Friday, March 23, 2018

Neolithic British Isles Gene Pool Replaced by Beaker Immigrants

Reconstruction of a Beaker Burial (National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid)

The Beaker People
Archaeologists have charted the spread of an ancient culture known as the Beaker people characterised by their bell-shaped pottery. This culture first spread between Iberia and central Europe beginning about 4,700 years ago. It was thought initially that only the ideas and not the people migrated. This was because the genes of the Iberian population remain distinct from those of the central Europeans who adopted the characteristic pots and other artefacts.
However, when the Beaker culture extended to Britain and Ireland 4,500 years ago, it was brought by migrants who almost completely replaced the existing inhabitants within a few hundred years. The assumption that people today are directly descended from the people who always lived in that same area no longer stands. Human populations have been moving and mixing throughout history.
About 5,300 years ago, local hunter-gatherer cultures were replaced in many places by nomadic herders who were able to expand quickly by exploiting horses and the invention of the cart. These highly mobile people left behind big, rich burial sites.  
Nature (c) Bell Beaker Map - 18th May 2017
A research project led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, UCL Institute of Archaeology, looked at Beaker mobility, migration, and diet in Britain in the period 2500-1700 BC. These people have been credited with introducing metalworking to Britain, spreading the Indo-European language group, and building Stonehenge. Scientists found that the beaker pots buried with their dead date from the same time as bronze metalworking and the building of recumbent stone circles.
Beaker Burials
The study analysed 285 Beaker-period burials from England, Scotland and Wales for strontium, oxygen, sulphur, carbon, and nitrogen isotopes to investigate their dietary and mobility histories. The results of the study suggest that Beaker invaders largely replaced Britain’s Neolithic farmers.
Beaker Burial
Beaker burials are distinctive and include Beaker ware or pottery. Male remains were positioned on the left-side facing east, and women on the right-side facing west. Beaker society was the first farming community in Northern Europe, having abandoned a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favour of growing wheat, barley, and rearing livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats.
In 1987, the remains of an 18-22-year-old woman, now known as Ava, were discovered at Achavanich in Caithness in the north of Scotland. The burial was later dated to the Middle Bronze Age – 3,700 years ago. Most burials from the location and period were underneath a cairn or in a pit dug into soil. Most Beaker burials are inhumations, sometimes under round barrows, accompanied by a few grave goods.
Ava’s remains were accompanied by a unique short-necked beaker. The report on this excavation states that the beaker contained “prepared cereal grain, honey, added flowers and fruit (including meadowsweet, bramble & wood sage), and the sap of birch and alder trees.”
Danish archaeologists working on the proposed Femern Belt link tunnel, discovered a 5,500-year-old ceramic vessel imprinted with the fingerprint of the craftsman who made it. The vessel is called a ‘funnel beaker’ because it has a neck shaped like a funnel and a flat bottom. The Funnel Beaker Culture existed in the area between 4000 and 2800 BC and was related to the more well-known Beaker culture (or ‘Beaker People’).
Ancient DNA Analysis
To date, the ancient DNA of 1,336 individuals has been analysed and published compared with just 10 in 2014. DNA analysis shows that people moved all the way from the steppes of Central Asia, north of the Black and Caspian seas, to the Atlantic coast of Europe in the west, to Mongolia in the east and India in the south.
Decorated Beaker from Achavanch Beaker Burial
Caithness, Northern Scotland
Researchers studied more than 1,000 samples from Britain to measure the replacement of the island’s existing gene pool by the steppe-related DNA from the Bell Beaker people more accurately. Some researchers calculate that Britain saw a greater than 90% shift in its genetic make-up. However, this view has been challenged by other scientists who do not see such a huge shift in the archaeological record. The rise of cremation in Bronze Age Britain may have biased the finding.
The analysis of ancient DNA enables scientists to study not only the movements of our distant ancestors, but also the evolution of traits and predispositions to diseases. In one example, scientists at the University of Copenhagen found DNA from plague in the steppe populations. If the groups that migrated to Britain and Ireland after 4,500 years ago brought the disease with them, that could help explain why the existing population shrank so quickly.
The Beaker culture is the name of a cultural phenomenon which occurred in large parts of Western Europe during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age period. The Beaker People introduced ceramics and metalwork into our culture as well as the earliest form of the Celtic language. Their arrival marked the end of the Neolithic tradition of megalithic passage tombs such as Newgrange and Knowth in the east and Carrowmore in the west.
Advances in DNA techniques, including cost reduction and speed, have added greatly to recent developments in tracing the movement of ancient peoples. Human populations have been moving and mixing throughout history. The Beaker culture extended to Britain and Ireland 4,500 years ago, brought by migrants who almost completely replaced the existing inhabitants within a few hundred years.

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