My yDNA (BritainsDNA)

As noted in the Raitt DNA introduction page, I had my DNA, both paternal and maternal, also tested with BritainsDNA. Here I give the results of this second test which was two years after the previous one by Oxford Ancestors. The results of my mtDNA test with BritainsDNA are reported on another page, as are the results of the redhead test they also did for me. The following is extracted from the information provided to me by BritainsDNA. In essence the story (which I have condensed) is pretty much the same as that provide by Oxford Ancestors, but there is quite a bit more depth now as new markers become more widely known.


Your fatherline is R1b-S28. Your subtype is R1b-S139. You do not belong to any of the three main sublineages of S139, defined by the markers S255, S485 and S14469. You may carry markers that further define your subtype, but do not yet appear on our tree. You will find these in your genetic signature.

This is your Y chromosome genetic signature: a list of all the markers from the chromo2 chip for which you are positive, that is where you differ from Y chromosome Adam. A plus sign indicates that you carry the marker, or as geneticists say you are derived for that marker, e.g. S190+. Markers are named with a letter followed by the number of the marker. The letter is usually one of M, S or P: M is for markers, S is for SNP (the scientific name of the kind of marker being tested) and P is for polymorphism, another word for marker. Other prefixes include the initials of the discoverer (e.g. CTS or PF). If you do not carry the marker it is not listed in your signature, but can be found in the raw data file. In a few cases a marker might arise, for example, by the DNA letter A changing to C, then much later in time in someone with the C it changes back to an A again; this is called back-mutation. One such example is the marker S163: if you carry the ancestral A it is not shown in your signature. If you carry the C, it would be shown as S163(+) and if you carry the back-mutated A, it is shown as S163!. We can tell the back-mutations from the ancestral variants using the other markers you carry.

But one object, not apparently of any value, unlocked the mystery of who this man was. This was a square piece of greenish stone and archaeologists recognised it as a cushion-stone, an early version of a last used by metalworkers when fashioning gold, copper or bronze objects. The archery kits were misleading marks of high status, the Amesbury Archer's pre-eminence came from the fact that he was expert in the magical new skill of converting dull ore into shiny, beautiful and valuable metal objects.

More revelation was to come. When the chemical composition of the Archer's teeth was analysed, it showed that he came from the northern ranges of the Alps. We can speculate that we was amongst the first to bring your marker, S28, to Britain and Ireland.

During the Bronze Age (lasting from after c3,000 BC to c750 BC), trading networks developed between Europe, Britain and Ireland, and these links strengthened in the Iron Age, in the 1st millennium BC. By that time metal-working on a large scale had become firmly established in the Alpine regions, places where ores of different sorts could be mined. The most valuable and high-status items anyone could own, metal objects, especially weapons and war-gear, were much sought after and widely traded. And the transmission of techniques intensified. It appears that skilled smiths from the Alpine regions, many carrying your DNA, followed the Amesbury Archer to Britain.

In the historic period, westward movement from Central Europe continued and in the genes of the Anglo-Saxons and even the Danes who landed on England's shores, your marker made landfall, crossing the North Sea many times. And it remains most common on the Eastern regions of Britain, including a scattering in Scotland.

The chain of my immediate foreears in my paternal line will be found at the bottom of my yDNA page from Oxford Ancestors and is thus not repeated here.

Why were the Beaker Folk so successful? Others brought the new techniques of farming with them but your ancestors probably derived tremendous prestige and power from other skills. Their decorated beakers have occasionally been found to contain the residue of beer and there is some evidence that the cultivation of barley increased after c2,500BC. But however attractive brewing may have been, it was more likely that their abilities as metalworkers powered their tremendous expansion. Copper is a comparatively soft metal but it could still be fashioned into fearsome weaponry. Axe-like halberds have been found. It may well be that the dominance of R1b lineages in general and R1b-S116 in particular came about because of an aggressive takeover of land. And as the Beaker Folk established themselves, their markers multiplied quickly.

