Europe, the bull and the Minotaur: the biological legacy of a Neolithic love story


*E-mail; Tel. (+41) 21 944 34 24; Fax (+41) 21 785 8544.


The European cattle was domesticated 10 000 years ago in eastern Turkey, 1000 years later pottery-associated milk fats identify cattle-based dairy activity in western Turkey. Subsequently, the Indo-European language, domesticated animals and plants travel as a Neolithic package along two major routes across Europe. A striking south-east to north-west gradient of a mutation in the current European population (lactase persistence into adulthood) documents the expansion of a Neolithic dairy culture into a Mesolithic hunter society. Using oral tradition (myths), archaeological and written historical evidence and biological data, it is asked whether highly transmissible viral diseases like measles and smallpox entered during the Neolithic from domesticated animals into the human population. The bovine origin of paramyxovirus infections is likely; smallpox comes from camels or from rodents via cattle while mycobacteria and Helicobacter infected humans already before the Neolithic. Microbes adapt constantly and quickly to changing ecological situations. The current global environmental changes will lead to another highly dynamic phase of viral transmissions into the human population.