The Neolithic transition in the Baltic region

Through ScienceDaily, I have just come across an interesting open access paper in Current Biology The Neolithic Transition in the Baltic Was Not Driven by Admixture with Early European Farmers

The paper takes a look at the driving force between Neolithic transition in the Baltic and parts of Ukraine, where the Neolithic transition happened later than in Western and Central Europe. The paper describes the Neolithic transitions and the context for the paper thus:

In Europe, the Neolithic transition marked the beginning of a period of innovations that saw communities shift from a mobile lifestyle, dependent on hunting and gathering for survival, to a more sedentary way of life based on food production. This new lifeway, which originated in the Near East ∼11,500 calibrated years before present (cal BP) [5, 6], had arrived in southeast Europe by ∼8,500 cal BP [7], from where it spread quickly across the continental interior of Europe and introduced animal husbandry, cultivated cereals, pottery, and ground stone tools to the region. There is a long-standing debate among archaeologists whether this spread was due to the dispersal of farmers into new lands (i.e., demic diffusion) or horizontal cultural transmission [8]. Genetic evidence suggests that these cultural and technological changes were accompanied by profound genomic transformation, consistent with the migration of people of most likely Anatolian origin [9, 10, 11, 12]. In contrast to central Europe, the adoption of agriculture in northern and eastern parts of this continent, in the areas which encompass modern-day Latvia and Ukraine, was slow and relatively recent [13, 14, 15, 16]. Although some features of the Neolithic package, such as ceramics, appeared as early as 8,500–7,500 cal BP [17, 18], agriculture was not adopted as a primary subsistence economy until the Late Neolithic/Bronze Age [13, 14, 15, 16, 19].

So, in other words, the Neolithic transition has generally be found to be caused by outsiders immigration into the region, taking the technology with them. The question was, whether that was also the case for those regions which changed later.

According to the paper, the analysis shows that there were little genomic transformation in the area studied, leading to the conclusion that the technology was transferred through trade rather than through immigration into the area.

It is quite interesting to see how the fairly new genetic analysis techniques are used to settle old discussions in different fields – here archaeology.