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How did we get here?

10,000 years of war and immigration captured in this DNA map of Britain

By Zach Wener-Fligner

New research from geneticists and historians at Oxford University uses DNA analysis to identify patterns of immigration from Europe to the UK. The DNA of longtime British residents—those from family lines that have been in the UK since the 19th century—tells a story of the influence of the French, Germans, Danish, and Scandinavian on people in the UK today.

The study, which published this week in Nature, analyzed the DNA of more than 2,000 UK individuals whose grandparents were born less than 80 km apart in rural Britain. By searching for commonly occurring variations in subjects’ genetic code, the researchers were able to pinpoint geographic regions of genetic similarity. Here’s a map showing the groups they identified:

Nature

The researchers then analyzed the genomes of more than 6,000 people from 10 different European countries and identified similar genetic groups within that sample. They then compared the two samples using statistical methods to determine the likelihood that different genetic codes traced back to the same ancestors. Based on the analysis, the researchers were able to identify the regions of Europe that had the greatest genetic impact on Britain.

Here’s a map showing the results of that analysis. This diagram shows the most impactful European genetic groups on the vertical axis, with the British genetic groups on the horizontal axis. The height of the column represents the degree of relation of one group to the other. For example, people from North Wales are most closely related to those from northwest France (FRA 14) and western Germany (GER 6).

Nature

What’s fascinating about these maps is they confirm a history of Britain we already knew. For example, in the Orkney islands in northern Scotland, the influence of the Norse Vikings (who traveled to Britain to raid and trade towards the end of the first millennium) is genetically apparent.

Nature