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DNA records reveal mass migration from Europe to Anglo-Saxon Britain

In some parts of England in Anglo-Saxon times, more than three-quarters of the population’s ancestry could be traced back to recent migration from Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.


September 21, 2022

Analysis of a grave in the Issendorf cemetery in Germany

Hanover State Museum

In Anglo-Saxon times, more than three-quarters of the ancestry of people in parts of England came from recent immigrants from Northern Europe.

The finding, which comes from DNA sequencing of people buried in the UK and mainland Europe during this time period, may resolve an ongoing debate about how much migration occurred in Anglo-Saxon times, he says. duncan sayer at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, UK.

The traditional view, based on written records and archaeological finds, is that there was an influx of Europeans to Britain in Anglo-Saxon times, classified from the end of Roman Empire control, around AD 400. C., until 1066.

But more recently, there has been a debate about how many people migrated.

There might have been only a small number of immigrants, who then spread aspects of their culture, such as their buildings and pottery styles. “There are many reputable historians who think there was very little migration, says flamingo robin at Boston College in Massachusetts.

To learn more, Sayer’s team sequenced the DNA of 460 people who were buried in tombs between AD 200 and 1300, of whom 278 were from England.

This showed that during the 7th century AD. C., people buried in eastern England could trace 76 percent of their ancestry to recent migration from Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

This would be equivalent to someone having three of their four grandparents born in Europe, says Sayer’s colleague, stephan schiffel at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Bodies removed from graves further west in England had a lower proportion of European ancestry, implying that the immigrants first made their homes in the east.

Fleming says the findings confirm that there was a mass migration from Europe to parts of Britain. “This does something that a lot of us have been looking for.”

“This brings the idea of ​​migration back on the table,” says Sayer.

Magazine Reference: Nature , DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05247-2

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