Welsh people are perhaps most ancient in UK, DNA suggests
According to scientists who have drawn up a genetic map of the British Isles, Welsh people can demand recognition as the most ancient Britons. Research suggests the Welsh are distinct genetically from the inhabitants of rest of the mainland Britain. Oxford professor Peter Donnelly has stated that the Welsh carry DNA which could be traced back to the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. 2,000 people in rural areas across Britain were surveyed for the project. To be eligible for the study, participants, their parents and also grandparents, had to be born in stipulated areas.
Prof Donnelly, a statistical science professor at Oxford and director of the Wellcome Trust centre for human genetics, stated that DNA samples were analysed at about 500,000 different points. After meticulously comparing statistics, a map was compiled which revealed that Wales and Cornwall stood out. Prof Donnelly stated: “People from Wales are genetically relatively distinct, they look different genetically from much of the rest of mainland Britain, and actually people in north Wales look relatively distinct from people in south Wales.” While traces of migrant groups were detected across the UK, fewer were detected in Wales and Cornwall.
Prof Donnelly stated that people from south and north Wales genetically possess “fairly large similarities with the ancestry of people from Ireland on the one hand and France on the other, which we think is most likely to be a combination of remnants of very ancient populations who moved across into Britain after the last Ice Age. And potentially also, people travelling up the Atlantic coast of France and Spain and settling in Wales many thousands of years ago.” But he added: “We don’t really have the historical evidence about what those genetic inputs were.”
Possibility of ancient DNA being retained was hugely enhanced by the geography of Wales perhaps. Because of its westerly location and mountainous nature, Anglo-Saxons who migrated to central and eastern England after the departure of Romans did not venture that far west, and neither did the Vikings whose arrival is dated to around 900AD. The professor opined that modern people from southern and central England had several genetic similarities with modern people in Germany and Denmark.
The mountains presented hindrance to people movement from north to south Wales or into England compelling them to marry locally and in the process conserving ancient DNA. “In north Wales, there has been relative isolation because people moved less because of geographical barriers,” Prof Donnelly stated.