Ancient DNA Rewrites the History of Prehistoric Orkney – “Britain’s Ancient Capital”

Bronze Age Women Altered Genetic Landscape of Orkney

An international team led by researchers at the University of Huddersfield has used ancient DNA to rewrite the history of the Orkney islands. The research has been published by the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and is entitled ‘Ancient DNA at the edge of the world: Continental immigration and the persistence of Neolithic male lineages in Bronze Age Orkney’ by Katharina Dulias, George Foody, Pierre Justeau, et al. Credit: Graeme Wilson

Bronze Age women altered genetic landscape of Orkney, study finds.

An international team led by researchers at the University of Huddersfield has used ancient DNA to rewrite the history of the Orkney islands to show that Orkney actually experienced large-scale immigration during the Early Bronze Age, which replaced much of the local population.

The project was a close collaboration between genetic researchers in Huddersfield and Edinburgh, led by Professor Martin Richards and Dr. Ceiridwen Edwards, and archaeologists living and working on Orkney.

Orkney is world-famous for its archaeological heritage. Around 5000 years ago, during the Neolithic period when farming first took hold, it was a hugely influential cultural center. With many superbly preserved stone dwellings, temples, and megalithic monuments, and a style of ceramics that appears to have spread out across Britain and Ireland, it has even been described as “Britain’s ancient capital.”

Over the thousand years that followed, however, as Europe moved into the Bronze Age, it has been widely viewed that somehow Orkney became left behind. Its influence dwindled and the islands became more insular. But with fewer archaeological remains to study, much less was known about this time.

By combining archaeology with the study of ancient DNA from Bronze Age human remains from the Links of Noltland site, on the remote northern island of Westray, researchers now know much more about this time than ever before, and the results have come as a great surprise to geneticists and archaeologists alike.

“This research shows how much we still have to learn about one of the most momentous events in European prehistory – how the Neolithic came to an end.”

Professor Martin Richards, University of Huddersfield

Firstly, despite the supposed insularity, the team has shown that Orkney experienced large-scale immigration during the Early Bronze Age, which replaced much of the local population. The new arrivals were probably the first to speak Indo-European languages, and carried genetic ancestry derived in part from pastoralists living on the steppe lands north of the Black Sea.

This mirrored what was happening in the rest of Britain and Europe in the third millennium BC. But the researchers found a fascinating difference that makes Orkney highly distinctive.

Across most of Europe, the expansion of pastoralists on the eve of the Bronze Age was typically led by men, with women being sucked into the expanding populations from local farming groups. But in Orkney the researchers found exactly the opposite. The Bronze Age newcomers were mainly women, while male lineages from the original Neolithic population survived for at least another thousand years – something not seen anywhere else. These Neolithic lineages, however, were replaced from the Iron Age and are vanishingly rare today.

But why was Orkney so different? Dr. Graeme Wilson and Hazel Moore of the Orkney-based EASE Archaeology, who excavated the Links of Noltland, argue that the answer may lie in the long-term stability and self-sufficiency of farmsteads on Orkney, which the genetic data suggests may have already been male dominated by the peak of the Neolithic. When a Europe-wide recession hit towards the end of the Neolithic, they may have been uniquely placed to weather harsher times and maintain their grip on the population as newcomers arrived.

This implies that Orkney was much less insular than has long been assumed, and that there was a protracted period of negotiation between the indigenous males and the newcomers from the south, over many generations.

“This shows that the third-millennium BC expansion across Europe was not a monolithic process but was more complex and varied from place to place,” explained Dr. George Foody, one of the lead researchers on the project from the University of Huddersfield.

The results have been surprising for both the archaeologists and geneticists on the team, although for different reasons: the archaeologists did not expect such large-scale immigration, whereas the geneticists did not foresee survival of the Neolithic male lineages.

The University’s Director of the Evolutionary Genomics Research Centre Professor Martin Richards said: “This research shows how much we still have to learn about one of the most momentous events in European prehistory – how the Neolithic came to an end.”

