January 23, 2016

Ancient DNA from England suggests strong impact of Germanic invasions

Recently sequenced Roman, Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon DNA sequences from England help to clarify the issue of the impact of Germanic migrations in Great Britain, which seems to have been significant.

Rui Martiniano et al., Genomic signals of migration and continuity in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons. Nature 2016. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1038/ncomms10326]


The purported migrations that have formed the peoples of Britain have been the focus of generations of scholarly controversy. However, this has not benefited from direct analyses of ancient genomes. Here we report nine ancient genomes (~1 ×) of individuals from northern Britain: seven from a Roman era York cemetery, bookended by earlier Iron-Age and later Anglo-Saxon burials. Six of the Roman genomes show affinity with modern British Celtic populations, particularly Welsh, but significantly diverge from populations from Yorkshire and other eastern English samples. They also show similarity with the earlier Iron-Age genome, suggesting population continuity, but differ from the later Anglo-Saxon genome. This pattern concords with profound impact of migrations in the Anglo-Saxon period. Strikingly, one Roman skeleton shows a clear signal of exogenous origin, with affinities pointing towards the Middle East, confirming the cosmopolitan character of the Empire, even at its northernmost fringes.

Notice that I say Germanic rather than Anglo-Saxon because I'm not sure how much can be attributed to these and how much to Vikings, whose genomes were similar. A recent study on British genetics seemed to indicate that the Danish (Viking) origins were clearly more important than the Saxon ones from Low Germany. However... were the original Angles more akin to Saxons or to Danes?

Anyway, the ancient samples are mostly Romano-Briton, from burials at Driffield Terrace, near York (Eboracum), dating to c. 200 BCE and including many decapitated remains. Another sample is from the Iron Age of Melton (East Yorkshire), dated between 200 and 40 CE. Finally a Christian Anglo-Saxon individual from Norton (Teesside, 70 Km north of York), dated sometime between the 7th to 10th centuries. 

Excepted one Roman era outlier (3DRIF-26), who seems an immigrant from the Eastern Mediterranean (autosomal DNA strongly suggests the Levant or Arabia), the rest all fit well with the autosomal genetics of the Iron Age one and modern Welsh. Modern English seem to have, in most cases, at least some Germanic admixture:

Figure 3 - Principal Component Analysis
(a) PCA of the Roman samples from Driffield Terrace (excluding one outlier), one Iron-Age individual and one Anglo-Saxon merged with modern Irish, British and Dutch genotype data. (b) Boxplot of PC1 broken down by subregion. The symbols on the left represent the significance of a Mann–Whitney test performed to compare the Roman population with all other populations in the data set. There were no significant differences between the Roman sample and the present-day Welsh, Northern and North Western English samples included in this analysis; all other regions had significantly different median values for PC1. Population key: Du, Dutch; En, English; Ir, Irish; NS, not significant; Sc, Scottish; Wa, Wales. NS-P>0.05; *0.05>P>0.01; **0.01>P>0.0001; ***P<0.0001.

Using the Dutch average as proxy for continental Germanics and the Welsh average for Romano-Britons, it would seem that modern English are on average, about 1/3 drifted towards Germanics, while the ancient Anglosaxon from Teesside was a bit more than half drifted in that direction. He was still within modern English variance, although rather towards the Germanic extreme of it.

Haploid lineages

The Iron Age sample was a woman with mtDNA haplogroup U2e1e.

The Romano-Brithons (all men), excluding the Eastern Mediterranean outlier, carried all variants of Y-DNA haplogroup R1b1a2a1-M412. It is notable that M405/U106 ("North Sea" subclade) was found in two of them, so it cannot be attributed to Germanic immigration. Another carried a sublineage of the M529 ("Irish") subclade (common also in Great Britain) and two others of the S28/U152 ("Alpine") sublineage (less common in Britain). The remaining two carried upstream L52* (generic "West European") paragroup lineages. See this entry for overall distribution details.

Their matrilineages were all subclades of H1, H2, H6 and J1. Details can be found in table 1

The outlier carried Y-DNA J2-L228 and mtDNA H5. The patrilineage fits well with a West Asian origin (an Italian one also fits) but the matrilineage is much more common in SE Europe, although it also reaches high frequencies in Wales. However the ADMIXTURE analysis strongly negates the possibility that he was European and very clearly supports a West Asian origin instead.

Finally the Anglo-Saxon man carried Y-DNA lineage I1 (most common in Sweden but scattered at low frequencies through Europe) and mtDNA H1.

Other details

The authors estimate that Iron Age and Romano-British samples were typically brunette with brown eyes. There is one exception though, 6DRIF-18, who was probably blond and blue-eyed, as was surely the Anglo-Saxon.

Blood type O was inferred for all Iron Age and Roman era samples, except 6DRIF-22 who was A. The Anglo-Saxon one may have carried type B or A (or AB?)


  1. The results appear to be well within the range of what might have been expected from historical evidence, which reassuringly suggests that both the genetics and the history are probably basically correct.

