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Hunter-gatherers got on fine with farmers

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Europe's first farmers lived alongside a ghost people. Even some 2000 years after farming began to spread through the continent, some people were still clinging to the hunter-gatherer lifestyles that had been practiced formerly. The first farmers and last of Europe's hunter-gatherers lived alongside each other for millennia and even shared burial sites.

"After 2000 years of agriculture in Europe, we still find hunter-gatherers," says Ruth Bollongino of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. "We never expected anything like this."

Farming was invented in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago, and spread rapidly. It reached Europe about 7500 years ago, and continued to expand westwards – apparently because the incoming migrating farmers thrived and outcompeted the native hunter-gatherers. From this time forward, there are no archaeological records of hunter-gatherers in Europe, suggesting that the lifestyle had effectively died out. "We had no archaeological hints of their existence," says Bollongino.

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