I’ve just finished a Scotsman newspaper article about ScotlandsDNA project, which started in 2011. The idea behind the project is to find out who the Scots are, more specifically who arrived there after the ice melted around 9,500BC. Scientists are making exponential gains in their quest to unlock the mysteries of DNA, so this sounds like a fascinating project for everyone involved.
Geneticists can now read genetic markers to a point where tiny variations can reveal a great deal about where we came from. These markers can not only determine the part of the world where they arose, they can also be dated.
ScotlandsDNA group has successfully managed to find some answers to questions about the Scots collective national identity and they are, to say the least, a surprising revelation.
If you and your Scottish relatives have dark hair you may have been told that you’re descended from shipwrecked sailors from the Spanish Armada. You might also have been confidently told that your ancestors included Celts, Picts, a smattering of Vikings, and probably some Irish immigrants.
According to the article, reality is startlingly different. “There are in fact no fewer than 100 different male and female lineages present in the modern population. Scotland turns out to be a tremendously diverse nation.”
Diverse is the operative word here, for example, there are tested men whose male lineage originated in Thrace, an ancient kingdom on the Black Sea and home to gladiator hero, Spartacus. There are also men from the Roman province of Illyria on the Adriatic Sea. Furthermore, there are men and women from Siberia whose ancestors lived on the banks of the Yenesei River that flows into the Arctic. A very chilly place.
So far the study has found no-one with a lineage dating from a half-drowned, shipwrecked sailor who staggered up a west coast Scottish beach in 1588. There are, however, Scots with an ancient lineage from Anatolia, and one man was found with a marker from the biblical kingdom of Sheba on both sides of the Red Sea. There’s a long complex and exotic list. Interestingly, according to biblical manuscripts, Scotland was considered to be “the ends of the earth” or “the edge of beyond”.
One of the most interesting questions to arise from the project is linked to the relative antiquity of male and female lineages. According to the Scotsman, it looks as though female lineages arrived before c3000BC and male lineages arrived after c3000BC. About a third of all male ancestry, Y chromosome DNA, is Germanic, Teutonic, Alpine and Saxon, with a colorful fringe of smaller lineages from Berber, Arabian, Kurgan and Balkan. The Irish came to Scotland after c450AD and the Vikings were sailing the North Sea first to pillage, and then settle by the end of the 8th century.
Even after reading the article, I’m not sure I understand what is meant by the suggestion that the imbalance of woman and men suggests that later migrations to Scotland were largely male and in small groups in boats.
There’s a lost sub-continent submerged under the North Sea called Doggerland and, between 8,500BC and 4,500BC, it was possible to walk to Scotland. According to the article, it’s thought that family bands of men, women and children reached the far north-west corner of Europe. These groups have been labeled by ScotlandsDNA project as Pioneers and the women from the Western Ice Age are labeled Refugees, the Foragers and the Cave Painters. These very early ancestors are all strongly present in Scottish DNA today.
The largest male Haplogroup in Europe carried by 110 million men is R1b-M269. It is very common in Scotland. It’s interesting to learn that recent research suggests this group spread the revolutionary techniques of farming.
In hunter-gatherer societies, the rate of population growth was very slow and the reason for this was infant teeth. Infants were unable to deal with the roots, fruits, berries, eggs, fungi, and the wild-harvest of the pre-historic conditions. Babies were suckled by the mothers for perhaps four or five years, until adult teeth developed. While nursing, most mothers are infertile promoting a long birth interval in the short fertile life of the women. Also, with difficult living conditions, not all of the babies would have survived.
It as around c3,000BC when the new techniques of farming arrived in Scotland—porridge (oatmeal) changed the world! When cereals were grown, the ripe ears were mashed into a nourishing porridge that required no chewing. The result was that the birth interval halved and populations began to explode as farming was adopted. ScotlandsDNA evidence confirms a very rapid spread of the male lineage. “R1b-M269, at this time. That may well be the reason why our statistics show this imbalance either side of c3,000BC”
This finding does reverse prior hypotheses. It was believed that women spread the farming know-how across Europe and into Scotland. DNA research has radically changed the thinking about an era, which left only an archaeological record. As more people take DNA tests, Scotland’s history will change and the conventional wisdom will be turned on its head again. That’s what scientific research in this fascinating subject is all about.
If you’d like to read how around 9,500BC Scotland awoke from a millennia of slumber and how an Ice Age that blanketed the north, click on The Scotsman.