  2. Blood group O is known as a german to swiss blood marker ( also found in siberia )
    it was introduced into Britain

    1. Are you trying to make a joke or something? Zero (misnamed "O" often) is the most common blood group on Earth. In Europe too. And in Britain as well. It's irregularly mixed with group A everywhere. Group B on the other hand is most rare in the West and increases towards the East, being therefore tentatively associated with Indo-European expansion. It's also much more common in Asia, be it India or China.

      Your link is irrelevant to back your claim and BTW a very bad looking article in all senses: where's the data?, where the conclusions, why do they reproduce old blood maps with such a bad resolution?

    2. LOL, it's a true joke: one of those fake studies they introduced to test the system:

      Ethical issues (Including plagiarism, Informed Consent, misconduct, data fabrication and/or falsification, double publication and/or submission, redundancy, etc) have been completely observed by the authors.


  3. Using the Dutch average as proxy for continental Germanics and the Welsh average for Romano-Britons

    This seems like a big assumption. The same study that assessed that there was a 38% contribution of Anglo Saxons to the modern English population reckons that the contribution to the modern Welsh population is 30%. I'm not particularly convinced by these statistics but I do know that do know that through a whole host of later historical processes causing the movement and dispersal of people that today there's a Germanic (Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian) component in the ancestry of every part of Britain and Ireland. The regional differences lie in the degree of the contribution. Also I'm pretty sure that the Dutch situated as they are at the mouth of the Rhine, an area which has always supported a relatively large population have there own complex and interesting history. I see no reason to assume that the modern Dutch would be that similar to people whose origins stemmed in Lower Saxony and Jutland.

    1. I don't understand where you get that from, Amanda: in the graph above it is very apparent that the modern Welsh average overlaps with the ancient Britons, except the Anglosaxon one of course. Where exactly you get that idea from?

      "I see no reason to assume that the modern Dutch would be that similar to people whose origins stemmed in Lower Saxony and Jutland".

      Dutch are quite homogeneous internally and only show some division in two halves: the Northern one seems identical to Low Germans (Saxons and such), while the southern one may be identical to Middle Germans (former Frankish). Anyhow I do agree that a second reference from Denmark would have been of some help.

    2. Hi Maju,

      Sorry for my poor proof-reading on my original posting. I'll try to do better this time.

      I quite agree with you that the ancient samples from York cluster around the median point for the modern Welsh population. My question is how different is the modern Welsh population to the post Roman Welsh population?

      The figure of a 38% contribution of Anglo Saxon DNA to the modern population of Eastern England comes from the Schiffels paper 'Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history'. The same set of assumptions lead the authors to conclude that the Anglo Saxon contribution to the modern Welsh population averages at 30%.

      I have to say that both figures seem a bit on the high side to me. Anyway even if the Anglo Saxon component in the modern Welsh population is a bit lower than that, it is still significant and suggests that your assumption that the ancient Welsh are much like the modern Welsh is wrong.

      The genetic continuity between the British and the Dutch (and the Belgians) is apparent in the PCA plots of modern Europe. I am pretty sure that the genetic closeness goes back into ancient times long before the Anglo Saxons and would be related to the migrations of Bell Beaker people and Iron Age Celts amongst others. The Anglo Saxon migrations and later arrival of Danes and other Scandinavians brought exotic new genetic elements from Scandinavia to the isles which had hitherto not been present. Some of these elements must have been already been brought into the Low Countries in some type of earlier migration process which brought German language speakers into that region. I still don't think that makes the modern Dutch into good proxies for the Anglo Saxons.

    3. I must say that I didn't criticize the Schiffels paper back in the day (I was just almost not blogging for much of 2015, personal issues) and now that I face it seriously for the first time, I find it perplexing: the general genome is not compared but instead:

      We determined for each ancient sample the number of rare variants shared with each reference population (Supplementary Note 3).

      That's not a method I'm familiar with and rather looks like the kind of data that medical-oriented research (and not historical genetics) would use. These rare variants are not likely to be informative of the overall distant ancestry. It's very weird.

      Almost all the study insists on using these rare variants. They even develop a method of their own (Rarecoal) to analyze them. Obviously it is an otherwise untested method, whose reliability I can't but suspect.

      Otherwise no IBD/IBS (which should provide approximative genealogies by a well tested method), no ADMIXTURE and only one PC analysis buried in the supp. materials (SF3). In this one the appearance of variation is way too subtle (because they use a lot of European populations that condition the whole graph) but if anything we can discern a tiny "Finnish" tendency in the Saxons versus a "Mediterranean" one in the pre-Saxons. However the only "Celtic" sample in that graph (Scots, Orcadians too) also tends towards Finland relative to English, what makes things more complicated (no Welsh nor Irish samples there, what seems like cherry-picking the data to me and hence suspicious).

      So for me that study is not informative but the data may still be reused by someone in a proper analysis, I guess.

    4. ... "your assumption that the ancient Welsh are much like the modern Welsh is wrong".

      It was not my intention to project such "assumption". I do not assume that in fact. What I merely stated is that the modern Welsh average overlaps too well with the ancient pre-Saxon NE Britons from Yorkshire. If we go through the individual variation of modern Welsh in that graph, some even overlap with the ancient Anglo-Saxon, while others with the Irish average, suggesting a more complex reality that maybe requires further analysis.

