Conducting the first large-scale, genome-wide analyses of ancient human remains from the Near East, an international team led by Harvard Medical School has illuminated the genetic identities and population dynamics of the world’s first farmers. The study reveals three genetically distinct farming populations living in the Near East at the dawn of agriculture 12,000 to 8,000 years ago: two newly described groups in Iran and the Levant and a previously reported group in Anatolia, in what is now Turkey. The findings, published in Nature on July 25, also suggest that agriculture spread in the Near East at least in part because existing groups invented or adopted farming technologies, rather than because one population replaced another.
The team’s analyses alter what is known about the genetic heritage of present-day people in western Eurasia. They now appear to have descended from four major groups: hunter-gatherers in what is now western Europe, hunter-gatherers in eastern Europe and the Russian steppe, the Iran farming group and the Levant farming group.