Home Science Humans Scientists Sequence First Ancient Irish Human Genomes, Here's What They Found

Scientists Sequence First Ancient Irish Human Genomes, Here’s What They Found

A team of geneticists and archaeologists have, for the first time, sequenced the first ancient human genomes from Ireland. The information buried within is now answering essential questions about the origins of the Irish people as well as their culture.

The scientists from Trinity College, Dublin, and Queen’s University, Belfast, turned back the pages of Ireland’s early history by sequencing the genomes of a woman who had lived near Belfast around 5,200 years ago.

Watch Trinity College, Dublin, report on their findings:

Three men from a later period, around 4,000 years ago in the Bronze Age, were also sequenced. The ground-breaking results were published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The bones of the woman, who was a farmer, were unearthed from a tomb in Ballynahatty — which is near Belfast — and the remains of three men were buried on Rathlin Island in County Antrim.

According to Trinity College, Dublin:

The study now shows the unmistakable evidence for massive migration; with the woman having a majority of her ancestry originating from the Middle East, and the men having about a third of their ancestry coming from ancient sources in the Pontic Steppe.

The professor of Population Genetics at Trinity College, Dublin, Dan Bradley, who led the study, said:

“It is clear that this project has demonstrated what a powerful tool ancient DNA analysis can provide in answering questions which have long perplexed academics regarding the origins of the Irish,” said Dr. Eileen Murphy, Senior Lecturer in Osteoarchaeology at Queen’s University, Belfast.

Reconstruction of Ballynahatty Neolithic skull by Elizabeth Black. Her genes tell us she had black hair and brown eyes. (Image: Barrie Hartwell)
Reconstruction of Ballynahatty Neolithic skull by Elizabeth Black. Her genes tell us she had black hair and brown eyes. (Image: Barrie Hartwell)

With the sequencing of the genomes it is now known that the woman had black hair and brown eyes, which resembles southern Europeans. The genetic variants in the men shared the Irish Y chromosome type; blue eye alleles, and the more important variant for the genetic disease, haemochromatosis, according to Trinity College, Dublin.

“The latter C282Y mutation is so frequent in people of Irish descent that it is sometimes referred to as a Celtic disease. This discovery therefore marks the first identification of an important disease variant in prehistory,” the college added.

Ph.D. researcher in genetics at Trinity College, Dublin, Lara Cassidy, said: “Genetic affinity is strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome some 4,000 years ago.”

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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