      "The genetic continuity between the British and the Dutch (and the Belgians) is apparent in the PCA plots of modern Europe. I am pretty sure that the genetic closeness goes back into ancient times long before the Anglo Saxons and would be related to the migrations of Bell Beaker people and Iron Age Celts amongst others".

      Well, in this study it seems clear that the Anglo-Saxon and Viking invasions pulled Britons closer to continental North Europe, regardless that relationships surely existed earlier (for instance: R1b-U106 is pre-Saxon and is most common in the Netherlands!) It is this extra pull what this paper reveals and not the overall pre-Saxon similitude or differences.

      This is not really new, already Capelli 2003, using only modern Y-DNA, appeared to show that East England has Anglo-Saxon or Danish admixture on the patrilineal side of around 30-40%, with a cline decreasing to the West and SW and reaching a minimum in Wales, which shows almost as little similitude in this aspect with the Germanic mainland as Basques do. The findings of this study are very parallel and comparable to those of Capelli.

      "The Anglo Saxon migrations and later arrival of Danes and other Scandinavians brought exotic new genetic elements from Scandinavia"...

      Not really Scandinavia by NW mainland Europe, Denmark included: only Orcadians seem to have significant Norwegian ancestry, which is clearly distinct from the Frisian-Saxon-Danish one. The real Scandinavians (Norwegians, Swedes) did not partake of those conquests at any significant level, they were busy fishing cod in Iceland or trading pelts in Russia. When we say "Vikings", we basically mean "Danes" and these are much more similar (in genetics, not language) to Low German and Dutch than to Scandinavians proper.

      "Some of these elements must have been already been brought into the Low Countries in some type of earlier migration process which brought German language speakers into that region".

      There was no such process. Germanic was only introduced with the Anglo-Saxons. You may mean Celtic language, you may mean Rhineland genetics rather than Saxon ones. It can get a bit confusing because Rhineland was almost certainly the original homeland of the Celts and British people do show some strong affinity to that area without marked distinctions (see fig.2 in Leslie 2015).

    5. Erratum: "Not really Scandinavia by NW mainland Europe, Denmark included" should read "Not really Scandinavia but NW mainland Europe, Denmark included"

  4. There's also a question that that they touch on in passing but don't examine as to what sort of demographic changes might have occurred in Britain during the Roman period.

    This is something we know hardly anything about. We know that there are several centuries in which Roman Britain is subject to an external continental ruler who make travel possible between Britain and the continent and within Roman Britain in a way that it never was before both because of a new infrastructure of roads and because the Pax Romana dissolved all the problems there would have been before with travelling across multiple tribal boundaries.

    It's quite possible that there was an overall influx of people from Gallia during this period, even it is likely that it ended with a reverse flow of people from Britain to Gallia once the economy started to hit the rocks after the legions left.

    1. We don't see that in any data, do we? Anyhow why would continental Gallo-Romans be attracted to migrate to Britain, which, by most accounts, was rather a backwater place?

      The only evidence we have of migrations is in this dataset, which includes an outlier of quite apparent Near East origins. Some other instances of Britano-Romans may have included people of African origin but, in any case, I doubt these immigrants would be common outside the big cities such as Londinum and Eburacum.

      In this particular case I suspect that the beheaded bodies could correspond to victims of persecution, maybe early Christians, known to have been beheaded in many other cases (much more common than lion-feeding in fact) for refusal to worship the gods of the state. They could be some other kind of rebels of course but the Near Eastern guy fits well with Christians.

      Influences from France in Britain should be at least partly traced to the very first Neolithic and Megalithism. In principle, Britain was settled from NW France around 4000 BCE. So, barring whatever pre-Neolithic remnants and not considering further changes affecting both France and Britain (notably the Celts), the relationship with France is the most basic demographic layer.

      Anyhow, what I was pointing to was a relationship with Rhineland (Germany), which can only be explained by the Celts (or pre-Celtic Bell Beaker influences maybe too but with many doubts until new evidence arises).

  5. I think the study was pretty reasonable. and yes the modern Dutch and Danish could be used as the standard for what the ancient Anglo-Saxons were like genetically. Historically we know that the Anglo-Saxons hailed from Denmark, northwest Germany and Frisia. So those populations are most likely the best choice. However, I believe the contribution of the Anglo-Saxons to the English in future studies would be found to be even higher than 38%, rather closer to half (50%), but that of Wales and Scotland would remain around 30%.It is also a false impression that the Romano-Briton was necessarily dark-eyed than the Anglo-Saxon samples, they were not.

    Blue eyes are the most common eye color throughout the British Isles, at varying frequencies. Wales isn't darker-eyed than England, the differences between Romano-Britons and Saxons were not clear-cut blonde vs brunette.

    ScottishDNA Project and Blue Eye Research Project (2014):

    England per regions:
    Southwest = 35%
    East = 41%
    Southeast = 44%
    Northeast = 47%
    Yorkshire = 49%
    Central = 50%

    Wales = 45%

    Scotland per region:
    Central: 48%
    Northeast: 48%
    North and West: 49%
    Southwest: 49%
    Southeast :57%

    Ulster : 50%
    Munster: 50%
    Leinster : 52%
    Connacht : 53%

    The regions which were firstly invaded by Anglo-Saxons, were the Southeast and East England regions, but the frequency of blue eyes are still lower than Wales.

