Living DNA - June 2017 updates

Living DNA produced their first update.  An update by a "DNA for Ancestry" business can sound like an admission of failure.  To some, it could sound like a recall due to product failure.  "Your previous ancestry was a mistake".  This only applies if you have bought into some marketing campaigns, that autosomal DNA tests for ancestry actually work even close to 100%.  Surprise, they don't!  They are cutting edge, in development, and far from accurate below a Continental level. They are still somewhere in the twilight between being nothing more than a genetic lottery, and actually becoming a tool that is useful.  Therefore "updates" are to be welcomed.  They are a sign that the business wants to improve the test accuracy.  That is to the credit of Living DNA.

My latest results?  First of all, a quick recap on my actual ancestry, as supported by family history, local history, ethnicity, and by a traditionally researched record based family tree that includes over 270 direct ancestors over the past 380 years.  I'm English.  Indeed, all of my direct ancestors, appear to have been South East English.  More precise, I'm East Anglian.  On family history and recorded genealogy, I'd suggest that between 75% and 85% of my direct ancestors over the past three centuries were East Anglian, almost all from the County of Norfolk.  Others on my father's side, if not in East Anglia, still in Southern England.

That I feel, makes me an interesting subject for ancestral auDNA testing.  You see, my ancestry is very localised here in South East England.  DNA tests such as 23andMe that claim to accurately plot ancestry over the past 300 - 500 years should get me.  But they don't.  This is because their algorythms, and reference data set designs fail over different ages.  They also (although they sometimes deny it), fail to discriminate against older population background.  We East Anglians and South East English have been heavily admixed with non-British populations on the European Continent.  Not so much over the past 500 years, so much as over the past few thousand years.

The new Results.

Below are my Living DNA regional ancestry, based on Standard Mode.

Below are my Standard Mode results broken down into sub regions.

Below is a table, comparing my recorded ancestry, with my early Living DNA results in Standard, now my revised results.

Living DNA has now introduced two new modes of confidence called complete and cautious modes.  First the Complete results:

Below are my Complete Mode results in regional:

Below are my Complete Mode results for sub-regional:

Now the Cautious results:

Below are my Cautious Mode results in regional:

Finally, below are my Cautious Mode results for sub-regional:

Conclusions

No auDNA test, by any DNA-for-ancestry company has yet come close to assigning me 100% English or even British.  They don't get me.  23andMe gives me 32-37% "British & Irish".  FT-DNA gives me "36% British".  Therefore, to be fair, Living DNA, giving me 70% "Great Britain or Ireland", give me the best result.  However, Living DNA has started out with the largest, best quality British data-set of any DNA-for-ancestry company, and is often accused of a bias towards Britain in it's results.  If so, then my 70% still looks weak.  They are planning on producing similar quality data sets soon for Ireland, Germany, then France. Therefore any results, will as I started out saying at the beginning of this post, be perpetually progressive.  Businesses that do not improve data sets or algorithms, will not get any better.  They are not progressive.

I get Southern European in other tests besides this one.  Living DNA points to Tuscany.  FT-DNA before a recent update gave me 32% Southern European, although they have revised this down to a little noise from South-East Europe!  23andMe gives me 2% Southern European - but this appears nothing unusual for an English tester.  None-the-less, I am interested in trying to better understand, why some of these tests give me this "Southern European" admixture, for which my family history, local history, and recorded genealogy has absolutely no account.  It equally reflects in ancient calculators that give me a little bit more Neolithic Farmer than for other English, which on average, already have a little more Neolithic Farmer than other British or Irish populations do.

The New Complete and Cautious Modes

How do I feel about these?  At Sub-Regional level, the Complete mode starts to get silly.  For the first time, Living DNA at this level, starts to even suggest some ancestry from Wales, SW Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  Only small percentages - but I just don't buy them.

However, the Cautious Mode, I start to like.  My British ancestry doesn't increase, but it looks more realistic, although with strange enigmatic suggestions still of Italian ancestry in the mix.  At Sub-Regional level, Cautious Mode also looks a little more likely.  My East Anglian remains at 37%, I however, lose Lincolnshire (which does exist in my record), but retain Cornwall.  I think Cornwall unlikely - however, there is just a small hint that something could be there, in surname evidence of a brick-walled great great great grandparent.  So maybe, just maybe.

