Or, how the farmers out-reproduced the hunter-gatherers
The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Chris Pomery.
There’s a popular television show that’s been airing in the UK recently, called Farmer Wants A Wife. Each week, a farmer (and it’s usually a young beefy one) selects a couple of suitable lasses to try out the working life on his farm for five days, and we armchair consumers get to root for one or the other before he makes his choice. It’s a TV concept that’s been built around news stories about young men in rural communities finding it hard to find a spouse who is willing to take on the tough and often financially precarious life of being a farmer in modern Britain.
A new academic paper on the origins of Europe’s most ubiquitous Y-chromosome, published 19 January, suggests that it wasn’t always thus. Indeed its author summary says at one point that “most European Y chromosomes descend from Near Eastern farmers” while “most maternal lineages descend from hunter-gatherers, suggesting reproductive advantage for farming males over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the cultural transition from hunter-gathering to farming.”
Those few words might seem almost innocuous, but they go right to the heart of a thirty-year debate which asks: how was Europe populated as the farming revolution took hold across the continent ten millennia ago? Was the westerly spread of farming from the Near East the result of the farmers migrating, or was it that the idea and techniques of farming were spread by hunter-gatherers themselves as they learned them and passed them on without any large-scale human migration?
The new paper, published online in PLoS Biology (one of several free peer-reviewed journals created by the Public Library of Science) provides a new answer – though, as is the nature of these things, it also leaves some questions unanswered. However, if you have a slow-burning interest in how Europe was first populated, this is a good paper to read to start grappling with the complexities of modern population migration studies. It’s short, clear, and relatively jargon-light.
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