  6. The Anglo-Saxon genetical contribution to England should be higher than that of Wales/Scotland though 30% is acceptable for the Celtic fringe. However, in England nearly half.

    1. In England "nearly half" ONLY if you use the, already admixed, British Anglo-Saxon as reference. If you use Dutch for reference, it's "only" 30% (what seems a lot to me, honestly, by contrast Goths had at most 5% impact in Spain, probably much less, similar insignificant fraction can be attributed to Muslims, be them Berbers or Arabs). It'd be c. 0% in Wales (although it's probably not that simple).

    2. Probably not 0 in Wales anymore - there was a fair amount of colonization of Wales after it fell to the English.

    3. Well, the issue of how the people of Wales were back in the day remains unsolved by this study, as it only provides ancient references from NE England. We see here that the Welsh average overlaps almost exactly with ancient NE Britons but we also see that the individuals vary quite a bit, most of them between the English and Scottish average ranges. So it's legitimate to wonder if Iron Age Welsh were rather Scottish- or Irish-like on average (relative to the above graph). That may well also apply to parts of England (we see many red dots, like purple ones, well into the Irish strip). It's indeed conceivable to me that what is now SW England was quite different from NE England and instead much more similar to what was then Wales and Cornwall and all them more similar to the Irish. But only more ancient data will clarify that far.

    4. One of the interesting things the POBI project and the Leslie 2015 found was more haplotype structure similarity between Scotland and England than between Wales and England (with I believe the same samples).


      That was also to some extent true in their unlinked ADMIXTURE and PCA analyses as well


      So I wonder if the position of Scots on the PCA which has Dutch-Irish poles, where the Scots are more towards the Irish pole than the Welsh, contra apparent haplotype sharing, is more due to

      a) Scots sharing more haplotypes with England than Welsh do due to recent ancestry, despite ancestry on unlinked SNPs being more divergently Irish-like


      b) Scots having more recent migration from both England / continental Europe and Ireland (Gaels) compared to Wales.

      or something else.

      There's an Irish version of the POBI running at the moment, so that may throw some light on these questions.

    5. Samples seem quite different: Martiniano has many Welsh and probably from all districts, while Leslie has only a few and most are from the westernmost areas. Martiniano has few Scots (not sure where from) while Leslie has lots of Orcadians (clearly absent in Martiniano).

      In Leslie Orcadian peculiarities drive the show: dominate PC1 (vs all) and PC2 (vs North Welsh) and therefore we have basically a Brythonic vs Orcadian polarity, what makes Scots and English appear similarly intermediate but for different reasons: (a) Scots are less Brythonic than Welsh but also less Norwegian than Orcadians, (b) English are more Brythonic and also more Germanic than Scots.

      Here Scots (Orcadian or not) do not matter (too few samples) and the polarity is just Ireland vs Netherlands, Celtic vs Germanic, Neo-/Chalcolithic vs Bronze/Iron Age, pre-IE vs IE even. Sure: we could get a more nuanced approach by getting more Scots in and also a few more continental samples (Danish and French maybe), possibly sampling more English on regional bases too (to compensate for actual numbers and to discern intra-English differences, which should exist in spite of Leslie's suspiciously too homogeneous results). But nobody is doing that analysis. I would keep excluding Orcadians from most analyses anyhow because they clearly distort the playing field.

    6. Ah, I'd have thought they were accessing the same samples, but obviously not.

      Leslie / POBI was very particular about sampling only people whose four grandparents were from the same isolated villages, which is where the balance of relatively high Welsh, high Orcadian, very low mainland Scotland comes from (apparently not many isolated villages in Scotland where people were living and all had four grandparents from the same place, and were possible to get to, was their explanation). I would note that the mainland Scottish isolated groups haplotype clusters break out from Orcadian ones in Leslie's study, as being much more related to English (and more related to English than Welsh).

      The Martiano samples are maybe more weighted towards cosmopolitan samples from Wales and Scotland, which may be why there is so much difference, as well (due to England-Wales migration affecting the cosmopolitan Welsh and English?).

    7. They seem a good example on how different sampling strategies can produce different results, more so when the analysis affects a rather homogeneous macro-population such as are Brits or NW Europeans, where the internal differences are quite subtle.

  7. Maju you stated that the Sardinian culture was less "advanced" than Los Millares.

    I assume that you were referring to the Nuragic civilization, I personally would argue that although the Nuragic culture developed later than Los Millares, architecturally the Nuragics were much more advanced, just look at any major Nuraghe like Santu Antine, Barumini or Arrubiu, with their multiple tholoi and their large corridors, in Santu Antine's case we have corridors superimosed on two floors which is an astonishing feat of engineering for the time.
    Look at the Nuragics sacred wells and their complexity: http://www.academia.edu/2336031/The_nuragic_well_of_Santa_Cristina_Paulilatino_Oristano_Sardinia._A_verification_of_the_astronomical_hypothesis

    And I'm just mentioning a few monuments, since the Nuragics left behind several thousands Nuraghes and hundreds of temples, so they were much more "active" than Bronze age Iberian cultures and than other European cultures at the time in general.

