Spread of Agriculture to Europe

Home | Category: Early Settlements and Signs of Civilization in Europe


wheat flower

Wheat and barley agriculture spread out of Fertile crescent by 7000 B.C. By 6000 B.C., it had gotten as far as the Black Sea and present day Greece and Italy. Farming villages in western Greece date to about 7000 B.C.. By 5000 B.C. it had spread to most of southern Europe. The Linear Pottery Culture of central Hungary is believed to have introduced agriculture to central Europe around 5000 B.C. Agriculture finally reached southern Britain and Scandinavia around 3800 B.C. and north Britain and central Scandinavia by 2,500 B.C.

Frank Jordans of Associated Press wrote: “Stone Age people from the Aegean Sea region moved into central and southern Europe some 8,000 years ago and introduced agriculture to a continent still dominated at the time by hunter-gatherers, scientists say. The findings are based on genetic samples from ancient farming communities in Germany, Hungary and Spain. By comparing these with ancient genomes found at sites in Greece and northwest Turkey, where agriculture was practiced centuries earlier, researchers were able to draw a genetic line linking the European and Aegean populations.” [Source: Frank Jordans, Associated Press June 7, 2016]

According to Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz: “For most of the last 45,000 years Europe was inhabited solely by hunter-gatherers. About 8,500 years ago a new form of subsistence — farming — started to spread across the continent from modern-day Turkey, reaching central Europe by 7,500 years ago and Britain by 6,100 years ago. This new subsistence strategy led to profound changes in society, including greater population density, new diseases, and poorer health. Such was the impact of farming on how we live that scientists have debated for more than 100 years how it was spread across Europe. Many believed that farming was spread as an idea to European hunter-gatherers but without a major migration of farmers themselves.” [Source: Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz, June 6, 2016]

A study published in Science in April 2012 argues that farming originated in the Near East some 11,000 years ago, and extended over most of Europe by about 6,000 years ago. Associated Press reported: “Scientists analyzed genetic material from bones about 5,000 years old that had been found in Sweden. The bones came from three hunter-gatherers who’d been buried on the island of Gotland, which lies off the Swedish coast south of Stockholm, and a farmer buried less than 250 miles (400 kilometers) away on the mainland. Scientists knew their lifestyles because of artifacts. The two cultures apparently co-existed in the area for more than 1,000 years. [Source: Associated Press, 28 April 2012]

Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Theories and Question on The Spread of Agriculture to Europe

According to the University of Wisconsin: “Archaeologists have long wrestled with the question of how farming spread across Europe, ushering in a host of technologies, including the use of pottery, that ultimately led to the rise Western civilizations. Two big ideas have dominated the debate: Did the technology arrive with colonizers from Asia, notably Anatolia or modern Turkey? Or did the technology, including newly domesticated plants and animals, simply diffuse across the European landscape through networks of local foragers? There is some evidence for the importation of early agriculture along the shores of the Mediterranean and in Central Europe, Price notes, “but elsewhere in Europe it is not clear whether it was colonists or locals adopting.”[Source:University of Wisconsin, Madison, February 11, 2013]


According to the “wave of advance” model of Luca Cavalli Sforza agriculture moved westward slowly by farmers whose, swelling population forced them to seek new land in the west. This model is based partly on the fact that agriculture developed in Europe from plants grown in the Middle East not Europe. According to some estimates, the rate of advancement was only about a mile a year. Other scholars believe that agriculture was spread from farmers to hunter-gatherers in a cultural exchange rather than a migration of people.

When the scientists compared the ancient DNA to that of modern-day Europeans, they found that the farmer’s DNA was most similar to Mediterranean populations like Cypriots and Greeks. In contrast, the hunter-gatherer DNA most closely resembled northerners like Finns. The simplest explanation for this pattern is that an ancient migration of farmers started in southern Europe and moved northward over many generations, said the researchers, from Uppsala University in Sweden and other institutions in Sweden and Denmark.

Agriculture developed independently from the Near East in China, Peru and Mexico and other places. Some think agriculture was carried westward from the Near East suddenly and dramatically in early ships. Remains of boats found in Sardinia and Crete show that men have been crossing seas for more than 10,000 years. The plow was invented about 3000 B.C., greatly increase the food output of a given parcel of land.

Farming Arrived in Europe with Migrants

According to the University of Wisconsin: “For decades, archaeologists have debated how farming spread to Stone Age Europe, setting the stage for the rise of Western civilization. Now, new data gleaned from the teeth of prehistoric farmers and the hunter-gatherers with whom they briefly overlapped shows that agriculture was introduced to Central Europe from the Near East by colonizers who brought farming technology with them.