East Anglia

I seriously doubt that my East Anglian ancestry over the past 300 years genuinely falls much below 75%.  Living DNA only appears to recognise a half of it at 37% - but they claim to be easily able to identify East Anglian DNA.  They call it "Distinct" because of it's high levels of Continental admixture.  They have admitted that based on their early data sets, that it was hard to separate from Germanic.  I don't know why it isn't stronger in my results.  I honestly do believe that the test underplays it on my results, even though it is the strongest of any population in my test results.  My East Anglian ancestors lived mainly in Eastern, Central, and Southern Norfolk.

Living DNA also provide a chart of the Continental "contributing regions" to East Anglian ancestry:

Finally, a chart breaking down their proposal of my British ancestry at Cautious mode:

I'm not disappointed with Living DNA.  That it does identify me as 37% East Anglian is I believe, incredibly good, and far advanced over any other DNA-for-ancestry test.  I'm looking forward to more updates in the future.  Well done Living DNA.

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 started to emerge 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, 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 lived 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.  Others very 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.

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 in the Levant and Anatolia.  Some 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 Danube valley, 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).

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.  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 a Bell Beaker culture that had settled in the Lower Rhine Valley (The Netherlands and NW Germany).

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.

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.

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 Persian.

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, perhaps even in Southern Europe in places such as Tuscany.

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, 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 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. 

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 all of my ancestors now lived in Tudor England.  There is still the chance of the odd later ancestor migrating from elsewhere, although I don't yet see it in any 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 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.

Total Genealogy

I'm certainly not descended from the bonobos in the above photograph (Credit: W. H. Calvin Ape Bonobo San Diego Zoo.  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0).  However, at some point, perhaps around seven million years ago, we do share common ancestry.  That is a link in the inter-connectivity of Life on Earth.  Also an excuse to post a photo of those wonderful beings.

I recently attended a lecture on Total Genealogy, but I was disappointed that the subject was surname study.  I had hoped that it would relate more to my own concept of the term.  A genealogy that doesn't just embrace documentary research of recorded ancestors over the past 500 years or so, but a more general interest in heritage, that overlaps with DNA, genetics, population genetics, anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, local history, national and regional history, cultural and social history, prehistory, linguistics, human evolution, and yes, even our shared ancestry with those bonobo cousins.  Everything ancestral, how we came to be how we are, and above all, time travel in our imaginations.  That is what I mean by Total Genealogy.

Researching the written record, following names is great fun.  Why should the fun stop there though?  Where were my ancestors 12,000 years ago?  Actually, DNA and population studies gives my imagination some good answers to that question.  What did my ancestors 500,000 years look like?  How did they live?  If I could time travel, what would I see?

Total genealogy leads you to bridges, the concept of genetic folding, and of bottlenecks.  You start to relate closer to all humans, and see everyone as a distant cousin.  It embraces a love of heritage, of people, and of the Natural World.  It leaves me in awe.

FT-DNA Family Finder My Origins 2.0 - April 2017 update

If there is anyone out there reading this blog, you know my recorded ancestry - all SE English, mainly East Anglian. No recorded evidence of anything but English over the past two or three centuries. This is not to say that I don't think any actually happened.




51% British might seem low for an Englishman - but I'm aware that my personal DNA flavour is a bit atypical for a Brit, more Continental. My Origins 1.0 gave me 36% British. 23andMe un-phased gives me 32% British / Irish. I do however suspect that my flavour isn't so atypical for an East Anglian of local rural ancestry. Living DNA gave me the most, a whopping 74% British. Therefore on that score, you could say that for myself, My Origins 2.0 actually comes in at 2nd place - better than 23andMe, DNA.land, or WeGene. I'm currently waiting for Ancestry.com results, but I'm not expecting better.

