The Forgotten Origin of the British - Late Bronze Age

Image of an LBA socketed axehead from Portable Antiquities Scheme

The Forgotten Contribution to the South British Genome.

 A research team looking at ancientDNA led by David Reich had already detected a 97% population replacement across Britain at the close of the Neolithic period, circa 2,300 BCE. They proposed that the Earlier, European Neolithic Farmers of Britain, were replaced by a new people, associated with the Bell Beaker artefact culture. These new people had previously been admixed between European Neolithic Farmers living on the Continent, and recently migrants from the Pontic & Caspian Steppes of Eurasia. 

Northern Europe has more of this migrant Yamnaya / Steppe ancestry which arrived during the 3rd Millennium BCE, while Southern Europe (peaking in Sardinia, then Iberia) has more residual ancestry from the earlier, European Neolithic Farmers. Yet the South British (English) have rather more Neolithic ancestry than other Northern neighbours. This raised questions concerning where had this DNA come from.

Reich's team speculated on this result, and investigated the remains of ancient DNA further. This was later reported on:

Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age

In the above paper, the research team suggest a secondary migration event, that followed the Bell Beaker population replacement. They date it to the end of the Middle Bronze Age / start of the Late Bronze Age circa 900 BCE, although proposed that it had slowly been arriving for some time, before a surge of new arrivals to Britain. They do not pinpoint where these immigrants come from, but by their heavier Neolithic ancestry, it is proposed that they had moved up from further south, most probably from France. How many? The study proposes a 50% DNA replacement in Southern Britain, across England & Wales. I think that is probably comparable to the most recent, highest estimates for the much later Anglo-Danish immigration event.

The tabloids of course, reacted:

From this it has further been proposed, that it may have been this forgotten immigration which brought the p-celtic and / or q-celtic languages to Britain. If you subscribe to identifying Iron Age Britons as Insular Celts then this could represent the arrival in Britain. 

Personally I feel that what we 21st Century CE people believe to be Insular Celtic, reflects a much longer, older exchange of people and ideas across Britain, Ireland, and the Western Seaboard of Europe during the Bronze and Iron Ages. The Romans did much later, claim more recent Belgae migrations into Britain, some tribes even shared names with tribes in France and Belgium. These could represent a continuation of migration, possibly of elites. Prehistoric Britain was very much in contact with the nearby Continent, and a part of Europe.


Those socketed axe heads, and other artefacts of the Late Bronze Age may now be identified as representing a new culture and people, admixing into Southern Britain.

Through studies of ancient genomes, we are witnessing the reveal of a number of prehistoric migration events into Britain. These above, contribute to the modern British genome. Earlier migrations than these are also known. The Bell Beaker folk may have replaced to builders of Avebury, but those Neolithic Farmers had previously replaced the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers already here. Ancient DNA of Neolithic Britons is markedly different to that of any Mesolithic remains, and carries genetic markers from South West Asia.

Neither were the Mesolithic Britons aboriginal. The DNA of Cheddar Man (and others of his time from around Western Europe), originates from Arabia / Asia, and is different to any earlier so far sequenced. They were possibly not of the Magdalenian Culture. The story of the Europeans has often been a series of migrations from regions of Asia, both north and south of the Caucasus.

From this we should judge the Anglo-Danish (Anglo-Saxon plus later Danish arrivals) immigration, as being no more than one of several such events, with earlier examples until recently, lost in prehistory.

Original Nature publication:


Earlier Posts:

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

Celebrating my Steppe and Beaker ancestors

Own Photo.