Ancestry Shock: Britain Got Half its Genes from France!
A new DNA analysis of 793 Bronze Age skeletons from all over Britain and mainland Europe has revealed genetic secrets about a mass human migration that occurred around 3,000 years ago.
Not Just Contact, But Intense Contact
The new study was published today in the journal Nature. A 200 strong team of international researchers was led by the University of York in England, Harvard Medical School in the US and the University of Vienna in Austria. The DNA of 793 Bronze Age individuals in Britain was examined, revealing that around 1300 BC to 800 BC waves of migrants arrived in Southern Britain from around present-day northern France.
Study author, Professor Ian Armit from the University of York, wrote in the paper that scientists have for a long time long suspected that migrants arrived in Britain during the Bronze Age. However, this was based on ‘trade and shared ideologies.’ Now, the new DNA study shows how during the Middle to Late Bronze Age ‘intense contacts’ occurred between communities in Britain and Europe.
New DNA study reveals that migrants arrived to Britain from France around 3,000 years ago. Source: Stanislav / Adobe Stock
This Was A Homogenic Migration, Not A Bloody One
Professor Armit told MailOnline that the closest genetic relatives to the migrants who arrived in Britain are ‘all from later Iron Age populations around the periphery of France.’ Through the constant movement of traders, intermarriage, and small-scale movements of family groups, sustained intense contacts between people from mainland Britain and Europe, over many centuries, entirely altered the genetic destiny of Brits.
Dr Armit added that there wasn’t one big violent invasion, or a single migratory event, but he described the migration as a ‘homogenisation.’ This is a somewhat bizarre choice of words for a scientific paper about human DNA, as this term describes the process by which fat droplets from milk are emulsified so that the cream does not separate. What the writer meant was that the migration was gentle, or peaceful.
Mapping The Spread Of Celtic Languages
The study also showed that no such migration to Britain occurred during the earlier Iron Age. This was revealing as archaeologists had always generally associated the spreading of Celtic languages with the Iron Age. The new results suggest a Late Bronze Age arrival of Celtic languages from France. This all supports what is called the ‘ Celtic from the Centre ' historical narrative.
In April 2020, professor Patrick Sims-Williams published a paper entitled ‘An Alternative to Celtic from the East and Celtic from the West. The researcher explained that for most of the twentieth century, archaeologists associated the spread of the Celtic languages with the supposed westward spread of the ‘eastern Hallstatt culture’ in the first millennium BC. The author criticized the assumptions and misinterpretations of classical texts and onomastics that led to ‘Celtic from the East’ hypothesis. In conclusion, Sims-Williams proposed that ‘Celtic radiating from France during the first millennium BC would be a more economical explanation of the known facts,’ which was an assertion that could not have been closer aligned with the findings of this new study.
Co-author Professor David Reich at Harvard Medical School, said ‘any reasonable scholar needs to adjust their best guesses about what occurred based on these findings.’ However, the researcher added that these new findings do not in any way ‘settle the question of the origin of Celtic languages into Britain’.
The new study sheds light on the arrival of the Celts into Britain. Source: Andrey Kiselev / Adobe Stock
Following The Milky Way for Answers
A dramatic increase was noted in the frequency of ‘allele’ in Bronze Age populations in Britain from 1200 to 200 BC. This variant form of a gene contributes to lactose persistence - the ability of adults to digest lactose in milk. The paper says this would have provided ‘a big advantage’ in survival rates among the children with this genetic adaptation.
The researchers also found an ‘exceptionally high’ proportion of ‘early European farmer’ (EEF) ancestry, in people from Kent, which is just a short hop across the English Channel from France. Genetics professor Daniel G. Bradley at Trinity College Dublin, who was involved in the study’s peer review, said this specific ancestry was brought to Europe by agriculturists from Anatolia (Turkey) many thousands of years earlier.
This EEF ancestry indicates the usage of migratory channels across the narrow Strait of Dover during the Late Bronze Age. At this time, established farming families and communities expanded their territories across southern Britain and metal ores for the production of bronze tools, utensils and weapons were traded from Britain across Europe.
Top image: Bronze age man. Source: Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie