Treilles (France) - Male diffusion through the Neolithic Mediterranean route


No cheese for Neolithic humans in France

Elizabeth Weise

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An excavation of a southern French burial site from about 3,000 B.C. shows that the modern humans who expanded into the area from the Mediterranean lived in patrilocal communities and did not have the genetic mutation that allowed later Europeans to digest fresh milk.

Scientists analyzed DNA extracted from the bones of 53 people buried in Cave I of the Treilles, located in the Grands Causses region at Saint-Jean-et-Saint-Paul, Aveyron in France. They were able to get useful information from 29 of those samples, 22 men, two women ad five for whom it was impossible to determine sex. Most of them appeared to be closely related, with two of them having a 99.9979% probability of being father and son and two others having a 99.9985% probability of being siblings.

The researchers were able to deduce from their findings that the peoples in this region of France were of a genetic type more closely related to Basque and Spanish populations than current western European populations. They were also more closely related to peoples in Cyprus, Portugal, Turkey, Italy and Lebanon.

None of them carried the gene for lactase persistence that is believed to have first evolved around 5,500 BC in Central Europe and which allowed humans to drink fresh milk after they are weaned.

The absence of the genetic variation probably shows that the Treilles people most likely came from agricultural-pastoral Mediterranean cultures that drank fermented milk and had an economy based on sheep and goat farming.

The paper is published in this week's edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Ancient DNA reveals male diffusion through the Neolithic Mediterranean route

  1. Marie Lacana,b,1,
  2. Christine Keysera,b,
  3. François-Xavier Ricauta,
  4. Nicolas Brucatoa,
  5. Francis Duranthona,
  6. Jean Guilainec,
  7. Eric Crubézya, and
  8. Bertrand Ludesa,b


+ Author Affiliations

1.      aLaboratoire d'Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5288, 31073 Toulouse, France;
2.      bLaboratoire d'Anthropologie Moléculaire, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5288, Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Strasbourg, 67085 Strasbourg, France; and
3.      cCentre de Recherche sur la Préhistoire et la Protohistoire de la Méditerranée, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 31500 Toulouse, France
  1. Edited by Colin Renfrew, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, and approved May 2, 2011 (received for review January 19, 2011)

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The Neolithic is a key period in the history of the European settlement. Although archaeological and present-day genetic data suggest several hypotheses regarding the human migration patterns at this period, validation of these hypotheses with the use of ancient genetic data has been limited. In this context, we studied DNA extracted from 53 individuals buried in a necropolis used by a French local community 5,000 y ago. The relatively good DNA preservation of the samples allowed us to obtain autosomal, Y-chromosomal, and/or mtDNA data for 29 of the 53 samples studied. From these datasets, we established close parental relationships within the necropolis and determined maternal and paternal lineages as well as the absence of an allele associated with lactase persistence, probably carried by Neolithic cultures of central Europe. Our study provides an integrative view of the genetic past in southern France at the end of the Neolithic period. Furthermore, the Y-haplotype lineages characterized and the study of their current repartition in European populations confirm a greater influence of the Mediterranean than the Central European route in the peopling of southern Europe during the Neolithic transition.