“One of the big questions in European archaeology has been whether farming was brought or borrowed from the Near East,” says T. Douglas Price, a University of Wisconsin-Madison archaeologist who, with Cardiff University’s Dusan Boric, measured strontium isotopes in the teeth of 153 humans from Neolithic burials in an area known as the Danube Gorges in modern Romania and Serbia. [Source:University of Wisconsin, Madison, February 11, 2013]

“The report, which appears this week (Feb. 11, 2013) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, draws on isotopic signatures of strontium found in the tooth enamel of people who died nearly 8,000 years ago, about 6,200 B.C. Strontium is a chemical found in rocks everywhere. It enters the body through diet at or around birth and etches an indelible signature in teeth that accurately documents the geology of an individual’s birthplace. “The evidence from the Danube Gorges shows clearly that new people came in bringing farming and replaced the earlier Mesolithic hunter-gatherers,” says Price, a UW-Madison professor of anthropology and an expert on early agriculture in Europe.

“The Danube Gorges slice through the Carpathian Mountains and in the Stone Age were a heavily forested setting, rich in fish and game, including huge sturgeon, catfish, red deer and wild boar. The bends and twists of the Danube in the Gorges region made it especially important as a source of fish, and thus potentially a desirable entryway to Europe for highly mobile and expanding Neolithic communities accompanied by their domesticates – wheat, barley, flax, goats and cattle. The new research, explains Price, speaks to the question of colonization versus adoption of transformative technologies such as farming. “It is also useful because it suggests another route across the Black Sea or up the east coast of Bulgaria to the Danube for farmers moving into Europe. This contrasts with movement by sea across the Mediterranean or Aegean, which is the standard picture.”

“Isotopic studies of strontium and other chemicals found in the teeth and bones of Neolithic humans, however, are now helping archaeologists better track the movement of ancient peoples across the landscape. Strontium signatures last not just a lifetime, but potentially thousands of years as tooth enamel, the densest tissue in the body, resists decomposition and contamination after death. It is now commonly used by archaeologists to determine if an individual was local or foreign to the place where their remains were discovered.

“An interesting finding of the study is that 8,000 years ago, when Neolithic farmers were beginning to migrate into the Danube Gorges and overlap with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, more women than men were identified as foreigners. A possible explanation for the variance, according to the study, is that women came to these sites from Neolithic farming communities as part of an ongoing social exchange. In the Danube Gorges, the overlap of colonizing early farmers and hunter-gatherers lasted perhaps a couple of hundred years before the forager societies were completely absorbed by the beginning of the sixth millennium B.C.”

Europe agricultural revolution

First European Farmers Likely Migrants Not Converted Hunter-Gatherers

The University of Adelaide reported: “A team of international researchers led by ancient DNA experts from the University of Adelaide has resolved the longstanding issue of the origins of the people who introduced farming to Europe some 8000 years ago. A detailed genetic study of one of the first farming communities in Europe, from central Germany, reveals marked similarities with populations living in the Ancient Near East (modern-day Turkey, Iraq and other countries) rather than those from Europe. The results of the study have been published today in the online peer-reviewed science journal PLoS Biology. [Source: University of Adelaide, December, 2010 ||+||]

“Project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide, says: “This overturns current thinking, which accepts that the first European farming populations were constructed largely from existing populations of hunter-gatherers, who had either rapidly learned to farm or interbred with the invaders.” “We have finally resolved the question of who the first farmers in Europe were — invaders with revolutionary new ideas, rather than populations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers who already existed in the area,” says lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak, Senior Research Associate with ACAD at the University of Adelaide. ||+||

“The ancient DNA used in this study comes from a complete graveyard of Early Neolithic farmers unearthed at the town of Derenburg in Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany. “We’ve been able to apply new, high-precision ancient DNA methods to create a detailed genetic picture of this ancient farming population, and reveal that it was radically different to the nomadic populations already present in Europe. We have also been able to use genetic signatures to identify a potential route from the Near East and Anatolia, where farming evolved around 11,000 years ago, via south-eastern Europe and the Carpathian Basin (today’s Hungary) into Central Europe,” Dr Haak says. ||+||

“The project involved researchers from the University of Mainz and State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, the Russian Academy of Sciences and members of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project, of which Professor Cooper is a Principal Investigator and Dr Haak is a Senior Research Associate.” ||+||

Neolithic Fertile Crescent Farmers Took Their DNA to Europe

According to a genetic study published in PLoS Biology, ancient DNA evidence suggests that immigrants from the Ancient Near East brought farming to Europe, and spread the practice to the region’s hunter-gatherer communities, perhaps as early as 8000 years ago. The study leader was Dr Wolfgang Haak, genographic project senior research associate at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.[Source: Rebecca Jenkins, ABC ( Australian Broadcasting Corporation), November 20, 2010, abc.net.au]

Rebecca Jenkins of ABC wrote: “An international research team, led by University of Adelaide experts, compared ancient DNA from the remains of Early Neolithic farmers at a burial site in central Germany with a large genetic database of European and Eurasian populations. They found that these early farmers had a unique and characteristic genetic signature, suggesting “significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming”. The revolutionary element of this study was the addition of ancient DNA , explains Professor Alan Cooper, director of the Centre for Ancient DNA, as previously researchers could only use genetic data from modern populations to examine this question. “We have never had a detailed genetic view of one of these early farming populations – there’s been a lot of inference around it… but it’s all been guesswork” he says.

