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Anthropology/paleolithic or neolithic?


Hi again. First of all thanks for answering my question about religion. I was actually having a fight with my roommate who keeps trying to convert me and tells me my religion isn't as good as hers (I'm moving out, BTW). Anyway, I've been following the research on European origins and I'm a bit confused. Some studies say European DNA has changed very little from our Cro-Magnum ancestors. This is that study-(
But other studies say Europeans are mostly descended from Neolithic farmers who would have replaced the Paleolithic/Cro-Magnum people.
Are Europeans mostly an admixture of the two or is one of these studies incorrect?

Hi Rose
The two studies are not contradictory.
There is very little difference between Cro-Magnon (early European Homo sapiens) DNA and that of anybody living in western Eurasia including the Neolithic farmers.  The difference between Neolithic farmers and Cro-Magnons is smaller still.  Keep in mind, these studies are looking at tiny, miniscule amounts of variation in a segment of the genome that is hyper-variable.  That means, it is specifically selected by scientists because there is a lot of variation there and thus potential to do phylogenetic research.  The Neolithic farmers almost certainly did not completely replace the hunter-gatherer populations.  What happened was probably like what happens in recent times, in Africa for example, is interbreeding with the more numerous farmer's genes eventually swamps those of the smaller hunter-gatherer population on that section of the genome that is being studied.  (I am not a geneticist, but rather an anthropologist, so you might want to try this question out on other experts.)
So, the simple answer is that you are probably descended from both Cro-Magnons and Neolithic farmers, though the later is more likely.

Religions:  I think it was Lucretius (or one of the Stoic philosophers anyway) who wrote that because nobody has ever objectively proven whether the gods exist or what happens after death there is nothing to be gained by arguing about which religion is right, wrong, better or worse. If you agree, as I do, then you might as well pick the religion that makes you most happy.


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John Shea


Questions about Old World prehistoric archaeology (especially Stone Age) of Europe, Africa, and Western Asia, prehistoric human and hominid behavior, primitive technology, origin of modern humans, extinction of the Neandertals. IMPORTANT: Between February 14 and September 01, 2014, I will be on sabbatical leave. During this time I will have limited access to email. This means that there may be very long periods (i.e., weeks) between your posting a question and my having time to answer it.


>20 years as a professional anthropologist based at a research university.

Journal of Field Archaeology, Journal of Archaeological Science, Lithic Technology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Current Anthropology, Mitekufat HaEven (Journal of the Israel Prehistoric Society), Paléorient, Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan, American Anthropologist, Geoarchaeology.

Ph.D (Anthropology) Harvard University, 1991.
BA (Archaeology) Boston University, 1982.

Awards and Honors
Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer 2012-2014

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