In what was the largest analysis of ancient DNA that has ever been done, it was discovered that two large migrations of people into Britain that were previously known, first started to take place around 6,000 years ago. Their ancestry was mostly from a group known to archaeogenetics as Early European Farmers, with around 20 percent from a different group who are referred to as Western European Hunter-Gatherers.
This migration led to the replacement of most of the existing local hunter-gatherer ancestry.
And about 4,500 years ago, just at the beginning of the Bronze Age, a second migration took place which saw descendants of livestock farmers from the Pontic-Caspian steppe – grassland that spans from present-day Bulgaria to Kazakhstan.
Ancestry from this group ended up forming at least 90 percent of the genetic make-up in Scotland, England and Wales
It is believed that people from England and Wales today have more ancestry from Early European Farmers than people in the early Bronze Age did, which suggests that third migration from Europe may have happened more recently.
A research team from the University of York sequenced the genomes of nearly 800 individuals from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age whose remains were unearthed at archaeological sites in the UK, and in western and central Europe.
They studied the proportion of Early European Farmer ancestry in these ancient people.
They found evidence of a third mass migration into Britain from France that took place between 1,000 BC and 875 BC.
This was during the time that Early European Farmer ancestry increased from around 30 percent to about 36 percent on average in the south of the Britain by the late Bronze Age.
During the Iron Age, this stabilised at nearly half of the ancestry in populations of England and Wales.
Ian Armit, who led the study, said: “We’ve always known this period of the middle and late Bronze Age was a period of tremendous connectivity between Britain and central and western Europe.
“Prior to this study, we would have thought of the movement in terms of individuals and small groups, traders and [people looking for metal].
“But the results show society was far more mobile than we thought – large sectors of society were on the move. Societies were very interconnected across the English Channel in a manner we hadn’t really appreciated before.”
The findings may have helped to settle the argument about when Celtic languages were first spoken in Britain.
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Mr Armit said: “The most established theory, based on the analysis of ancient object styles, is that Celtic languages came in during the Iron Age with Celtic speakers from continental Europe.”
But he said that the new the new evidence suggests Celtic languages came to Britain earlier than first thought, in the middle to late Bronze Age.
But analysis of DNA does not reveal what language someone spoke.