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Ancient DNA Unravels Mysteries Of Irish Ancestry

Update Date: Dec 29, 2015 02:33 PM EST

Genome sequencing of ancient Irish skeletons has revealed a large migration wave that may have resulted in agriculture and other advances in the country.

According to BBC, the research team genome-sequenced remains of a 5,200-year-old female farmer and three skeletons of males from around 4,000 years ago. The farmer's genome reveals a Middle Eastern ancestry, which led researchers to believe that her appearance would have resembled southern Europeans with dark hair. The Bronze Age men on the other hand, would have resembled modern Irish and their genomes suggest migration from Pontic Steppe, the steppeland stretching out from the Black Sea.

"There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island and this degree of genetic change invites the possibility of other associated changes, perhaps even the introduction of language ancestral to western Celtic tongues," the study's lead Dan Bradley of Trinity College Dublin, said in a press release.

Researchers of the study were amazed at the degree of genetic change they saw in just 1,000 years that led to them to conclude that a large migration took place during the intervening period between the farmer and the Bronze Age men.

The study also cast light on the origin of genetic traits seen in modern Irish populations, including tolerance to diary and the condition haemochromatosis, a genetic disease that causes excess iron retention; genetic analysis of the three men showed they carried gene variants for the Irish Y chromosome, blue eyes and the disease.

"Genetic affinity is strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome some 4,000 years ago," researcher Lara Cassidy said.

The study was published in PNAS.

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