Aerial View of Göbekli Tepe. Image Credit: Göbekli Tepe Project / UNESCO.

DNA Tests Reveal Unexpected Origin of World’s First Farmers

There was a distinct migration into Anatolia during the Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic periods based on ancient DNA from Mesopotamia. But there was also another migration.


The evolution of humankind is complex and full of mystery. While it is claimed that around 10,000 years ago, there were no advanced civilizations on Earth, ancient sites such as those in Anatolia, like Gobekli Tepe, suggest otherwise.

Gobekli Tepe is one of the oldest, most massive ancient sites discovered to date, and it changes everything we thought we knew about humankind’s history and origin.


To better understand this specific period in history, we look back at certain traits like the transition from a hunter-gatherer, nomadic life to a more stationary one.

In the past 10,000 years, for instance, humanity changed drastically. The primary subsistence method was agriculture and animal husbandry (with some hunting and gathering).

Neolithic revolutions began at different times around the world. They never reached Australia, where farming did not begin until the 19th century. Different areas of the Holocene developed agriculture and animal husbandry independently. The region of Anatolia-Mesopotamia was the first place where agriculture and captive herbivore breeding emerged, excluding China.

The Neolithic revolution changed human history, but who exactly were the Anatolian farmers in the early days? Did the locals develop a new lifestyle, or were they long-term residents? How exactly did this evolution play out?

Researchers have now shed light on this conundrum by analyzing ancient DNA samples across the Near East. An international team, including Harvard University’s Iosif Lazaridis, Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg, Ron Pinhasi, and David Reich, published a paper in Science. It was determined that the early farmers did not come from pure local populations. Early Neolithic migrations to Anatolia occurred in several waves.

Around 11,000 to 9,000 years ago, the first of these occurred in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, and researchers say they likely originated from Northern Mesopotamia.

“Among the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Anatolians we sampled, the Mesopotamian admixture is evident, but not in a hunter-gatherer datapoint from Pinarbasi in Anatolia from about 15,500 years ago,” Reich clarifies, as per Haaretz.


All Anatolian farmers of the Pottery Neolithic period that began about 9,000 years ago can be distinguished from those who preceded them by the second migration into early Neolithic Anatolia. As Lazaridis explains, the source was the Levant.

As a result, the incomers did not replace or extinguish the locals; they merged with them. Lazaridis summarizes three distinct hunter-gatherer ancestries for the early farmers of Anatolia: Anatolian, Mesopotamian, and Levantine.

There is a mixture of these three deep sources in all Neolithic populations sampled throughout the Middle East, according to Lazaridis.

As Reich adds, “It could be more complicated.” For now, however, we can describe Anatolia’s first farmers as a mix of the three major source populations.

The study analyzes the DNA of just 100 ancient individuals, including 42 new data sets and 48 previously published ones.

DNA was analyzed from two groups from Israel, for example, six pre-Neolithic Natufians dating back about 13,000 years and two pre-Pottery Neolithic people dating back about 9,000 years. There were three folks who, about 10,000 years ago, apparently were thrown down a well, according to the Cyprus data, the first to be reported from this island, reports Haaretz.

The study analyzes 49 individuals from Anatolia, including three individuals found at Boncuklu Tarla in Mardin, southeast Turkey during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. The first ancient DNA data from Mesopotamia, along with two from Nemrik, date to the same time period.

Additionally, the researchers report that two individuals lived in Armenia 8,000 years ago – the first Neolithic data to come from the Armenian plateau – and a number of individuals from the previously unsampled northern Zagros mountain range, found in Iraq’s Shanidar and Bestansur caves.

The samples suggest that Anatolia, Mesopotamia (the Caucasus), and the Levant had distinct hunter-gatherer populations before the Neolithic era, despite there not being a large number of individuals to work with.


As the Neolithic era approached, the people had become mixed, varying in their proportions from the three sources.

The Neolithic population of the Levant has more Natufian influence than other Neolithic populations, Lazaridis points out, but none of these populations descend from just one of these three sources.

Based on ancient DNA analysis, the team came to these conclusions.

Further reading here.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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