Time Travelling back through my ancestry timeline - Super Family History

The Dance of Cogul, tracing by Henri Breuil.

A Timeline for my ancestry based on current evidences.

3,000,000 years ago.

In Africa.  Eastern and / or maybe Southern Africa.  Hominids.  We call them Australopithecines, and in some ways, they resembled modern chimpanzees but that were adapting to walking upright bipedally, in open environments.  They made stone tools.  They had an omnivorous diet.  They were my ancestors three million years ago.  As they were for all of us.  Natural Selection was the big, very slow kicker for prehistory.  Things changed very, very slowly,

200,000 years ago.

The first hominids that are regarded rather loosely as Anatomically Modern Human emerging in Africa.

At this time, most of my ancestors still lived in Africa, but some of my non-anatomically modern ancestors had already migrated out of Africa, and had dispersed across Eurasia for some time.  They included those archaic humans that anthropologists presently call Neanderthals and Denisovans. 

50,000 years ago.

Most likely by now, most of my hunter-forager ancestors had left Africa.  An early out-of-Africa base appears to have been Arabia and the Middle East.  Some of my ancestors had met now, after long family separations (I have 328 Neanderthal variants in my DNA, according to 23andMe), it was the birth of the Eurasians.  The last Ice Age encroached.

14,000 years ago.

People had been learning to live with the climatic fluctuations of the last Ice Age.  Each hardening of climatic conditions had frozen Eurasian human populations into isolated conditions that increased genetic drift.

Where were my hunter-forager ancestors 14,000 years ago?  Most likely in pockets dispersed across Western Eurasia, from South-West Europe, across to Central Asia, and from Arabia up to Siberia.  My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor at this time, most likely lived somewhere between what today is Syria, and Pakistan.  He could for example, have been an ibex hunter in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.  My direct maternal ancestor (mtDNA line) most likely lived in another pocket of hunter-foragers somewhere in Central Asia, such as what is now Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, the Siberian Plain, or nearby.  Some of her, or other of my ancestors at this time, had shared ancestry with a Siberian tribe of mammoth hunters, that archaeologists now call the Mal'ta–Buret' culture.  Other of my ancestors of this time may have most likely lived in the Caucasus, Southern Europe, Middle East, and Arabia.

5,600 years ago.

Many people in Western Eurasia were adapting to a new way of living, where farming and agriculture, with a range of domesticated species of animal and plant were spreading, often carried along in waves that are marked in our DNA.  The Neolithic Revolution that had affected my ancestors had occurred a few thousand years earlier in South-West Asia, in an area that we call the Fertile Crescent - the Levant, and down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. Some of my ancestors may have been early pioneers of this new way of life in the Middle East.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor may have lived in one of the Uruk farming settlements in Babylonia, or could have been a Neolithic farmer in a number of cultures spread across what is now Iraq, Iran, or Pakistan.  He alternatively could be one of a number of specialists that early civilisation was generating - a potter, a weaver, or a miner.

My direct maternal line had drifted out of Central Asia, and onto the Eurasian Steppe Corridor.  My mtDNA ancestor was most likely living now on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes - what is now Ukraine, Southern Russia, or Kazakhistan.  Her people would have most likely herded domestic livestock including horses, cattle, goats and sheep.  They were mastering the horse and using the first wheeled wagons. On the Steppe corridor, they had access not only to trade with the civilisations south of the Caucasus, but to other cultures, and their materials.  They were experimenting with some of the earliest metallurgy including copper working.

Asides from her, I most likely had a number of other ancestors living in these pastoralist cultures on the Steppes at this time. Perhaps around 28% of my ancestors 5,500 years ago, lived there.

Other ancestors of mine at this time, were dispersed across Europe.  They include the Neolithic European farmers.  They had descended largely from populations that had previously lived in the Levant and Anatolia (what is now Turkey and the Middle East).  Some of my Neolithic European Farmer ancestors could have even lived in Megalithic Britain, but most likely, many of my European Neolithic ancestors lived elsewhere on the Continent, in for example, the Rhine valley, Danube valley, Italy, or Iberia.  Many of them had ancestry that had hopped westwards along the Mediterranean, the first farmers from Anatolia and the Levant (50% of my ancient admixture), but with a smaller admixture of hunter-gatherer ancestors that had previously lived in Europe (12% of my ancient admixture). Did this 12% admixture include the surviving DNA of any of the last Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of the British Isles?  I'd like to think so, but possibly not.

4,600 years ago.

My Copper Age, horse riding Steppe ancestors had migrated westwards into Europe.  There they had admixed with the earlier European Neolithic people.  Their DNA appeared in a Copper Age fusion culture across Central Europe (Poland, Germany, Czech, Slovakia, Hungary, etc) that we call the Corded Ware Culture.  My direct maternal ancestors (mtDNA line) were most likely of that culture for a time.  Their mtDNA markers turn up associated with it.

Aside from her, some of my other ancestors would have been in the Corded Ware Culture.  However, the westward movement of DNA from the Steppes didn't end there.  In Western Europe, it triggered the birth of another culture, that archaeologists call Bell Beaker Culture.  Much of the Y-DNA of the Steppes, was carried into the Rhineland Bell Beaker men.  Some of my ancestors could have belonged to the Bell Beaker culture in Iberia, or Western France.  However, what is more likely is that at least some of them belonged to the Bell Beaker culture that had settled in the Lower Rhine Valley (The Netherlands and NW Germany).