It is likely that these new people originated in the Iberian Peninsula. And there is also strong evidence that female lineages were surging across Europe at the same time. What that suggests is not the more familiar pattern of incursions by small groups of men who then took native women as partners, but the movement of larger populations of men, women and perhaps children. Your Y chromosome group, R1b, may be very common across Europe but our geneticists have identified a more localised subgroup. You carry the YDNA marker S28 and it is found in high concentrations in Bavaria in Southern Germany and in Northern Italy. It is also found in Spain and as far to the east as the Ukraine. But, it is heavily focused on the Alpine regions of Central Europe.

In one very famous place the grave of a man quite likely to have carried S28, your subgroup marker, has been found. The rhythms of the farming year were different from the lives of hunter-gatherers. In good periods of surplus and a benign climate, farming communities could find time to do work not related to the production of food. By contrast hunter-gatherers had, by definition a more chancy existence. As the new way of life spread throughout Britain and Ireland monuments began to rise, built by communities of farmers. From c3,000 BC onwards sacred places were created in the landscape, and while these took many forms, the most famous and most spectacular is surely Stonehenge.

Work began around 3,000 BC on this remarkable site and it continued for at least a millennium. In 2002 archaeologists discovered an immensely rich burial near the stone circle. It contained the body of a single individual, a man who became known as the Amesbury Archer. Around him were arranged grave-goods, objects he would need for an afterlife. There were five beaker pots, three copper knives, two full sets of archery kit, fifteen flint arrowheads and two gold hair clasps. Nothing on this scale had been found before. Dated to 2,300 BC, the grave was by far the most opulent yet discovered.

Eventually change would come which forced movement. It was a revolution in a very meaningful sense and it began some time around 8,500 BC in the Near East, the arc known as the Fertile Crescent, from Iraq through Syria to the Levant. There, hunter-gatherers had managed their ranges, encouraging the growth of fruit trees and berry bushes, trying to ensure a continuity of supply. But at some point in the 9th millennium BC, stands of fruit trees became orchards, gardens were planted instead of being the semi-accidental product of self-propagation, and crucially, wild grasses were cultivated as cereals.

Arguably, it was the production of primitive wheat and barley that had the greatest impact because it transformed child rearing. As these bands moved around their wide ranges, relocating from summer to winter camps, going on seasonal hunting expeditions they needed to be as mobile as possible. That meant only one baby or toddler could be carried along with the other gear needed. And in an age before contraception, another factor came into play. Infant teeth could be too soft to deal with the hunter-gatherer diet and in order to take in enough protein to grow, babies and toddlers almost certainly breast-fed for much longer, perhaps only being weaned as late as four or five years old. During this lengthy period, breast-feeding mothers were usually infertile.

What also inhibited the growth of populations were the short fertile lives of most women. There is evidence that women in prehistory began their menstrual cycle later, maybe at the age of 13 to 15, and most surveys of surviving skeletons report that the majority of people died relatively young with few of them reaching their thirties. Over such a short time, most women will have given birth to only three or at most four babies, not all of whom will have reached adulthood. The production of cereals changed this cycle radically. When the ears of wheat were dried, and sometimes charred, they could be mashed into a nourishing porridge with animal milk or water. Not required to be masticated, this could be fed to infants and they thrived. This in turn led to earlier weaning – and an explosion in the prehistoric population.

As the population grew after c8,500 BC in the Near East, pressure built up. Farming led to a powerful sense of the ownership of land as those who had expended great labour in creating gardens and small fields insisted on their rights. That in turn forced a calculation. In the new world of farming, what was the carrying capacity of the land, how many mouths could its produce feed? When the birth interval halved from four to five years to two or three, that led to a rapid increase in numbers. As more and more land was brought into cultivation, those it could no longer support were forced to move and the techniques of farming began to ripple westwards from the Fertile Crescent, crossing the Bosphorus, the Black Sea or the Aegean to reach Europe where many new markers arose.

By far the largest group of Y chromosome markers in Western Europe, your marker belongs to the R1b cluster. In England 60% of men carry one of the sub-groups of R1b, in Scotland it is 72% and in Ireland, the number is even higher at 85%.

The population explosion associated with the coming of farming around 4,000BC was thought to have been driven by the success of carriers of R1b, but recent research has radically redated the appearance of this widely spread haplogroup. Now, it is thought that R1b spread out around 2,500 BC and that it was probably brought to Britain and Ireland by an incursion of the kindreds known as the Beaker People. These people are associated most closely with your S116 marker which eventually gave rise to descending subgroups. Recognised by fine pottery deposited as grave goods and by the introduction of metalworking in copper and gold, the Beaker People appear to have attacked and largely destroyed communities of earlier farmers.

