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BEAN is a Marie Curie initial training network (ITN). The aim of the BEAN training network is to educate a new generation of researchers that will be able to combine the important aspects of prehistoric archaeology, palaeodemography, population genetics, biostatistics, and next-generation molecular genetics while developing specialized skills in their particular scientific discipline. The broader question of the Neolithisation of Europe will serve as an intellectual framework structuring the research and training opportunities provided by BEAN network participants. The BEAN network proposes to carry out much-needed research into the origins of settled farming life in Europe and the Europeans themselves while training the next generation of European researchers in the cutting-edge techniques of three different research areas:
1. Anthropology and Genetics
2. Simulations and Modelling
3. Prehistoric Archaeology
These scientific disciplines reinforce each other to form a robust research framework within which researchers in the BEAN network can approach one of the most pressing archaeological questions of our time: the Neolithisation of Europe.
Recent advances in the anthropological sciences have made the Neolithisation question much more tractable for modern researchers. With the advent of palaeogenetic methods such as the analysis of DNA from archaeological skeletons, and especially with the possibilities of the next generation sequencing technologies (NGS), new data have become available that now render prehistoric demographic inferences possible. When ancient DNA data are analysed by appropriate statistical inference methods, particularly those applying coalescent theory, a reliable reconstruction of past populations structure is feasible. The increasingly sophisticated methods employed by biological anthropologists to examine the morphology and composition of fossilized tissues have further enhanced the informative potential of ancient human remains.
Advanced computer models can be used to simulate the diffusion of genes through a population with time, in order to test hypothetical demographic scenarios for the Neolithic transition in Western Anatolia and the Balkans. These models can be built using data obtained from archaeological and palaeodemographic research, and evaluated using modern and ancient DNA from populations living in the region. By altering demographic and biological parameters, alternative hypotheses can be explored. Modelling prehistoric gene flow will enable researchers to better understand the genetic correlates and consequences of the Neolithic transition.
Prehistoric archaeology attempts to reconstruct the lifeways of populations at the Neolithic transition through analysis of their diet, material culture, and built environment. Archaeological research can illuminate the processes contributing to the spread of agriculture from western Anatolia and to Europe by characterizing the spatial and temporal continuity in settlement patterns and material culture traditions and interpreting these results in terms of the economic and social context of the early Neolithic. Archaeological research is a rich source of primary data informing other aspects of the BEAN research agenda.