Many of my ancestors at this time may have played a part in the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures of Europe.  mtDNA (H6a1 and H6a1a) very close to my direct maternal line has been found in both cultures, including in a Bell Beaker context in the Netherlands.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was an exception.  He most likely was living somewhere around what is now Iran, possibly as a farmer in the Bronze Age civilisations there.  Ancestors in Southern Europe were less affected by the Copper Age Steppe migration event (mainly in their Y-DNA), and continued to carry mainly Neolithic European Farmer DNA in their autosomes.

3,600 years ago.

I want to just stop here, to record that some of my Bell Beaker Culture ancestors had crossed the North Sea from the Lower Rhine (Netherlands) to settle in South East Britain.  Their descendants were living in Bronze Age Britain.  I can't say with any degree of certainty, if my direct maternal (mtDNA line) ancestor was a part of this migration, or whether her line was still on the European Continent, and crossed later.  Either are equally feasible.   I would have had other ancestors, perhaps the majority at this time, scattered across the European Continent, but most likely, some in what is now Germany, France, Scandinavia, and Southern Europe.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was most likely still in the area of Iraq, or Iran. Perhaps for example, he was an Assyrian.

2,600 years ago.

I'd estimate that perhaps around 38% of my ancestors were now living in Iron Age Britain.  My Iron Age British ancestors would have lived in the round houses and would have farmed the land.    Some people refer to the culture of the British Isles at this time as Celtic.  Some of my ancestors may well have belonged to a tribal federation, that was later known as the Iceni.

This may or may not have included my direct maternal (mtDNA line) ancestor, who could have been a Briton, but may have equally lived along with many of my other ancestors - in an Iron Age Germanic culture in the Netherlands, Northern Germany, or Denmark. Others may have lived further to the south and west in Europe in other cultures  such as the Gauls.  I have a great great great grandparent from Switzerland.  His ancestors at this time, could have been dispersed through a number of tribes across Central and Southern Europe.

My direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was most likely still in the area of the Middle East, or Iran. Perhaps for example, he was a subject of the Persian Empire.

1,700 years ago.

Lets stop here a moment.  Roman Britain.  Perhaps 40% of my ancient ancestors living here at the time.  Britain had been occupied by the Western Roman Empire for some time.  My ancestors in Britannia would have very much identified as Romans, although they largely descended from the Iron Age Britons. However, there were traders, soldiers, and merchants from further afield here.  That might have even included my direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor, that could for example, have traveled to Southern Britannia from Assyria or Persia, or perhaps even from the Eastern Roman Empire in Anatolia and the Levant.

Meanwhile many of my ancestors were living in Germanic pagan tribes across the North Sea in what is now the Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Denmark.  Others may have been living in Roman Gaul, Tuscany, or elsewhere on the Continent.

1,000 years ago.

I believe that the majority of my ancestors now lived in early medieval southern Britain, although some may have still lived further to the south in places such as Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Spain, or Italy.  If he didn't arrive earlier, perhaps my direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor arrived in Wessex about now, as for example, a specialist from the Middle East, working for the Roman church.  Many of my ancestors in South-East Britain had arrived from across the North Sea over the preceding centuries, with Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Frisians, Danes and Saxons.   Archaeological artifacts in Norfolk correlate best with some sites in Northern Germany, towards the border with Denmark.

This would have included Anglo-Saxon ancestors of my mother, that most likely rowed past the decommissioned Roman shore fort at Burgh, and perhaps moored at Reedham.  It may have included Danish ancestors of her that a few centuries later settled the district of Flegg in East Norfolk.  DNA shared on the Continent in places such as modern day Germany, Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Denmark reflects strongly in my ancestral DNA tests.  Much of it may have arrived during these early medieval immigration events.

My direct maternal (mtDNA line) would most likely be in East Anglia or nearby by now.

500 years ago.

Exchange between South East Britain and the European Continent didn't end.  It is possible that I had more ancestors arrive here from Normandy, Medieval France, and the Spanish Netherlands.  However by 500 years ago, It is possible that most of my ancestors now lived in Tudor England.  There would most likely still been a minority of later ancestors migrating from elsewhere, although I so far only see one great great great grandparent from Switzerland, in my genealogical record.  It is likely that my direct paternal (Y-DNA line) ancestor was living in Southern England, and that my direct maternal (mtDNA line) ancestor was living in East Anglia.   I trace his line back to the Oxfordshire / Berkshire border, and her line back 300 years ago to the village of Bunwell in Norfolk.

It is likely that the majority of my Tudor ancestors were living in East Anglia by now, particularly in the County of Norfolk.  Many of the men would be transitioning from medieval peasant status to that of free rural labourers or some into farmers or tradesmen.

300 years ago.

It is highly likely that by now, all of my ancestors (except the Swiss line at Generation 6, arriving 160 years ago), lived in South-East England.  The majority in Norfolk, East Anglia, perhaps as high as 77% East Anglian, also a cluster in the Thames Valley of Oxfordshire and Berkshire, and a smaller cluster around Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

Their trades included agricultural labourerers, shepherds, horsemen, marshmen, smallhold farmers, watermen, carpenters, inn keepers, hawkers, etc. They were the English rural working classes of the 18th Century.

