Neolithic migration to southern Europe via a Mediterranean route

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Humans migrating to southern Europe during the Neolithic period primarily traveled from the Mediterranean region, according to a study that used ancient DNA to trace the origin and genetic structure of a prehistoric group. 

Ancient DNA extracted from a collection of bones (upper right) excavated at the Treilles cave in the south of France indicate that some prehistoric farmers entered Europe along the Mediterranean [Credit: © Jean-François Peiré/DRAC/Midi-Pyrénées]

Marie Lacan and colleagues extracted the DNA from 53 individuals buried in a cave in Treilles, France. 

The 3,000 BCE burial took place at the end of the Neolithic era, during a major expansion of human populations into Europe. 

The authors performed genetic analyses to trace the maternal and paternal lineages of the individuals. 

The results suggested to the authors that most individuals were related males who descended from Mediterranean populations, and that the Treilles individuals lived in a patrilocal community. 

Maternal lineages documented in the group closely match those of modern European populations, the authors found. 

Furthermore, both men and women from the necropolis lacked an allele associated with the enzyme lactase, which aids in the digestion of fresh milk. 

Prior research has suggested that the allele emerged in central European farming communities before later emerging in France. 

According to the authors, however, the Treilles people most likely originated from agricultural-pastoral Mediterranean cultures that consumed fermented milk and had an economy based on sheep and goat farming, while central European cultures at the time instead practiced dairy farming.

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences via EurekAlert! [May 31, 2011]

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