46% West and Central European where I have no record of any such ancestry - but East Anglian has been noted as close to North German, and certainly, SE England has plenty of early medieval admixture from that part of the world during the Anglo-Saxon event. In addition, we've continued to have immigration from the Continent over the past several hundred years, particularly but not exclusively, from the Netherlands and Northern France. I recently noticed that a 5xgreat grandparent had the surname Moll that is often found in Germany. However, it is also found in East Anglia, but are they connected? One day I'll find a recorded non-English ancestor! So as an East Anglian, I forgive autosomal DNA for ancestry algorythms that suggest that I have Dutch, German, French, or Danish ancestry. 23andMe (un-phased) gave me 27% French & German". Even Living DNA gave me 4.6% Scandinavian and 2% Germanic.

Now the Traces. I find these really interesting. Because they could fit in with other evidence. The My Origins 2.0 "Southeast European" designation appears to include Italy. My Origins 1.0 gave me a very silly 32% Southern European. 23andMe gave me 2% Southern European (although I have noted that the majority of English testers get a small percentage of this). Living DNA gave me a whopping 9.6% Tuscany. A friendly discussion with one of the LDNA techs, suggested that it looked to them, to be genuine. There was a family story on my father's side, that there was a "foreigner" - but I've never found any recorded evidence. I've scanned and scanned the tree for any sign, but nada. Not in great gp to 3 x great gp range. I'm open to a possible NPE, but I need more evidence than one auDNA test result.

The trace West Middle East and Ashkenazi are interesting, because although I have no recorded West Middle East or Ashkenazi ancestry, my Y-DNA does originate in SW Asia, possibly the area of Iran or Iraq. However, no auDNA test or GEDmatch calculator so far has provided any surviving evidence in the autosomes of any Asian, above that of average for a Brit. It all appeared washed out by genetic recombination. I share my Y with another family (different surname) from England, and we trace our lines back to the 1740's in Southern England (32 miles apart). That to me suggests that our immigrant Y ancestor most likely arrived in Southern England at least 400-500 years ago. I suspect earlier, maybe Medieval or even Roman. However, has the new algorithm picked something up? Maybe just a coincidence. The nearest non-English STR tester to us hailed from South Khorasan, Iran

A better prediction for myself than the My Origins 1.0 (below).

Thoughts in understanding ancestry DNA

Above image.  My Global 10 Genetic Map coordinates:  PC1,PC2,PC3,PC4,PC5,PC6,PC7,PC8,PC9,PC10 ,0.019,0.0272,0.0002,-0.0275,-0.0055,0.0242,0.0241,-0.0033,-0.0029,0.0015.  The cross marks my position on a genetic map by David Wesolowski, of the Eurogenes Blog

The above map shows genetic distances between different human populations around the planet.  Look how tightly the Europeans cluster.  Razib Kahn recently blogged on just this subject.  The fact of the matter is that the greatest diversity exists between populations outside of Europe, particularly within Africa, and between African and non-African populations.  However, we obsess over tiny differences within European populations, when in truth, most Western Eurasians are very closely related.  We share ancient ancestry from slightly varied mixes of only three base ancestral groups, with the last layer arriving only 4,300 years ago.  This obsession in the Market drives DNA to the consumer businesses to largely ignore non-European diversity, and to focus too closely on differences that blur into each other.

The above image is from CARTA lecture. 2016. Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute. It shows the currently three known founder populations of Europeans and their average percentages.

However, at the same time the new Living DNA service seeks to zoom in closer on British populations, attempting to detect ancestry percentages from such tiny zones as "East Anglia".  They appear to be having a level of success with it as well, although that blurriness, that overlap and closeness of populations in Europe gives problems.  Germans are given false percentages of British, Some Scottish appear as Northern Irish, and the Irish dilute into false British areas.  However, I've seen enough results now to suggest that it is far from genetic astrology.  They get it correct to a certain level, particularly for us with English ancestry.  Ancestry DNA customers expect perfection.  I don't think that we will ever get that from such closely related populations at this resolution, but it does provide a new genealogical tool that can point us into some revealing directions.

Above image.  My Living DNA Map.  Based on my recorded genealogy, I estimate 77% to 85% East Anglian ancestry over the past 250 years or so.  Living DNA at Standard Mode gave me 39%.  I'm impressed by that.  That a DNA test can recognise even at a 50% success, my recent ancestry in such a tiny zone of the planet.  I have doubts though that this sort of test will ever be free of errors, and mistakes.  The safest DNA test for ancestry is still one that is based on more distinct populations, and outside of Africa, that can be as wide as "European".  23andMe for example in their "Standard Mode" (75% confidence), assign me 97.3% European, and 0.3% Unassigned.  That is a pretty safe result.