Their recorded surnames included:

Moore, Gunton, Mar, Mollett, Portar, Beck, Breeze, Cruchfield, Lewell, Mingay, Wittham, Thurkettle, Gardiner, Ursul, Upcroft, Neale, Neville, Hammond, Bennett, Read, Bradfield, Aimes, Sniss, Wick, Bligh, Frances, Rippon, Saunderson, Goodram, Seymore, Waine, Blaxhall, Jacobs, Yallop Brucker, Gregory, Hardiment, Hardyman, Briting, Hill, Harrison, Brown, Harding, Creess, Tovel, Osborne, Nichols, Bond, Bowes, Daynes, Brooker, Curtis, Smith, Baxter, Shawers, Edney, Tovell, Key, Tammas-Tovell, Thacker, Lawn, Tammas, Hagon, Hewitt, Springall, Porter, Rose, Larke, Annison, Barker, Brooks, Ling, Rowland, Gorll, Dingle, Marsh, Symonds, Dawes, Goffen, Waters, Briggs, Nicholls, Shepherd, Maye, Morrison, Merrison, Norton, Cossey, Harrington, Barber, Peach, Dennis, Durran, Freeman, Hedges, Crutchfield, Quantrill, Page, Dove, Rix, Sales, Britiff, Goffin, Coleman, Tibnum, Mitchells, Ellis, Beckett, Riches, Snelling, Ransby, Nicholes, Harris, Shilling, Wymer, Moll, Ginby, Gynby, Gaul, Edwards, and Gall.

50 years ago.

I was a small child in Norfolk.  Born English, to a local East Anglian family.  Yet look back at my ancestral timeline.  My ancestry is from all over Europe, and even from across Western Asia, and before that from Africa.  We are all cousins in one large global family.  Much of my family timeline, will also be your timeline.


That's time travelling through my own ancestry.

Ancient ancestry - K11 Ancients Common and rarer Alleles, and a fresh assessment

Emmanuel Benner - Prehistoric Man Hunting Bears

Above image by Emmanuel Benner the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new K11 Ancients Common and Rarer Alleles tests are being run by Dilawer Khan, creator of the Gedrosia stable of admixture calculators available on GEDMatch.com, and of the EurasianDNA.com website.  This new test uses a new set of principles, based on using ADMIXTURE to produce more reliable ancient results.  I commissioned him to run my own 23andMe file through the tests, to produce the following results and PCA's/

PCA for Common Alleles (my position "Norfolk"):

PCA for Rarer Alleles (my position "Norfolk"):

The K11 Ancients common Alleles results should reflect the older ancestry most accurately.  In summary, that gave me:

  1. 48.6% Neolithic Farmer
  2. 26.5% Copper Age Steppe Pastoralist
  3. 24.9% Western Hunter-Gatherer

Thank you Dilawer.

How have other tests seen similar admixture?

I previously commissioned David Wesolowski (Eurogenes stable on GEDMatch and of Eurogenes Blog) to run my raw file through his K7 Basal-rich test.  He produced the following results:

  1. 57.1% Villabruna-related
  2. 28.8% Basal-rich
  3. 14% Ancient North Eurasian.

These are two very different tests, of admixture between different sets of population, of different time periods.  What I do find interesting is the 14% percentage of ANE (Ancient north Eurasian) relates quite favourably to what I understand it's admixture percentage is to Yamna or Steppe pastoralist.  Dilawer gives me 26.5% Steppe.   I have previously heard that the Yamna were circa 50% ANE, and the remainder of mixture of other Western Eurasian Hunter-Gatherer groups, including Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers.

The K11 Ancients test does suggest that I have a surprisingly high amount of ancestry from the Neolithic Farmers, that were in Europe previous to the arrival of the Steppe migrants around 4,900 years ago.  This is actually consistent with my other Ancient admixture test results.  The K7 Basal-rich test for example, had given me 28.8% Basal.  The Basal Eurasians are a hypo-theoretical "ghost" population that was among the founding admixture of the Neolithic Farmers, in a similar way that the ANE were among the founding admixture of the Steppe Pastoralists.  Again then, the two tests do tally reasonably well in determining where my personal percentages of ancient DNA  originate.

Why do I have so high percentages of Neolithic Farmer and Basal Eurasian I do not know.  My DNA flavour is a slight extreme, and atypical even for an English person, and more so for a Briton.  My recorded genealogy is all SE English, mainly East Anglian.  I would love to see the results of other East Anglians, as I suspect to them, that I am not such an extreme.  However, even if this was the case, it doesn't explain why modern East Anglians would have lower Steppe, and more Neolithic than either West British, Scandinavians, or even ancient DNA from Anglo-Saxons.  Higher percentages of Neolithic ancestry today are usually found to the South, peaking in Sardinia, then Iberia.  A favoured explanation is that the SE English could have had a lot of input from the South, via the French during Norman and Medieval periods.  I'm not totally convinced - yet.

A third new ancient admixture test that I might use here in the MDLP Project Modern K11.  On GEDMatch Oracle, it proposes a number of genetic distances to ancient DNA samples:

1 British_Celtic @ 6.948432
2 Bell_Beaker_Germany @ 8.143357
3 Alberstedt_LN @ 8.426399
4 British_IronAge @ 9.027687
5 Halberstadt_LBA @ 10.273615
6 Bell_Beaker_Czech @ 12.190828
7 Hungary_BA @ 12.297826
8 Nordic_MN_B @ 12.959966
9 British_AngloSaxon @ 12.993559
10 Nordic_BA @ 13.170285

