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Stonehenge Secrets Revealed: DNA Origin of builders

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A new University of Oxford research collaboration, published in Nature Scientific Reports, suggests that a number of the people that were buried at the Stonehenge had moved with and likely transported the bluestones used in the early stages of the monument’s construction, sourced from the Preseli Mountains of west Wales.

New DNA evidence has revealed the origin of the builders, the ancestors of the people who built Stonehenge traveled west across the Mediterranean before reaching Britain. The new study shows that researchers have compared DNA extracted from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with that of people alive at the same time in Europe.

These Neolithic inhabitants have traveled from Anatolia, which is in modern day Turkey, to Iberia then they took a turn to the North, and they reached Britain in about four thousand B.C.

Lead author Christophe Snoeck said: “The recent discovery that some biological information survives the high temperatures reached during cremation (up to 1000 degrees Celsius) offered us the exciting possibility to finally study the origin of those buried at Stonehenge.”


Excavations at one of the recently identified bluestone quarries, West Wales

The Migration of these people from Anatolia to Britain was a part of a general massive expansion in about six thousand BC that introduced farming into Europe. Before that Europe was populated by small traveling groups, which hunted and gathered.

They gathered wild plants in the fished for shellfish in hunted wild animals, one group of farmers followed the river Danube up into central Europe, yet, another group traveled West across the Mediterranean, and the DNA reveals that Neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route.

Some British groups had a minor amount of ancestry from groups that followed the Danube route. There’s DNA evidence from early British farmers the found that they closely resembled Neolithic people from Iberia, modern Spain & Portugal. These farmers were descended from people who made the journey across the Mediterranean, and they traveled North through France, and may have entered Britain from the West through Wales or South West England.

While the Welsh connection was known for the stones, the study shows that people were also moving between west Wales and Wessex in the Late Neolithic, and that some of their remains were buried at Stonehenge. The results emphasize the importance of inter-regional connections involving the movement of both materials and people in the construction and use of Stonehenge, providing rare insight into the large scale of contacts and exchanges in the Neolithic, as early as 5000 years ago.

These early Neolithic migrants to Britain have introduced the tradition of building monuments using large stones known as megaliths, like Stonehenge. When these farmers arrived in about four thousand B.C. the mixed with groups of western hunter-gatherers, but DNA shows that the two groups didn’t really mix very much.  

The Neolithic farmers completely replaced British hunter-gatherers apart from one group in Western Scotland where the Neolithic inhabitants had elevated local ancestry and that could have come down to the farmers group simply having greater numbers.

Doctor Tom booth who’s a specialist in ancient DNA from the natural history museum in London said “We don’t find any detectable evidence at all for the local British western hunter-gatherer ancestry in the Neolithic farmers after they arrive. That doesn’t mean they don’t mix at all, it just means that maybe their population sizes were too small to have left any kind of genetic legacy.”

But by the time they reached Britain they were already “tooled up” and well prepared for growing crops in a North West European climate.

They also analyzed DNA from hunter-gatherers One of those skeletons was dubbed “Cheddar Man” whose skeletal remains have been dated to around 7100 BC he was study of a reconstruction on. Unveiled at the National History Museum last year.

The DNA shows that unlike most other European hunter-gatherers at the time, he had dark skin and blue eyes, but the Neolithic farmers were pale-skinned with Brown eyes and black or dark Brown hair.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28969-8

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