    Even artistically the Nuragics produced a lot, you may not know this but they actually made the first human sized statues in Europe:

    So sorry, but when you just put aside the Nuragic civilization as a "less advanced" culture I can't let that pass.

    1. Not sure when I said that but I can only imagine that I meant that Sardinia, much like Britain, Aquitaine, etc. did not have civilization, as defined by the existence of cities (or towns or large walled settlements, call them what you wish). The point would be that the only known civilizations in Western Europe (or anywhere in Europe, excepted the Balcans) back in those dates were in Southern Iberia.

      As for the origins of the tholos construction technique, I understand that (barring West Asian precedents, separated by some 1000 years of nothing) the Iberian ones are also older.

      Another issue would be if and how the Sardinian nuraghe relate to the very similar Motillas of La Mancha. In that I'm willing to accept that, probably, Sardinian nuraghe are older, what brings many questions to the table. On one side the cultural elements of the Motillas seem to be the same as those of the nearby Bronce de Levante (Valencian Country), on the other side it's clear that some sort of interaction between Iberia and Sardinia was going on, also in terms of bull cult (which seems to replace or compete with an older deer cult but has also relatives in Crete and Anatolia). In very general terms, I'd consider Sardinia to be loosely in the cultural orbit of Iberia and SE France (Italy had not much to offer in that period yet) but the details remain obscure.

      But, of course, I agree that the ancient Sardinians were a vibrant society with, as you correctly say, huge cultural production. This however can also be said of Megalithic Britain, for instance, yet we still do not know of any "city" or equivalent in that area either so early on. Therefore the society has to be considered "rural" and not "civilized" (incipiently urban) yet.

      This probably has implications regarding the economic and political structure but hard to know in detail.

    2. The Nuragic civilization had a really large life span, from 1800 bc to roughly 500 bc (I know some say that it survived later, but that's wrong, after that the Sardinians kept fighting against invaders but they adopted Phoenician and later Roman culture, and those who didn't weren't capable of sustaining civilization anymore due to the constant foreign threat), so it is a complex subject, and talking about the "Nuragics" might be misleading, since the Sardinians from 1600 bc lived in a completely different way from those in 800 bc.

      During the later phases of the Nruagic civilization there were indeed some proto urban settlements such as that of Sant'Imbenia, that around 900-750 bc, developed a great marketplace, the new excavations and studies (2015) have revealed that it was much larger and complex than previously thought, the town of Sant'Imbenia was a major port town and exported its typical pottery all over the Western Mediterranean including North Africa and Iberia, because of their rich pottery industry and material wealth, and because of its articulate urban plant, with specialized buildings for the storage of goods and the manifacture of pottery, Sant'Imbenia has been regarded as a urban center by archaeologists in recent publications and as proof of a state-like entity in Nuragic Sardinia.

      There were a number of other urban centers during the early iron age phase in Sardinia, and I'm not talking about the Phoenician ones, such as Monte Zara and Sirai.

      As for the non existence of large walled settlements before, that is not correct either, the Monte Claro culture which preceded the Nuragic culture in Sardinia comprised indeed large proto urban settlements, in some cases encircled by massive walls; while the Nuragic culture had many different phases, during the first phase large towers and palaces were built, but the villages were not encircled by walls anymore, later during the late bronze age massive sanctuaries were built, some like that of Serri spanning for over 20 hectares and comprising refined religious structures such as the well temples, pools and arenas, some scholars have argued that these sancturie/towns were also urban settlements and thus an evidence of civilized life, Lilliu and Taramelli called that of Serri a Nuragic city, but there are other examples, such as the settlement of Gremanu, it spanned for over 7 hectares and was provided with an aqueduct, or that of Sa Sedda e Sos Carros, provided with a sewerage system and with a walled internal area which comprised some sacred structures including a fountain.

      Indeed these settlements were a sign that the Nuragic culture was on its way to becoming a civilization, even the infamous settlement of Su Nuraxi at Barumini developed ifrastructure such as a sewerage system, roads and plazas during the latest phase, which is way Lilliu often regarded it as a town/borough, I'm sure there are other examples of Nuragic towns that I'm missing but you get the idea.

      As for the artistic output, Megalithic Britain can't really be compared to Nuragic Sardinia, Nuragic wine vessels wwere imitated in Etruria and Iberia, Nuragic bronze statuettes were commonly found in Villanovian tombs and their sheer number, variety, and unique style can't be compared to anything from Megalithic Britain, same for the sandstone statues of Mont'e Prama.

      Sardinia can't really be said to have been in the cultural orbit of SE France or Iberia, as it developed its own culture with buildings and features absolutely unique to it, such as the well temples or the Nuraghi themselves.

    3. Of course Sardinia having its own well defined culture didn't mean there weren't cultural links between Sardinia and Iberia.

      There is extensive evidence for direct trade between Sardinia and Iberia during the late bronze age and early iron age, Sardinia functioned as a third party for the arrival of Orientalizing objects in Iberia, such as Sardinian made imitations of Cypriot vessels, tripodes, cauldrons and other bronze trinkets, and on the other hand during the late bronze age Sardinia employed Atlantic like swords like those from Huelva, realaboarting those sword protypes and creating their own, and other Atlantic broze age tools too, these interchanges were further testified by the recent discoveries of Nuragic pottery, both imported and imitated, in Iberia settlements, in one case, at Huelva, Nuragic vessels were found in a Pre Phoenician contexts dating back to the Xth century bc.



