Ancient DNA analyses show that – unlike elsewhere in Europe – farmers from the Near East did not overtake hunter-gatherer populations in the Baltic. The findings also suggest that the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family originated in the Steppe grasslands of the East.
The shores of Lake Burtnieks in Latvia, near where the human remains were discovered from which ancient DNA was extracted for this study [Credit: Valters Grivins]
New 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.
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.
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