Conny Waters - AncientPages.com - A wave of migrants from what is now Greece and Turkey arrived in Britain some 6,000 years ago and replaced the existing hunter-gatherers living there, according to a new study.
Researchers studied DNA samples of ancient remains dating as far back as 8500 B.C. found the dark-skinned foragers who had inhabited the British Isles since the last Ice Age left comparatively little trace in the genetic record after the transition to farming, suggesting there wasn't much interbreeding with the newcomers who arrived around 4000 B.C, writes Daily Sabah.
Gough's cave and Cheddar Man
By contrast, the same Aegean migrants mixed extensively with local populations when they introduced farming to continental Europe about 1,000 years earlier, according to previous DNA studies.
"Even if these two populations had mixed completely, the ability of adept continental farmers and their descendants to maintain larger population sizes would produce a significant diminishing of hunter-gatherer ancestry over time," Professor Mark Thomas of evolutionary genetics at University College London, and-author of the paper, said.
The researchers from Britain and the United States found that the remains of Britain's early farmers were genetically similar to those discovered in what is now Spain and Portugal, indicating this population traveled east to west through the Mediterranean, and then up to Britain.
Strikingly, the newcomers appear to have arrived first on the western coast before spreading to other parts of Britain, suggesting they didn't crossed the English Channel as the shortest possible way to reached Britain but instead used the wilder Atlantic route.
“After 6000 years ago we only see farmers in Britain, and their ancestry is different. Not only do they have predominantly the same Aegean ancestry as other continental farmers, but our data suggest that ancestry came to Britain via the Mediterranean corridor,” Professor Thomas added.
According to Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, this route is a continuation of the Mediterranean coastal dispersal route but of course in much more complicated maritime circumstances, and the findings match what is known about the spread of megalithic structures along Europe's Atlantic coast.
Perhaps the best-known of these structures is Stonehenge in Britain.
"This work highlights the complex population turnovers affecting a rather marginal area of Northwestern Europe and points out the need to investigate all regions with ancient data to understand the shaping of modern human genetic diversity," said Laluelza-Fox.
In their paper, Thomas and his colleagues also note the "considerable variation in pigmentation levels in Europe" during the Stone Age as shown from the genetic samples they examined.
Whereas Britain's outgoing hunter-gatherers — including the oldest known Briton, "Cheddar Man" — likely had blue or green eyes and dark or even black skin, the farming populations migrating across Europe are believed to have had brown eyes and dark to intermediate skin.
Written by Conny Waters – AncientPages.com Staff Writer