      As for the early and middle bronze age, the evidence for direct contacts is not as strong but it's been suggested that the El Argar swords and the Sant'Irozi swords, both dating to the XVIIIth century bc, shared a lot of common features and were proof of direct contacts between Sardinian and Iberian elites:


    4. Fascinating, Roberto, thank you very much for clarifying so many things.

      If there were stable towns, regardless of walls, we must then of course talk of "civilization" senso stricto. Do you have any reference for the Monte Claro culture? I'm particularly intrigued about the dates and possible relations. South Iberian oldest city dates are, I understand, for c. 2600 BCE, which are indeed very old and I would assume that older than anything of the kind in Sardinia but in any case I'd like to compare and learn more.

      The first linked article about the bronze ingots seems fascinating, particularly the map, in which Sardinia is the most densely dotted region by far (then the Eastern Mediterranean islands and Thrace, and only afterwards come the famous civilizations of Greece and Egypt). I'm not sure exactly what it says because it's difficult for me to read long texts in Italian but I wonder if those "oxhide" shaped ingots were actually made in Sardinia, with tin imported "in bulk" or in other ingot shapes from NW Iberia and maybe other areas of Atlantic Europe (Brittany and Cornwall were the other large tin reservoirs of the period, plus apparently some Afghan sources used in West Asia).

      Personally I interpret the development of the Motillas of La Mancha (so similar to nuraghe) as an attempt by Iberians (El Argar, Bronce de Levante) to secure a land route to Northwest Iberian tin sources (via the pastoralist Cogotas I culture of Central-North Iberia) alternative to the sea one via Zambujal-VNSP, maybe even in the context of conflicts between these two south Iberian civilizations and surely under Greek influence (El Argar adopts then the Mycenaean burial fashion in pithoi or large jars). I wonder which exactly was the role of Sardinia... and, secondarily, how does it fit with the presence of the Sherden in the Eastern Mediterranean also in that period of what in Spain is called the Middle Bronze Age (Late Bronze in the East).

    5. Well, I've found this interesting publication about the Monte Claro culture, which mentions "embryonic urban planning" for some settlements like the partially submerged one of Monte Pranu:


      The Monte Claro culture did share a few features with the contemporary El Argar culture in Iberia, rectangular houses with multiple rooms like those of the El Argar culture, and some cists burials too, however the El Argar culture continued well into the middle bronze age, while the Monte Claro culture ended abruptly, some scholars suggest because of climate change, and it was followed by an intermediate period known as Bonannaro culture, which didn't left behind many remains of large villages or towns, except for the town of Tanca Manna, comprised of over 200 dwellings, the oldest ones were rectangular like those of the Monte Claro culture.

      The Monte Culture also shared some features with the Fontbouisse culture in South France, which also comprised some fortified settlements, and with that of Piano Conte in Sicily.

      Some recurrining Nuragic structures such as the "Megaron temples", rectangular temples with multiple chambers, seem to have originated from the rectangular houses of the Monte Claro culture, rather than from Aegean models, as archaeologists suggested in the past:


      To answer your second question, yes indeed, while many of the ingots were made with Cypriot copper, some Oxhide ingots were made with local Sardinian copper. Interestingly enough the only Oxhide ingot factory known yet was in Ugarit, and not in Cyprus, the first mention of the Sherden is also as guards in Ugarit and Byblos, that's an eerie coincidence.

      But what's even more interesting is this very recent publication: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286876867_A_strange_lead_isotopic_signature_the_Funtana_Coberta-Ballao_hoard_Sardinia

      Which states that much of the copper found in a hoard in a Nuragic well temple came from the Sinai peninsula and other areas around the red sea rathern than from Cyprus or Sardinia. The hoard comprised oxhide ingots, votive swords, scrap metals and other copper artifacts.

      "New sources were used aside from local Sardinian and imported Cypriot copper. These new sources could be located in the Red Sea area, probably under Egyptian control."

      Egypt is where the Sherden served as royal guards and obtained many lands in exchange for their service, but that could be another coincidence.

    6. I was more interested in TIN than copper. Copper is relatively common but tin is quite rare and in the Bronze Age most of it had to come from the Atlantic (Galicia, Brittany), which underlines the key intermediary role of the southern Iberian civilizations and surely also the Occitan/SE French Chalcolithic groups such as Fontbuisse.

    7. In any instance, what you say about Sinai copper is extremely interesting, strongly supporting continuous trade of ancient Sardinians with Egypt (which at the time controlled not just Sinai but also most of the Levant) and the identification of the Sherden as Nuraghic Sardinians.

