logo Public Participation in the Neolithic Project

The Neolithic Project is an independent continuation of the ancient DNA work on the first European farmers from 7500-year-old Neolithic sites, published with our German and Estonian colleagues in the leading magazine Science. For details on our recent publication, see the Press Release below.

Our venture Genetic Ancestor Ltd is now asking members from the public who are of European descent (including those living outside Europe) to provide DNA samples for exploring the genetic fate of the first farmers who colonised Europe about 7500 years ago.

There is a major archaeological puzzle to solve. Why did the first prehistoric farmers enter Europe, completely transform the culture from primitive hunting and gathering to sophisticated farming, house-building and pottery, but then apparently not leave a large number of typical farming N1a female lineages in the European population today?

These farming N1a lineages now make up less than 0.2 percent of European female lineages. Why?

We aim to analyse a large number of modern European saliva samples to find out where in Europe the ancient farming lineages have survived until today, in order to address this question.

If you register for this new project, we will send you a home test by post, for sending us your saliva sample.

Please register at this weblink (Service A). You will participate in the Neolithic Project and receive your personal DNA result by mail, showing your prehistoric female line of descent. All personal data and email addresses will be kept confidential.

We aim to provide anonymised summary results on this website over the next 5 years.

logo Press Release

Ancient DNA from 7500-year old skeletons of the first European farmers

Published in Science magazine, Nov 2005 .

A collaborative team of archaeologists and geneticists from the Universities of Mainz (Germany), Cambridge (England) and Tartu (Estonia) have successfully extracted and analysed 7500-year-old DNA from skeletons of the first European farmers.

Agriculture originated in the Near East in the Neolithic (New Stone Age) about 10,000 years ago, from where farming spread to Europe via Turkey.

For many decades, prehistorians have speculated about the identity of the first European farmers.

Were they immigrants from Anatolia (Turkey), or were they largely local European tribes who had copied the farming techniques ultimately from their Anatolian neighbours?

And most importantly, are modern Europeans descended from immigrant farmers, or from native European hunter-gatherers who started arriving in Europe much earlier, about 35,000 years ago when they replaced the resident Neanderthals?

This ancient DNA study finally begins to provide hard evidence for what really happened during the Stone Age farming revolution.

The team sampled 24 skeletons from Germany, Austria and Hungary, from the so-called Linear Pottery culture of central Europe.

They analysed mitochondrial DNA which is passed down exclusively through the female lineage, and enables researchers to distinguish female cultural migrations from male military adventures.

Mainz anthropologist Prof. Joachim Burger and his student Wolfgang Haak were delighted to find that their analysis techniques were able to pick up the few DNA molecules that had survived in the bones.

Strikingly, the DNA types which the research team found in the Neolithic skeletons include several distinct DNA types which are very rare in Europeans today.

Says Cambridge geneticist Dr. Peter Forster "In the currently available worldwide database of 35,000 modern DNA samples, less than 50 Europeans today have these ancient farmer DNA types." His colleague Dr. Matsumura’s computer simulations underline that these early farmers can have had only a limited impact on our modern gene pool. A hunter-gatherer ancestry for modern Europeans hence seems more likely now.

Burger states "So far, most scholars tended to believe that modern day Europeans were descendents of the first farmers of 7,500 years ago. Our new data from archaeological bones show that these farmers were not our ancestors."

It is impressive how such a potentially tiny genetic migration can have triggered one of the greatest cultural changes in human prehistory, namely the transition from hunting and gathering to settled agriculture with houses and pottery, at least in Europe.

"In order to learn more about the fate of these early farmers and their rare DNA types, we now need an extensive sampling of people of European descent" says Dr. Forster. He has therefore founded an independent venture recruiting the public to contribute their DNA to an in-depth Neolithic project. Details are available at www.geneticancestor.com.