The research has been published by the official journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Reference: “Ancient DNA at the edge of the world: Continental immigration and the persistence of Neolithic male lineages in Bronze Age Orkney” by Katharina Dulias, M. George B. Foody, Pierre Justeau, Marina Silva, Rui Martiniano, Gonzalo Oteo-García, Alessandro Fichera, Simão Rodrigues, Francesca Gandini, Alison Meynert, Kevin Donnelly, Timothy J. Aitman, null null, Andrew Chamberlain, Olivia Lelong, George Kozikowski, Dominic Powlesland, Clive Waddington, Valeria Mattiangeli, Daniel G. Bradley, Jaroslaw Bryk, Pedro Soares, James F. Wilson, Graeme Wilson, Hazel Moore, Maria Pala, Ceiridwen J. Edwards, Martin B. Richards, Tim J. Aitman, Zosia Miedzybrodzka, Nicola Williams, Alison Meynert, Andrew V Biankin and Javier Santoyo-Lopez, 7 February 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2108001119

The work was part of a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship program awarded to Professor Richards and Dr. Maria Pala, and the excavations at the Links of Noltland were funded by Historic Environment Scotland.

7 Comments on "Ancient DNA Rewrites the History of Prehistoric Orkney – “Britain’s Ancient Capital”"

  1. Finding DNA in the dirt is beyond Sci-Fi. Its fantastic. DNA is some tough stuff.

  2. If you read the report, it seem that there was a large influx of women from continental Europe into what was a very established male society, it compares to similar societies in Ireland too. That line survived intact for a very long time and was the dominant male lineage of the island. So, examining the actual way these very ordered societies ran, I can see a decline in local woman being replaced by either female slaves from Europe or (as happened a short time ago as the 1800’s in places like Canada) woman being sourced deliberately by a strong dominant male group that wanted their island communities to thrive and so ‘procured’ women from European sources. The idea that somehow and against most known facts about such communities, a large group of women decided for themselves to relocate to the Orkney islands is ridiculous. Whilst it doesn’t say this directly it IS intimated. It was certainly not uncommon for woman to be bartered as breeding slaves to maintain a community and of course all their descendance would then contain their DNA rather than a pure Orkney DNA, thus changing the DNA of the islands and heralding the decline of the male lines DNA. So, these woman were very definitely central to DNA change in the Islands, but to my mind, it was a forced change in order to maintain a community that was strongly led and dominant in the region rather than some form of voluntary ‘invasion’ by woman to come to dominate the islands. Slavery and enforced relocation, especially of women was very common during this period.

  3. Having a self sustainable island as a stronghold for your community in harsh times gives you a strategic advantage. If you had a surplus of livestock or food you could go to the coast and barter for wives, or if you had a surplus of young men I’m sure they had their own form of going “aviking” back then too and taking wives by force.
    Trading the females of a clan was also a common way to create good dynastic relations among societies

  4. Sandra Barnhouse | February 8, 2022 at 7:06 pm | Reply

    I would like to be put in touch with anyone who is familiar with the Barnhouse Settlement near the Rings of Brodgar and Stenness. I was right there the day I turned 50 but unaware that my name could be found nearby. That was in 1993. I’m curious about how long the settlement has carried the name of Barnhouse, and whether there’s any connection with Barnhouse’s in southern England, perhaps Devonshire.

  5. If one has a stable community with decent food and is relatively free from invasion, one has security.Perhaps secure societies don’t need to toddle off for a bit of rape and pillage in order to grab female slaves for breeding purposes. Perhaps the very security such societies offer is incentive enough to for women to seek husbands in such a society. The so-called “mail-order” brides of today also seek security in countries more comfortable than their own. That is normal, sensible human behaviour. Whether at the time there was a postal service to the Orkneys is perhaps an interesting line of research to follow

  6. Theresa Galloway | February 16, 2022 at 4:34 pm | Reply

    The debate over why females chose to stay along the Bearing Straight ancient trading routes is laughable from a female perspective remembering the graves of great honor provided some petite ancient bones. Apparently not chattel mentality. Nor slave. Get over the Y chromosome fixation and be good to your mom silly men.

