23rd January 2016:

What are the genetic origins of people living in the East of England today? And was the impact of Anglo-Saxon migrations on the British population? A remarkable study, co-authored by staff from Oxford Archaeology, has allowed researchers to complete ancient genomes to estimate the impact of immigration into eastern Britain in the 5th to 7th centuries AD and assess the extent of its survival in modern England.

The study, a collaborative project by Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, Oxford Archaeology, University of Central Lancashire, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and the Genome Analysis Centre, reconstructed the ancient genome sequences for ten individuals recovered by Oxford Archaeology East from three archaeological sites in Cambridgeshire. Five samples were from the late Iron Age and middle Saxon period cemetery at Hinxton (coincidentally the site of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute), four of early Saxon date were from Oakington, while the remaining individual, of late Iron Age date, was from a site in Linton.

The sequences were compared with those of hundreds of modern samples from Britain and Europe to reveal that, on average, 38% of the ancestry of the modern East English population derives from Anglo-Saxon migrations. Just as interesting was the finding that the individuals from Oakington were culturally Anglo-Saxon, but genetically mixed, showing both Anglo-Saxon and British ancestries, and also a mixture of the two. The compelling results disprove the idea suggested by previous DNA-based studies that the native and migrant populations were culturally segregated, and instead indicate that the two populations integrated and interbred.

According to Dr Duncan Sayer, archaeologist and author on the paper from University of Central Lancashire, "the archaeological evidence shows that these individuals were treated the same way in death, and proves they were all well integrated into the Oakington Anglo-Saxon Community despite their different biological heritage."

The study is published is the latest edition of Nature Communications. It is available to read as an open-access paper and can be downloaded from the journal's website. Click here for further information.