Archaeologists have for decades tried to pin down when the first farming communities appeared in Europe and how farmers spread across the continent to replace mobile groups of hunter-gatherers.
Radiocarbon data from southern European sites now unveil a lightning-fast colonization of this region by small farming groups, says Joo Zilho of the Portuguese Institute of Archaeology in Lisbon. The finding challenges views that have emphasized a gradual expansion of relatively large agricultural populations.
Radiocarbon dates for the first appearance of so-called Neolithic farmers at locations from Italy to Portugal cluster around 7,400 years old, Zilho reports in the Nov. 20 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "The rapidity of this spread [of farming] occurred over no more than six generations, or about 100 to 200 years," he says.