Using 4 populations approximation:
1 Bell_Beaker_Germany + Bell_Beaker_Germany + Corded_Ware_Germany + Hungary_CA @ 1.085814
2 BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Corded_Ware_Estonia + Hungary_CA @ 1.089547
3 Alberstedt_LN + Bell_Beaker_Germany + Corded_Ware_Germany + Hungary_CA @ 1.117882
4 Bell_Beaker_Germany + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Srubnaya_LBA @ 1.149613
5 Bell_Beaker_Germany + British_IronAge + Hungary_CA + Karsdorf_LN @ 1.185312
6 Alberstedt_LN + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Sintashta_MBA @ 1.226794
7 Nordic_BattleAxe + Hungary_BA + Hungary_CA + Karsdorf_LN @ 1.234930
8 Nordic_BattleAxe + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Unetice_EBA @ 1.238376
9 Alberstedt_LN + Hungary_BA + Hungary_CA + Yamnaya_Samara_EBA @ 1.247371
10 Bell_Beaker_Germany + Hungary_CA + Nordic_LN + Srubnaya_LBA @ 1.268124

If I look at four population distances, then based on the samples available in the test, I'm looking pretty European Bell Beaker, with Corded Ware and Yamna appearing. My closest single population in the samples is a surprising British Celtic!  More samples from the European Neolithic might turn those results around.

Seahenge Day - the HolmeTimber Circles, Norfolk

I made an awesome heritage day trip yesterday.  My first encounter with Seahenge (Holme Timber Circle I) occurred in 1998.  I was living at Thetford, and made daily visits to a local dig of a Pagan Saxon site there, by the NAU (Norfolk Archaeological Unit).  On my last visit, the young digger remarked that he was being relocated to a remarkable timber circle rescue dig on the North Norfolk coast.

It was an eroded timber circle, with an inverted tree stump at the centre.  It was dated through dendrochronology to be 4,060 years old (2049 BC) felled and erected during the Early Bronze Age.  There were concerns that the site could soon be lost to sea erosion.  An attempt was launched by the NAU in collaboration with the TV show Time Team, to remove the timbers from the beach for conservation.  There was significant protest by both local groups, and by neo-pagans, that felt that the timbers should be left on the beach.

The removal continued despite the protests.  It has been postulated that it may have been used as a small shrine, or perhaps as a burial chamber - with the corpse placed on top of the inverted tree stump "altar".

I next saw the timbers a few years later, under preservation process at the Flag Fen archaeological museum near to Peterborough:

The tanks at Flag Fen were under canvas, and you could literally touch the timbers in the water tanks.  Since preservation was completed, most of the timbers, and the tree stump "alter", have been on display in Norfolk, at the Kings Lynn Museum.  I've visited it several times over the years, but I had never been to the original site.  Until yesterday!

I parked the car back near to the White Horse pub in the village.  I wanted to take a short pilgrimage of a few miles to the spot that I had identified from grid references online.  It also follows where the Peddars Way joins the North Norfolk Coastal Path.  Two long distance trails that I completed with my dog years ago.

Been there, done them, got the T shirt.

The path follows behind the sea dunes and a stretch of freshwater marsh - that is most likely, similar to the environment that the timber circles were built in.  Sea erosion over the past 4,000 years has been driving the sealine and dunes back.  The dunes must have gradually crossed over the timber circles as it slowly retreated, leaving the archaeology on the beach surrounded by the eroding features of ancient fresh water marshes.

I had pre-programmed my trusty handheld GPS unit to track down the find spots.

I can't tell you how much I loved retracing my old steps along this section of the North Norfolk Coastal Path.  It's beautiful:

When I started to near to the point, and to the archaeological site, I safely traversed a foot path down to the beach.  An awesome, beautiful day:

I followed the GPS to the find spot here.  During the dig, it was alongside a patch of ancient marsh mud.  It's all gone.  Just bleached sands now.  A few years after removing Seahenge (Holme I), a second timber circle (Holme II) and altar was spotted close by.  It was a larger circle, with planks rather than posts, and signs of a timber causeway near by.  Following the experience of the public opposition to removing Holme I, it was decided this time, to leave this other timber circle in-situ.  Today, it appears to be gone.  Eroded away by storms and tides.  Clearly, the archaeologists and conservators were perfectly correct to have removed the smaller circle for preservation.  The above photo looks across where the two circles were.  A metal rod presumably left to mark the spot of Holme I:

More modern timbers can be found closer to the eroding marsh mud:

Some timbers on the site have also been identified as being much older tree stumps from the old marsh.

Then it was off the Kings Lynn Museum, in order to revisit the timbers of Seahenge (Holme I) circle:

Below, a reconstruction of an Early Bronze Age man (carrying a flat bronze axe), based on the dress of contemporary bog bodies found in Denmark:

Finally, a display case with other Bronze Age finds from the area:

Population Genetics Discussion.

Only within the past few weeks, a major new study of ancient European DNA has suggested that the earlier Neolithic peoples of the British Isles were largely replaced (or even perhaps displaced) by a new people carrying an artifact assemblage that we call the Bell Beaker Culture, most likely arriving first in Southeast Britain, from what is now the area of the Netherlands.  They would arrived in the British Isles circa 4,200 years ago.  This is just previous to the Holme Timber Circles.  The conclusion would be that most likely, the timber circles on the North Norfolk Coast were the burial practices of this new Beaker population.  However... the story remains to be detailed, or even perhaps rewritten with future study.


