By sequencing the genome of a woman dating back 5.200 years ago, scientists from the Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast found that ancient Irish people originated from the Middle East. The archaeological samples used were from an early farmer woman that lived 5.200 years ago near southern Belfast in Giant’s Ring, and three men from 4.000 years found on the Rathlin Islands.
By sequencing their DNA, researchers have found that all four subject showed traces of massive migration, even though they are 1.200 years apart. The woman farmer had ancestry that traced back to the Middle East, where the invention of agriculture occurred, while one-third of the men were from a region called the Pontic Steppe. This area spread from the Danubian estuary all the way to the Ural mountains.
The woman was very different from the men in regards to their appearance. She had black hair and brown eyes, similar to most southern European appearances. On the other hand, the men were more close to the Irish spectrum, with blue eyes and the Y chromosome type, which is the most common in Irish genetic makeup.
The men also suffered from haemochromatosis, a build-up of iron in the subject’s blood, that appears only in people with Irish ancestors and is commonly considered a Celtic disease. The farmer did not show any signs of this illness, revealing even further to scientists how much the genome had changed in only 1.000 years.
An important factor in this genetic modification is migration. By moving from region to region before eventually reaching Ireland, humans passed through the hunter period, the agricultural one, finally leading to stone and metal workers in the Bronze Age. These cultural modifications may have also been associated with the creation of an early form of Western Celtic language.
This further demonstrates the immense capabilities of DNA sequencing in regards to showing the ancestral links in humans and other species. Besides allowing researchers and scientists to see exactly how subjects looked, at least from a genetic perspective, without any finer details, it also shows how the evolutionary process functioned between two points in time.
Even though 1.000 years, in regards to evolution, is not an extensive period at all, due to massive migration movements, the process was sped up considerably. This is why the two samples from the woman and the three men differ in such a great extent. By discovering the modification to the C282Y chromosome as well, that leads to haemochromatosis, scientists were able to better understand ancient diseases. This event also marks the first instance when a genetic disease variant was identified in prehistory.
Although Irish people are generally stereotyped as people who like to establish themselves in foreign countries, following their migration towards the US and Australia, because ancient Irish people originated from the Middle East, it seems like they have started as immigrants as well. By further analysing the samples from various humans that lived throughout the ages, we may one day completely understand where we came from, as well as the evolutionary processes that made us what we are today.