Autosomal DNA tests for ancestry, particularly for West Eurasian (European and Western Asia) descendants, are not reliable at high resolution.  If you want to get really local, then sure - do it.  However, only use the results as an indication, not as a truth.  Populations in Western Eurasia are closely related, and share recent common descent.  There has been a high degree of mobility and admixture ever since.  Some modern populations tested do not have a high level of deep rooted local ancestry in that region.  They overlap with each other.  Keep researching and meander through different perspectives of what your older pre-recorded ancestry could have been.

Above image by Anthrogenica board member Tolan.  Based on 23andMe AC results.  My results skew away from British, and towards North French.  He generated this map, plotting myself (marked as Norfolk in red), and my Normand Ancestral DNA twin Helge in yellow.  My results fall in the overlap with French.  Helge is Normand but in AC appears more British than myself.  I am East Anglian yet in this test appear more French than he does.



Celebrating my Steppe and Beaker Ancestors

Ecoregion PA0814

The Pontic Steppes, by Terpsichores [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I've previously dealt with my Ice Age hunter-gatherer ancestry, as indicated by DNA test result calculators, and with my Neolithic Farmer ancestry.  That leaves the third major late prehistoric contributor to the Western European Genome.  The most recent, and perhaps the most character defining - the Chalcolithic Steppe pastoralists or Yamnaya element.

My Yamnaya ancestors

Y-DNA haplogroup enthusiasts of European descent absolutely LOVE this one.  This is because the majority of men of Europe have a Y haplogroup that arrived here from the Eurasian Steppes with this immigration wave.  All of those R1a's and R1b's.  My personal Y haplogroup didn't!  But I'm a nonconformist with a nonconforming Y-DNA haplogroup. Populations such as the modern Irish men, on the western edge of Europe, can trace most of their R1b haplogroups to the Steppes!  That some of of the earlier hunter-gatherer and Neolithic DNA here earlier still survives in most of us, suggests that this long migration consisted mainly of men.  My mtDNA haplogroup though, as usual, is atypical - because H6a1 is one of the few maternal lineages in Europe that DOES also trace back in ancient DNA samples to the Yamnaya pastoralists.  So, I DO have a Steppe haplogroup, only through my motherline.

The Eurasian Steppes have been a super highway of people, goods, culture, and genes, for thousands of years - linking Asia to Europe.  A long, sometimes narrow corridor of natural grasslands.  The wild ancestors of the domestic horse lived there.  They had adapted to life in harsh environments such as this.

The Yamnaya themselves appear to have been admixed between different earlier Ice Age populations, including Caucasus Hunter-Foragers, East European Hunter-Gatherers, and the enigmatic Ancient North Eurasian Siberian ghost population, that were also among the ancestors of Native Americans.

One of the successes of the Steppe pastoralists, was that they embraced the horse.  They rode their horses, enabling them to control larger herds of sheep, goats, horses, and cattle.  That was one element of success.  They also utilised the wheel, and built the first wagons and carts to be pulled by those horses and ox.  This gave them a greater mobility, to move their livestock seasonally to further pastures.  Biologically they were also adapting to a dairy based diet with lactose tolerance.  Finally, they embraced the new metallurgy of copper, and then bronze working.  The raw materials of this new technology shifted along the Steppes, and through their contact with many peoples, including with the new towns and kingdoms south of the Caucasus.

Another factor that needs to be considered, is that according to some scholars, they brought the Indo-European group of languages to Europe, which are ancestral to most European languages today.

Recent evidence has been produced that suggests that some of the pastoralists carried a plague virus, transmitted from a Central Asian origin.  A new hypothesis is that they may have unintentionally passed this plague onto the Neolithic Europeans, weakening their populations and societies.

Whether this hypothesis ever substantiates or not, the archaeological and genetic evidence is that the Second Millennium BC saw many of these Steppe men (and my mtDNA ancestor) spill westwards into Copper Age Europe.  After 2,900 BC, their arrival, and fusion with local populations and traditions may have inspired the Corded Ware Culture of Central and Eastern Europe.  My mtDNA haplogroup H6a1a suddenly appears in Central Europe, associated with this culture.

