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Comparative Study
, 75 (4), 693-702

The Longue Durée of Genetic Ancestry: Multiple Genetic Marker Systems and Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe

Comparative Study

The Longue Durée of Genetic Ancestry: Multiple Genetic Marker Systems and Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe

Brian McEvoy et al. Am J Hum Genet.


Celtic languages are now spoken only on the Atlantic facade of Europe, mainly in Britain and Ireland, but were spoken more widely in western and central Europe until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the first millennium a.d. It has been common to couple archaeological evidence for the expansion of Iron Age elites in central Europe with the dispersal of these languages and of Celtic ethnicity and to posit a central European "homeland" for the Celtic peoples. More recently, however, archaeologists have questioned this "migrationist" view of Celtic ethnogenesis. The proposition of a central European ancestry should be testable by examining the distribution of genetic markers; however, although Y-chromosome patterns in Atlantic Europe show little evidence of central European influence, there has hitherto been insufficient data to confirm this by use of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Here, we present both new mtDNA data from Ireland and a novel analysis of a greatly enlarged European mtDNA database. We show that mtDNA lineages, when analyzed in sufficiently large numbers, display patterns significantly similar to a large fraction of both Y-chromosome and autosomal variation. These multiple genetic marker systems indicate a shared ancestry throughout the Atlantic zone, from northern Iberia to western Scandinavia, that dates back to the end of the last Ice Age.


Figure  1
Figure 1
MDS plot of interpopulation ΦST values calculated from mtDNA control-region sequence data. The matrix has been condensed to two dimensions, which account for 82% of the original variation. Population labels are as follows: AL = Albania; AR = Armenia; AU = Austria; AZ = Azerbaijan; BA = Basque Country; BE = Belgium; BR = Brittany; BU = Bulgaria; CZ = Czech Republic; CO = Cornwall; DE = Denmark; EN = England; ES = Estonia; FI = Finland; FR = France; GA = Galicia; GE = Germany; GR = Greece; HU = Hungary; IC = Iceland; IQ = Iraq; IR = Ireland; IT = Italy; JO = Jordan; KA = Karelia; KU = Kurdistan; NO = Northern Ossetia; NY = Norway; PA = Palestine; PC = Portugal Central; PN = Portugal North; PO = Poland; PS = Portugal South; RO = Romania; RU = Russia; SA = Sardinia; SC = Scotland; SE = Sweden; SI = Sicily; SN = Spain North; SS = Spain South-Central; SW = Switzerland; SY = Syria; TU = Turkey; and WA = Wales.
Figure  2
Figure 2
Synthetic maps of Europe displaying the three significantly correlated dimensions of genetic variation. These are as follows: the first dimension of mtDNA variation (A), the first dimension of Y-chromosome diversity (B), and the second dimension derived from classical gene frequencies (C). Points indicate sample locations.
Figure  3
Figure 3
Estimated “dispersal points” (centers of gravity) for the 146 mtDNA haplotypes (positions 16093–16362) found in Ireland. Each circle represents a distinct haplotype. Circle size indicates the frequency of that type in Ireland, with the largest representing the CRS (n=56) and the smallest indicating a frequency of 1; intermediate frequencies are proportional to circle area. SDs are indicated as follows: black = <500 km, gray = 500–1,000 km, and white = >1,000 km. Eleven centers (ten in Asia and one in Africa) are outside the range of this map.

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