How we are rooted to our native spot by ancient genes

The modern science of Genetics has revolutionized the way we see ourselves. No longer do we have to guess at our ancient beginnings or ponder how we arrived at where we are now, for the story is tightly woven within the fabric of our genetic inheritance.

In 2009 I submitted samples of my DNA for testing. I was fascinated to discover from whence my most ancient forebears migrated to Europe. We all arrived here from somewhere, as at one time what is now Western Europe was buried under the thick permafrost and towering glaciers of a frigid ice age.

I took both the Paternal and Maternal haplogroup tests to ensure that I had a complete picture of my origins. Haplogroups are distinct variations from one ancient common ancestor and allow for ones origins to be calculated with an excellent degree of accuracy. My results were very interesting and certainly underlined my deeply entrenched roots in Western Europe.

The Paternal Line

The paternal side of my family, the long line of men who bore the James surname and who knows what before surnames became fixed, gave me the unalterable Y-chromosome that lights a path back to the distant past. After testing, it was ascertained that my haplogroup was R1b, which is estimated to have originally arrived in Europe some 40,000 years ago.

The R1b grouping is known as ‘The Artisans’ or the Aurignacian Culture. They were a skilled people who were most likely responsible for the cave art found in Western Europe. They were noted for their technological progress and were able to fashion tools and produce such finished products as sophisticated flint axes and saw toothed implements for cutting meat.

The last great ice age caused The Artisans to move south to escape the approaching chill. They spent the last great freeze in a refuge that today forms the Basque country. Today, 90% of Basque men still carry the R1b haplogroup, a direct link to an ancient past. The situation of the Ice Age refuge has led to the R1b haplogroup being well represented in both modern Spain and Portugal. 

At the end of that last major glacial period some 15,000 years ago, the ancient peoples began to follow the retreating ice back into north-western Europe. Some 13,000 years ago the ice advanced once again, it was a mini Ice Age known as the Younger Dryas. It lasted around 1,500 years, after which a rapid warming set in. The Younger Dryas was not severe enough to dislodge the human populations, and what is now the British Isles were continually occupied during the mini freeze.

Eleven thousand years ago the British Isles did not exist, and neither did they, until the final land bridge to Europe was inundated around 6,000 years ago. Up to that point, what is now the North Sea was fertile dry land, populated by ancient Europeans. Even today, much of the North Sea is very shallow, especially around the area of the Dogger Bank.

The ancient drowned area of Doggerland that joined the British Isles to Europe

Six thousand years ago the final vestiges of the direct land link to the continent were severed, a consequence of the rising sea levels caused by glacial melt. Since that time, DNA differences have occurred within the populations of continental Europe and the British Isles, which have allowed the influences of kindred peoples over the past 2,000 years to be noted. 

Although sharing a close common ancestry, there are certain genetic differences between the indigenous populations and the descendents of the Norse, the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. This has been due to the later isolating influence of the North Sea and the haplogroups of the initial settlers. The haplogroup R1b is associated with the West of the British Isles, whilst haplogroups I and R1a1 are more associated with the East.

Regardless of the genetic variations described above, about 70% of the current population of modern England are descended from The Artisans, as are the vast majority of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish populations. This haplogroup is represented in many more areas of the globe these days, as the movements of people over the past 500 years has also meant a voyage for the genetic inheritance of those travellers, conquerors and settlers.

The route of advance for the ancient paternal R1b haplogroup into Western Europe

The Maternal Line

My maternal line, the Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), bears the haplogroup designation of K. This group is known as ‘The Ice Immigrants’. This haplogroup emerged some 50,000 years ago and the earliest Ice Immigrants in Europe were hunter-gatherers whose destiny was very much shaped by the ice age, in that they were forced to migrate widely by the onset of a severe and long lasting glacial period.

Mitochondrial DNA is passed down the generations through the female line only and provides solid evidence of ones maternal roots, which are of course, just as important as those of the paternal line. In pre-Christian times femininity was deemed to be crucial to the balance of life, as represented in the ancient peoples belief in a great Earth Mother and the female role in fertility and the continuation of life itself. 

Like The Artisans described above, The Ice Immigrants were spread over a wider geographical area due to the onset of the ice age, and significant numbers of the K grouping can still be found in the Near East and even as far east as Mongolia.

The K grouping, like the R1b grouping is much more widespread now due to the movement of peoples over the past five centuries. It is now well represented in the new world and the old commonwealth nations, which formed the backbone of the sprawling British Empire.

The route of advance for the ancient maternal K haplogroup into Western Europe

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