Arminghall Henge, Norwich, Norfolk

This afternoon, I decided to visit Arminghall Henge. Only 55 minutes cycle ride from my home, it sits just outside of the Norwich southern bypass, near to County Hall. It was not in any way sign posted. Not as much as an information sign. Even though the "Boadicea Way" trail runs right past it:



Indeed, the only way that I found it was through online resources and my GPS:



It was first spotted in 1929 - a first in the history of aerial photography for archaeology. It was excavated in 1935:



The ambiance can only detected by the imaginative. As a seasoned time traveller, it gave me the kick, despite it being in a horse field, with overhead HV power cables, right next to a major power sub station for the City of Norwich:



Not really an attraction for tourists. No standing stones. this is East Anglia, we don't have boulder-stones. The Neolithic creators of this site erected earthworks and massive timbers - the post-holes that sometimes be seen from above. Incidentally, in archaeology, a "Henge" is not a stone circle. Stone circles were sometimes erected inside a henge, often later. It's a circular bank and ditch earthwork, with the ditch on the inside - as though keeping something in - a defensive rampart has the ditch on the outside. A henge keeps something "in". Interesting is that the most famous henge - Stonehenge, breaks that convention.



Looking up at the site of the Henge from the nearby water course at the bottom of the valley.



and the modern water course itself.

If you've seen my posts in this section before, you know that I like to do a little mole hill archaeology:



Yes, that's a flint flake in the mole hill. Displaying it's dorsal surface, showing the scars of previously removed flakes.



An inspection before returning it to it's topsoil context. I'm here showing you the striking platform, point of impact, and conchoidal fracture bulb. On the right, I can tell you it has wear from being used as a "notched flake", maybe to clean a bone, or an arrow-shaft or similar.



Another flint flake, dorsal surface, showing the scars of previously struck flakes from the core.



Finally, more recent archaeology. A lens cap circa AD 2010?

I hope that someone out there gets some enjoyment from these third person explores of East Anglian sites.

Day Trip to Grimes Graves, Norfolk

Dog-sitting duties yesterday for this old fellah:

12 years old, and with a large out of control tumour on his back, it was awesome to take him into the forest again, even though he ran away - just like he would as a young dog.  He had me running around this monument looking for him:

Thetford Warren Lodge, the handsome ruin of a medieval rabbit warrener's fortified house.  Possibly commissioned by the nearby Prior of Thetford Cluniac Priory.

After our little adventure, I dropped the dogs off to keep cool during the mid day, and then took the opportunity to revisit an awesome prehistoric site in the Thetford Forest area, the Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves.  It use to be a regular haunt of mine.

This is an aerial view of the site.  An almost Martian landscape of craters and earthworks.  Surveys have recorded a total of at least 430 shafts sunk into the ground.  Each reaches down to a seam of black flint known as floor-stone, about 10 meters down from the surface.  Shallow galleries then radiate along this layer of floor-stone flint in all directions.

Until excavations revealed the nature of these craters during the 19th Century AD, no one knew what this landscape represented.  The Anglo-Saxons named it Grimes Graves, after the god Woden (Grim). They set all of the local parish boundaries to meet at the site, where they erected a moot hill, a meeting place for the hundred.  Later antiquarians suggested that it was the site of Danish encampments.

We now know that these craters are the scars of a remarkable flint mine complex, that was in use during the Neolithic period between 4,675 and 4,200 years ago.  Each year, an average of one shaft was mined.  The tools that they used appear to have consisted largely of picks made from red deer antlers, stone axes, and tools made from wood and basketry.  So many red deer antlers appear to have been used, that it has been estimated that they will have needed to manage a population of 120 red deer in order to supply them!

One shaft is presently open to the general public, but there are plans to reopen another shaft later this year.  The English Heritage site has a small museum and presentation on the site:

From there, you can walk over to Pit 1, the shaft open to the public.

Descent to the floorstone level is via a sturdy 30 feet ladder.

The galleries themselves are not open to public access, for reasons of safety.  However, you can enter some of them a short distance before reaching barriers.

It is a little bit of a mystery as to why they were going to such dramatic and exhaustive efforts to mine this flint over a 475 year period.  There is plenty of good flint much closer to the surface, even on the surface.  However, the floor-stone flint has a particular fresh looking, black colour and quality.  It may have even had a ritual value, for coming so far deep out of the earth, and even for being so difficult to mine.  Here's a reconstructed Neolithic axe that I could play with, made of local black flint.

I got a little dirty crawling through the galleries.  Notice the exposed chalky spoil on the surface.  Moved there thousands of years ago by the Neolithic miners.

It's a beautiful place, the Martian looking craters, spoil heaps, often grazed by sheep, and nested on by larks.

I thought it was also recording that Anglo-Saxon moot-hill on the edge of the site.

Discussion - Population Genetics

Okay, so where does this site sit in with the latest news in population genetics?  The population that mined this site for so many years, was most likely (based on ancient DNA from other British Neolithic sites) largely descended from farming immigrants from the South, that arrived in Britain some 6,100 years ago.  The men most likely had I2a Y-DNA haplogroups, and the population today that most resembles them today are the Sardinians.  Their ancestors may have migrated from Iberia, but ultimately, some of their ancestors at earlier dates, had moved along the Mediterranean from an origin in Anatolia and the Levant.  They brought with them, the technologies, livestock, and seeds of the Neolithic Revolution, that had exploded in the Fertile Crescent of the Levant, and the Tigris / Euphrates valleys some 10,000 years ago.

