Curr. Biol. 31 (5) 1072-1083.e10 [2021-03-08; online 2021-01-13]
The transition from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age has witnessed important population and societal changes in western Europe.1 These include massive genomic contributions of pastoralist herders originating from the Pontic-Caspian steppes2,3 into local populations, resulting from complex interactions between collapsing hunter-gatherers and expanding farmers of Anatolian ancestry.4-8 This transition is documented through extensive ancient genomic data from present-day Britain,9,10 Ireland,11,12 Iberia,13 Mediterranean islands,14,15 and Germany.8 It remains, however, largely overlooked in France, where most focus has been on the Middle Neolithic (n = 63),8,9,16 with the exception of one Late Neolithic genome sequenced at 0.05× coverage.16 This leaves the key transitional period covering ∼3,400-2,700 cal. years (calibrated years) BCE genetically unsampled and thus the exact time frame of hunter-gatherer persistence and arrival of steppe migrations unknown. To remediate this, we sequenced 24 ancient human genomes from France spanning ∼3,400-1,600 cal. years BCE. This reveals Late Neolithic populations that are genetically diverse and include individuals with dark skin, hair, and eyes. We detect heterogeneous hunter-gatherer ancestries within Late Neolithic communities, reaching up to ∼63.3% in some individuals, and variable genetic contributions of steppe herders in Bell Beaker populations. We provide an estimate as late as ∼3,800 years BCE for the admixture between Neolithic and Mesolithic populations and as early as ∼2,650 years BCE for the arrival of steppe-related ancestry. The genomic heterogeneity characterized underlines the complex history of human interactions even at the local scale.