These horsemen of bronze, or their descendants didn't stop the Westward advance.  Within a few hundred years, they also dominated Western Europe.  There, their arrival may have spawned another fusion culture - the Bell Beaker.

Above image, bell beaker burial exhibited in the British Museum.

My Bell Beaker Ancestors

The Maritime Bell Beaker Culture may have originated when these horsemen arrived in Iberia.  When I was a keen amateur archaeologist and field walker, I'd feel a lot of contact with them.  Many, if not the majority of the struck flints that I recorded in Thetford Forest were considered "bronze age".  I would also survey the surviving round barrows in the forest, and look for unrecorded examples.  I also spent a week with Suffolk archaeology, studying new aerial reconnaissance photographs, and helping to chart the soil and crop marks of long ploughed out barrows.  I had no idea then, that this barrow burial tradition had actually been brought from the Steppes of Eurasia.  Archaeology at the time didn't see the Bell Beaker as the arrival of people.  They saw it as a cultural transference from Iberia.  Genetics is now telling us differently.

A barbed and tanged flint arrowhead from one of my surveys.  A classic Bell Beaker artifact.

The Maritime Bell Beaker Culture of the Early Bronze Age appears to have gradually evolved by the beginning of the Iron Age, into what we traditionally call the Atlantic Seaboard Celtic Culture, so strong in places such as Ireland and Scotland.  Yet, most Irishmen carry the Y haplogroup R1b SNPs such as L21. A recent Irish DNA Study revealed that they found the modern Irish not only a fairly homogeneous population, but that it had its roots, particularly on male haplogroups, firmly in the Pontic and Caspian Steppes of what is now Ukraine and Southern Russia.  They also studied the DNA from remains of Bronze Age, and the earlier Neolithic people that lived in Ireland, and pronounced them to have had different origins.  The earlier, Neolithic Irish largely descended from population that originated in SW Asia.

http://www.pnas.org/content/113/2/368.full

Here in Britain also, the majority of men carry R1b Y-DNA.  I have a Steppe mtDNA haplogroup from my mother.  Additionally autosomal DNA calculators suggest that maybe circa 30% of my Copper Age ancestors were Steppe.  However, where did my Steppe ancestry come in?  The obvious would be from British Celts - but that is an unsafe assumption.  My recorded ancestry is totally SE English, and strongly East Anglian.  My autosomal DNA "flavour" though is atypical for a Brit, and is unusually Continental, with a tertiary pull from Southern Europe, that I can't explain.  If many of my ancestors two thousand years ago actually lived outside of the British Isles, most likely on the Continent, then they could have inherited much of this Steppe there.

Image above. A local round barrow burial mound hidden in Thetford Forest.

Ultimately of course, I know where maybe a third of my ancestors lived 4,000 years ago.  They were pastoralists on the windy Pontic Steppes, looking to the west, and wandering, what opportunities lay there?

My Ancient DNA Calculators

David Wesolowski's K7 Basal-rich test

Ancient North Eurasian

Another Ice Age hunter-gatherer "Ghost" population, but this one has been associated with human remains and an Upper Palaeolithic culture (Mal'ta-Buret') at Lake Baikal, Siberia.  We know that it significantly contributes to modern West Eurasians, through earlier admixture on the Eurasian Steppes.  Copper Age pastoralists then carried it westwards into Europe with their later expansion.

David gives the English average as 16.6%.  My result is 14.0%

Global 10 Test

The recent Global 10 test, run by my friend Helgenes50 of the Anthrogenica board, resulted in:

  • 38% Yamna_Samara (Eurasian Steppe Pastoralist)

FT-DNA My Ancient Origins

  • 9% Metal Age Invader

My MDLP K16 Modern Admixture

  • 22% Steppe (sourced from ancient genome of European Bronze Age pastoralists)
  • 22% Caucasian (derived from genomes of mesolithic Caucasian Hunter-gatherers)

My MDLP Modern K11 Oracle:

Closest Genetic Distances:

Using 1 population approximation:
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

Celebrating my Neolithic Ancestors

Image above, last year, holding an artifact from the Neolithic Tomb of the Sea Eagles in Orkney.

