Review – The First Farmers of Europe: an evolutionary perspective

1 min read
Stephen Shennan
Cambridge University Press, £25.99
ISBN 978-1108435215
Review Kim Biddulph

In this concise and readable book, Shennan brings together ancient whole-genome DNA data with excavated evidence to produce a detailed analysis of the mechanisms of the invention of agriculture in the Near East and its subsequent spread through Europe. He covers the initial sweep into Anatolia, then the later expansion into central Europe, along with the diffusion of the LBK culture, and a concurrent spread along the northern Mediterranean, which he makes clear is not so well studied. He finishes with the arrival of farming in Scandinavia, Britain, and Ireland.

Shennan uses evolutionary processes as potential explanatory factors for the settlement evidence seen in the archaeological record. He also employs quite extensively summed calibrated radiocarbon probabilities as a proxy for relative population levels, positing booms and busts in farming populations as they colonised and settled new areas. But it is essentially the ancient whole genome DNA sequencing that has changed the story of the Neolithic in Europe, with every expansion demonstrated as demographic and not cultural diffusion to hunter-gatherers.

This review appeared in CA 344.

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