      BTW, I imagine you are not aware of the latest work identifying "paleosardinian" (eteosardinian) language with Basque (or something quite close). J.M. Elexpuru's book "Euskararen aztarnak Sardinian?" (the tracks of Basque language in Sardinia?), in which I collaborate with an appendix on population genetics' based prehistorical reconstruction of Basque and European origins, was published earlier this year but so far it is only in Basque, which obviously modern Sardinians do not speak. But it is a book to be aware of in any case because the list of Sardinian toponyms with Basque not just "correlates" but truly identical placenames is HUGE. In any case, I did make an older mention of that research here: http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/2011/03/paleo-sardinian-language-relative-of.html

      There's also some quite interesting cultural correlations in terms of carnival traditions, the S'Urtzu and what-not that Roslyn Frank has studied within her theory of "bear worship" (available at her academia.edu profile and Insula magazine, which I believe is a Sardnian medium).

      Back to Sea Peoples, I'm quite persuaded (an strong opinion I have, let's leave it at that) that it was ancient Sardinians who brought the Etruscans and Siculi to Italy from the Eastern Mediterranean (where I identify them as the Teresh and Sekelesh among Sea Peoples), plausibly to aid them against Italic invasion of Central-South Italy ongoing at that time. If the Weshesh "from the sea" can be identified with the "Ausones" (presumably aboriginal Italians), then they would also be involved of course. The Shekelesh Semitic (circumcised, shekel was the Semitic "pound" equivalent) roots could explain the unusually eastern (Levant-like) genetic tendency of Sicilians, which is quite anomalous and has hardly any other explanation.

    8. Well, this might interest you then:

      The cargo of a Nuragic ship was found some decades ago off the west coast of Sardinia (Arbus), a very recent publication (2015) stated that the find of a part of the ship, a sounding lead to be precise, testifies that what lies down there is not just the cargo, but an entire shipwreck.

      The cargo contained typical Nuragic objects such as double axes, lots of lead ingots, but also a remarkable quantity of tin ingots, the author of the publication states that the tin probably came from either Iberia or Etruria, to be precise the authors suggests Castilla y León as a likely source for the tin, since "Recent investigations have demonstrated that Iberian tin mines were already exploited since the late bronze age".

      The shipwreck has been dated to the 9-8th century bc based on its cargo, no wooden parts of the ship have been found yet, though the author suggests that the shipwreck might have sunken underneath because of the weight of the cargo.

    9. Well, the subject of the relationship between Sicily, South Italy and the sea peoples is really intriguing, there are so many bizarre finds.

      I suggest you watch these videos to understand better:



      The guy talking is Reinhard Jung, an expert of bronze age South Italy.
      To sum it up briefly, Sicilian and South italian pottery was found in the Aegean and the Syro-Palestinian coast, both imported and locally made. A Sicilian sword of the Thapsos type dated to the 14th century bc was found in the famous Uluburun shipwreck, suggesting the presence of mercenaries from prehistoric Sicily there, the Sherden royal guards are first seen holding South Italian/Pertosa like swords in the Medinet Habu relief, when they guarded Ramses II, that's those are the oldest depictions of the Sherden or of any sea people.

      According to Jung, slightly later the Naue II swords became more and more common in the Levant, the Naue II swords found in the Levant and Aegean originated from Italic prototypes like Cetona and Allerona, and not directly from Danubian ones, which seems natural to me as there is a lot of evidence for intense contacts between the Mycenaeans and South italy, while not so much for Mycenaeans and the Northen Balkans, furthermore the earliest Naue II swords in the Aegean were made with copper from Italy.

      It is clear that the Naue II were brought by Italics from Central and North Italy migrating south, and many destruction events (Lipari, etc) were connected to their arrival, according to Jung the prehistoric people of South Italy were forced to migrated to East and become part of the sea peoples for this reason, and for another one too, to obtain luxury goods like Mycenaean wares, which the tribal chiefs of South italy needed, when those objects stopped coming (since the Mycenaeans didn't come to South italy as regularly as they did in the richer Eastern mediterranean), the sout Italians deciced to take them themselves. Of course it's more complex than that but I'm trying to make a summary.

      Some other works by Jung about this subject that you might want to read:


      "The Italian-type handmade pottery was foundat two sites, at Tell Kaze and at Tell Arqa. AtTell Kazel its local production has been confirmed bychemical and mainly petrographic analyses. This pottery first occurred in stratified contexts before thefirst destruction of the settlement at the transition from Late Bronze Age II to Iron Age I. This destruction canbe linked to the destruction of Amurru by the Sea Peoples mentioned in Ramesses IIIs year 8 inscrip-tion at Medinet Habu Such handmade pottery maybe interpreted as related to immigrants originating fromItaly and integrated into the local Syrian society

      A sword of Naue II type from Ugarit and the Historical Significance of Italian type Weaponry in the Eastern Mediterranean"


      As for me, I still haven't made up my mind about this subject, there are just so many finds connecting South Italy and the sea peoples, but it's very difficult to understand what really happened.

    10. Wow, thank you again Roberto. Watched the first video and it'll take me a bit of time to go through all the materials but it is truly fascinating.

      As for the tin being original from Castile & Leon, I'm guessing that the association would be from some sort of associated objects because AFAIK there were no tin mines in that area but rather NW of it, in southern Galicia and North Portugal, where they were extremely abundant.

    11. Very recent news: the copper ingots which were found in the central tower of Nuraghe Arrubiu (the Nuraghe with the tallest tower ever found) have revealed that the copper came from the Sinai peninsula and from the Negev desert, this discovery was made public today on the regional news.

