An Important Group of European Hunter-Gatherers Taught Themselves To Farm

By Roni Dengler | March 20, 2019 12:00 pm
Scientists uncovered the remains of a 15,000 year old Anatolian hunter-gatherer. (Credit: Douglas Baird)

Scientists uncovered the remains of a 15,000 year old Anatolian hunter-gatherer. (Credit: Douglas Baird)

Some 12,000 years ago, the land was exceptionally fertile curving up from the Nile River basin across Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, down into the Tigris River Valley. The area’s earliest settlers grew wheat, barely and lentils. Some kept pigs and sheep. Farming soon replaced hunting and foraging as a way of life there. The region became known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of agriculture.

This pastoral lifestyle eventually spread across Europe from a place called Anatolia, which sits north of the Fertile Crescent in what is now modern-day Turkey. But it’s unclear exactly how early Anatolians outside of the Fertile Crescent — including in Europe — took up farming in the first place. Did farming spread from the Fertile Crescent? Or did early Europeans find farming on their own.

Now researchers have found that the first farmers in Anatolia were actually local hunter-gatherers. The discovery means the earliest Anatolian pastoralists took up agriculture on their own. The lifestyle was not introduced to the region.

“Unlike in Europe where agriculture was introduced by migration and by people coming to Europe, in Anatolia the emergence of agriculture …happened from within the population,”said Johannes Krause, an archaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Human History in Jena, Germany, who led the new research, in a media statement.

Anatolian Agriculture

To find out how agriculture came to Anatolia, Krause’s team looked to the genetic record. The researchers analyzed DNA extracted from the remains of eight prehistoric humans, including a 15,000-year-old Anatolian hunter-gatherer who was excavated from a site in what is now central Turkey.

A handful of the other individuals the team studied were early Anatolian farmers who lived about 10,000 years ago. Two others, from archaeological sites in Israel and Jordan, date to about 9,000 years ago. Together, the genomes of these eight ancient humans provide a genetic account that spans the geographic and historical timing of the arrival of farming in the region.

The investigation revealed the early Anatolian farmers draw a large part of their ancestry from the Anatolian hunter-gatherer, the researchers report today in Nature Communications.

“What we see is that for over 7,000 years, there were no major genetic changes in the region,”  Michal Feldman, an anthropologist who authored the new research with Krause, said in a press briefing.

The finding helps to answer a long-standing question as to whether immigrants from earlier farming areas mixed with local European hunter-gatherers to bring agriculture to the region. Krause and team’s findings suggest Anatolia was not a waypoint for farmers moving from the Fertile Crescent into Europe. Instead, the results add to archaeological evidence that Anatolian hunter-gatherers adopted ideas, plants and technology that led to farming, the researchers write.

First Farmers

The discovery means, “there was not a new population that moved into Anatolia, introducing agriculture,” Krause said. “It was a cultural change, not a biological change,” as was the case when agriculture came to central Europe.

“It was actually the hunter-gatherers of Anatolia that took on a farming way of life,” Feldman added.

For Feldman, the big question that remains is why early Anatolians began farming originally “What motivated people in these regions including central Anatolia to make this dramatic transition in their way of life?” she asked.

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  • OWilson

    Like with the other great civilizations, Egypt, China and India, the hunter gatherers found that the great river basins, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Ganges, the Yangtse, the Amazon, and the Nile afforded an opportunity to more easily cultivate some of the wild grasses (cereals) they were gathering, due to the rich, fertile aluvial soil that was constantly renewed by periodic flooding.

    This led, eventually, to today’s advanced tehnological civilizations!

    Of course, in those days they relied on the floods to irrigate their fields, build their societies, and only complained when they didn’t come.

    Unlike today, when the periodic flooding of the Mississipi and Missouri, is today looked upon as an omen of the end of civilization as we know it!

    I sometimes wonder if current Western Civilzation is going backward! :)

  • Aleksi

    My opinion that only some sort of religion could have been culturally (and even technologically) united by different nations!

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    My take is that Yahweh, observing a vast number of rather happy people, appeared and did something about it. He bestowed upon the Anatolians stochastic tunneling, linear programming charts, the Nemirovsky-Yudin-Shor method, Markov chains, statistical decision theories, network analysis, simplex algorithms, minimax solutions, queuing systems, Nelder-Mead minimum search of Simionescu’s function, and computable price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments – the infamous discounted cashflow/return on investment.

    The result? “Screw this! We’ll farm.”

    • 7eggert

      The one who will be did something: He told them not to eat from the fruit of knowledge, least they die. Not because this would be a sin against him, but because of the curses mankind would lay upon oneself. Yet we ate the fruit.

      Now we have knowledge, we are bound to do agriculture and herding as we are no longer fed by nature, and our heads grew to a size barely fitting the hips of women while being born.

      Also we lost the default of having eternal life by knowing about sin and yet committing it. A wolf brutally slaying a herd of sheep in a state of bloodlust commits no sin, but if we beat one sheep out of the herd, we do, because we have the power to know that it’s wrong to do so. This is how we die if we don’t chose metanoia.

  • Erik Bosma

    It’s more logical to assume that while the men were out hunting the women had the opportunity to scout around their environment looking for edibles. After enough time they must have discovered how plants grow and regrow. A few adventurous ones quite probably tried to copy nature and eventually improve on it to maximize their chances of finding food in the future. As that area of the world began to desertify and the hunting bag limit began to deteriorate the men soon saw a good thing and joined the ladies to add their manpower to this new method of finding food.

    • ECarpenter

      But it’s not logical to assume that such a gender-based separation of tasks existed in Anatolia that many thousands of years ago. That’s a huge assumption, unless you have actual archaeology I’ve never read about. What archaeology do you base it on?

      • Erik Bosma

        Logic.

  • Arttai

    Japan also did not wait for a colonial invasion and adopted modern technology all by itself in the 19th century. It is all a case by case…

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