Thursday, June 8, 2017
Did Dutch Invaders Wipe Out Bronze Age Britons During the Construction of Stonehenge?
A new gene study suggests that large groups of newcomers arrived in Britain during the building of Stonehenge, around 2500 BC. The new study also implies that the possible invaders could have gradually replaced the people who were constructing Stonehenge.
Did Bronze Age Invaders Replace England’s Original Population 4,500 Years Ago?
It’s no secret that the people who built Stonehenge – undoubtedly the most significant prehistoric British monument – left behind a lasting legacy that will hopefully live for many centuries to come. A new study, however, suggests that the influence of those people wasn’t as significant in other fields of the nation’s history and culture. As the Guardian reports, their input into Britain’s gene pool appears to vanish at some point, possibly terminated by Bronze Age newcomers who invaded the lands of Britain while ancient Britons were constructing Stonehenge. According to the study, it’s very possible that during the end of Stonehenge’s building, these newcomers may have totally replaced the people who were building the iconic monument.
Were the creators of Stonehenge wiped out by Dutch invaders (public domain)
This surprising conclusion is the result of an immense gene study of humans in prehistoric Europe which clearly shows that around 2500 BC, large groups of people known to archaeologists as the “Beaker folk” arrived in Britain. Their DNA seems to be very similar to the people who occupied the Netherlands at the time, and they appear to genetically replace the ancient Britons during the construction of Stonehenge. “It is very striking. There seems to have been a complete replacement of the original folk of Britain with these newcomers. Normally you get some older DNA surviving with a wave of immigrants, even a fairly large wave. But you don’t see that in this case. Frankly it looks more like an invasion,” tells the Guardian Garrett Hellenthal, a statistical geneticist from the University College London.
The Mysterious Spread of the Beaker Folk Race and their Unique Pottery
The arrival and spread of the Beaker folk is one of the most mysterious puzzles of European prehistory. They most likely originated from modern-day Spain, but they would rapidly spread into central and western Europe while searching for valuable metals. A warlike tribe, Beaker folk people were mainly bowmen but were also armed with a flat, tanged dagger or spearhead of copper, and a curved, rectangular wrist guard. In central Europe they came into contact with the Corded Ware culture, which was also characterized by beaker-shaped pottery and by the use of horses and a shaft-hole battle-ax. The two cultures gradually intermixed and later spread from central Europe to eastern England.
Reconstruction of a Beaker burial, (National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid). (Miguel Hermoso Cuesta/CC BY SA 4.0)
The Beaker folk got their name from their distinctive pottery and their characteristic bell-shaped beakers, decorated in horizontal zones by finely toothed stamps and it is believed that their extensive search for copper and gold contributed greatly to the spread of bronze metallurgy in Europe. At the same time, this rapid spread of Beaker pots has been puzzling archaeologists for many years. On one hand, some suggest that the appearance of Beaker artifacts reflects a massive migration or even invasion of large groups of people who brought their ornaments and tools with them. On the other hand, there are those who believe that Beaker pots spread simply because they were seen as the artistic trend of the Bronze Age. As for the truth? Archaeologists remain divided over the matter to this day.
Ceramic beakers of the Beaker Culture (braasch-megalith.de)
Recent Study Partially Solves the Mystery
A recent gene study published on the website bioRxiv earlier this month, attempted to solve the mystery and to some extent, it appears to succeed doing so. Led by Iñigo Olalde and David Reich of Harvard Medical School, the study was one of the largest ancient genome analyses in recent history, involving more than a hundred scientists working at many research centers in different countries. Additionally, the study included analyses of more than a million pieces of DNA taken from remains found at burial sites of people who had lived across Europe between 4700 BC and 1200 BC. As it was expected, the results were impressive. An amazed Marc Vander Linden (archaeologist from University College London) told the Guardian, “In Europe, it was the pots – and other fashionable artefacts – that moved, not the people.” In other words, Linden declared that despite the massive spread of Beaker artefacts across Europe, there was no replacement of the human population; just a fashion trend.
However, in Britain things are different. The arrival of Beaker pots and artifacts coincided with the disappearance of the genes of the Stone Age people who had been inhabiting the region. Their genes were replaced with DNA associated with that of Beaker people, who have been traced to a region in the modern Netherlands. No evidence of battles have been found in the area, so we don’t know if this happened violently or gradually in a peaceful manner.
Ancient Briton DNA Became Extinct?
Pontus Skoglund, a Harvard Medical School geneticist suggests that the Stone Age farmers who were constructing Stonehenge at the time, were suddenly replaced by Beaker folk invaders, “The people who built Stonehenge probably did not contribute any ancestry to later people or, if they did, it was very little,” he told the Guardian. However, archaeologist Ben Roberts from Durham University appears to be a little more cautious about such conclusions, “There is no doubt that ancient DNA studies are redefining our prehistory, but this work is based on a fairly small sample. The conclusion that there was almost complete replacement of DNA at this time is pushing the data a bit too far. However, this has certainly triggered a renewed debate about the Beaker. We just need more data,” he said as the Guardian reports. His point found in agreement Linden who stated, “This apparent replacement is very striking, but it is possible our results are being skewed. In particular, the introduction of cremation at this time could have destroyed bones that would otherwise have provided DNA samples and which could change results. This is certainly not the end of the story.”
Top image: Ancient Britons by Nicholas Subkov.
By Theodoros Karasavvas