An international team of palaeogeneticists has found that populations in the ancient Fertile Crescent a region between southeastern Anatolia, Iran, Iraq and Syria are the ancestors of modern day south Asians but not of Europeans.
“This came as a surprise,” said study lead author Farnaz Broushaki from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
The study, published recently in the journal Science, showed 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.
According to scientists, sedentism, farming and agriculture was invented some 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent but some 2,000 years later, the new Neolithic lifestyle appeared in southeastern Europe and shortly afterwards in Central and Mediterranean Europe.
A previous study showed that 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.
“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 Professor Joachim Burger, senior author of the study.
“The group of pre-historic 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,” he added.
According to Iranian archaeozoologist Marjan Mashkour, the Neolithic way of life originated in the Fertile Crescent, maybe also some Neolithic pioneers started moving from there. But the majority of ancient Iranians did not move west as some would have thought.
However, they did move east, as the researchers found that the Iranian genomes represent the main ancestors of modern-day south Asians.
While sharing many segments of their genome with Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s 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,” Broushaki said.