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Anthropology Unit

Anthropology Unit | University of Geneva

Assessing the transition to agriculture in Western Anatolia and the Balkans using a spatially-explicit computer simulation approach

Project scope

This project aims at investigating the origins of one of the most important economic and demographic event which occurred in Europe: the Neolithic transition.

  • Did humans migrated (along with their domesticated animals) into new lands during the establishment of the Neolithic in western Anatolia and south-eastern Europe around 9,000 years ago ?
  • Did Mesolithic hunter-gatherers adopt farming when they were in contact with migrant Neolithic populations ?

The focus is made on the Anatolia and the Balkans which constitutes a key staging area for the further spread of the Neolithic culture through Europe since 7.000 BC. Although detailed chronologies of Neolithisation exist for individual regions, the mode and tempo of the development of the Neolithic in the area remains problematic and a precise and comprehensive theory is still needed for the entire area between central Anatolia and central Europe.

Graph showing the evolution of the demography of hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers
The interactions between hunter-gatherers and early Neolithic farmers are investigated using demographic and genetic modelling in a geographic context.
The simulation program SPLATCHE is used to generate genetic diversity over space and time
Intensive calculation requires powerful super-computer or computer clusters and specifically designed programs.

Our project aims at investigating the processes by which the Neolithic culture diffused from Western Anatolia to the Balkans by using an inter-disciplinary model-based computer simulation approach. The computer simulation approach offers the advantage of merging information from different fields in the model, possibly prehistoric archaeology, landscape archaeology, zooarchaeology, palaeogeography, linguistics and genetics.

  • To what extent the genetic pool of Europeans has been modified by the arrival of farming ?
  • What was the degree of cultural transmission between hunter-gatherers and farming communities?

This inter-disciplinary research plan is strengthened by the integration of our lab within the "BEAN" Marie Curie international training network (ITN), financially supported by the European Union. In particular, close interactions with archaeologists and laboratories specialized in ancient DNA extraction are promoted by this international research network and allows us to develop realistic settlement scenarios for the Neolithic of Anatolia and to dispose of invaluable sources of genetics information.

Project innovations

Computer simulation

Powerful computer clusters together with complex modelling/simulation procedures in link with genetic data and geographic information (GIS).

Population genetics

Most recent statistical methods for population genetics analyses and parameter estimation, such as the Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) approach.

Modern and ancient DNA samples

Combined analyse of DNA sequences from contemporary and ancient human populations generated using the last molecular technologies such as next generation sequencing (NGS).

International Inter-disciplinary network

This project belongs to the BEAN network, whose aim is to educate a new generation of researchers that will be able to combine the important aspects of various fields while developing specialized skills in their particular scientific discipline.

Selected publications related to the project

BEAN logo European Commission FP7 - People Marie Curie actions

A research project funded by the Seventh framework programme of the European Union and belonging to the BEAN ITN network (grant PITN-GA-2011-289966)

Related projects

Internal collaborators

External collaborators and experts

  • Prof. Joachim Burger (University of Mainz, Germany)
  • Prof. Mark Thomas (University College London, England)
  • Prof. Laurent Excoffier (University of Berne, Switzerland)
  • Prof. Christina Papageorgopoulou (Democritus University of Thrace, Greece)
  • Prof. Dan Bradley (Trinity College Dublin, Irland )

Computer programs related to the project

  • SPLATCHE 2 - SPatiaL And Temporal Coalescent in a Heterogeneous Environment.
  • SELECTOR - Forward-in-Time, Spatially Explicit Modeling Software to Simulate Genetic Lineages Under Selection.

Outcome of the project

Oral communications
  • Silva NM (15.01.2016) Assessing the Neolithic transition in southeast Europe using spatially-explicit simulations of ancient genetic data – BEAN closing meeting, Antalya, Turkey
  • Currat M (15.01.2016) Investigating European prehistory through spatially-explicit simulations of genetic data – BEAN closing meeting, Antalya, Turkey
  • Silva NM (14.07.2015) Simulation of spatial processes shaping genetic diversity across time - SMBE 2015, Vienna, Austria
  • Currat M (13.03.2013) Investigating European genetic history through computer simulations - Department of Archeology research seminars, Durham, UK
  • Currat M (16.01.2013) Investigating European genetic history through computer simulations - Genetic diversity and origins of Europeans conference, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Silva NM (07.01.2013) Human Neutral Genetic Variation and Forensic STR Data - Molecular population genetics workshop, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Currat M (06.07.2012) European population dynamics as seen from modern genetic data - 1st BEAN network workshop, Belgrade, Serbia
  • Silva NM & Currat M (11-12.02.2016) - Simulation of ancient DNA data using a spatially-explicit modeling framework - Conference "Biology16", Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Silva NM & Currat M (01-04.04.2014) - Comparing ancient and modern population genetic samples using a spatially-explicit simulation approach - Conference "Human evolution in the genomic era: Origins, populations and phenotypes", Leicester, UK
  • Silva NM & Currat M (16-18.03.2014) - Comparing ancient and modern population genetic samples using a spatially-explicit simulation approach - Cell Symposium "Evolution of Modern Humans - From Bones to Genomes", Barcelona, Spain
  • Silva NM & Rio J (07-09.11.2015) - Spatially-explicit computer simulations to investigate ancient population genetic diversity - CADMOS HPC course 2015, Leysin, Switzerland
Workshops organisation
  • 04-08.07.2012 - BEAN LINUX workshop, Geneva, Switzerland
Media coverage
(n°67, page 14)
University of Geneva
Dpt. of Genetic & Evolution
Anthropology Unit
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