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:
- Yamnaya or Steppe
- Neolithic Farmer
- 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. 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
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
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):
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.