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Europeans are offspring of hunters

A genetic study has revealed that Europeans have not descended from savvy Middle Eastern migrant farmers.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2006 13:05 IST

A genetic study of central Europeans shows they have mainly descended from hunter-gathering folk, and not from savvy Middle Eastern migrant farmers as has long been assumed.

The scientists examined DNA in 24 skeletons from early farming settlements in Germany, Austria and Hungary and compared it that of modern Europeans. They were surprised to find there was very little of the farmers' bloodline left in Europe today.

Farming was invented about 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a region between the Mediterranean and the Gulf, and spread as forests were cleared across Europe, Asia and Africa.

The finding suggests that hunter-gatherers, who arrived in Europe 40,000 years ago, came out of the trees and copied farming, but did not interbreed with the settlers from the Fertile Crescent who arrived in Europe 7,500 years ago.

The research, by German, British and Estonian scientists, is reported this week in the US journal Science.

"Actually, we had expected to find quite a different result," said Joachim Burger, a University of Mainz anthropologist, in Frankfurt.

Genetic material in six skeletons contained DNA sequences that were "extremely rare in modern European populations".

Peter Forster of Cambridge University explained: "In the worldwide database of 35,000 modern DNA lineages, there are fewer than 50 modern Europeans with this type of ancient farmer DNA."