Climate shaped how Neolithic farmers and European hunter-gatherers interacted after a major slowdown from 6,100 BCE to 4,500 BCE

Lia Betti, Robert Beyer, Eppie Jones, Anders Eriksson, Francesca Tassi, Veronika Siska, Michela Leonardi, Pierpaolo Maisano Delser, Lily Bentley, Philip Nigst, Jay Stock, Ron Pinhasi, Andrea Manica

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Abstract

The Neolithic transition in Europe was driven by the rapid dispersal of Near Eastern farmers who, over a period of 3,500 years, brought food production to the furthest corners of the continent. This wave of expansion, however, was far from homogeneous, and climatic factors may have driven a marked slowdown observed at higher latitudes. Here we test this hypothesis by assembling a large database of archaeological dates of first arrival of farming to quantify the expansion dynamics. We identify four axes of expansion and observe a slowdown along three axes when crossing the same climatic threshold. This threshold reflects the quality of the growing season, suggesting that Near Eastern crops might have struggled in more challenging climatic conditions. This same threshold also predicts the mixing of farmers and hunter-gatherers as estimated from ancient DNA, suggesting that unreliable yields in these regions might have favoured the contact between the two groups.

© 2020, The Author(s). The attached document (embargoed until 06/01/2021) is an author produced version of a paper published in NATURE HUMAN BEHAVIOUR uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at the link. Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1004-1010
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Volume4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2020

Keywords

  • Neolithic
  • archaeology
  • Europe
  • human expansion
  • colonisation
  • agriculture
  • climate

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