Geneticists can tell that there was a very rapid expansion of population because S116 immediately divides into many subgroups, a sign that many sons of each man were living, as were the grandsons of these men. Lineages were multiplying as people multiplied and spread. And the rate of fertility was exponential as your S116 markers expanded in every direction.

As far away as Greenland, geologists have detected in the ice cores an abrupt change in the Earth’s climate some time between 69,000 and 77,000 years ago. It can only have been caused by the eruption and destruction of Mount Toba in Indonesia around 73,000 BC and the cores show that what followed was a long nuclear winter. A deadly sulphuric aerosol mixed with ash and smoke obscured the sun’s rays and temperatures plummeted, particularly in the first three months after the eruption. What extended this half-lit, grey winter was the way in which the sun heated the aerosol, ash and smoke so that it rose into the stratosphere where no rain could fall to wash it out. This almost certainly caused a long period of nuclear darkness lasting perhaps ten or fifteen years. If nothing could grow through the ash-covered ground, then animals and people could not hope to survive. Mount Toba almost ended the history of human beings, almost made us as extinct as the dinosaurs

But the ash did not fall everywhere, and the dark blanketing of the stratosphere cannot have been complete – for human beings did survive. Research into African DNA carried out by Luca Cavalli-Sforza and Allan Wilson suddenly appeared to connect with a recorded historical event. It seemed that the immense, world-wide destruction wreaked by the eruption of Toba was part of the reason why Homo sapiens and his (and her) origins are in Africa. It was the refuge where people survived the deadly fallout and the long nuclear winter, and it also created what scientists have called a genetic bottleneck. And it was almost certainly as a consequence of this near-fatal event that the number of human lineages was reduced to only two. Mount Toba almost certainly made us all the children of Mitochondrial Eve and Y Chromosome Adam - even though they did not actually know each other!

However, not all scientists agree with this interpretation. There is a growing body of opinion that argues that the Mount Toba event was certainly huge, but not as devastating as some believe. They cite finds of sophisticated stone tools all over India identical to those being used by the humans in Africa. This, they say, is evidence that there were people in parts of Asia before the Mount Toba eruption and that they found ways of surviving the ash clouds, the cold and the dark. There is also some evidence (from Greenland ice samples) that the ice age was under way before the Mount Toba event. There is even a theory that the growing cold and glacial movements may have caused the volcanic activity.

Whichever school of thought wins the day, there is no doubt that the Mount Toba eruption was a huge event and something certainly drove the human population to near extinction. But after about 10,000 years of slow warming and the return of plants and animals, people began their great exodus from Africa. Your ancestors were part of the great trek out of Africa to India and beyond, and it appears that they first settled in South and Southeast Asia. That is where your earliest key marker, M526, arose some time between 35,000 BC and 45,000 BC. Hunter-gatherers, they fished, trapped and lived off a wild harvest of fruits, roots and berries. Their ranges were extensive and since any population movement was prompted by the need to find reliable sources of food or a search for marriage partners outside of family bands, the spread of your marker, M526, was slow.

Your Y chromosome group, which tracks your paternal lineage, is R1b. It is one of the most common YDNA lineages in Western Europe but it is also occasionally found as far afield as China, India and Russia. Your S28 marker is closely associated with the Germanic peoples of the Alpine regions of what is now Switzerland and southern Germany. Your ancestors came to Britain and Ireland probably during the Anglo-Saxon invasions in the mid-first millennium. They also came earlier as skilled metal workers and made these islands their home; a place where their DNA remains, thousands of years later.

Relevant YDNA haplogroup frequencies are: R1b 69.8%, R1b-S116 8.8%, R1b-S28 4.3%. The haplogroup distribution in Scotland for R1b-S28 is Scotland central 6% and Scotland North East 3%. The world distribution for R1b-S28 is: North Italians 27%, Swiss 18%, South Germans 13%, South Italians 11%, French and Germans 10%, East Scottish and East English 8%. There are R1b-S28 clusters in Alsace, in eastern Scotland and East Anglia.