Nav: Home

Hunter-gatherers experimented with farming in Turkey before migrating to Europe

August 04, 2016

Clusters of hunter-gatherers spent much of the late Stone Age working out the basics of farming on the fertile lands of what is now Turkey before taking this knowledge to Europe. In an analysis of ancient genomes published August 4 in Current Biology, researchers at Stockholm University and Uppsala University in Sweden and Middle East Technical University in Turkey report that at least two waves of early European settlers belonged to the same gene pool as farmers in Central Turkey--genealogy that can be traced back to some of the first people to cultivate crops outside of Mesopotamia.

To help clear up the evolution of farming in the West, the investigators compared genetic information from Europeans living during the Neolithic period (a.k.a. the late Stone Age, 10,000-4,000 years ago; the chronology varies between Europe and the Near East) with that from nine individuals excavated from two ancient settlements in Anatolia (the area between the Black and the Mediterranean Seas).

The earliest of the gene sequences were taken from four people of the Boncuklu community, who lived between 10,300 and 9,500 years ago. The Boncuklu were a group of foragers who had recently adopted small-scale agriculture. The other five samples (dating back 9,500 to 7,800 years ago) came from Tepecik-Çiftlik villagers, who had more sophisticated farming practices.

"In Boncuklu, we find diversity levels more similar to contemporaneous hunter-gatherers, which could be expected because they themselves were foragers a couple of centuries back in time" says co-author Mehmet Somel, an evolutionary biologist at Middle East Technical University. "In fact, they were proto-farmers. Boncuklu people did not have domestic animals, and gathering was also important for the village."

"Even 1,000 years later in villages like Tepecik-Ciftlik and Catlhoyuk, we still find that gathering and especially hunting are important for the culture; thus, the Neolithic way of life took a long time to be fully established, not only culturally so, but also demographically so," says Anders Gotherstrom, an archeologist at Stockholm University. "What happened here was most likely an increase in population size, with increasing fecundity, and higher levels of mobility and gene flow so that, over time, Neolithic Near Eastern villages became more cosmopolitan, and this eventually triggered expansion into Europe."

While a lot of archeological work had been done on these settlements, this is the first study to examine the genetic properties of the human remains. This type of analysis would have been impossible until just recently due to the degradation of the DNA, which was drawn from inside the bones of the deceased. Somel helped lead the acquisition of the genetic material, and Gotherstrom and his colleague Mattias Jakobsson at Uppsala University did the genome sequencing. The analytical work was then performed by all three parties.

The paper only helps confirm speculations about how farming spread in the West, but "what is going on in the East is still a largely unwritten chapter," Gotherstrom says. Agricultural revolutions took place in other parts of the world, and this type of analysis could help in the understanding of how they spread, as well. Somel is interested in exploring how people moved and how genetic connections and cultural connections overlap through human history.
The authors were supported by the Konya and Nigde Museums, EMBO, the Hacettepe University Scientific Research Projects Coordination Unit, the Istanbul University Scientific Research Projects Coordination, the Australian Research Council, a British Academy Research Development Award, British Institute at Ankara grants, National Geographic, the Wainwright Fund University of Oxford, TUBITAK, TUA, Sci. Acad. Turkey, METU, and ERC.

>Current Biology, Kilinc, Omrak, and Ozer et al.: "The Demographic Development of the First Farmers in Anatolia"

Current Biology (@CurrentBiology), published by Cell Press, is a bimonthly journal that features papers across all areas of biology. Current Biology strives to foster communication across fields of biology, both by publishing important findings of general interest and through highly accessible front matter for non-specialists. Visit: To receive Cell Press media alerts, contact

Cell Press

Related Farming Articles:

How the Aztecs could improve modern urban farming
Highly intensive production systems with low resource demand are a strategic goal of urban agriculture developers.
Organic farming enhances honeybee colony performance
A team of researchers from the CNRS, INRA, and the University of La Rochelle is now the first to have demonstrated that organic farming benefits honeybee colonies, especially when food is scarce in late spring.
Food for thought: Why did we ever start farming?
In UConn researcher Elic Weitzel's recent publication, he hopes to shed light on the question regarding the adaptation farming in early populations in the Eastern United States.
Farming for natural profits in China
Expanding monoculture threatens valuable services from land, such as flood control, water purification and climate stabilization.
Responsible innovation key to smart farming
Responsible innovation that considers the wider impacts on society is key to smart farming, according to academics at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Organic farming methods favors pollinators
Pollinating insects are endangered globally, with a particularly steep decline over the last 40 years.
Conservation dairy farming could help Pa. meet Chesapeake target
If the majority of dairy farms in Pennsylvania fully adopt conservation best-management practices, the state may be able to achieve its total maximum daily load water-quality target for the Chesapeake Bay, according to researchers.
Environmentally friendly farming practices used by nearly 1/3 of world's farms
Nearly one-third of the world's farms have adopted more environmentally friendly practices while continuing to be productive, according to a global assessment by 17 scientists in five countries.
Farming fish saves land
A team from UCSB conducts the first land-use analysis of future food systems focusing on aquatic farming.
Farming fish
Steephead parrotfish (Chlorurus microrhinos) are picky eaters. In the central Pacific, however, they appear to have taken matters into their own hands -- er, fins.
More Farming News and Farming Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at