The mining stops around 2,800 years ago.  This corresponds well with what we now believe to be the arrival of a new people - the Bell Beaker People, that had crossed the North Sea from the Lower Rhine area around what is now the Netherlands.  They most likely brought with them, the first horses, and the first metallurgy of copper, bronze, and gold.  What happened to the Neolithic community that had mined for so many years here?  There is some evidence that their economy was falling into trouble, and that forest was returning to many farmed areas.  They may have had their population and social structure depleted by a suspect plague that had reached Western Europe from Asia.  The latest evidence, as presented in my last post, The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017suggests an almost complete displacement of the British Neolithic farmers by this new population of Bell Beaker.

Thetford Forest Archaeology

The value of the floor-stone flint appears to have fell.  However, it is a fallacy to believe that people stopped using flint.  The new metals were precious, but flint continued to have an importance through the Beaker, and into the Bronze and even Iron Ages.  It has been speculated that the majority of struck flint in the district actually dates to the Beaker and Bronze Ages, rather than to the Neolithic.  Thousands of tonnes of flakes, hammer-stones, piercers, awls, scrapers, notched flakes, and waste cores can be found in the soils to the south and west of Grimes Graves - down to the northern banks of the Little Ouse, and across the Brecks district, and the Fen Edge.  Many years ago, I found a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead very, very close to the Grimes Graves site.  This class of arrowhead belongs to Bell Beaker assemblage.  They were here, salvaging the tonnes of discarded flint on or close to the surface of the site.  They carried it down to the river valley, where I can say from my old surface collection surveys, that they struck and worked that flint like never before nor since.

Link to a post about my old Thetford Forest Archaeology Survey.

Some of the worked flint that I recorded in the area.

Indeed, the excavation of one of the shafts at Grimes Graves revealed that the site was being used during the Middle Bronze Age, where a nearby settlement were depositing their rubbish into a midden in a disused shaft.  The archaeology of the midden suggested that the people living there then were most likely dairy cattle farmers.

That's Grimes Graves done.

The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017. A layman's take.

They say that you cannot write prehistory, but here in Britain, prehistory is currently being rewritten, and it's thanks to DNA.  A new study , "The Beaker Phenomenon, And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe" has been published on BioRxyv.  A new study that recently analysed the DNA of 170 ancient human remains in Europe.

A little background...

1. British Archaeology and the Bell Beaker

British archaeologists have long been aware of a late prehistoric artifact culture found across the British Isles, and across large areas of Western Europe.  It bridged the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods around 4,400 to 3,800 years ago.  It was characterised by the use of fine bell-shaped beaker pots, usually red ceramic fabric, heavily decorated with simple motifs.  These motifs were characteristically impressed with a fine toothed comb or dentated spatula.  Many Bell beaker burial rituals have been excavated and studied.  The inhumed body would usually be crouched on the side, roughly on a north to south alignment.  A bell beaker would often be stood near to the body, at the feet, or near the head.  Other grave goods often included barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, flint flakes and blades, antler picks, sometimes one or two more beakers, amber beads, copper awls, and gold earrings / hair rings.  64% of British Beaker burials were flat graves, but sometimes a barrow or cist would be erected above it (Beaker Pottery of Great Britain & Ireland. DL Clarke.  CUP 1970).

Above, a flint barbed & tanged arrowhead of the Beaker Culture, that I found and recorded during a surface collection survey some years ago.

Archaeologists studying the artifact culture in Britain, compared the British finds to those on the Continent in order to try to find an origin for these people.  They suggested either Brittany in North West France, or the Lower Rhine Valley, in the Netherlands and Northern Germany.  Some alternatively promoted Iberia as the origin.

Then British Archaeology entered an intellectual phase where it became fashionable to dismiss migration or invasions of people, in favour of cultural exchange.  Pots not People.  Rather like today, we British wear denim, t-shirts, listen to R&B, and drink coke.  However, we have not been displaced by North Americans - we just absorbed the artifacts of another culture.  From the 1970s on, many late prehistoric migrations were dismissed by British archaeologists as cultural exchanges rather than representing population displacement.

2. The New Population Genetics and the Steppe Pastoralists.

A new field of study has been gathering pace with the arrival of the 21st Century, that uses genetic evidence, to explore past migrations, movements, admixtures, and origins of peoples.  The earliest pioneers used blood types, then mitochondrial DNA mutations, followed by STR of Y-DNA.  Some of the early conclusions supported the new orthodoxy of British Archaeology.  Stephen Oppenheimer's infamous publication "The Origins of the British" championed that there had been little change in British populations since the Ice Age.  They were to be proven wrong.  Early conclusions, based on little evidence, misunderstandings that were later corrected with more data, seriously damaged the reputation of population genetics in British prehistoric studies.

The most common Y-DNA haplogroup of Western Europe, particularly of Ireland and Britain was R1b.  Early mistakes gave this male haplogroup an Ice Age origin of the Basque Region in Southwest Europe.  As more data gathered, and debate developed, it became apparent that the origin was not the Basque region, but the Pontic and Caspian Steppes of Eurasia!  It became associated with an archaeological culture in Southern Russia called the Yamna.  The R1b and R1a haplogroups appeared to have spilled off the Steppes into Europe during the Copper Age during a significant migration event around 4,900 - 4,600 years ago.  In Eastern and Central Europe, this migration of pastoralists appears to be responsible for the fused artifact culture known as the Corded Ware (again, after a prehistoric pottery style).

A few lectures on Youtube to watch:

Havard lecture by David Reich 2015.

