The phenomenon of Neolithisation refers to the transition of prehistoric populations from a hunter-gatherer to an agro-pastoralist lifestyle. Traditionally, the spread of an agro-pastoralist economy into Europe has been framed within a dichotomy based either on an acculturation phenomenon or on a demic diffusion. However, the nature and speed of this transition is a matter of continuing scientific debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. In the present study, we have analyzed the mitochondrial DNA diversity in hunter-gatherers and first farmers from Northern Spain, in relation to the debate surrounding the phenomenon of Neolithisation in Europe.
Analysis of mitochondrial DNA was carried out on 54 individuals from Upper Paleolithic and Early Neolithic, which were recovered from nine archaeological sites from Northern Spain (Basque Country, Navarre and Cantabria). In addition, to take all necessary precautions to avoid contamination, different authentication criteria were applied in this study, including: DNA quantification, cloning, duplication (51% of the samples) and replication of the results (43% of the samples) by two independent laboratories. Statistical and multivariate analyses of the mitochondrial variability suggest that the genetic influence of Neolithisation did not spread uniformly throughout Europe, producing heterogeneous genetic consequences in different geographical regions, rejecting the traditional models that explain the Neolithisation in Europe.
The differences detected in the mitochondrial DNA lineages of Neolithic groups studied so far (including these ones of this study) suggest different genetic impact of Neolithic in Central Europe, Mediterranean Europe and the Cantabrian fringe. The genetic data obtained in this study provide support for a random dispersion model for Neolithic farmers. This random dispersion had a different impact on the various geographic regions, and thus contradicts the more simplistic total acculturation and replacement models proposed so far to explain Neolithisation.