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Ancient Greek migrants built the famous Stonehenge, DNA reveals

Britons who built the famous Stonehenge were product of ancient wave of migrant farmers, that is of Greeks from Asia Minor, DNA tests have revealed. Ancient skeletons have revealed that the arrival of population from the eastern Mediterranean Sea replaced the local hunter-gatherer population of British Isles.

The ancestors of the Britons who built Stonehenge were farmers who had travelled from Asia Minor, the West coast of modern Turkey, and arrived  at the Birish Isles around 4000BC.

They rapidly replaced local hunter-gatherer populations, according to new research.

Scientists investigating the origins of farming in Britain have said they have found overwhelming support for agriculture being introduced to Britain by a surge of continental migrants from Anatolia, bringing farming techniques, pottery and new religious cultures and beliefs.

The team examined DNA from 47 Neolithic farmer skeletons dating from 6,000 to 4,500 years ago and six Mesolithic hunter-gatherer skeletons from the preceding period, around 11,600 – 6,000 years ago.

From the DNA analysis the researchers were able to reveal that most of the hunter-gatherer population of Britain were replaced by those carrying ancestry originating on the Aegean coast of modern Turkey.

According to independent, Natural History Museum postdoctoral researcher Dr Tom Booth said: “We looked at the genetic ancestry of human remains from both before and after 6,000 years ago – so some dating to the Mesolithic and some to the Neolithic – to see if we can characterise any changes.

“As soon as these Neolithic cultures start to arrive, we see a big change in the ancestry of the British population. It looks like the development of farming and these Neolithic cultures was mainly driven by the migration of people from mainland Europe.”

Professor Ian Barnes, ancient DNA expert at the Natural History Museum and co-author of the study, said: “Because continental farmer populations had mixed to some extent with local hunter-gatherers as they expanded along both the Mediterranean and Rhine-Danube corridors, as well as later, we expected to see some mixing in Britain as well.”

But this was not the case.

“Unlike other European Neolithic populations, we detect no resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry at any time during the Neolithic in Britain,” the authors said.

Dr Booth said despite the findings, the DNA analysis doesn’t necessarily give the full picture, particularly as numbers of hunter-gatherer individuals in Britain may have been relatively small compared to incoming European farmers.

He said: “The best explanation now is that the hunter-gatherer Mesolithic population of Britain just wasn’t very high. So the newly arrived farmers could have mixed entirely with the native population but because this was quite small, the hunter-gatherers left little genetic legacy overall.”

Professor Mark Thomas from UCL, an author of the study, added: “The transition to farming marks one of the most important technological innovations in human evolution. It first appeared in Britain around 6000 years ago. Prior to that people survived by hunting, fishing and gathering. For over 100 years archaeologists have debated if it was brought to Britain by immigrant continental farmers, or if was adopted by local hunter-gatherers.

“Our study strongly supports the view that immigrant farmers introduced agriculture into Britain and largely replaced the indigenous hunter-gatherers populations.”

The research team used DNA taken from inside the tiny ear bones of the remains of a Mesolithic man found in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, known as Cheddar Man. The skeleton is about 9,000 years old, making it the oldest near-complete human skeleton found in Britain.

Dr Selina Brace, ancient DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum and lead author of the study said despite earlier doubts, said Cheddar Man was continuing to provide exciting scientific information.

She said: “After extracting DNA from Cheddar Man’s inner ear bone, we were delighted at the preservation of his DNA. It’s likely that the cool dry burial conditions in Gough’s Cave were a key factor in keeping his DNA preserved.”

Stonehenge was built around 3000BC, meaning the genetic identity of the Britons responsible was mostly descended from the influx of Mediterranean farmers who began arriving 6,000 years ago.

PS In the sense of the Parthenon Marbles… here is a poll about Stonehenge

Should UK return the Stonehenge to Greece?

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  1. Well, how come that they don’t speak greek over there…

  2. I understand that you’re being ‘tongue-in-cheek’ here, but people believe what you say. The study did not say the people who arrived in Britain and built Stonehenge were Greek. What the study actually said was that the people who built Stonehenge were part of a general, massive expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6000 BC. The Stonehenge builders arrived in Britain in about 4000 BC. The rise of the Greek city states is later even than 1000 BC (around 800 BC I believe) and there were no peoples who could be remotely called ‘Greek’ as early as 4000 BC, much less as early as 6000 BC when they left Anatolia. If you’re going to claim that any peoples from Anatolia at any time ‘must be Greek’ then you should ask where the Anatolian people came from. You’ll find that they were actually Africans, so by your reckoning it’s thus more correct to claim that Stonehenge was built by Africans. 🙂

    • keeptalkinggreece

      of course, we are all Africans.

    • Xenos sthn Athina

      The period of emigration from the Aegean coastal area was the late stone age Neolithic period (10,000 BC to about 4,000 BC), by which time farming had emerged as the most important structural change for human settlements — especially in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East. The general view of historians is that the basic genetic identity of ancient Greeks (changed slightly by later immigrations) had emerged by this point, even though the sophisticated Greek cultures and local states had yet to appear. These communities were not composed of Africans, as such: the original migrations from Africa to most parts of the world are thought to have been about 200,000 years ago!

      It would therefore be wise to suggest that the Aegean communities were proto-Greeks — the origin of the famed Greek civilisations that were to appear later. In that sense, we could claim that the Celts, Basques and Greeks all have a common origin in the Asia minor coastal areas. However, the link is very weak because the intermarriage of Celts and Basques diluted the genetic makeup so much that there is almost no connection with the original migrants from Asia Minor. Even in the case of Greeks, the genetic continuity is not so great…