A recent study has shed new light on the origin of farming. About 12,000 years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestor started to farm.
At first, they grew wild crops, such as barley, pea, and lentil. They also herded wild animals like wild ox and goat. Across the centuries they shifted to farming, selectively breeding animals and plants and thus creating new varieties and breeds. Eventually, they spread farming to parts of Europe and Asia.
Early day farmers lived in Fertile Crescent, a region of the Middle East. That region encompasses many modern day states like Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Palestine or Israel and Iraq. Scientists have so far believed that these farmers were part of just one group of ancestral humans. They swapped farming tools, tricks, they traded, and they even swapped genes.
The new study, however, had different conclusions. Apparently, more than one group of people in Fertile Crescent started agriculture. These groups were different from one another, from a genetical point of view. They did not mix over the first few thousand years.
Even though lived in more or less a similar area, these groups were isolated from one another. Anthropologists at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany have analyzed ancient DNA from the remains of individuals who lived 10,000 years ago in the East region of the Fertile Crescent – the Zagros Mountains which border Iraq and Iran.
They compared the DNA from these four individuals with that from skeletons a couple of thousands of years younger. The other skeletons were found on the opposite end of the Fertile Crescent, in a region of modern day Turkey.
However, the two groups are very different genetically. This is the biggest surprise of the study. The Anatolian and Zagros population had a common ancestor some 77,000 years ago. But the difference in evolution of the two groups is surprising.
It was these late Stone Age farmers from the Turkey region that migrated north into Europe and introduced farming there. Apparently, only the Anatolian group migrated towards Europe, while the Zagros group remained where it was. These ancient Anatolian farmers are the ancestors of modern-day Europeans.
Another key finding of the study was that the early Zagros farmers spread through South Asia and eventually moved to Africa. This made it clear that different populations in the Middle East took different paths for migration.
The idea that farming began in a single population is no longer valid. All populations evolved at the same time. However, it wasn’t a melting pot – yet.
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