Y chromosome DNA haplogroups (percentages)

Migration from Anatolia and near East

“Using the new high-precision ancient DNA analysis, researchers were also able to determine a possible migration route the farmers took from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe. Farming first originated about 11,000 years ago in the Near East and then spread across Europe during the Neolithic period, the researchers explain. “Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics,” they write in PLoS Biology. “[This] really answers this long-running debate about whether people picked up ideas or picked up and moved”, says Cooper.

“Haak says these latest findings might not completely settle the debate on the origins of farming in Europe, but they would “push it in a certain direction”. Haak is keen to see other research teams build on this proof of concept study, building a picture about this transitional period in other regions and helping to put the pieces of the jigsaw together globally.

Meanwhile, Haak and colleagues at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA want to discover how communities in this region in central Germany evolved over the next 3000 to 4000 years leading up to the Bronze Age. “The early farmers are still quite different to modern day populations from the same region,” he says, “so that means something must have happened after that.” The project involved researchers from the University of Mainz and State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, the Russian Academy of Sciences and members of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project.

First European Farmers Traced Back to Anatolia

According to Stockholm University: “When farming spread throughout Europe some 8000 years ago, Anatolia functioned as a hub, spreading genes and the new ideas westward. An international study based on DNA from Anatolian remains indicates the importance of the role Anatolia played, and also in attracting attention both from the east and the west. [Source: Stockholm University, January 4, 2016 \=//]

“Human material from the Anatolian site Kumtepe 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. "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 coauthor 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. \=// “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 dive deeper down into material from the Levant. Jan is right about that." \=//

Haplogroup I (Y-DNA)

Two Groups Carried Early Agriculture East and West

Fertile Crescent cultures diverged and took take farming east and west based on DNA taken from bone fragment from a 7,000-year-old farmer discovered in a cave in the Zagros region of Iran and the DNA of three other individuals from a second Iranian site. Amy McDermott wrote in Science: “The cradle of agricultural civilization was culturally diverse. Two societies lived side-by-side 10,000 years ago in the rich Near Eastern valleys of the Fertile Crescent, where humans first learned to farm, a new study finds. Over time, one group expanded west, carrying agriculture into Europe. The other spread east, taking their traditions into South Asia, researchers report online July 14 in Science. “We thought the people of the Fertile Crescent were one group genetically and culturally, but in fact they were probably two or more,” says paleogeneticist Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany, who led the new study. It’s time to rethink the textbook idea that modern Europeans and South Asians descend from a single Stone Age people, he says. [Source: Amy McDermott, sciencenews.org, July 14, 2016 ||-||]

“Earlier this year, Burger’s team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the first European farmers came from western Anatolia near the present site of Istanbul. Scientists suspected that the Anatolians had started out even further east, at older sites in Iran, Iraq, Syria and southeastern Turkey where farming began about 10,000 years ago. But DNA from 7,000- to 10,000-year-old remains, found at two ancient Iranian settlements, told a different story. Carbon and nitrogen ratios in bones showed that the people there ate more cultivated cereals than meat. While they were farmers and had lived several thousand years before the Anatolians, genetic analysis showed that the two blood lines were not closely related. ||-||

“In fact, the two groups had probably separated more than 45,000 years earlier, just after humans left Africa, says statistical geneticist Garrett Hellenthal of University College London, a coauthor of the new study. Even 10,000 years ago, the ancestors of Iranians and Anatolians had already been isolated for 36,000 to 67,000 years. Evidence of the Anatolian farmers is a few thousand years younger than the Iranian remains, but both cultures “must have known each other to some extent,” Burger says. People in the two groups probably looked different and spoke separate languages, Burger says. They didn’t intermarry, but undoubtedly shared the ideas of early agriculture. It would have taken centuries to convert from hunting and gathering to an agrarian way of life. “Domestication of wild beasts is nothing you do over the weekend,” Burger says. And “you don’t invent something crazy and complicated like farming coincidently at the same time.” ||-||

“Not everyone agrees with that conclusion. “The change from hunting to farming happened probably several times,” says archaeologist Roger Matthews of the University of Reading in England, who was not involved in the new work. While both the Anatolians and Iranians were farmers, “it’s not actually the same idea they’re coming up with,” he says. In the east, early agrarians focused on goats as well as barley and wheat, while in the west, shepherds raised sheep and other foods. Both communities probably took initial but separate steps toward farming, Matthews says. ||-||

“Sometime after farming was developed, the two cultures began to move apart. Why they spread so differently is still a mystery. More DNA samples from ancient people east of the Fertile Crescent are necessary to confirm that people spread from Iran eastward, says anthropologist Christina Papageorgopoulou of the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece. She coauthored the Anatolian study but was not involved in the new work. ||-||

“More DNA from within the Fertile Crescent could also reveal a border or boundary between ancient Anatolians and Iranians. “I cannot imagine there was a connection,” she says. If there had been, scientists would see have seen it in the DNA. “I think there is some kind of barrier there.” At this point, scientists can speak broadly about the blood relationships between these early farmers, but more high-quality DNA samples would let researchers zoom in to the village or household scale, to “come closer to ancient humans and how they lived,” Burger says. His vision is to analyze whole Stone Age villages, to reconstruct ancient family trees, understand who migrated where and move “from a global to a village view.”“||-||

Haplogroup J (Y-DNA)

Agriculture Came to Europe by Sea and By Land?