  7. Krystel Spicer Mind Ark Lateral Thinkers (F) | September 28, 2022 at 5:01 pm | Reply

    I hear magnate Solomon wrote a great deal of the Bible. He’s the one who planned a tower to heaven. I wonder that by his consorting with Beelzebub, imprisoning Onoskelis referring to her as the terror he had, & by his forefathers treatment of folk who didn’t think forced monogamy appropriate (walking them to their deaths) the tower was patriarchal, something bigger to look at than um a gold clad calf in case it had’t meant that the ones Moses saved wanted to return to Egypt at all but had been build meant to point out & blame the rulership that would stunt mankind’s development. This would mean that they did not see Moses as Hebrew, but Egyptian after all, his having been raised among Egyptians & not them. If they didn’t believe a child could only be the biological of only one of the men a woman saw, then the patriarchy which included the expectation for each woman to be exclusive to just one man, may have been meant to disguise the ‘Jacobs goats’ thinking that children were the tribe’s before they were the parents own offspring ..with looking like they’d killed male hebrew babies thinking that when grown they would breed with the women (women conveniently always having been meant to be each a mans own upon then writing genesis) so you’d think Pharaoh thought those Hebrew males, & not the women of the hebrew tribe who’d needs for egyptian midwives but then who’d only go back to their Hebrew tribes to bare Hebrew children was who’d out-populate Egyptians. ( Grammarly NEED to be taken to court. I’ll pay my house to do it).

    The Bible was written Genesis first, not exodus first, perhaps so we’d continue to think they thought males genetics or that women seeing men other than who they paired with would simply be thought had been thought non-virtuous. You are not meant to know women like us existed, & any reference to us that remains in your journal, except for how Jesus does (as far as I’ve noticed)has been a man’s-club-portrayal of us as dirty upon it being discovered threatening the line & not males. Pharoah, like any man of the day (who’d shone in old books as though gods who’s how many problems they counted were only how many who take on more titles the wealthier they become that they thought wealth afforded. Who’d dare think pharoah thought that as long as the women bore their children in Egypt among egyptian men, no men of their own to sustain with more potentially Egyptian women for , being women are more attracted to other women’s husbands & all. they’d be Egyptian. looks to me like he was very ‘Mens club’. & come again, someone you always ought be ready for? He points out that a prophet tends to receive no honour whilst remaining in the house or town they live, & it seems to me he demonstrated his unwillingness to be dishonoured by walking the long long way he had. If dishonoured in the house or town I’m in, then had I been a writer who’s works were recorded in he Bible with works of other writers, don’t you risk opinions of any writer among us being altogether skewed by you all?


    #Other #stuff

    The word ready has caught my attention. Can we only be ready or not for change? Could Jesus be any type of change conflicting with the approved beliefs of the majority?

    I am told to “watch out” if I earn more than my spouse because he is liable to develop a complex. However, no man who has seen me knowing I was sustained with more than he’d been ever treated me like I had ever earnt that money, the worker he is. I don’t think it’s the more money that a woman has that a man develops a complex & may grow resentful, it’s how much closer I am to being worker like him that leaves him feeling unresolved.

    Do we say “I don’t like religion” as disgusted with the wall of heads of writers we’d built as he Is?

    Um, if exodus was the first book, then, none of jacobs sons were married, as you might think. I say scandal. Scandal against his people ..the pentamournest.

