in Breton Karn Barnenez; in French: Cairn de Barnenez or Tumulus de Barnenez) is a Neolithic monument
This startling conclusion is the result of a huge gene study of humans in prehistoric Europe. It shows that around 2500BC – when the main sections of Stonehenge were under construction – a race of people known to archaeologists as the Beaker folk arrived in Britain. Their genetic profiles were similar to individuals who were living in the Netherlands at the time. In just a short period, all genetic traces of early Stone Age Britons were replaced by those from these continental newcomers, although work on Stonehenge continued.
“It is very striking. There seems to have been a complete replacement of the original folk of Britain with these newcomers,” said Garrett Hellenthal, a statistical geneticist based at University College London. “Normally you get some older DNA surviving with a wave of immigrants, even a fairly large wave. But you don’t see that in this case. Frankly it looks more like an invasion.”
The arrival and spread of the Beaker folk is one of the most intriguing puzzles of European prehistory. These people made complex, very distinctive ornaments in silver and gold and constructed distinctive bell-shaped pots or beakers from which they get their name.
A team led by David Reich, a geneticist at the Harvard Medical School in the US, has found the genetic make-up of early Britons underwent a near complete renewal in the space of just a few hundred years following 2500 BCE. That demographic upheaval, the authors write, resulted from a wave of continental migration that ultimately contributed to the paler skin and eyes we now associate with the average Brit.
“[T]he spread of the Beaker complex introduced high levels of steppe-related ancestry and was associated with the replacement of approximately 90% of Britain’s gene pool,” the authors write.
The reasons remain unclear, but climate change, disease and ecological disaster could all have played a role.
The genetic data, from hundreds of ancient British genomes, reveals that the Beakers were a distinct population from the Neolithic British. After their arrival on the island, Beaker genes appear to swamp those of the native farmers.
Prof Reich added: "The previous inhabitants had just put up the big stones at Stonehenge, which became a national place of pilgrimage as reflected by goods brought from the far corners of Britain."
The newcomers brought ancestry from nomadic groups originating on the Pontic Steppe, a grassland region extending from Ukraine to Kazakhstan. These nomads moved west during the Neolithic, mixing heavily with established populations in Europe. The Beaker migration marks the first time this eastern genetic signature appears in Britain
"[The Beaker people] are not prepared to collaborate on enormous labour-mobilising projects; their society is more de-centralised," said Prof Parker Pearson. "We don't have a good expression for it, but the Americans do, and that is: nobody is willing to work for 'The Man'."
Another intriguing possibility links the Beaker people with the spread of Celtic languages. Although many linguistics experts believe Celtic spread thousands of years later, Dr Lalueza-Fox said: "In my view, the massive population turnover must be accompanied by a language replacement."
Author and amateur historian Jeff Nisbet said that the time and care lavished over the stones may mean they are a sort of 'apprentice piece' created by neolithic stone masons to show off their skill. The Scottish-American writer, who was born in Edinburgh before emigrating to the US aged 11, says that the stones could have been a way for ancient builders to demonstrate how they had mastered their trade, much in the way portfolios work today.
Mick Harper wrote: 'student stuff' is shoved in the bin after, not used to adorn the campus for evermore.
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