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Keywords:

  • ancient DNA;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • Neolithic;
  • megalithic tradition;
  • European neolithization

Abstract

Recent paleogenetic studies have confirmed that the spread of the Neolithic across Europe was neither genetically nor geographically uniform. To extend existing knowledge of the mitochondrial European Neolithic gene pool, we examined six samples of human skeletal material from a French megalithic long mound (c.4200 cal BC). We retrieved HVR-I sequences from three individuals and demonstrated that in the Neolithic period the mtDNA haplogroup N1a, previously only known in central Europe, was as widely distributed as western France. Alternative scenarios are discussed in seeking to explain this result, including Mesolithic ancestry, Neolithic demic diffusion, and long-distance matrimonial exchanges. In light of the limited Neolithic ancient DNA (aDNA) data currently available, we observe that all three scenarios appear equally consistent with paleogenetic and archaeological data. In consequence, we advocate caution in interpreting aDNA in the context of the Neolithic transition in Europe. Nevertheless, our results strengthen conclusions demonstrating genetic discontinuity between modern and ancient Europeans whether through migration, demographic or selection processes, or social practices. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.