The massive migration arrived in early medieval England, the study finds

More than 3/4 of the population of eastern and southern England during the early Middle Ages had ancestors from the European continent, according to a new study published in Nature. It reveals the enormous extent of Anglo-Saxon migrations.

For three hundred years after the Romans left, scholars such as Bede wrote of the Angles and Saxons and their migrations to the British Isles. Scholars from many disciplines, including archeology, history, linguists and genetics, have debated what his words could have described and what the extent, nature and impact of human migration were at that time.

New genetic results now show that around 76% of the population in eastern and southern England were made up of migrant families whose ancestors must have come from continental regions bordering the North Sea, including the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Furthermore, these families interbred with the existing population of Great Britain, but above all this integration varied from region to region and from community to community.

Archaeologists excavated tomb 112 in Oakington Cambridgeshire, which contained an adult male buried with a knife. He had 99.99% of continental origins from northern Europe. Image © Duncan Sayer, University of Central Lancashire

“With 278 ancient genomes from England and hundreds more from Europe, we have now gained truly fascinating insights into the population scale and individual histories during the post-Roman period,” says Joscha Gretzinger, PhD researcher at the Max Planck Institute. and lead author of the study. “Not only do we now have an idea of ​​the extent of the migration, but also of how it has behaved in communities and families.”

Using published genetic data from more than 4,000 ancient and 10,000 present-day Europeans, Gretzinger and colleagues identified subtle genetic differences between closely related groups inhabiting the ancient North Sea region.

Migrants mixed with the local population

Upon arrival, the migrants mingled with the local population. In one case, at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Buckland near Dover, researchers were able to reconstruct a family tree across at least four generations and identify when migrants and locals got married. This family showed a large degree of interaction between the two gene pools. Overall, the researchers witnessed notable burials in the cemeteries studied both of local origin and of migrant origin.

The interdisciplinary team of over 70 authors was able to integrate archaeological data with these new genetic findings, which revealed that women of immigrant origin were buried with artifacts more often than women of local origin, especially considering objects such as pins and beads. Interestingly, men with guns had both genetic origins with the same frequency. These differences were locally mediated with prominent burials or rich graves seen across the range of origins. For example, a woman buried with a complete cow in Cambridgeshire was genetically mixed, with mostly local origins.

Funerary items from burial grave 3532 at Issendorf cemetery. Image © Landesmuseum Hannover

“We see notable variations in how this migration has affected communities,” comments Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire and another lead author of the study. “In some places we see clear signs of active integration between locals and immigrants, as in the case of Buckland near Dover, or Oakington in Cambridgeshire. Yet in other cases, such as Apple Down in West Sussex, we see people with immigrant and local origins being buried separately in the cemetery. Perhaps this is evidence of some degree of social separation on this site. “

The research team also found strong evidence that this large-scale migration took place over a longer period than is commonly believed. they write:

In particular, we show that these migrations began earlier than previously assumed, as evidenced by individuals with CNE (Continental Northern Europe) ancestry from later Roman contexts, and continued throughout the Middle Anglo-Saxon period. Our findings from Central Saxony sites such as Sedgeford push estimated dates of arrival of CNE ancestors to the eighth century and combine these events with interpersonal mobility from Sweden and other Scandinavian regions during the subsequent Viking invasion and settlement. Together, these migrations appear to be part of an ongoing movement of people from the North Sea to Great Britain from the late Roman period to the 11th century AD.

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Impact of this historic migration on today’s British

With the new data, the team could also consider the impact of this historic migration today. Notably, today’s Brits derive only 40% of their DNA from these historical continental ancestors, while 20-40% of their genetic profile likely came from France or Belgium. This genetic component can be observed in archaeological individuals and in tombs with Frankish objects found in early medieval tombs, particularly in Kent.

“It is unclear whether this further Iron Age France-related ancestry is linked to some punctuated migratory events, such as the Norman Conquest, or whether it was the result of secular mobility across the Channel,” says Stephan Schiffels, lead author. senior of the firm. Future work, targeted specifically at the medieval period and later will reveal the nature of this additional genetic signal.

The article, “The Anglo-Saxon migration and the formation of the early English gene pool”, by Joscha Gretzinger, Duncan Sayer, Pierre Justeau et al., Appears in the journal Nature. Click here to read it.

Top image: an early Anglo-Saxon tomb with a ceramic vase, pins and a Roman spoon. This tomb 66 of Oakington Cambridgeshire contained a woman of mixed origins. Image © Duncan Sayer, University of Central Lancashire

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