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DNA Study Tracks Bronze Age Migration to Britain

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS—BBC News reports that a migration of people from continental Europe to Britain between 1400 and 870 B.C. has been detected in DNA samples taken from 793 sets of ancient human remains. The DNA of these early Britons most closely resembles ancient populations found in France, according to David Reich of Harvard Medical School. “We estimate that about half of the DNA of people in Iron Age in Britain comes from these new migrants,” he said. “What that means is if you trace back the ancestors of these Iron Age Britons 20 generations before the time they lived, half of them would not be living on the island of Great Britain.” Reich said the migrants likely brought the cultural practice of burying hoards of bronze objects with them, and perhaps even Celtic languages. The study also suggests that a gene allowing adults to digest raw milk rapidly spread through Britain at this time, about 1,000 years earlier than it became common in other areas of northern Europe. “In order for it to have gone from nothing to almost everybody in that period of time, your ability to digest raw milk must have been life or death,” commented Thomas Booth of the Francis Crick Institute. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. To read about the diverse origins of Roman Britons whose remains were unearthed in a graveyard in York, England, go to "Off with Their Heads."

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