A new study from the University of Leicester, UK, has found that
most men in Europe descend from the first farmers who migrated from
the Near East 10,000 years ago.
The invention of farming is perhaps the most important cultural
change in the history of modern humans.
Increased food production led to the development of societies that
stayed put, rather than wandering in search of food.
The resulting population growth culminated in the seven billion
people who now live on the planet. In Europe, farming spread from
the ‘Fertile Crescent’, a region extending from the eastern
Mediterranean coast to the Persian Gulf and including the Tigris and
There has been much debate about whether the westerly spread of
agriculture from the Near East was driven by farmers actually
migrating, or by the transfer of ideas and technologies to
Now, researchers have studied the genetic diversity of modern
populations to throw light on the processes involved in these
The new study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, examines the diversity
of the Y chromosome, which is passed from father to son.
According to Mark Jobling, who led the research, “We focused on the
commonest Y-chromosome lineage in Europe, carried by about 110
million men - it follows a gradient from south-east to north-west,
reaching almost 100 percent frequency in Ireland.”
“We looked at how the lineage is distributed, how diverse it is in
different parts of Europe, and how old it is,” he said.
The results suggested that the lineage spread together with farming
from the Near East.
“In total, this means that more than 80 percent of European Y chromosomes descend from incoming farmers. In contrast, most
maternal genetic lineages seem to descend from hunter-gatherers,”
said Dr Patricia Balaresque, first author of the study.
“To us, this suggests a reproductive advantage for farming males
over indigenous hunter-gatherer males during the switch from hunting
and gathering, to farming - maybe, back then, it was just sexier to
be a farmer,” she added.