Ancient DNA at the edge of the world: Continental immigration and the persistence of Neolithic male lineages in Bronze Age Orkney

Scottish Genomes Partnership

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Orkney was a major cultural center during the Neolithic, 3800 to 2500 BC. Farming flourished, permanent stone settlements and chambered tombs were constructed, and long-range contacts were sustained. From ∼3200 BC, the number, density, and extravagance of settlements increased, and new ceremonial monuments and ceramic styles, possibly originating in Orkney, spread across Britain and Ireland. By ∼2800 BC, this phenomenon was waning, although Neolithic traditions persisted to at least 2500 BC. Unlike elsewhere in Britain, there is little material evidence to suggest a Beaker presence, suggesting that Orkney may have developed along an insular trajectory during the second millennium BC. We tested this by comparing new genomic evidence from 22 Bronze Age and 3 Iron Age burials in northwest Orkney with Neolithic burials from across the archipelago. We identified signals of inward migration on a scale unsuspected from the archaeological record: As elsewhere in Bronze Age Britain, much of the population displayed significant genome-wide ancestry deriving ultimately from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. However, uniquely in northern and central Europe, most of the male lineages were inherited from the local Neolithic. This suggests that some male descendants of Neolithic Orkney may have remained distinct well into the Bronze Age, although there are signs that this had dwindled by the Iron Age. Furthermore, although the majority of mitochondrial DNA lineages evidently arrived afresh with the Bronze Age, we also find evidence for continuity in the female line of descent from Mesolithic Britain into the Bronze Age and even to the present day.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2108001119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 22 Feb 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Ancient DNA
  • Bronze Age
  • Genome-wide
  • Neolithic
  • Orkney


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