FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en Sciences humaines et sociales

Human interactions during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Western Europe: The dual perspectives of cultural and biological exchanges – INTERACT

Submission summary

Archaeological research shows that the dispersal of the Neolithic took a more complex turn when reaching the western parts of Europe. It is conceivable that the concurrence of the two main “streams” of the West European Neolithic expansion (i.e. the Danubian and Mediterranean stream) and encounters with autochthonous Mesolithic societies may have created this mosaic pattern of diversity as it is seen in the material culture. The archaeology of Neolithic Western (W) Europe paints a highly complex picture of interaction and exchange from the Mesolithic to the Late Neolithic (including regional variability) and has been well described at the cultural level, but to date no genetic data is available to discuss biological interaction. For the more easterly and northern regions of Central Europe this has been achieved in recent years with the surprising result that incoming groups had a clear Near Eastern cultural and genetic background and very little or no biological contact with indigenous hunter-gatherers for at least two millennia, despite considerable evidence of mutual material exchange. This scenario now needs to be tested against the evidence from W Europe.
Our project targets a key region that includes modern-day France, western Germany, Switzerland and Italy, to unravel the complexity and variability in cultural and biological interactions between human groups during the Neolithic period. This region is uniquely suited to study questions of human interaction in prehistory, as it encompasses both (i) the convergence of early farming communities from Central Europe (Danubian route) with those from southern France (Mediterranean route), and (ii) the various forms of interaction with indigenous late hunter-gatherers (HG). A major task of the project will be to investigate how far the typologically derived entities represent genetically distinguishable human groups, at the best possible level of resolution.
Our approach is the first to combine archaeological and genetic survey studies at multi-national level in W Europe. We will complement existing databases with new data from key sites and detailed information about the distribution of archaeological cultures/entities for the entire study area to consolidate the archaeological background. We will also generate the first genomic data from western European Mesolithic and Neolithic individuals from a wide variety of geographical and cultural contexts. The multidisciplinary data gathered will then permit the first direct test of cultural/biological contacts, modes of exchange, and demographic models through mathematical simulation studies. The project will benefit directly from collaborations between expert archaeologists and anthropologists of the French and German Neolithic and population geneticists. The French-German collaboration guarantees a detailed contextualisation of the human aDNA data and will generate a refined understanding of the Neolithisation process in W Europe.

Project coordinator

Madame Marie-France Deguilloux (De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel: Cultures, Environnements et Anthropologie)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


RGZM Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Leibniz Research Institute for Archaeology
MPI-SHH Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
PACEA De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel: Cultures, Environnements et Anthropologie

Help of the ANR 671,561 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: August 2018 - 36 Months

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