Some think agriculture was carried westward from the Near East suddenly and dramatically in early ships. Remains of boats found in Sardinia and Crete show that men have been crossing seas for more than 10,000 years. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in June 2016 that supports the idea that at least some migrants came by sea and challenges the notion that farming simply spread from one population to another through cultural diffusion.

Joachim Burger, one of the study's authors, said genetic analyses of the samples of farmers from Spain, Germany and Greece showed that the ancient farmers in central Europe and Spain were more closely related to an earlier Aegean group than to each other. This suggests that farmers came in two separate waves — northward into the continent and westward along the coastline to Spain. "One is the Balkan route and one is the Mediterranean route, as we know it also from migration of today," Burger, an anthropologist and population geneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, told Associated Press. [Source :Frank Jordans, Associated Press, June 7, 2016]

Frank Jordans of Associated Press wrote: “Researchers were also able to deduce some characteristics of the ancient Aegean farmers based on their DNA, he said. They were relatively fair-skinned with dark eyes and didn't yet have the genes necessary to digest milk after childhood — a trait that only developed in Europe later. The Aegean farmers also appeared to be closely related to Oetzi the Iceman, whose well-preserved remains were found on a glacier on the border between Austria and Italy. Finally, by comparing the ancient samples to those of modern-day Europeans, the scientists found that the ancient farmers weren't their direct ancestors. These ancestors also include the hunter-gatherers, who eventually mixed with the newcomers and a third population thought to have arrived in Europe from the eastern steppes about 5,000 years ago.

An expert not involved with the study said it was "solid and well done," but cautioned that some of its conclusions were based on limited data. "Small statistical effects might be (a) fluke," said Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Potsdam, Germany. But the insight into Europe's Stone Age migration offered by the study was valuable, Hofreiter said. "It adds to our knowledge about human history. And I think it is always valuable to replace speculation by factual evidence," he said. Burger said researchers will now investigate whether the Aegean farmers can be linked directly to populations further southeast in the Fertile Crescent stretching from Syria to southwest Iran, where agriculture is known to have first emerged more than 10,000 years ago.

First European Farmers: from Greece

According to Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz: In June 2016, an international research team led by paleogeneticists of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) published a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that early farmers from across Europe have an almost unbroken trail of ancestry leading back to the Aegean. The scientists analyzed the DNA of early farmer skeletons from Greece and Turkey. According to the study, the Neolithic settlers from northern Greece and the Marmara Sea region of western Turkey reached central Europe via a Balkan route and the Iberian Peninsula via a Mediterranean route. These colonists brought sedentary life, agriculture, and domestic animals and plants to Europe. During their expansion they will have met hunter-gatherers who lived in Europe since the Ice Age, but the two groups mixed initially only to a very limited extent. "They exchanged cultural heritage and knowledge, but rarely spouses," commented anthropologist Joachim Burger, who lead the research. "Only after centuries did the number of partnerships increase." [Source: Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz, June 6, 2016 =|=]

“Professor Joachim Burger, his Mainz paleogeneticist team, and international collaborators have pioneered paleogenetic research of the Neolithization process in Europe over the last seven years. They showed a lack of interbreeding between farmers and hunter-gatherers in prehistoric Europe in 2009 and 2013 (Bramanti et al. 2009; Bollongino et al. 2013). Now, they demonstrate that the cultural and genetic differences were the result of separate geographical origins. "The migrating farmers did not only bring a completely foreign culture, but looked different and spoke a different language," stated Christina Papageorgopoulou from Democritus University of Thrace, Greece,, who initiated the study as a Humboldt Fellow in Mainz together with Joachim Burger.=|=

“The study used genomic analysis to clarify a long-standing debate about the origins of the first European farmers by showing that the ancestry of Central and Southwestern Europeans can be traced directly back to Greece and northwestern Anatolia. "There are still details to flesh out, and no doubt there will be surprises around the corner, but when it comes to the big picture on how farming spread into Europe, this debate is over," said Mark Thomas of University College London (UCL), co-author on the study. "Thanks to ancient DNA, our understanding of the Neolithic revolution has fundamentally changed over the last seven years." =|=

“Sedentary life, farming, and animal husbandry were already present 10,000 years ago in the so-called Fertile Crescent, a region covering modern-day Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Zuzana Hofmanová and Susanne Kreutzer, the lead authors of the study, concluded: "Whether the first farmers came ultimately from this area is not yet established, but certainly we have seen with our study that these people, together with their revolutionary Neolithic culture, colonized Europe through northern Aegean over a short period of time." =|=

