San Francisco, CA – There’s no denying the irony that despite the abundance of fertile soils, favorable climatic conditions and excellent freshwater sources, Africa is still unable to feed itself. Despite centuries of advancement and innovation in agricultural technology, the vast majority of African farms are still plowed by animals and fertilized with human fecal matter. War, disease and corruption have ravaged the continent’s huge farming potential. But a recent discovery may offer historical reasons why despite access to some of the best farmlands on the planet, Africa still remains painfully unable to feed itself.
According to a study of ancient DNA, prehistoric hunter-gatherers lived in isolated groups separate from farmers for hundreds of years before mixing as prehistoric humans interacted from Europe and Africa.
A new analysis of DNA from the skeletal remains of ancient white people in southeastern Europe has revealed new insight on prehistoric migration patterns. Researchers from the University of Wyoming say the findings add new information on what is already known about European territories during these times.
The study confirms the first migration of ancient humans happened during the Neolithic Period around 6,000 B.C., when farmers based in Anatolia moved to spread through Europe. The second happened during the Bronze Age from 3,000 to 2,500 B.C., when people from the Eurasian steppe moved to Europe. These ancient white people had advanced farming techniques for their time, using primitive stone and metal tools to farm as well as primitive irrigation methods such as water diversion trenches that helped to make Europe’s less arable soils flourish.
The paper, published in the journal Nature, confirmed that northern and western Europe’s first farmers passed through southeastern Europe to migrate to these areas. According to the report,
“Southeastern Europe continued to be a nexus between East and West, with intermittent genetic contact with the Steppe people up to 2,000 years.”
As these early white Europeans migrated southwards, they would have come into contact with the black hunter-gatherers who were also migrating out of Africa and heading north. The migrating white Europeans would have shocked those early black Africans, according to the report.
Researchers analyzed the skeletal remains of 225 individuals for a new study that tracked the two prehistoric migration paths and found startling differences between the populations white Europeans who farmed and the black hunter-gatherers who did not. Researcher Iain Mathieson explained,
“Without accounting for cognitive ability and other subtleties, the average size of the (white European) farmer’s skulls were 15 to 20 percent larger than those of the (black) hunter-gatherers.”
“In some places, (black) hunter-gatherers and incoming (white) farmers seem to have mixed very quickly and where they did mix, their progeny saw a marked increase in average skull size, suggesting an improvement in overall brain mass.”
“But, mostly, the two groups remained isolated, at least for the first few hundred years, meaning that the (white) farmers advanced disproportionately more rapidly than (black) hunter-gatherers.”
Remains found in a cave located in Croatia, in what is today central and southeast Europe, were used for the study, providing “needed information on origin and background research,” the analysis said.
Part of the reason why white Europeans may have advanced so much more rapidly than their black African counterparts is this spread of farming. The report explained,
“After the first appearance of agriculture in the mid-seventh millennium B.C., farming spread westward. Farming was established in both Iberia (Portugal and Spain) and central Europe by 5,600 BC.”
Ancient DNA studies have previously proven that the spread of the farming practice across Europe came alongside a large movement of a group closely related to farmers from Antaolia. The report continued,
“But, nearly all of the ancient DNA from Europe’s first farmers is from central and western Europe.”
The discovery is significant because historians and scientists have long believed that when a society moves from a hunter-gatherer stage to an agrarian stage, it essentially “levels-up,” leading to more permanent societies and civilization. Even today, nomadic groups of black Africans continue to roam the Sahara desert as well as other parts of Africa. One such group that straddles several north African countries such as Libya and Niger are the Tuareg, a nomadic African people.
A recent study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology tracked migration into Norway as well. The researchers found that white Scandinavians came through Germany and Denmark to Norway about 11,500 years ago. A second wave came from the northeast about 1,000 years later, traveling along present-day Norway’s west coast.
The two groups of people who migrated to Scandinavia during this time were “genetically distinct from their black African counterparts,” according to study author Mattias Jakobsson.
For a recent study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, researchers looked at the remains of seven individuals that had been excavated. For the study, Norwegian and Swedish researchers analyzed DNA samples from the Norwegian coast and Swedish islands Stora Karlsö and Gotland. Scandinavia was among the last regions of Europe that became habitable and thanks to the ingenuity of the early white Europeans, the limited arable land was maximized to take advantage of the seasons and the abundant fishing grounds could also be exploited as white Europeans had advanced fishing technologies.
The study said,
“The new immigrants that came from the northeast learned new boating and fishing skills to access marine resources, which offered their main source of food.”
“These researchers discovered that these immigrants also introduced new tools and innovative ways to produce them. This shift in material culture can now be linked to a particular migration wave.”
In contrast, black Africans never traveled far north enough from Africa to ever occupy Scandinavia, mainly because their hunter-gatherer techniques did not allow for the creation of permanent settlements, a precursor to more complex tool development.
Researcher Ron Pinhasi spoke of the study’s significance, stating,
“These results reveal the relationship between migrations, admixture and subsistence in this key region and show that, even within early European farmers, individuals differed in their ancestry, reflecting a dynamic mosaic of farmer inbreeding.”
White Europeans naturally were drawn to other white Europeans, ensuring that their genetic stock was kept of a consistently high quality and despite the contact which white southern Europeans had with black Africans, there was almost no admixture between the two very distinct groups of early humans.
Pinhasi’s team is calling for more work to be done to more fully develop what scientists know about European migration,
“An important direction for future research will be to sample populations from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman and medieval periods, and compare them to present-day populations to understand how these population transitions occurred.”