Tracing European farmers back to Anatolia

A large part of the results come from grave 6 in Kumtepe, excavated in 1994. Here is the upper part of a skeleton. Image: Project Troia/Peter Jablonka

A large part of the results come from grave 6 in Kumtepe, excavated in 1994. Here is the upper part of a skeleton. Image: Project Troia/Peter Jablonka

When farming spread throughout Europe some 8000 years ago, Anatolia functioned as a hub, spreading genes and the new ideas westward. An international study coordinated from Stockholm and based on DNA from Anatolian remains indicates the importance of the role Anatolia played.

Human material from the Anatolian site Kumtepe, excavated in 1994, was used in the study. The material was heavily degraded, but yielded enough DNA for the doctorate student Ayca Omrak to address questions concerning the demography connected to the spread of farming. She conducted her work at the Archaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University.

The results show genetic similarities to the early European Neolithic gene pool and modern-day Sardinians, as well as a genetic affinity to modern-day populations from the Near East and the Caucasus. However, modern-day Anatolians carry signatures of several admixture events from different populations that have diluted this early Neolithic farmer component, explaining why modern-day Sardinian populations, instead of modern-day Anatolian populations, are genetically more similar to the people that drove the Neolithic expansion into Europe.

The study is published in Current Biology.

Precursor to Troy

I have never worked with a more complicated material. But it was worth every hour in the laboratory. I could use the DNA from the Kumtepe material to trace the European farmers back to Anatolia. It is also fun to have worked with this material from the site Kumtepe, as this is the precursor to Troy”, says doctorate student Ayca Omrak, at the Archaeological Research Laboratory Stockholm University.

Jan Storå, associate professor in osteoarchaeology and co-author to the study agrees with Ayca. The results confirms Anatolias importance to Europe’s cultural history. He also thinks that material from the area needs to be researched further.

It is complicated to work with material from this region, it is hot and the DNA is degraded. But if we want to understand how the process that led from a hunter-gatherer society proceeded to a farming society, it is this material we need to exhaust“, says Jan Storå, associate professor in osteoarchaeology, Stockholm University.

Need to delve deeper

Anders Götherstörm who heads the archaeogenetic research at the Archaeological Research Laboratory agrees that this study indicates further possibilities:

Our results stress the importance Anatolia has had on Europe’s prehistory. But to fully understand how the agricultural development proceeded we need to delve deeper down into material from the Levant. Jan is right about that.”

The archaeogenetic group in Stockholm is presently advancing its collaboration with colleagues in Anatolia and Iran.