A new study analyzing ancient DNA samples has found that Baltic hunter-gathers likely figured out how to farm largely on their own approximately 4,800 years ago. This marks a significant difference from early Central and Western Europeans, who learned to farm via migrants coming from the Middle East.
Analyzing the DNA of eight people who lived during the cultural shift to agriculture in the modern-day Baltic states of Latvia and Ukraine, researchers did not detect any Middle Eastern (namely, Anatolian or Levantine) genetic influence among them. They published their results this past Thursday in Current Biology.
“The findings suggest that indigenous hunter-gatherers adopted Neolithic ways of life through trade and contact, rather than being settled by external communities,” said study co-author Andrea Manica, a zoology researcher at the University of Cambridge, in a news release. “Migrations are not the only model for technology acquisition in European prehistory.”
Archeological data also suggests that the shift to a farming culture took place gradually in the Baltic region, with local hunter-gatherers learning how to domesticate animals, cultivate grains, and make pottery by trading with farmers, as opposed to intermixing with foreign migrants.
“That we see no farmer-related genetic input, yet we do find this Steppe-related component, suggests that at least the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family originated in the Steppe grasslands of the East, which would bring later migrations of Bronze Age horse riders,” added Eppie Jones, a genetics researcher affiliated with Trinity College Dublin and the University of Cambridge.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that some of their Latvian samples had traces of Northern Eurasian ancestry, but with a genetic fingerprint that mimicked hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus region instead of one pointing to any Anatolian ancestry.
“[We can conclude that] Baltic hunter-gatherer genome remains remarkably untouched until the great migrations of the Bronze Age sweep in from the East,” Manica said.
Next, read the new report stating that the first Americans may not have migrated over the Bering land bridge. Then, meet the Pacific Islanders whose DNA is not linked to any known human ancestor.