The ancient pioneers who brought farming to Europe roughly 7,500 years ago seem to have virtually disappeared genetically. Scientists extracted and analyzed mitochondrial DNA from 24 skeletons of the earliest known European farmers from 16 locations in Germany, Austria and Hungary. The investigators expected the maternally inherited DNA to resemble that of Europeans today, but in the November 11, 2005, Science they report a quarter of the Neolithic skeletons come from the N1a human lineage, to which only 0.2 percent of all humans now belong. These results strengthen the argument that modern Europeans largely descended from Paleolithic hunter-gatherers who arrived on the continent some 40,000 years ago. They later adopted farming from migrants who left the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture emerged about 12,000 years ago. Over time, the N1a lineage thinned out, perhaps as colonizing farmers intermarried with local women.
This article was originally published with the title "Descent in Europe" in Scientific American 294, 1, 32 (January 2006)