A Pair of Blue Eyes: aDNA Long Bredy

I am always amazed at the potential to discover new information about the past…as new developments in science are captured by archaeologists.. as investigatory techniques.

Here is another update from the National Trust excavations beside Bottle Knap Cottage …..in the quiet village of Long Bredy in West Dorset.

To recap: While digging a new sewage pipe trench for the cottage, the digging machine cut through a group of burials.

Subsequent radiocarbon dating revealed that they dated from the Early Iron Age, 6th-7th century BC.

No burials of this date were known from Dorset so National Trust archaeologists returned to the field in the July 2019 to discover more.

The grave contained one male and two female skeletons. All had died in their teens though there were fragments of at least other burial, a mature adult.

The pipeline had cut through the middle of the grave group, disrupting the skeletons and the evidence to show their sequence of burial… but the radiocarbon date for the male was 50-100 years earlier than the two females… suggesting perhaps that the grave was opened again or following his death, the male was kept somewhere else for a while before being buried with the females.

The details of the aDNA analysis were sent to me a couple of days ago by Professor Ian Armit at York University.

The Bottle Knap burials have contributed to a project looking at European aDNA. The evidence has been derived from the analysis of bones of hundreds of individuals which have been dated from the later Bronze Age and Iron Age.

This research has demonstrated that there was large-scale migration into Southern Britain in the Middle to Late Bronze Age. Previous aDNA studies have demonstrated a similar mass migration in the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age.

Both times, the migrations coincide with an observed change in monument construction. In the first, Bronze Age burial mounds begin to be constructed and in the second they cease to be built. These changes perhaps signal significant changes of belief system.

Now that this general study has been published.. Ian was able to send me the specific aDNA analysis from the three bone samples Nancy had taken to him a couple of years ago.

The results show that all three burials had aDNA typical of other burials of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age… currently analysed from England (not a huge sample at this stage in aDNA studies).

They were local it seems…. the male provided a Y chromosome showing his ancestry was within the haplogroup common across Europe. This originates from the Eastern Europe/Asian Steppe area.

So these teenagers were local it seems… though strontium isotope analysis from teeth enamel may provide more information on where they grew up…..This will be done in the near future.

Though not closely related, the two females had similarities in aDNA suggesting that they shared common ancestry on their mothers’ side.

Reading through the report, I was suddenly surprised by the level of detail from the aDNA. We can start to visualise these young people from long ago.

The first young woman was very likely to have had light hair, perhaps light red hair and have had blue eyes, buried beside her, the second woman was very likely to have had dark hair and possibly blue eyes and the young man was very likely to have had red hair and/or light hair and probably had blue eyes.

From a few bones found in a digger bucket almost a decade ago…these earliest Iron Age people from Long Bredy have become very real to us now.

2 thoughts on “A Pair of Blue Eyes: aDNA Long Bredy

  1. Thank you for keeping us updated on this. As you say they are becoming very real to us now. We are looking forward to you coming back to Long Bredy to give a talk to the village about their early neighbours.

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