People from ancient Greece and the Aegean Sea region were the first farmers in Britain, according to a new genetic study published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
According to the study, titled “Ancient genomes indicate population replacement in Early Neolithic Britain,” Neolithic cultures first appeared in Britain circa 4000 BC, almost one thousand years after they first appeared in continental Europe.
Since farming in today’s Europe first developed in the area around the Aegean Sea, it appears that people from the Anatolia region – today’s Greece and Turkey – found their way to continental Europe, and later Britain, through a Mediterranean route circa 6000 BC.
It was a very slow process for the Anatolian populations to emigrate to Europe and eventually to Britain, bringing their farming technology with them. Farming was developed in Britain markedly later than it had been in continental Europe.
The “Neolithic Revolution” was the world’s first verifiable revolution in agriculture.
Farming in Neolithic Britain
The archaeological record clearly indicates a dramatic change in Britain around 4000 BC. This latest evidence seems to suggest that 4000 BC is just when farmers from the Aegean Sea came to settle in Britain.
Researchers from University College London analyzed genome-wide data from the bodies of six Mesolithic and sixty-seven Neolithic individuals found in Britain. One of them is the well-known “Cheddar Man” — a “human fossil” found in Cheddar Gorge, England.
The authors found that Neolithic populations in Britain were primarily descended from Aegean Neolithic farmers, who also bear many similarities to Iberian Neolithic people.
This finding suggests that the immigrants from the Aegean came through the Mediterranean, and first settled in today’s Spain and Portugal. Some of that population then moved further north to Britain.
“Genetic affinities with Iberian Neolithic individuals indicate that British Neolithic people were mostly descended from Aegean farmers who followed the Mediterranean route of dispersal. We also infer considerable variation in pigmentation levels in Europe by circa 6000 BC,” the study reads.
The British Isles, at the northwesternmost corner of Europe, is one of the farthest-flung European lands to which the Aegean farmers could have emigrated. The British Neolithic populations were geographically separated from continental Europe by large bodies of water, and they enjoyed a maritime climate, which differed from that of most of mainland Europe.
These factors contributed greatly to the adoption of farming techniques that the immigrants from the Aegean brought with them.
“Our analyses indicate that the appearance of Neolithic practices and domesticates in Britain circa 4000 BC was mediated overwhelmingly by immigration of farmers from continental Europe, and strongly reject the hypothesized adoption of farming by indigenous hunter-gatherers as the main process,” the study says.