UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A combined study of genetics and skeletal remains show that the switch from primarily hunting, gathering and foraging to farming about 12,000 years ago in Europe may have had negative health effects as indicated by shorter than expected heights in the earliest farmers, according to an international team of researchers.
“Recent studies tried to characterize the contribution of DNA to height,” said Stephanie Marciniak, assistant research professor, Penn State. “We started thinking about the longstanding questions around the shift from hunting, gathering and foraging to sedentary farming and decided to look at the health affect with height as a proxy.”
Working with George H. Perry, associate professor of anthropology and biology, Penn State, and more than 40 international researchers, Marciniak looked at the heights of individuals who lived before the Neolithic, and in the Neolithic, Copper, Bronze and Iron ages. The researchers measured the long bones of skeletal remains that were also being sampled or already been sampled for ancient DNA testing by other researchers.
The researchers created a model that used adult height, indicators of stress seen in the bones and ancient DNA. They also looked at genetic indications of ancestry. The researchers reported their results in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.