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Thread: Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon Genomes from East England Reveal British Migration History

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    Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon Genomes from East England Reveal British Migration History

    British population history has been shaped by a series of immigrations, including the early Anglo-Saxon migrations after 400 CE. It remains an open question how these events affected the genetic composition of the current British population. Here, we present whole-genome sequences from 10 individuals excavated close to Cambridge in the East of England, ranging from the late Iron Age to the middle Anglo-Saxon period.

    By analysing shared rare variants with hundreds of modern samples from Britain and Europe, we estimate that on average the contemporary East English population derives 38% of its ancestry from Anglo-Saxon migrations. We gain further insight with a new method, rarecoal, which infers population history and identifies fine-scale genetic ancestry from rare variants.

    Using rarecoal we find that the Anglo-Saxon samples are closely related to modern Dutch and Danish populations, while the Iron Age samples share ancestors with multiple Northern European populations including Britain.
    The ancient samples fall within the range of modern English and Scottish samples, with the Iron Age samples from Hinxton and Linton falling closer to modern English and French samples, whereas most Anglo-Saxon era samples are closer to modern Scottish and Norwegian samples. Overall, though, population genetic differences between these samples at common alleles are small.
    By this measure the East England samples are consistent with 38% Anglo-Saxon ancestry on average, with a large spread from 25 to 50%, and the Welsh and Scottish samples are consistent with 30% Anglo-Saxon ancestry on average, again with a large spread (Supplementary Table 4).

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    The estimates for the English are within the usual values for Anglo-Saxon ancestry but the likewise relatively high/only slightly lower, contribution in Welsh- and Scotsmen, particulary in the former, is surprising.
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    I suppose the reason why English is compared with Dutch and Danish, but not German, has to do with the center of gravity in the German population being further removed from English than either.

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