CARTA lecture by Johannes Krause 2016

That brings us up to date.  In summary, population geneticists have discovered a movement of people, not just pots, from the Steppes into Europe.  Modern Europeans descend from an admixture of three major founder populations: 1) the Western Eurasian hunter-gatherers, then a layer of 2) Early Neolithic farmers (that originated in Anatolia and the Middle East), and finally, 3) the Steppe Pastoralists.  The actual mix varies not only from person to person, but also regionally across Europe.

So how does the Bell Beaker Culture of Britain and Western Europe fit into all of this?  The strong assumption over the past couple of years was that the diffusion of R1b Y-DNA haplogroups occurred then, so therefore, it was a simple extension of this westward drift across Europe that originated on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes.  It first spawned the Corded Ware Culture in Central Europe, but then when it met Western Europe, spawned the Bell Beaker Culture.  However, until now, this hypothesis hadn't been tested.

The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017

Has now examined some of these questions, through the examination of an unprecedented scale of ancient DNA sampling. The link to their published document (which is still awaiting peer review) is at the top of this post, and I'd invite others to read it for themselves.  An article covering the document can also be read on the Scientific American.  However, I personally with my layman head take five suggestions from the study.

  1. They found that the DNA of human remains on Continental Europe did not suggest one cohesive or homogeneous population.  There was in this case, evidence of cultural diffusion.  Different peoples were taking on the Bell Beaker artifact assemblage in Western Europe.  Pots rather more than people.  This was a great surprise, as we still know from the earlier study, that much of our DNA and Y-DNA in particular, originated around 400 years earlier from the Eurasian Steppes.  However, although the Central European Corded Ware Culture does still appear to have been a response to that great influx of new people from the Steppes, the picture with the Western European Bell Beaker is more complex.
  2. An exception was Britain.  Here, the remains associated with Bell Beaker Culture were all one population, and they were very different to the earlier Neolithic population of Britain.  It appears to have been a case of population displacement.  They suggest at least 90% displacement!  It means that very few or none of our Neolithic ancestors built the amazing monuments of Neolithic Britain.  They were built by earlier peoples, that our ancestors displaced.
  3. They confirm a Lower Rhine origin as most likely for the British Beaker People.  The ancient DNA that most closely matched British Beaker DNA, came from Beaker human remains in the Netherlands and Northern Germany.  This correlates nicely with the 1970 archaeological study mentioned above.
  4. It's confirmed.  Previous to their entry into the British Isles, there is no evidence of any Steppe ancestry, no Steppe autosomal DNA, no Steppe Y haplogroups such as R1b-L21 here.  (Nor any mtDNA haplogroup H6a1).  The Beaker people from the Lower Rhine, brought the initial layers of this DNA to Britain.  The founder population were admixed, but with significant percentages of Steppe ancestry, particularly on Y lines.
  5. The previous Neolithic Farmer population were mainly Y haplogroup I2, and appear to have descended mainly from populations in the South, from Iberia, rather than from the Danube, although before that from Anatolia.  The modern population that is closest to them today are Sardinians.

Also as a layman, I guess that this suggests that most, or even any "Neolithic Farmer" DNA suggested by our ancient ancestry calculators, was most likely picked up elsewhere than Britain, and brought here by later migrants (descended through that mixture of cultural diffusion and admixture), rather than directly from the British Neolithic population.

I also notice a correlation with an Irish study last year ("Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome" Cassidy etal.  Queens University Belfast 2016), that again, suggested major displacement of earlier peoples in Ireland, at the end of the Neolithic, by a population with largely Steppes origins.

How not to use online genealogy

I recently decided to invest in an annual subscription to Ancestry.co.uk.  I therefore intend to use it extensively over the next year in order to bolster my tree and to add leafs through their very fat database of resources.

A little background.  I've researched my family tree since at least 1988, but not continuously.  Back in the day, there were no online resources.  the most modern thing were census on microfilm and the Mormon IGI (International Genealogical Index - the ancestor of FamilySearch.org) available in the Local Studies Library.  My tree started, as it should, through interviewing elderly relatives, looking through their photos, the few birth and marriage certificates, and any other artifacts.  Those elderly relatives have all passed on now.  if you are just starting with genealogy - do it now.  I then moved on to the English & Welsh County record offices.  White gloves and pencils, in order to peruse through the original parish registers and other documents - no digitalisation, or even microfilming of them then.  Very little indexing as well.

Then I was ordering GRO certificates from London, paying professional researchers to collect them for me, as it worked out cheaper than having them mailed to me by the GRO!  Then rather than looking for DNA matches, it was searching through surname interests or through the annually published GRD (Genealogical Research Directory) for shared ancestry.  The good old days.

I said it wasn't continuously.  Interests changed, I lived out life recklessly, and moved on a few times, leaving all behind.  I lost pretty much all of my genealogy.  Meanwhile, digitalisation was coming in fast, indexing increasing, and the Internet was giving birth to online genealogy.  During this birth, I had used an early version of Broderbund Family Tree Maker (it installed on several floppy disks) on a personal computer, and even managed to upload data and a GEDCOM file to a few places.

Then maybe 16 months ago, after ordering a 23andMe test, I picked it up again.  I found my old GEDCOM file on a web archive.  Downloaded it, opened it with open source Gramps software.  It worked!  Since then, I've gathered surviving notes (so many lost), photos, and certificates.  I then discovered a remarkable resource.  Online Genealogy.

