“Archaeologists have long known that farming arose in the Middle East and then spread to Europe, because radiocarbon dating of hundreds of early sites shows a clear time gradient from east to west. But that is only a rough guide, and in recent years geneticists have been filling in the details of that picture by sequencing the DNA of both modern and ancient populations. While the relatively cool conditions at many European sites have helped preserve the DNA of ancient skeletons, researchers had not succeeded in sequencing DNA from the many skeletons found at very early Middle Eastern sites, due to their very hot and dry environments. That has left a big gap in their understanding of the very earliest steps in the spread of farming from the Middle East to Europe, which began at least 8000 years ago.
“Since the early 1990s, a Spanish team has been excavating at three ancient farming sites in Syria, whose earliest dates range from 10,500 to 10,000 years ago—the very beginning of the agricultural revolution. Last week, in PLOS Genetics, the team reported having partially sequenced DNA from the mitochondria (the energy units of the living cell) of 15 skeletons from two of the sites, Tell Ramad and Tell Halula. This is the first report of ancient DNA from early Middle Eastern farmers.….”