“Another study has shown that the spread of farming, and farmers, was not the last major migration to Europe. Approximately 5,000 years ago people of the eastern Steppe reached Central Europe and mixed with the former hunter-gatherers and early farmers. The majority of current European populations arose as a mixture of these three groups.” =|=

In 2017, The International Business Times reports that the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield analyzed some 1,500 mitochondrial genome lineages obtained from modern DNA samples in order to study the arrival of farmers in different regions of Europe. The scientists, led by Martin Richards, found evidence suggesting that Near Eastern farmers arrived in the Mediterranean during the Late Glacial period, about 13,000 years ago. Then during the Neolithic period, about 8,000 years ago, they spread from the Mediterranean to the rest of Europe. Martin and his team hope that new sources of ancient DNA from Greece and Italy will be found for additional testing. The climate there makes it difficult to recover ancient genetic material from human remains at archaeological sites, but technological developments may could improve the odds of success. For more on early European farmers, go to “The Neolithic Toolkit.” [Source: Archaeology, April 14, 2017]

Ancient European Farmers Swiftly Spread Westward

Discoveries at two prehistoric farming villages in southern Croatia, with evidence of relatively sophisticated plant cultivation and animal herding, appears to indicate that agriculture moved westward across Europe at a fairly rapid clip. Bruce Bower wrote in Science: “Croatia does not have a reputation as a hotbed of ancient agriculture. But new excavations, described January 7 in San Antonio at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, unveil a Mediterranean Sea–hugging strip of southern Croatia as a hub for early farmers who spread their sedentary lifestyle from the Middle East into Europe. [Source: By Bruce Bower, sciencenews.org. January 7. 2011 \=]

Ancient Greek plowing

“Farming villages sprouted swiftly in this coastal region, called Dalmatia, nearly 8,000 years ago, apparently with the arrival of Middle Easterners already adept at growing crops and herding animals, says archaeologist Andrew Moore of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Moore codirects an international research team, with archaeologist Marko Mendušic of Croatia’s Ministry of Culture in Šibenik, that has uncovered evidence of intensive farming at Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj, two Neolithic settlements in Dalmatia. Plant cultivation and animal raising started almost 8,000 years ago at Pokrovnik and lasted for close to a millennium, according to radiocarbon dating of charred seeds and bones from a series of occupation layers. Comparable practices at Danilo Bitinj lasted from about 7,300 to 6,800 years ago.“Farming came to Dalmatia abruptly, spread rapidly and took hold immediately,” Moore says. \=\

“Other evidence supports a fast spread of sophisticated farming methods from the Middle East into Europe, remarks Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef.Farming villages in western Greece date to about 9,000 years ago, he notes. Middle Eastern farmers exploited a wide array of domesticated plants and animals by 10,500 years ago, setting the stage for a westward migration, Bar-Yosef says. \=\

“Other researchers began excavating Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj more than 40 years ago. Only Moore and his colleagues dug deep enough to uncover signs of intensive farming. Their discoveries support the idea that agricultural newcomers to southern Europe built villages without encountering local nomadic groups, Moore asserts. Earlier excavations at Neolithic sites in Germany and France raise the possibility that hunter-gatherers clashed with incoming villagers in northern Europe, he notes. \=\

“Surprisingly, Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj residents grew the same plants and raised the same animals, in the same proportions, as today’s Dalmatian farmers do, Moore says. Excavated seeds and plant parts show that ancient villagers grew nine different domestic plants — including emmer, oats and lentils — and gathered blackberries and other wild fruits. Animal bones found at the two villages indicate that residents primarily herded sheep and goats, along with some cattle and a small number of pigs. Diverse food sources provided a hedge against regional fluctuations in rainfall and growing seasons, according to Moore. “This is an astonishing demonstration of agricultural continuity from the Neolithic to present times,” he says. \=\

“Aside from farming, Neolithic villagers in Dalmatia were “oriented toward the sea, and enjoyed extensive long-distance contacts,” Moore adds. Chemical analyses of obsidian chunks found at Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj, directed by archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida in Tampa, trace most of them to Lipari, an island off Sicily’s north coast. Shapes and styles of pottery from the ancient Dalmatian villages changed dramatically several times during the Neolithic. Moore’s team can’t explain why these shifts occurred while the farming economy remained the same. Other than three children found in separate graves, the researchers have unearthed no human skeletons at Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj.” \=\

ancient Roman harvesting

First British Farmers

The first farmers arrived in Britain about 6,000 years ago. Their ancestors are believed to have originated in southeast Europe. Early farmers chopped down trees so they could grow crops and vegetables. They kept cattle, sheep and pigs. These people began to settle down in one place and build permanent homes. These also built tombs and monuments on the land, of which the most enduring and famous is Stonehenge, thought to have been a gathering place for seasonal ceremonies. Other Stone Age sites include Skara Brae on Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland. It is the best preserved prehistoric village in northern Europe, helping archaeologists to understand more about how people lived near the end of the Stone Age. [Source: “Life in the United Kingdom, a Guide for New Residents,” 3rd edition, Page 15, Crown 2013]