    12. That means that they were trading with the Near East and that the conjectures about the Sherden being Sardinians make even more sense than at any time before.

      Any news about the tin, because there are not so many places where it could come from.

      BTW I was reviewing my data about Iberian tin sources and it could indeed come from what is now Castile-Leon, either from the northwestern parts of it or from the area near Madrid: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iberia_Bronze.gif

    13. This fact about the origin of Sardinian tin is even more curious considering the striking similitude of the "motillas" (mottle & bailey) of La Mancha with the Sardinian nuraghe, which they must have imitated. I'm persuaded that the building of these "motillas", which is the first meaningful ever colonization of the arid district of La Mancha was meant primarily to secure a route to the tin sources of the Northwest but it seems that also to those of Central Spain.

    14. Well there is some resemblance I agree, but it's also very easy to distinguish them, the Nuragic towers are larger in diameter and often have more than one tholos chamber superimposed on eachother, not only that but both the bastion and the outer walls always have many towers while the Mottilas have circular walls surrounding them without any towers, the plan of the Motillas also seem more irregular, kind of like a maze, and the tower itself has a sort of rectangular shape and a flat roof, not a corbel vault or "tholos" like the Nuraghi.

    15. Fair enough, you seem to have studied the matter quite in detail and I bow to your knowledge.

      In any case it seems quite plausible that the architectural concept was copied (by Iberians from Sardinians) in the context of Mediterranean interactions that in the case of Iberia and Sardinia date to at least the Bell Beaker period, if not earlier. Interactions that in the Bronze also extended "somehow" to the Eastern Mediterranean, with Mycenaean influences in El Argar (at the same time that the motillas are erected, roughly 1500 BCE) and other trades that you are illustrating with the procedence of Sardinian copper and tin for example.

    16. By the way, speaking about similarities between bronze age Sardinia and Iberia, some Bronze age Iberian stelae depict horned warriors with circular shields and long swords that resemble the Nuragic warriors depicted in many bronze statuettes, or in the larger sandstone statues: http://c8.alamy.com/comp/H8NHG8/warrior-stela-stone-late-bronze-age-el-viso-cordoba-spain-national-H8NHG8.jpg

    17. I have to correct a previous comment of mine: there were some tin mines in Castile-Leon, however most mines were concentrated in the former Roman province of Gallaecia and thus I have been so used to talk of "Galicia" that I lose perspective some times.

      See this map: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iberia_Bronze.gif -- We can see that most of the period's tin mines (grey dots) are concentrated in Gallaecia but not only modern Galicia.

      There are also two mines near modern Madrid which could be in C&L or not, unsure. In any case it suggests that Cogotas peoples exported to Sardinia, maybe via the Motillas and either of the proto-Iberian cultures of the SE. Which must have also exported to Greece, Cyprus and what-not, judging on the Mycenaean cultural influence on El Argar B.

  8. A metal hoard which weighed over 20 kgs, 66% of the copper wasn't from either Sardinia or Cyprus, but from the red sea, some objects however were from even further east, from the Arabian peninsula, an incredible discovery indeed.

    The first publication I've posted is divided in two parts, the first explores the relationship between Sardinia and Cyprus during the late bronze age, and mentions among other things, the find of a Nuragic vase in Cyprus, which is dated to the 13-12th century bc (yes, the period when the sea peoples roamed around the Mediterranean), the vase was made in Sardinia and imported from there to Cyprus, another similar Nuragic vase was found in the same site, however it was made locally, considering Nuragic vases were not worth anything, since they were roughly made, it's pretty much evidence of Sardinian presence in late bronze age Cyprus. The fortified settlement of Pyla kokkinokremos, where the jars were found, is regarded by some scholars as a sea peoples' base, others think it's a local settlement with foreign presence from the Aegean and elsewhere.

    The second part of the paper is about the relationship between Sardina and the rest of the Western Mediterranean during the late bronze age and early iron age, especially that with Iberia, which was quite intense during this period.

    Another interesting find regarding the relationship between Sardinia and the Aegean world is that of a considerable number of Nuragic pottery in Kommos, Southern Crete, dating back to the 14th century bc, Kommos was one of the most important ports during the bronze age and it is likely that ships traveled directly from Kommos to Egypt, in its shipyard an anchor remarkably similar to one found in Sardinia was discovered.

    "The vessels in Building N, particularly the cooking pot, suggests food preparation to Sardinian taste: either Sardinian sailors or locals catering for visitors from the central Mediterranean"



    1. Fascinating really. Thank you again for your input, just loving it.

  9. I forgot to answer your question about the dating of those towns, the Monte Claro culture started around 2700 bc and ended by the end of the third millenium bc, or according to some other publications it's even older than that, dating back to 3000/2900 bc and ending by 2300 bc: http://www.refdoc.fr/Detailnotice?cpsidt=28438833

    1. Then it fully fits with the chronology of Southern Iberian civilizational development, for example you'd read c. 3000 for the overall Chalcolithic (social complexity increase, which goes along with the first metallurgy of gold, silver and copper) and the associated Almeriense culture and then c. 2600 for the Los Millares town as such. Same in Portugal AFAIK.


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