suggests the agricultural newcomers from the south interbred with northern hunter-gatherers in one of many early migrations of farmers into Europe, ScienceNews.org reported Thursday.
Pieces of DNA extracted from an ancient farmer's remains buried in southern Sweden display gene variants most like those found in people now living in Greece and Cyprus, evolutionary genetics researcher Pontus Skoglund said.
Most Europeans today possess genetic profiles that fall between those of the long-dead farmer and his hunter-gatherer neighbors, Skoglund and his colleagues said.
"Our data suggest that northern European farmers originated in Mediterranean Europe and were genetically distinct from northern hunter-gatherers some 5,000 years ago," study coauthor Mattias Jakobsson said.
Researchers generally agree farming originated about 11,000 years ago in the Middle East and reached Europe by around 7,000 years ago.
There has been much debate about whether waves of advancing farmers chased off European hunter-gatherers or traded cultural practices with native groups that then took up agriculture.
The DNA links between the ancient Swedish farmer and nearby hunter-gatherers show that agriculture spread across Europe with the aid of genetic as well as cultural exchanges, Jakobsson says.
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