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New DNA Study Unravels the Mystery of Pictish Ancestry

Illustration of the Pictish culture. Wikimedia Commons.

Unraveling the mystery of Pictish ancestry has been a subject of great interest for researchers for many years.

The enigmatic Picts of Scotland, who have long been ascribed exotic origins, were in fact descendants of indigenous Iron Age society and are genetically linked to present-day people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Northumbria.

Picts: An Ancient Culture Shrouded in Mystery

The Picts inhabited early medieval Scotland between 300–900 AD, forming the first documented kingdoms of eastern Scotland. However, their history has been clouded by a lack of evidence and their cryptic stone-inscribed symbols.

Genetic Investigation: A New Insight into Pictish Origins

Adeline Morez of Liverpool John Moores University and Linus Girdland-Flink of the University of Aberdeen extracted genomes from Pictish burials to determine how the Picts were related to other cultural groups in Britain. They sequenced DNA from two individuals from central and northern Scotland that dated from the fifth to the seventh century AD and compared the esulting high-quality genomes to over 8,300 previously published ancient and modern genomes.

The Mystery of Pictish Ancestry

Their analysis revealed that the Picts descended from local Iron Age populations that lived across Britain before mainland Europeans arrived. The researchers found genetic similarities between the Picts and present-day people living in western Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Northumbria. The study contradicts medieval traditions that suggested the Picts had exotic origins, such as Thrace, Scythia, or isles north of Britain.

Challenging Old Speculations about Pictish Society

By analyzing DNA from seven individuals buried in a Pictish cemetery, the researchers discovered that the individuals did not share a common maternal ancestor. This finding counters older speculations, including the idea that Picts were matrilineal and had a society based on kinship through the mother’s lineage.

the Mystery of Pictish Ancestry, Implications and Future Research

The study supports current archaeological theories about the Picts’ Iron Age origins in Britain and offers new insights into the genetic relationships among Pictish individuals and present-day UK groups. Dr. Morez hopes that this research will inspire further discoveries and analysis of the genetic structure across Scotland. In addition to increased fascination for the Iron Age and medieval period in the UK, Dr. Morez believes this research will lead to a more comprehensive understanding of genetic diversity in the country.

Ongoing Research and Collaboration

Future research will provide new information on the Pictish lifestyle, thanks to archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen and co-authors of the study. Gordon Noble is reassessing and excavating new Pictish sites, and Kate Britton is investigating dietary habits and mobility using stable isotopes. Linus Girdland Flink (senior author, University of Aberdeen) is coordinating further research on Pictish DNA. This ongoing project will provide an excellent tool to facilitate interdisciplinary research connecting archaeology, archaeological science, history, and human population genetics.

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