DNA Analysis of 8000 Year Old Bones Allows Peek Into the Neolithic

In the paper, “Ancient DNA Analysis of 8000 B.C. Near Eastern Farmers Supports an Early Neolithic Pioneer Maritime Colonization of Mainland Europe through Cyprus and the Aegean Islands,” by Fernandez et al, published June 5, 2014, we find a report on the analysis of ancient skeletal remains that sheds light on the Neolithic area before expansion from the Fertile Crescent into Europe.

It was about 8000 years ago, give or take 1000 years, when 63 people died in what is now Syria.  They were buried in three separate locations, and recently their skeletal remains were exhumed and DNA tested.  Of those, 15 yielded mitochondrial DNA results.

Haplogroups revealed were:

  • R0 (3)
  • K (6)
  • L3
  • U*
  • N*
  • H (2)
  • HV

Of course, there were only 15 skeletons with viable DNA, but conspicuously missing is haplogroup J, long believed to have diffused to Europe in the Neolithic.

Haplogroups I, T and V are also missing, but are much less prevalent in Europe than haplogroup J.

neolithic haplogroups

The authors also provided an updated map of the Neolithic diffusion into Europe, with projected dates, indicating they believe the expansion was initially through the Mediterranean via Cyprus, Crete and the Aegean Sea.

neolithic expansion

The author abstract and summary are provided below and you can read the entire article at PLOS Genetics.


The genetic impact associated to the Neolithic spread in Europe has been widely debated over the last 20 years. Within this context, ancient DNA studies have provided a more reliable picture by directly analyzing the protagonist populations at different regions in Europe. However, the lack of available data from the original Near Eastern farmers has limited the achieved conclusions, preventing the formulation of continental models of Neolithic expansion. Here we address this issue by presenting mitochondrial DNA data of the original Near-Eastern Neolithic communities with the aim of providing the adequate background for the interpretation of Neolithic genetic data from European samples. Sixty-three skeletons from the Pre Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) sites of Tell Halula, Tell Ramad and Dja’de El Mughara dating between 8,700–6,600 cal. B.C. were analyzed, and 15 validated mitochondrial DNA profiles were recovered. In order to estimate the demographic contribution of the first farmers to both Central European and Western Mediterranean Neolithic cultures, haplotype and haplogroup diversities in the PPNB sample were compared using phylogeographic and population genetic analyses to available ancient DNA data from human remains belonging to the Linearbandkeramik-Alföldi Vonaldiszes Kerámia and Cardial/Epicardial cultures. We also searched for possible signatures of the original Neolithic expansion over the modern Near Eastern and South European genetic pools, and tried to infer possible routes of expansion by comparing the obtained results to a database of 60 modern populations from both regions. Comparisons performed among the 3 ancient datasets allowed us to identify K and N-derived mitochondrial DNA haplogroups as potential markers of the Neolithic expansion, whose genetic signature would have reached both the Iberian coasts and the Central European plain. Moreover, the observed genetic affinities between the PPNB samples and the modern populations of Cyprus and Crete seem to suggest that the Neolithic was first introduced into Europe through pioneer seafaring colonization.

Author Summary

Since the original human expansions out of Africa 200,000 years ago, different prehistoric and historic migration events have taken place in Europe. Considering that the movement of the people implies a consequent movement of their genes, it is possible to estimate the impact of these migrations through the genetic analysis of human populations. Agricultural and husbandry practices originated 10,000 years ago in a region of the Near East known as the Fertile Crescent. According to the archaeological record this phenomenon, known as “Neolithic”, rapidly expanded from these territories into Europe. However, whether this diffusion was accompanied or not by human migrations is greatly debated. In the present work, mitochondrial DNA –a type of maternally inherited DNA located in the cell cytoplasm- from the first Near Eastern Neolithic populations was recovered and compared to available data from other Neolithic populations in Europe and also to modern populations from South Eastern Europe and the Near East. The obtained results show that substantial human migrations were involved in the Neolithic spread and suggest that the first Neolithic farmers entered Europe following a maritime route through Cyprus and the Aegean Islands.



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4 thoughts on “DNA Analysis of 8000 Year Old Bones Allows Peek Into the Neolithic

  1. As 15 of the samples had 7 different haplogroups, and are 8000 years old, the fact is underlined that it is useless to assign a haplogroup to an historic invasion group, at least into Britain.
    Of course, Y DNA mutates more rapidly than a 30000 year old MtDNA, and may have some purpose in this, but I doubt it.

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