According to the BBC: “By 3500 B.C. people in many parts of Britain had set up farms. They made clearings in the forest and built groups of houses, surrounded by fields. The early farmers grew wheat and barley, which they ground into flour. Some farmers grew beans and peas. Others grew a plant called flax, which they made into linen for clothes. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Neolithic farmers kept lots of animals. They had herds of wild cows that had been domesticated (tamed). The cattle provided beef, as well as milk and cheese. Sheep and goats provided wool, milk and meat. Wild pigs were domesticated and kept in the woods nearby. Dogs helped on the farms too. They herded sheep and cattle and worked as watchdogs. Dogs were probably treated as family pets, like they are today. The early farmers still went hunting and gathered nuts and berries to eat, but they spent most of their time working on their farms. Clearings were made to create farmland and the wood was used to build fires to keep warm at night |::|

Neolithic people built grave mounds and stone circles. They also met for religious ceremonies on large, circular platforms that are known as causewayed enclosures. People stored the bones of the dead in large graves known as long barrows. These graves were built from stone and covered with a mound of earth. They had a central passage, with several side-chambers containing sets of bones. There were also smaller graves, with a single burial chamber. During the Neolithic period, people started to build stone circles. This practice continued in the early Bronze Age. |::|

Bruce Bower wrote in sciencenews.org: “Agriculture’s British debut occurred during a mild, wet period that enabled the introduction of Mediterranean crops such as emmer wheat, barley and grapes, say archaeobotanists Chris Stevens of Wessex Archaeology in Salisbury, England, and Dorian Fuller of University College London. Farming existed at first alongside foraging for wild fruits and nuts and limited cattle raising, but the rapid onset of cool, dry conditions in Britain about 5,300 years ago spurred a move to raising cattle, sheep and pigs, Stevens and Fuller propose in the September Antiquity. With the return of a cultivation-friendly climate about 3,500 years ago, during Britain’s Bronze Age, crop growing came back strong, the scientists contend. Farming villages rapidly replaced a mobile, herding way of life. Many researchers have posited that agriculture either took hold quickly in Britain around 6,000 years ago or steadily rose to prominence by 4,000 years ago.” [Source: Bruce Bower, sciencenews.org, September 6, 2012 ~|~]

“Stevens and Fuller compiled data on more than 700 cultivated and wild food remains from 198 sites across the British Isles whose ages had been previously calculated by radiocarbon dating. A statistical analysis of these dates and associated climate and environmental trends suggested that agriculture spread rapidly starting 6,000 years ago. About 700 years later, wild foods surged in popularity and cultivated grub became rare. Several new crops — peas, beans and spelt — appeared around 3,500 years ago, when storage pits, granaries and other features of agricultural societies first appeared in Britain, Stevens and Fuller find. An influx of European farmers must have launched a Bronze Age agricultural revolution, they speculate.” ~|~

ancient farming strips in Britain

8,000-Year-Old Wheat Found in Britain

An 8,000-year-old wheat grain was found at what is now a submerged cliff off the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom. The BBC reported: “Fragments of wheat DNA recovered from an ancient peat bog suggests the grain was traded or exchanged long before it was grown by the first British farmers. The research, published in Science, suggests there was a sophisticated network of cultural links across Europe. The accepted of arrival on the British mainland is around 6,000 years ago, as ancient hunter gatherers began to grow crops such as wheat and barley. [Source: Helen Briggs, BBC.com, February 27, 2015 |::|]

“The DNA of the wheat – known as einkorn – was collected from sediment that was once a peat bog next to a river. Scientists think traders arrived in Britain with the wheat, perhaps via land bridges that connected the south east coast of Britain to the European mainland, where they encountered a less advanced hunter gatherer society. The wheat may have been made into flour to supplement the diet, but a search for pollen and other clues revealed no signs that the crop was grown in Britain until much later. |::|

“Dr Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, who led the research, said 8,000 years ago the people of mainland Britain were leading a hunter-gatherer existence, while at the same time farming was gradually spreading across Europe. “Common throughout neolithic Southern Europe, einkorn is not found elsewhere in Britain until 2,000 years after the samples found at Bouldnor Cliff,” he said. “For the einkorn to have reached this site there needs to have been contact between mesolithic [the culture between paleolithic and neolithic] Britons and neolithic farmers far across Europe. The land bridges provide a plausible facilitation of this contact. As such, far from being insular, mesolithic Britain was culturally and possibly physically connected to Europe.”|::|

“The research shows that scientists can analyse genetic material preserved within the sediments of the landscapes stretching between Britain and Europe in prehistoric times. Co-researcher Prof Vincent Gaffney, of the University of Bradford, said the find marked a new chapter in British and European history. “It now seems likely that the hunter-gather societies of Britain, far from being isolated were part of extensive social networks that traded or exchanged exotic foodstuffs across much of Europe,” he said. |::|