Online Genealogy

There are many online resources.  The big providers include Ancestry.com (Ancestry.co.uk), FindMyPast.co.uk, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org.  All but the latter website are subscription fee based.  Asides from these providers, there are many other services for genealogy online.  Of the above, I have heavily used FindMyPast, FamilySearch, and Ancestry.

Online Genealogy using Ancestry.com

The big advantage of Online Genealogy is indexing and the database.  Over the past 25 years or so, armies of volunteers and paid researchers, have been reading through microfilmed, microfisches, or digitalised images of masses of parish registers, parish records, wills, criminal registers, state records, military records, Bishop's transcripts, Headstone surveys, and more - from not only England & Wales but from all over the World, where they are available.  They read the names of those recorded, and add them to computer files with references.  Businesses such as Ancestry.com, buy access to these indexes, and often to the original digitalised images if they exist.  These are all added to their own database.  Their customers search, and find ancestors.

A Few Problems

  1. I can report this for English records, for which I have a lot of experience. The record is still very incomplete.  You might see a Joe Bloggs, but is it your ancestor Joe Bloggs?  Many of the parish records were missing, or damaged.  Parish chests in cold churches can be damp places, the registers pulled out for every baptism, marriage, or burial, thumbed through by all.  Paper was valuable in older records, and the priests and clerks cram their little scribbled lines in them.  There were stories of vicar's wife's using old registers to kindle the fire in the vicarage.  In addition, not ALL parish registers are online at any one depository.  I've noticed that Ancestry.com is very good for Norfolk registers, but abysmal for Suffolk.  FindMyPast is good for Berkshire records.  They are far from complete records.  In addition, some ancestors were not in any parish records.  They were rogues on the run, vagabonds, or even more often ... non-conformists.  Some priests were lazy.  All of this on top of those many missing or damaged records.
  2. The indexers were human beings.  Sometimes volunteers, sometimes more recently I suspect, poorly paid human beings outside of Europe (is this the case?)  They vary in skill at reading 18th century, 17th, even 16th century hand writing that has been scribbled down in often damaged records.  The database searches for names that sound similar (to a computer program), but they miss so many that are incorrectly transcribed.  Try to read through the original images if you can.

So the record is far from complete.  The online record less so.  A brilliant tool, but it's not going to hand you your family tree all perfect and true.  If you understand this problem, and you are more concerned about truth and quality, than about quickly producing a family tree back to Queen Boadicea (I have seen people claim such things!), then you are already aware of this.  The problem is, that you know that an ancestor was called Joe Bloggs.  Online, you find a Joe Bloggs, living 100 miles away, born about the right time.  With a click, you "add" him to the tree, then resume climbing up from him.  What you may not realise, is that there were maybe 20 Joe Bloggs born at about the right time within a 100 mile radius of the next generation.  You just picked the one that your online ancestry service flashed up to you.  He is quite probably not close family, never mind your ancestor.  All above him are not your ancestors.

Truth and quality in a family tree

Do you care?  Is it possible to trace back more than several generations, and to preserve that quality? The 20th and 19th centuries in England & Wales are great.  We have records from a national census every 10 years between 1841 and 1911.  They can be searched with your online service.  We have them as correlations for parish records.  We also have state records to correlate with from 1837!  Before that though, it gets a bit scratchy.  Particularly if your ancestors were not titled - as most of them were not!  Then we are down to scribbles in parish registers, a few tax books, tithes, military rolls.  Great stuff, but increasingly - we lose correlations.  We lose certainty.

When we lose certainty, we have to start to make judgments.  Do we add an ancestor based on little record?  We have to make that judgement ourselves.  We should add the resource, name it, perhaps publish our uncertainty.  We should be ready to remove if doubt grows rather than certainty.

I've not mentioned biological certainty here.  Haplogroup DNA can challenge some very old trees.  Things happen in biology.  We call them NPE (Non Parental Event).  Spouses cheat, lie, prostitute, are raped, commit bigamy, incest, confused.  People secretly adopt, particularly during a crisis.  I have seen a claim of the average NPE happening once in every ten generations on average.  I don't think that we can truly measure this.  Anyway, I'm of the school that although DNA genealogy is interesting in the pursuit of the past, that family is not always just about biology.  Who reared them?  Who gave them their name?  If that is family, it's also ancestry.


But the ultimate mistake with using online genealogy

This one is easy.  It is that companies such as Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, allow, sometimes encourage the resourcing of other members family trees.  It has nothing to do with rights or property.  It has to do with the reproduction of mistakes, and bad quality research.  It indeed gives genealogy at online sites like these, a pretty bad name.

Many users of these sites are casual.  They have only used the online resources available through the quick click and collect ancestry of these services.  They are only trying to pursue as far back, as possible, within as short time as possible.  Truth and quality is of very much secondary value.  It's the consume society.  They leave their disjointed trees of fiction all over these web services.  Then Ancestry / MyHeritage, invites you to add them to your own.  Very much internet viral in form - the errors replicate like mutations in a strand of DNA, only with lightening speed.  It's so easy to add new layers of ancestry.  But they are fiction.  I've seen people marrying before they are born, dying before they give birth.  I've seen people marry their parents or uncles.   I myself, recently tried it en mass as an experiment to a tree.  It was incredible.  The discrepancies and errors.  Ugly.

So, if you have to, look at other trees. I strongly recommend that you avoid that temptation to simply click and collect ancestry.  Most of the genuine ancestry on these trees is available to be quickly found with your own use of the services on that site.  Do that, but make your own judgments.  Don't add to the virus trees.  Genealogy is for the long haul.