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View series: Prehistory

Series: Prehistory
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Farmers reach Europe

This map is part of a series of 5 animated maps showing the history of Prehistory.

The spread of the Neolithic Revolution in Europe originated with the westward migration of farmers from the Middle East.

The chronology of this movement of people is well known, thanks to the large number of archaeological sites that have been studied throughout Europe.

Low population density in areas inhabited by hunter-gatherers and the high demographic growth of peoples who practised agriculture explain this migration.

As a village grew, some of the inhabitants would move on to clear new land, taking seeds and animals with them. The repetition of this process, generation after generation, was the basis of the migration of farming communities.

From Anatolia, they reached the Balkans in the middle of the 7th millennium BCE.

For several centuries, the Danube in the north formed a border. Further south, some farming communities continued their progress along the Mediterranean coast, which allowed them to remain in a familiar climate zone. They travelled on land or by coastal navigation.

Farmers were present in Provence as early as 5800 BCE and reached the south of the Iberian Peninsula about three centuries later.

Their dispersion then extended northwards along the Atlantic coast in present-day Portugal or along the valleys of major rivers such as the Rhône or the Garonne.

Archaeology shows that these populations mastered open sea navigation and that during these periods they reached the large Mediterranean islands of Crete, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia and Corsica.

In the north, the advance from the Danube basin resumed after a period of adaptation to a colder climate than that of the Middle East. This migration spread into several regions of Europe from the Dnieper valley in the east to the shores of the Atlantic in the west. The Atlantic coast was reached around the middle of the 5th millennium BCE.

The migration of people from the Middle East to the Atlantic coast took place over almost two millennia, during which time the hunter-gatherers who lived in Europe gradually disappeared.

The genetic heritage of today’s Europeans contains some of the genetic heritage of populations from the Middle East and some from indigenous hunter-gatherers. Unions therefore took place between these two populations and, at least in part, the hunter-gatherers’ disappearance was due to assimilation.