DNA from ancient skeletons has unlocked how ancient European society and its people formed.
The study looked at DNA from about 40 skeletons found in Central and Northern Europe. Findings suggest the genes found in modern humans were first present between 4,000 and 2,000 BC in Neolithic times and were likely people who immigrated from the present-day Middle East.
The research was performed at the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), where researchers have been working closely on the ancient genetic history of Europeans for nearly a decade. They also developed new methods of genome sequencing to produce their findings.
Using bone and teeth samples, the study traced back genetic lineages and DNA to Neolithic times and are present today in up to 45 percent of Europeans.
This means modern Europeans are more closely related to the farmers that immigrated to Europe from the Near East, the area around modern-day Turkey where farming originated, some 6,000 years ago. Earlier, ancient Europe was occupied by hunter-gatherers from as as far back as the Paleolithic era, 35,000 years ago.
"The record of this maternally inherited genetic group, called Haplogroup H, shows that the first farmers in Central Europe resulted from a wholesale cultural and genetic input via migration, beginning in Turkey and the Near East where farming originated and arriving in Germany around 7500 years ago," joint lead author Dr. Paul Brotherton, formerly at ACAD and now at the University of Huddersfield, UK, said in the research.
Scientists still don't know what caused such a mass migration of people from the Near East to Central and Northern Europe. Genetic markers of people from Paleolithic times were either rare or absent from modern populations.
"What is intriguing is that the genetic markers of this first pan-European culture, which was clearly very successful, were then suddenly replaced around 4,500 years ago, and we don't know why. Something major happened, and the hunt is now on to find out what that was," said study co-author Professor Alan Cooper, from the University of Adelaide in Australia.