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Ancient DNA study reveals large scale migrations into Bronze Age Britain

A major new study of ancient DNA has traced the movement of people into southern Britain during the Bronze Age. In the largest such analysis published to date, scientists examined the DNA of nearly 800 ancient individuals. Publication in Nature on December 22, 2021.

Sustained contacts

The new study, led by the University of York, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Vienna, with input from Leiden researchers, shows that people moving into southern Britain around 1300‒800 BC were responsible for around half the genetic ancestry of subsequent populations.

The combined DNA and archaeological evidence suggests that, rather than a violent invasion or a single migratory event, the genetic structure of the population changed through sustained contacts between mainland Britain and Europe over several centuries, such as the movement of traders, intermarriage, and small scale movements of family groups.
The study finds evidence that the new migrants became thoroughly mixed in to the Southern British population in the period 1000‒875 BC.

One of the DNA samples used in the study came from the human remains excavated in Wervershoof-Zwaagdijk by Professor Modderman in 1961.

33 individuals

In this study the results are reported of the analysis of 33 individuals from the Netherlands. The sampling of the Dutch Individuals is part of a research project by Prof. em. Harry Fokkens of the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology, and drs. Eveline Altena of the Leiden University Medical Centre in cooperation with a number of Dutch researchers. Most of the samples were provided by the National Museum of Antiquities (dr. Luc Amkreutz) and the Provincial depot of Noord-Holland (mr. Jean Roefstra). 

Extensive networks

One of the interesting results came from a Middle Bronze Age grave recently excavated at Westwoud-Binnenwijzend by a combined developer-led project of ARCHOLbv (Leiden, drs. Adrie Tol) and ADC (Amersfoort, dr. Wouter Roessingh). This female individual had a genetic signature that suggested possible provenance in Western France. Additional isotope research by dr. Lisette Kootker (VU University Amsterdam) also reported in the study, confirmed this hypothesis. 

“This indicates that migrants or social partners from France also reached Bronze Age West-Frisa. It is an clear indication of the extensive social and economic networks that existed in the Bronze Age” professor Fokkens stated. 

The Dutch contribution to this study was initiated by the Leiden University Bakels Fund (Harry Fokkens, Eveline Altena and Barbara Veselka). The isotope study was co-funded by the Province of Noord-Holland and by the Farmers of the Coast project led by prof. Harry Fokkens and prof. Corrie Bakels of the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University (NWO project 360-60-100).

Read more

The study ‘Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age’ is published in Nature.

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