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Prying tales from ancient DNA and a far-away moon

3:00pm, May 2, 2014

Farming didn’t originate in Europe. It was an import. But over thousands of years, it steadily took hold and transformed the landscape of the continent. Along with it came a transformation of Europe’s population.

Since the 1970s, genetics has been used to shed light on the spread of agriculture from the Middle East, as well as to look into the ancestry of modern Europeans. But only in the last decade has it become possible to study the genes of prehistoric people themselves. As molecular biology writer Tina Hesman Saey recounts, DNA painstakingly recovered from the skeletons of dozens of ancient Europeans is providing new details about the region’s prehistory. So far, the tale told by analyses of mitochondrial DNA and, increasingly, the entire genomes of early humans is a complicated one. It looks like migrants brought farming technology with them, but there’s little evidence of local hunter

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