Today in this post, I am celebrating my Neolithic heritage.  Another ancestral genetics enthusiast pointed out that rather than Anglo-Saxon, for a Brit and North West European, I actually had indications of enhanced Neolithic Farmer ancestry on most ancient DNA calculators (more on that below).  I was actually quite pleased to have that pointed out, and this post explains why I love the idea of being a modern Neolithic Man.

I remember being fascinated by the past as quite a young child.  On holidays across the British isles, I craved nothing more than visits to castles.  At home in Norwich, I'd haunt the local museums.  However, a love of the Neolithic took hold during my twenties. First, a fishing and drinking tour of Ireland with my brother, took me to the Newgrange Passage Grave site in the Boyne Valley.  Awesome impact.  Then several years later, I picked up the broken butt end of a Neolithic polished flint axe head on farmland behind my cottage.

The above photo is an image of another broken Neolithic flint axe head that I recorded during a surface collection survey many years later in Thetford Forest.

This eventually pulled me into a phase of looking for more prehistoric flint, which I later formalised into the Thetford Forest Survey.  During that period, in collaboration with the Forestry Commission, Norfolk Archaeology, and Suffolk Archaeology, I recorded thousands of struck flint and ceramic artifacts - many from the Neolithic.

Above image taken at the Castlerigg Stone Circle in Cumbria in 2006.

Any chance that I got, I'd also visit Neolithic sites across the British Isles - and continue to do so, hence last year I had a cycling tour of many late prehistoric sites in Orkney.  Absolutely love the Neolithic.  Even though an atheist, I have to confess that some of these sites give me a special vibe.  I have half-seriously told neo-pagan friends, that If I had to choose some gods, Then maybe they would be those of the Neolithic.  Something about the remote sites.

Above image - sorry for looking so bloody miserable and awful.  Swinside Stone Circle, Cumbria.

Our New Understanding of the Neolithic of Europe

What I really want to write about here though, is how recent population genetics, over the past ten years, is transforming how we see the Western Eurasian Neolithic.  Archaeologists had long pondered, our relationship to the British Neolithic people, and going further back and in turn - their relationship to the earlier Mesolithic hunter-foragers of the British Isles.

What recent research of both ancient and modern DNA has so far revealed is that after the last Ice Age, hunter-foragers moved up to Britain from Southern Europe.  Meanwhile, new cultures and economies were developing in the Middle East of SW Asia.  Across the Fertile Crescent, that ran up the Levant, East Anatolia, eastwards, then down the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys - people started to settle, domesticate wheat, barley, goats, sheep, cattle and pigs.  They started to farm for the very first time.  This was the Neolithic Revolution.  The first fired ceramics - pottery was added to the recipe, along with polished stone tools.  Eventually these populations also absorbed the very first metallurgy, literacy, and town building - falling into the southern half of those river valleys in Mesopotamia.

Image above - Standing Stone at Stillaig, Argyll, Scotland.

From the Levant and Anatolia, both along the Mediterranean, and direct across the Balkans by land, Neolithic culture and farming technology spread westwards and northwards across Europe.  Population genetics now tells us that this WAS carried by people.  It was not just a transfer of culture and artifacts.  DNA from South-West Asia was strongly carried across Europe.  The Neolithic farmers were a people, with roots in the Near East.

What happened to the old European hunter-foragers?  It seems a mixture of displacement and admixture.  As the Neolithic Revolution rolled across Europe, it did pick up some hunter-gatherer DNA.  However, few of the male haplogroups.  By the time that the First Farmers reached the British Isles, they would have had an ancestry mixed between Near East Asian and European hunters.  Without a doubt, brides and perhaps slaves were taken along that long route from Anatolia to Britain.  This pattern perhaps continued when they reached the Irish and British Isles, and confronted some of the last hunter-gatherer populations of North West Europe.

Image above.  Ring of Brodgar, Orkney.

