Scientists extracted ancient DNA from a number of archaeological remains discovered in Latvia and the Ukraine, which were between 5,000 and 8,000 years old. These samples spanned the Neolithic period, which was the dawn of agriculture in Europe, when people moved from a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a settled way of life based on food production.
We know through previous research that large numbers of early farmers from the Levant (the Near East) — driven by the success of their technological innovations such as crops and pottery — had expanded to the peripheral parts of Europe by the end of the Neolithic and largely replaced hunter-gatherer populations.
However, the new study, published in the journal Current Biology, shows that the Levantine farmers did not contribute to hunter-gatherers in the Baltic as they did in Central and Western Europe.
The research team, which includes scientists from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Cambridge, and University College Dublin, says their findings instead suggest that the Baltic hunter-gatherers learned these skills through communication and cultural exchange with outsiders.
The findings feed into debates around the ‘Neolithic package,’ — the cluster of technologies such as domesticated livestock, cultivated cereals and ceramics, which revolutionised human existence across Europe during the late Stone Age.
Advances in ancient DNA work have revealed that this ‘package’ was spread through Central and Western Europe by migration and interbreeding: the Levant and later Anatolian farmers mixing with and essentially replacing the hunter-gatherers.