By land, or by sea? How exactly did agriculture get to Europe?

Agriculture is important. Most of us spend our days enjoying bread, salads, beer and steak without considering the enormous history behind them. Humans have been farming and domesticating animals(other than dogs) for at least 12,000 years, and it is well established that the earliest evidence for true agriculture can be found in the Middle East, from where it spread to Europe, and the rest is literally history. Seriously. Writing had to be invented to keep track of grain shipments, harvest times and recipes for beer.

A Hymn to Ninkasi, possibly the first recorded recipe, that just happens to be for beer.

This is all rather well established, but the details of exactly how agriculture made its way to Europe aren’t entirely clear. The running theory has been an overland route from the Fertile Crescent in modern day Iraq, through Anatolia (aka, Turkey), across the Bosphorus and into Europe. Just a hop, skip and a jump really.

However new data from a team of geneticists working out of the University of Barcelona paints a drastically different story. By comparing genetic data from five different sites in Germany, Spain, Cyprus, Crete and Damascus, they’ve discovered strong genetic similarities between individuals at each site. According to the researchers, the data clearly indicates that small pioneering groups used a maritime route across the Mediterranean to bring agriculture into Europe.

This isn’t an absolute, there’s still a long way to go from Crete to Spain and Germany, but the genetic similarities shared between known seafaring farmers and farmers located in disparate areas of continental Europe begins to tell a very interesting tale about the spread of agriculture into Europe.

So it seems that our wheat growing ancestors were even more pioneering that previously thought. Not only were they traveling to a new land, they were going by sea and bringing wheat, barley and an entirely new culture and technology with them. Who said farmers were boring?

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