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Published: 14 Feb, 2022

Umeå archaeologists published in Nature

NEWS A new large DNA-study of prehistoric - Bronze and Iron Age - populations in Britain has been published in the scientific journal Nature. Chelsea Budd and Malcolm Lillie, both archaeologists at Umeå University, are two of those who participated in the study.

Text: Per Melander

Malcolm Lillie says that the study is a collaboration between many archaeologists and geneticists and aims to investigate genetic evidence for prehistoric migrations.

What is the article about?

"This paper presents a major new DNA study of prehistoric (Bronze and Iron Age) populations in Britain", says Malcolm Lillie.

What would you describe as the main findings in the article?

"The main findings are that between 1300-800BC migration into Britain from Europe was responsible for around half of the genetic ancestry of subsequent populations, but that there is not much evidence to suggest that large-scale migration occurred in the subsequent Iron Age. It thus seems that “Celtic” languages would have spread into Britain in the Bronze Age".

"Another interesting finding is that the allele for lactase persistence (which is a genetic adaptation that facilitates the digestion of dairy produce) rises rapidly in Britain during the Bronze Age, but a similar scenario is not mirrored on the continent".

Can you sum up the importance when it comes to cross disciplinary boundaries, using research infrastructure, in your work?

"Of key significance here is the considerable number of archaeologists and geneticists involved in the study, demonstrating collaborations between commercial archaeologists, museums and academics across disciplines in the pursuit of knowledge".

"This study included the results from the work that Dr. Chelsea Budd and I have been researching for some time now in relation to the analysis of human remains from both the UK and Ukraine, which forms the basis of our collaborations with Harvard University, and which linked into the work undertaken at York University in the UK. This work also links to our on-going collaboration with colleagues elsewhere in the USA and Ukraine".

As far it’s probably he first time the department has contributed in Nature, what does that mean?

"Professor Lillie first published in Nature in 1998, on the earliest evidence for cranial surgery, as part of his PhD research. Subsequently, just before joining Umeå Professor Lillie was involved in another Nature paper (Mathieson et al. 2018) which looked at the genetic history of southeastern Europe.  The current paper is a result of the continued collaborations with Harvard that began when the new wave of genetic analysis linked to archaeology was in its early stages (i.e. the past decade or so)".

"The on-going work will result in further Nature papers that will raise the profile of Umeå University on the international research stage, as Professor Lillie and Dr. Budd are currently working up the results of their work on Iron Age communities in the UK for publication with Professor Reich and colleagues at Harvard University. They are also working closely with colleagues from the USA and Europe on the genetic origins of the Yamanya culture of Eastern Europe".

Anything of importance that’s not included in the questions above?

"The current paper is led by researchers at Harvard and York, with contributions for a range of institutions. of key importance is the fact that after an initial stage of research wherein the genetic community was accused of ignoring the opinions of archaeologists (e.g. Heyd – Kossina’s Smile paper)"