    What I think Onoskelis was. Not a demon I suspect. I think we were just a lot bigger than ordinary folk by then. Who do you know with the legs like an ass? I think Beelzebub was a dude who was jealous, saw that king Solomon didn’t know better than to think that to be anything but paired with one person a crime against nature & so forfeited his own wife to be part of the men’s club, being it’s the relationship a man has with what close male friend of his that a man thinks the holy one, not that with his woman. It is just like the a man to accept as though behaving helpful what enables him and not what doesn’t. It’s why women think men are who’ll offer us peace. Men are susceptible to bully-like behaviour (reared that way being agreed with so much to ‘keep the peace) & if anyone’s not checking their sources correctly before you tell him anything works in his favour he’ll side with the school of thought, his being smarter than you. Aaaand pride comes before a fall. I think that’s why men have their eyes on stars & light & math like it reveals things. They’re such obvious things, & you males, are such obvious things too, which I’m beginning not to doubt are illusions. I believe in the belated physical death of any expired thing or another. Aim for heaven, & yes they may reach it, but whether still alive as in edge of it in any way shape or form whence we do is another story. We’ll walk a desert wheres promised land for your men’s club. Do you hear? ..(still edits.)” he says. not see it be shape. You cannot bare it be shape. If you did realise, I still don’t count on your saying. Why would I be telling you all this if you were going to notice & actually do something about it? You stand to notice that for all the stories you’d told, & all the things people agreed would be a good idea which at one point you’d agreed with with you are found had little in the way of explanation, You cannot see it because you are not edge of it like you are one thing I’m finding hard to believe you are. When I look for who you are to me, it’s missing, & what i read in explanation within that journal of things you’re able to see you’d not said, so to know what else not to, causing you to rub out reasonable things that have explanation which anyone who writes and draws comparisons will sooner or later easily repinpoint them in case so that you reveal secrets you’d kept so long which as first lies had been nothing like the ones people keep who find leverage not for backbone having afforded the you’d kept so much over time you’d on my simply finally approaching you about them) that is edge of something or another I seeing us as the been omitted & left as as gaps, & what I read written within those gaps,

    I wonder hebrew women saw other men besides those in their family. Didn’t we used to think all the men who slept with a woman contributed to a one baby once? And, didn’t Jacobs goats ‘prove’ that it’s the environment the woman’s in not who she’s slept with necessarily that form the child within her? Have you forgotten the books about God & not pharoahs & only marrying like one another?

    That Hebrew women saw a handful of other men in the side, & their partners not mind as they didn’t have to support anyone they saw besides who they were with ..based on men being more attractive to other women, plural, when attached. The more promiscuous with one another they were, the less they needed be, so pharoah wanted all male children killed. It wasn’t just heartless. He had a reason. Hebrews children grew big & strong, & the pharoah thinking every child in every Egyptian woman’s belly is therefore his, didn’t care if the female babies died. Did he. (Sorry, just writing this very fast so as to keep up with myself. I’ll come back & edit it in a tick.)

    Anyway. It’s what I always talk about. That we’ll become giants if we have healthy children whose upbringings aren’t disrupted by seperation when compared to who pair like one another. Let his people go already. That Moses was ‘beautiful’, may not have meant he was beautiful for an inbred of the Levi tribe as you may believe. He was beautiful meaning he could easily be mistaken for an Egyptian child. & wasn’t he? No wonder pharoah was worried. They’d have all just watched the Neanderthal die out about 6000 years previous, & now, half the women half the women in Egypt were probably already half Hebrew. I think what we can take away, is not to expand as a tribe whilst too close to another tribe. Also, that the Bible’s been sifted for evidence of women seeing men other than the ones they’re attached with who tends to be the father. I wonder you’re all being jipped. Me? Not on your lives.

    Still edits lol . (SshhhEEEEEsh you ain’t gonna like this initially. *Bites nails*. Protect me from Isis? (Or not? I’mmunna slam it like Jordan. I’m a writer. A Spicer of Kent. Indubitably your great great grandmumma. I write as much as three people, but, well, I do a fair bit other than this. I write for free being one thing, & writing as much as hundreds

    Tally ho don’t ya know.✍️😉

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