Republication from  phys.org/

A partial map of West Asia, which includes Anatolia (present-day Turkey), the Northern Levant, and the Southern Caucasus. An international team of researchers showed populations from Anatolia and the Caucasus started genetically mixing around 6,500 BC and that small migration events from Mesopotamia 4,000 years ago brought further genetic mixture to the region. The orange marker shows the route from Central Asia. DNA from a lone ancient woman revealed proof of long distance migration during the late Bronze age about 4,000 years ago from Central Asia to the Mediterranean Coast. Image Credit : Max Planck-Harvard Research center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean

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New research on one history’s most important trading hubs provides some of the earliest genetic glimpses at the movement and interactions of populations that lived in parts of Western Asia between two major events in human history: the origins of agriculture and the rise of some of the world’s first cities.

The work reveals how a high level of human movement in the region not only led to the spread of ideas and material culture but to a more genetically connected society well before the rise of cities, not the other way around, as previously thought.

The researchers, made up of an international team of scientists including Harvard anthropology professor Christina Warinner, looked at DNA data from 110 in West Asia dated 3,000 to 7,500 years ago. The remains came from archaeological sites in the Anatolia (present-day Turkey), the Northern Levant which includes countries on the Mediterranean coast such as Israel and Jordan, and countries in the Southern Caucasus which include present-day Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Based on their analysis, the scientists describe two genomic events that occurred around 8,500 years ago and 4,000 years ago that pointed to long-term genetic mixing in the region and subtle population movements within the area, shedding light on a long-standing question.

“Within this geographic scope, you have a number of distinct populations, distinct ideological groups that are interacting quite a lot and it hasn’t really been clear to what degree people are actually moving or if this is simply just a high contact area from trade,” said Warinner, assistant professor of anthropology at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Sally Starling Seaver Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. “What we can see is that rather than this period being characterized by dramatic migrations or conquest, what we see is the slow mixing of different populations, the slow mixing of ideas, and it’s percolating out of this melting pot that we see the rise of urbanism—the rise of cities,”

The study was led by the Max Planck-Harvard Research center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean and published in the journal Cell. Warinner was a senior author on the paper.

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