Genome study reveals history of human populations in Northern Europe

The first Neolithic farmers and pastoralists didn't arrive in Scandinavia until between 6,000 to 5,300 years ago.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 30, 2018 at 11:36 AM
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Jan. 30 (UPI) -- According to new genomic analysis, Scandinavia was settled by human populations migrating along both a northern and southern route.

Scientists were able to trace historic waves of migration into Northern Europe by analyzing DNA samples collected from the remains of 38 different people. The remains included humans living in Scandinavia between 7,500 and 500 BC.

The findings -- published this week in the journal Nature Communications -- suggest the arrival of agriculture was late to Northern Europe.

While agriculture was firmly established throughout Central Europe some 7,000 years ago, the first Neolithic farmers and pastoralists didn't arrive in Scandinavia until between 6,000 to 5,300 years ago.

Previous genomic studies have revealed two distinct populations of hunter-gatherers living in Europe during the Mesolithic, between 10,000 and 5,000 BC: a western group centered around present-day Hungary and an eastern group from Russia.

The latest analysis suggests the early people of Scandinavia can trace their roots to both populations.

"Eastern hunter-gatherers were not present on the eastern Baltic coast, but a genetic component from them is present in Scandinavia," Johannes Krause, director of the department of archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said in a news release. "This suggests that the people carrying this genetic component took a northern route through Fennoscandia into the southern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. There they genetically mixed with western hunter-gatherers who came from the south, and together they formed the Scandinavian hunter-gatherers."

Despite the establishment of farming practices throughout Central Europe by around 5,000 BC, hunting, gathering and fishing remained the sole means of subsistence in Northern Europe until the arrival of agriculture around 4,000 BC.

The new data suggests Scandinavia's first farmers came from Central Europe. Along with new tools and techniques, these agriculturalists brought genetic roots that can be traced back to the Anatolian farmers, who first migrated from the Near East to Europe some 8,200 years ago.

Surprisingly, hunter-gatherers living in the Eastern Baltic region did not mix with the earliest migrant farmers. The groups coexisted for several millennia. The hunter-gatherers began to mix with nomadic pastoralists of the Pontic-Caspian steppe around 2,900 BC.

"Interestingly, we find an increase of local Eastern Baltic hunter-gatherer ancestry in this population at the onset of the Bronze Age," said lead study author Alissa Mittnik, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute. "The local population was not completely replaced but coexisted and eventually mixed with the newcomers."

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