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Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history

By Stephan Schiffels, Wolfgang Haak, Pirita Paajanen, Bastien Llamas, Elizabeth Popescu, Louise Lou, Rachel Clarke, Alice Lyons, Richard Mortimer, Duncan Sayer, Chris Tyler-Smith, Alan Cooper, Richard Durbin

Posted 17 Jul 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/022723 (published DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10408)

British population history has been shaped by a series of immigrations and internal movements, including the early Anglo-Saxon migrations following the breakdown of the Roman administration after 410CE. It remains an open question how these events affected the genetic composition of the current British population. Here, we present whole-genome sequences generated from ten ancient individuals found in archaeological excavations close to Cambridge in the East of England, ranging from 2,300 until 1,200 years before present (Iron Age to Anglo-Saxon period). We use present-day genetic data to characterize the relationship of these ancient individuals to contemporary British and other European populations. By analyzing the distribution of shared rare variants across ancient and modern individuals, we find that today’s British are more similar to the Iron Age individuals than to most of the Anglo-Saxon individuals, and estimate that the contemporary East English population derives 30% of its ancestry from Anglo-Saxon migrations, with a lower fraction in Wales and Scotland. We gain further insight with a new method, rarecoal, which fits a demographic model to the distribution of shared rare variants across a large number of samples, enabling fine scale analysis of subtle genetic differences and yielding explicit estimates of population sizes and split times. Using rarecoal we find that the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxon samples are closest to modern Danish and Dutch populations, while the Iron Age samples share ancestors with multiple Northern European populations including Britain.

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