“And Garry Momber of the Maritime Archaeology Trust, which collected the samples from the site, said work in the Solent had opened up an understanding of the UK’s formative years in a way that he never dreamed possible. “The material remains left behind by the people that occupied Britain as it was finally becoming an island 8,000 years ago, show that these were sophisticated people with technologies thousands of years more advanced than previously recognised. The DNA evidence corroborates the archaeological evidence and demonstrates a tangible link with the continent that appears to have become severed when Britain became an island.”“|::|

First British Farms Founded by French Immigrants

In 2009, New Scientist reported: “The British may owe the French more than they care to admit. Archaeological finds from Britain show that farming was introduced 6000 years ago by immigrants from France, and that the ancient Brits might have continued as hunter-gatherers had it not been for innovations introduced by the Gallic newcomers. [Source: Newscientest.com, December 2, 2009 +++]

“Mark Collard from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and his colleagues studied carbon-14 dates for ancient bones, wood and cereal grains from locations across Great Britain. From this they were able to assess how population density changed with time, indicating that around 6000 years ago the population quadrupled in just 400 years (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.11.016). This coincides with the emergence of farming in Britain. +++

“Such a population explosion almost rules out the idea that farming was adopted independently by indigenous hunter-gatherers, says Collard. Pottery remains and tomb types suggest the first immigrants came from Brittany in north-west France to southern England, followed around 100 years later by a second wave from north-eastern France who settled in Scotland.” +++

Northern Europeans Slow to Adopt Farming

In 2015, New York University reported: “According to a team of researchers, northern Europeans in the Neolithic period initially rejected the practice of farming, which was otherwise spreading throughout the continent. Their findings offer a new wrinkle in the history of a major economic revolution that moved civilizations away from foraging and hunting as a means for survival. “This discovery goes beyond farming,” explains Solange Rigaud, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City. “It also reveals two different cultural trajectories that took place in Europe thousands of years ago, with southern and central regions advancing in many ways and northern regions maintaining their traditions.” CIRHUS is a collaborative arrangement between France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and New York University. The study, whose other authors include Francesco d’Errico, a professor at CNRS and Norway’s University of Bergen, and Marian Vanhaeren, a professor at CNRS, appears in the journal PLOS ONE. [Source: New York University, April 8, 2015]

“In order to study these developments, the researchers focused on the adoption or rejection of ornaments—certain types of beads or bracelets worn by different populations. This approach is suitable for understanding the spread of specific practices—previous scholarship has shown a link between the embrace of survival methods and the adoption of particular ornaments. However, the PLOS ONE study marks the first time researchers have used ornaments to trace the adoption of farming in this part of the world during the Early Neolithic period (8,000-5,000 B.C.).

“It has been long established that the first farmers came to Europe 8,000 years ago, beginning in Greece and marking the start of a major economic revolution on the continent: the move from foraging to farming over the next 3,000 years. However, the pathways of the spread of farming during this period are less clear. To explore this process, the researchers examined more than 200 bead-types found at more than 400 European sites over a 3,000-year period. Previous research has linked farming and foraging populations with the creation and adornment of discrete types of beads, bracelets, and pendants. In the PLOS ONE study, the researchers traced the adoption of ornaments linked to farming populations in order to elucidate the patterns of transition from foraging and hunting to farming.

“Their results show the spread of ornaments linked to farmers—human-shaped beads and bracelets composed of perforated shells—stretching from eastern Greece and the Black Sea shore to France’s Brittany region and from the Mediterranean Sea northward to Spain. By contrast, the researchers did not find these types of ornaments in the Baltic region of northern Europe. Rather, this area held on to decorative wear typically used by hunting and foraging populations—perforated shells rather than beads or bracelets found in farming communities. “It’s clear hunters and foragers in the Baltic area resisted the adoption of ornaments worn by farmers during this period,” explains Rigaud. “We’ve therefore concluded that this cultural boundary reflected a block in the advancement of farming—at least during the Neolithic period.”“

6,000-Year-Old Baltic Cooking Pots Show Gradual Transition to Agriculture

Ceramic pots excavated at sites dated to 4,000 years B.C. tell a story of some lingering hunter-gatherer ways in the Baltic regions of Northwest Europe. AZERTAC reported: “Once a fisherman, always a fisherman, one might say. This could have been the sentiment of the people who lived 6,000 years ago in what is today the Western Baltic regions of Northern Europe. Based on a study recently performed by a team of researchers led by Oliver Craig of the University of York and Carl Heron of the University of Bradford, hunter-gatherer humans here may have experienced a gradual rather than a rapid transition to agriculture. [Source:AZERTAC, October 27, 2011 ~\~]

“The researchers analyzed cooking residues preserved in 133 ceramic vessels from the Western Baltic regions of Northern Europe to determine if the residues originated from terrestrial food sources, or marine and freshwater organisms. The vessels were chosen from 15 sites dated to approximately 4,000 B.C., the time corresponding to the first evidence in the region indicating domestication of animals and plants (agriculture and animal husbandry). The evidence included samples obtained from a 6,000-year-old submerged settlement site excavated by the Archäologisches Landesmuseum in Schleswig off the Baltic coast of Northern Germany. Of the inland sites, about 28 percent of the pots showed residues from aquatic organisms, likely freshwater fish. Of the sites located in coastal areas, one-fifth of the pots showed biochemical traces of aquatic organisms, along with fats and oils normally not present in terrestrial plants and animals. ~\~

