September 10, 2005

Ancient British mtDNA

One more paper added to the growing list of studies of ancient DNA. This time around, scientists have studied the mtDNA of Britons from the 4th to 11th century AD. The scope of the study is one of the largest I've seen so far, with 319 dental samples and 156 individuals in total. The haplogroup frequencies are shown below; the ancient sample is also split into Early and Late Saxon periods.

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The comparative modern mtDNA were taken from the following regions. It is a bit peculiar that more continental European samples are missing, while Armenians and Palestinians are listed.
The comparative data set from modern populations of Europe for the founder and genetic distance analyses consisted of mtDNA HVS-I sequences from the following populations: Armenia (N=191), England (N=258), Estonia (N=149), northern France (N=101), Finland (N=176), Iceland (N=467), Norway (N=565), northern Germany (N=107), Palestine (N=117), Saami (N=176), Scotland (N=981), Spain (N=181) and Western Isles (N=181).
Molecular Biology and Evolution (advance access)

Tracing the Phylogeography of Human Populations in Britain Based on 4th-11th Century mtDNA Genotypes

A. Töpf et al.


Some of the transitional periods of Britain during the first millennium AD are traditionally associated with the movement of people from continental Europe, composed largely of invading armies (e.g. the Roman, Saxon and Viking invasions). However, the extent to which these were migrations (as opposed to cultural exchange) remains controversial. We investigated the history of migration by women by amplifying mtDNA from ancient Britons who lived between approximately 300-1,000 AD, and compared these with 3,549 modern mtDNA database genotypes from England, Europe and the Middle East. The objective was to assess the dynamics of the historical population composition by comparing genotypes in a temporal context. Towards this objective we test and calibrate the use of rho-statistics to identify relationships between founder and source populations. We find evidence for shared ancestry between the earliest sites (predating Viking invasions) with modern populations across the north of Europe from Norway to Estonia, possibly reflecting common ancestors dating back to the last glacial epoch. This is in contrast with a late Saxon site in Norwich, where the genetic signature is consistent with more recent immigrations from the south, possibly as part of the Saxon invasions.


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