August 14, 2004

Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe

A new study re-evaluates mtDNA evidence, in conjunction with Y-chromosomal and autosomal DNA, to trace the origins of Celtic-speaking populations of Western Europe. The main conclusion is that while some Central European origin can't be ruled out using genetic data, current and former Celtic speakers seem to share a common ancestry with other non-Celtic populations of the Atlantic zone of Europe.

Am. J. Hum. Genet., 75:000, 2004

The Longue Durée of Genetic Ancestry: Multiple Genetic Marker Systems and Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe

Brian McEvoy et al.

Celtic languages are now spoken only on the Atlantic facade of Europe, mainly in Britain and Ireland, but were spoken more widely in western and central Europe until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the first millennium A.D. It has been common to couple archaeological evidence for the expansion of Iron Age elites in central Europe with the dispersal of these languages and of Celtic ethnicity and to posit a central European "homeland" for the Celtic peoples. More recently, however, archaeologists have questioned this "migrationist" view of Celtic ethnogenesis. The proposition of a central European ancestry should be testable by examining the distribution of genetic markers; however, although Y-chromosome patterns in Atlantic Europe show little evidence of central European influence, there has hitherto been insufficient data to confirm this by use of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Here, we present both new mtDNA data from Ireland and a novel analysis of a greatly enlarged European mtDNA database. We show that mtDNA lineages, when analyzed in sufficiently large numbers, display patterns significantly similar to a large fraction of both Y-chromosome and autosomal variation. These multiple genetic marker systems indicate a shared ancestry throughout the Atlantic zone, from northern Iberia to western Scandinavia, that dates back to the end of the last Ice Age.


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