Cultivating Europe

Middle Eastern farmers carried agriculture to the West

Published: Saturday 31 August 2002

around 10,000 years ago, farmers from the Middle East carried civilisation with them to Europe, reveals a recent genetic analysis. It makes it clear that new agrarian technologies were not purely a spread of ideas, but a mass movement of people who settled and mixed with hunter-gatherers of Europe. The analysis also reveals that modern inhabitants of Paris, Athens and Berlin, on an average, share 50 per cent of their genes with people from Baghdad, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus.

In the past, archaeologists have found evidence that agriculture moved north-west through Europe at the speed of about one kilometre per year. But how this happened was not clear. Therefore, to solve the mystery, Lounes Chikhi from the uk-based University College London and his colleagues traced a genetic 'signature' left in the modern gene pool. They looked for the signature by analysing a mutation on the y chromosomes of 1,000 men -- both from Europe and Middle East. In particular, they studied a rare mutation called unique event polymorphisms (ueps). According to the researchers, the presence of ueps in different populations indicates common ancestry rather than recurrent changes in gene structure.

During their analysis, the researchers discovered that Middle Eastern farmers contributed about 50 per cent of the analysed genes to the modern European population. Contributions ranged from 15-30 per cent in France and Germany, to 85-100 per cent in southeastern European countries such as Albania, Greece and Macedonia. According to Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza of the California-based Stanford University, the genetic similarity discovered by the researchers has finally resolved the long-standing debate about the origins of European civilisation.

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