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Teeth Reveal Origin Of European Farming

Asian farmers traveled to Europe and taught hunter-gatherers how to till the land, isotopic studies of teeth from 6th-century burial sites show

by Sarah Everts
February 18, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 7

Archaeologists have long argued about how Europeans began farming. Researchers generally agree that the know-how came from Asia during the 6th century B.C., but they debate whether Asian farmers moved to Europe and indoctrinated local hunter-gatherers or whether the skill set traveled across geographical regions by word of mouth. A new report provides evidence for the former scenario (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1211474110). Dušan Borić of Cardiff University, in Wales, and T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, compared strontium isotope ratios in skeletal teeth found in 6th-century Balkan Peninsula burial sites to those in surrounding geological samples. Because strontium in rocks makes its way into bones and teeth through the food chain, the isotope ratios correlate with geographical birthplace. The team found that Asians and Europeans were often buried together in the 6th century, suggesting that farming skills were brought to Europe by Asian immigrants. The team notes that in Neolithic times, “perhaps paradoxically, farming communities were much more mobile than local foraging populations.”


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