Cranial variation and the transition to agriculture in Europe
Debates surrounding the nature of the Neolithic demographic transition in Europe have historically centred on two opposing models; a 'demic' diffusion model whereby incoming farmers from the Near East and Anatolia effectively replaced or completely assimilated indigenous Mesolithic foraging communities and an 'indigenist' model resting on the assumption that ideas relating to agriculture and animal domestication diffused from the Near East, but with little or no gene flow. The extreme versions of these dichotomous models have been heavily contested primarily on the basis of archaeological and modern genetic data. However, in recent years there has been a growing acceptance of the likelihood that both processes were ongoing throughout the Neolithic transition and that a more complex, regional approach is required to fully understand the change from a foraging to a primarily agricultural mode of subsistence in Europe. Craniometric data have been particularly useful for testing these more complex scenarios, as they can reliably be employed as a proxy for the genetic relationships amongst Mesolithic and Neolithic populations. In contrast, modern genetic data assume that modern European populations accurately reflect the genetic structure of Europe at the time of the Neolithic transition, while ancient DNA data are still not geographically or temporally detailed enough to test continent-wide processes. Here, with particular emphasis on the role of craniometric analyses, we review the current state of knowledge regarding the cultural and biological nature of the Neolithic transition in Europe.