The earliest farmers from the Zagros mountains in Iran, are the ancestors of modern day South Asians, and not of Europeans as was earlier believed, a new study has found.
Sedentism, farming, and agriculture was invented some 10,000 years ago in a region between southeastern Anatolia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, an area traditionally labelled as the Fertile Crescent.
Most technology and culture linked to farming including domestic sheep, goat, cattle and pig originated here.
Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany showed that the earliest farmers from the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, are neither the main ancestors of Europe’s first farmers nor of modern-day Europeans.
“Our team had only recently shown that early farmers from across Europe have an almost unbroken trail of ancestry leading back to northwest Anatolia,” said Farnaz Broushaki, member of the JGU Palaeogenetics Group.
“But now it seems that the chain of migration into Europe breaks somewhere in eastern Anatolia,” said Broushaki.
According to previous study, Neolithic settlers from northern Greece and the Marmara Sea region of western Turkey reached central Europe via a Balkan route and the Iberian Peninsula via a Mediterranean route.
These colonists brought sedentary life, agriculture, and domestic animals and plants to Europe.
New research shows that some of the world’s earliest farmers from Iran were a genetically distinct group and only very distantly related to the first farmers of western Anatolia and Europe.
“It is interesting that people who are genetically so different, who almost certainly looked different and spoke different languages adopted the agricultural lifestyle almost simultaneously in different parts of Anatolia and the Near East,” said Joachim Burger, senior author of the study.
“The group of prehistoric inhabitants of the Zagros region separated more than 50,000 years ago from other people of Eurasia and were among the first who invented farming,” Burger said.
While sharing many segments of their genome with Afghani and Pakistani populations, the almost 10,000 year old genomes from the Iranian Zagros mountains were found to be most similar to modern-day Zoroastrians from Iran.
“This religious group probably mixed less with later waves of people than others in the region and therefore preserved more of that ancient ancestry,” said Broushaki.
It is like at least two highly divergent groups became the world’s first farmers – the Zagros people of the Neolithic eastern Fertile Crescent that are ancestral to most modern South Asians and the Aegeans that colonised Europe some 8,000 years ago.
“The origin of farming was genetically more complex than we thought and instead of speaking of a single Neolithic centre, we should start adopting the idea of a Federal Neolithic Core Zone,” said Burger.
The study was published in the journal Science.