“The study results suggest that fish and other aquatic resources continued to be significantly exploited even after the advent of farming and domestication. Says Craig: "This research provides clear evidence people across the Western Baltic continued to exploit marine and freshwater resources despite the arrival of domesticated animals and plants. Although farming was introduced rapidly across this region, it may not have caused such a dramatic shift from hunter-gatherer life as we previously thought." ~\~

“The study will also provide a model and foundation for use by future scientists and researchers in the area of ancient pottery analysis. "Our data set represents the first large scale study combining a wide range of molecular evidence and single-compound isotope data to discriminate terrestrial, marine and freshwater resources processed in archaeological ceramics and it provides a template for future investigations into how people used pots in the past," says Carl Heron, team co-leader and Professor of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford. ~\~

“The research effort consisted of an international team of archaeologists from the University of York, the University of Bradford, the Heritage Agency of Denmark, the National Museum of Denmark, Moesgård Museum (Denmark), Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel (Germany) and the Archäologisches Landesmuseum, Schleswig (Germany). It was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the details, results and conclusions are now published online in the most recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).” ~|~

Baltic Hunter-Gatherers Adopted Farming, Rather Than Being Pushed Out by Migrants

ancient hoes from Germany and Spain

The Neolithic peoples of the Baltics acquired agriculture and other elements of permanent settlement culture through diffusion, not through large migratory movements from Anatolia and the Middle East, according to genetic study. Trinity College Dublin reported: “Research indicates that Baltic hunter-gatherers were not swamped by migrations of early agriculturalists from the Middle East, as was the case for the rest of central and western Europe. Instead, these people probably acquired knowledge of farming and ceramics by sharing cultures and ideas—rather than genes—with outside communities. Scientists extracted ancient DNA from a number of archaeological remains discovered in Latvia and the Ukraine, which were between 5,000 and 8,000 years old. These samples spanned the Neolithic period, which was the dawn of agriculture in Europe, when people moved from a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a settled way of life based on food production. [Source: Trinity College Dublin, March 2, 2017 ^*^]

“We know through previous research that large numbers of early farmers from the Levant (the Near East) – driven by the success of their technological innovations such as crops and pottery – had expanded to the peripheral parts of Europe by the end of the Neolithic and largely replaced hunter-gatherer populations. However, the new study, published today in the journal Current Biology, shows that the Levantine farmers did not contribute to hunter-gatherers in the Baltic as they did in Central and Western Europe. ^*^

“The research team, which includes scientists from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Cambridge, and University College Dublin, says their findings instead suggest that the Baltic hunter-gatherers learned these skills through communication and cultural exchange with outsiders. The findings feed into debates around the ‘Neolithic package,’—the cluster of technologies such as domesticated livestock, cultivated cereals and ceramics, which revolutionised human existence across Europe during the late Stone Age. ^*^

“Advances in ancient DNA work have revealed that this ‘package’ was spread through Central and Western Europe by migration and interbreeding: the Levant and later Anatolian farmers mixing with and essentially replacing the hunter-gatherers. But the new work suggests migration was not a ‘universal driver’ across Europe for this way of life. In the Baltic region, archaeology shows that the technologies of the ‘package’ did develop—albeit less rapidly—even though the analyses show that the genetics of these populations remained the same as those of the hunter-gatherers throughout the Neolithic. ^*^

“Andrea Manica, one of the study’s senior authors from the University of Cambridge, said: “Almost all ancient DNA research up to now has suggested that technologies such as agriculture spread through people migrating and settling in new areas. However, in the Baltic, we find a very different picture, as there are no genetic traces of the farmers from the Levant and Anatolia who transmitted agriculture across the rest of Europe. The findings suggest that indigenous hunter-gatherers adopted Neolithic ways of life through trade and contact, rather than being settled by external communities. Migrations are not the only model for technology acquisition in European prehistory.” ^*^

“While the sequenced genomes showed no trace of the Levant farmer influence, one of the Latvian samples did reveal genetic influence from a different external source—one that the scientists say could be a migration from the Pontic Steppe in the east. The timing (5-7,000 years ago) fits with previous research estimating the earliest Slavic languages. Researcher Eppie Jones, from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Cambridge, was the lead author of the study. She said: “There are two major theories on the spread of Indo-European languages, the most widely spoken language family in the world. One is that they came from the Anatolia with the agriculturalists; another that they developed in the Steppes and spread at the start of the Bronze Age.That we see no farmer-related genetic input, yet we do find this Steppe-related component, suggests that at least the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family originated in the Steppe grasslands of the East, which would bring later migrations of Bronze Age horse riders.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.