All of this was fine.  The British Isles were settled by Neolithic peoples around 4,100 BC.  I've seen many of their monuments, studied excavation reports of their archaeological sites, and held many of their flint artifacts.  It was a dominant culture here for two thousand years.  Religious systems may have come and go.  They erected so many monuments here that still survive.  Causewayed enclosures, long barrows, cursuses, henges, monoliths, cairns, standing stone circles, timber circles, mounds, Silsbury Hill - and of course, the internationally renown Stone Henge.  However, we now realise that they carried much DNA from South West Asia!

They must have thought that they, their beliefs, and their social systems would last until the end of time.  We currently think that their populations and farming declined towards the end of their period.  There is a little evidence that they may have been subject to plague from Asia.  This might have weakened them for the next invasion and displacement.

Image above of Skara Brae, Orkney Neolithic settlement.

Image above of Mottistone Longstone, Isle of Wight.

The arrival of the Sons of the Steppes - the Beaker

I'll write more about these guys in a later post.  Around 2,100 BC, a new people and culture turned up in the British Isles.  Whereas the Neolithic peoples had largely originated in SW Asia, south of the Caucasus (with some European hunter-gatherer DNA picked up on the way), these new arrivals largely originated to the NORTH of the Caucasus, on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes.  Their Steppe ancestors perfected the domestication of the horse, bronze metallurgy, and wheeled wagons. The founder Steppe population has been identified by archaeologists as the Yamnaya.  They rolled into Eastern and Central Europe, where their arrival appears to have spawned the Corded Ware Culture.  Their descendants in turn appear to have spawned the Bell Beaker Culture in Western Europe.  In turn, the Bell Beaker appears to have developed into the Atlantic Seaboard Celtic Culture of fame and fashion.

The Eurasian Steppe male haplogroups absolutely dominate present day Europe.  However, again, they appear to have absorbed some women with Neolithic and even earlier Hunter-Gatherer populations into their genome.

The Three Way across Europe

Across modern Europe, we are a mixture of three distinct late prehistoric populations or genetic out-layers - from most recent to oldest:

  1. Yamnaya or Steppe
  2. Neolithic Farmer
  3. Western Eurasian Hunter-Gatherer

The above image is from CARTA lecture. 2016. Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute.  All Rights Reserved.

As can be seen above, some Neolithic DNA has survived in present day Europe.  It is strongest in Southern Europe.  Yamnaya ancestry is more of an influence in Northern Europe, although, old Hunter-Gatherer survives strong in the Baltic Republics.  The modern population closest to our Neolithic ancestors are the Sardinians.  So close, that when Ötzi, a frozen preserved Neolithic body was discovered in the Alps, his DNA was seen as so similar to present day Sardinians, that some incorrectly suggested that he had travelled to the Alps from Sardinia!

A Sardinian family while reading LUnione Sarda 

A Sardinian family.  With a mandolin.  Therefore perfect for here! By Roburq (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My Neolithic Admixture

David Wesolowski's K7 Basal-rich test

Basal-rich

The Basal Eurasians are a hypothetical "ghost" population derived from DNA studies.  It is suggested that they splintered from other modern humans 45,000 years ago, presumably outside of Africa, somewhere around the Middle East.  They significantly contributed DNA to the Early Neolithic Farmers of the Fertile Crescent and Anatolia, and consequently, on to all of us modern West Eurasians.  

 David gives the English average as 26.5%.  My result is 28.8%

Global 10 Test

The recent Global 10 test, run by my friend Helgenes50 of the Anthrogenica board, resulted in:

  • 55% Baalberge_MN (European Middle Neolithic)

FT-DNA My Ancient Origins

  • 47% Farmer (Neolithic)

My Eurasia K9 ASI Oracle:

  • 27% Early Neolithic Farmer

My Gedrosia K15 Oracle:

  • 25% Early European Farmer

My MDLP K16 Modern Admixture

  • 31% Neolithic (modeled on genomes of first neolithic farmers of Anatolia)

My MDLP Modern K11 Oracle:

Admix Results (sorted):


# Population Percent
1 Neolithic 37.33


Image above.  Grimes Graves Late Neolithic flint mine complex, Norfolk

My Neolithic ancestry appears to be strong, for a Brit.  However - my Neolithic ancestors may not have all - or even at all, have lived in the British Isles.  My Neolithic ancestry may have been picked up along the way, across Europe, by ancestors as they travelled across Western Eurasia.