Genetic Ancestry

Welcome to Mike Campbell’s Genetic Ancestry Page

I’m a (late-) 40-something Nova Scotian with Highland and Hebridean roots. Are we related? The answer is Yes, but how closely?

The main reason that I got involved with genetic ancestry testing is that I was very curious regarding the deep ancestry, the route that my paternal line took over the ages and across continents that resulted in me living here in Nova Scotia.  I’m sure there is no information on this page relating to genetic research that you won’t find in much greater detail elsewhere on the web; however, this is my story, so read on if you’re interested.  Keep in mind, though … this is Subject To Change!  8-)

Genetic Ancestry

What is genetic ancestry research all about?  I used, so head there for more information.  Essentially, when you were created, half of your father’s dna and half of your mother’s dna were taken, then recombined to make you.  Because of this recombination, it isn’t possible to trace back to look for traits that might indicate timeframes and migration patterns.  Two areas of our dna, however, do not change; there are mutations, but only relatively slight ones and ones that don’t effect our makeup (about 98 percent of our dna is ‘junk’ or not active in the makeup of who we are).  These areas are the Y Chromosome, passed on from father to son, and the Mitochondrial DNA, found outside the nucleus of every cell, which is passed on from mother to all her children.  The mutation rates differ, with the Y Chromosome having a faster mutation rate.

In males, for example, researchers have been able to locate places on our genome, alleles, where Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) of chemical base pairs occur.  These repeats happen in the course of genetic copying from one generation to the next.  A small sequence of chemical base pairs gets added to the existing sequence.  By identifying these locations, genetic researchers are able to spot where the mutation occurred — by looking at average mutation rates, family history (migration, location), archeological and historical information, cultural and geographical drivers or limitations to migration, etc., they are able to discern the migration patterns of human genetics as humans spanned out around the planet.  Our human migration story has been mapped.

As genetic testing has continued, researchers are now identifying Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs, or ‘snips’) at locations on the genome.  By tracking these, we see a better picture of the haplogroup subclades (down to even smaller, more isolated sub-subclades).  [Related:  Why Y-STR haplotype clusters are not clades]

It’s true that genetic ancestry research can only give you two lines (your father’s father’s father’s …, and your mother’s mother’s mother’s…).  However, since people didn’t hop on boats, cars, planes and trains, for most of our history there wasn’t a great deal of movement; it’s fair to say, I think, that a good chunk of one’s other lines of ancestry (in the many millions) are associated with the same locations and timelines.

Deep Ancestry: R1b1 and H1 Haplogroups

Y-chromosome Paternal Lineage

My y haplogroup is R1b.  To follow along back with this lineage, then, R1b obviously came out of R (marker M207 on the y genome), which lived in Asia about 27,000 years ago.  This is a list of R and its subclades.  R came out of haplogroup P (M45) which existed 25,000-34,000 years ago.  P is the ancestor of most Europeans, and almost all of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, ie almost every European and Native American would be my, what?, (at least) 1200th cousin?

P comes out of haplogroup NOP which lived in Asia about 30,000-35,000 years ago.  NOP came out of haplogroup K which arose in SW Asia 35,000-40,000 years ago.  K is a brother clade to IJ which tends to dominate the Middle East and Western Asia and is prominent through central Europe into Scandinavia.  K and IJ come out of haplogroup IJK of 40,000-45,000 years ago.  IJK comes out of haplogroup F, as do about 90% of non-African lineages.  F (M89) arose about 45,000-55,000 years ago in north Africa, the Levant or Arabia.

Haplogroup F comes out of CF which lived in Asia 55,000-60,000 years ago in Asia.  CF came out of CT which arose about 60,000 years ago in East Africa and is known as Eurasian Adam.  CT came out of BT which lived about 70,000 years ago in North East Africa.  And BT came out of Y, or Y Chromosomal Adam, the most recent common male ancestor.  And, there you have it, my paternal line.  8-)

Below is the present-day distribution of R1b in Europe (map shown immediately below).  Through to mid-decade, the view of R1b in Europe was that R1b entered Europe prior to the Last Glacial Maximum, wintering in the Iberian Ice Age Refuge in southwest Europe.  The present-day distribution was thought to show the key to R1b migration — from the areas of the Basque Region, R1b males moved north as the ice retreated, finding their way to Britain/Ireland by perhaps 13,000 years ago.  Much of this theory was based on STR analysis using a small number of STRs.  I suppose, as well, that assumptions were made linking the y-chromosome data with the mitochondrial evidence of a much older human presence in Europe as well as a human presence in Iberia during the LGM.

But further research into SNPs, as well as criticism of the STR analysis itself, has led opinion toward a much later arrival to Europe for R1b (specifically, R1b1b2).  R1b is thought to have emerged 18,500 years ago in SW Asia, with R1b1b2 perhaps entering Europe 8,000 years ago or so.  R1b1b2 is now thought to have a Neolithic arrival in Europe, not Paleolithic as previously thought.

Present-day R1b distribution map

Using SNP deep clade testing, I have determined the R1b1b2 subclades to which I belong, namely P312 and its own subclade L21.  As I am negative on the 3 known L21 subclades (which include M222, the ‘NW Irish’ marker), my subclade is listed as “L21*” (the asterisk denotes positive on the subclade marker, but negative on downstream subclades; if I had been positive on one of the downstream markers, I would just refer to that one).

Known testing of people with the P312 marker show this distribution.  The L21 distribution is here.  Note the relative absence of L21 in Iberia [September 2010 update: as more testing of SW European males come in, we are actually seeing a high incidence of L21 in Iberia ~ we’ll see where this leads as more data comes in; it may not change conclusions too much other than to say that L21 did indeed also spread to the southwest].  I believe I’ve seen age estimates for P312 occurring possibly 3000 BC (or earlier, after 2000 BC, or later before 4000 BC), and that L21 (and its more European sister clade, U106) occurring fairly soon after P312’s appearance.

With L21, as compared with P312, we see a sharper focus on Germany, leading to the west/northwest toward the British Isles.  So, we may assume that L21 arose in Western Germany, and the dating is about 3,500 years ago, possibly going back to 4,500 years ago or earlier.  Hmm, Western Germany around 1500-2500 BC?  Can you say ‘Celtic’?

The Neolithic in Europe and Britain/Ireland

Eventually replacing Mesolithic hunter-gatherer culture, Neolithic culture in Europe is represented by handmade pottery (particularly corded/impressed ware), animal husbandry (keeping flocks), and growing crops such as cereals and grains.  It arrived in Europe via Cyprus/Crete, and on to eastern Greece by about 7000 BC.  Through a combination of settlement and diffusion, it spread slowly north toward the great river valleys and then to the west.  It also spread via sea routes along the northern Mediterannean.  As the Neolithic arrived, it replaced the hunter-gatherer cultures of the Mesolithic peoples.  This occurred at different rates, particularly in areas where the Mesolithic folk had easy access to resources, such as seafood.  The first signs of the Neolithic are found in Britain from about 4500 BC.  By about 4100 BC to 3800 BC, the Neolithic completed its arrival in northwest Europe, including Britain.

In “The Origins of the British”, Stephen Oppenheimer suggests that the arrival of Indo-European language to Ireland by around the time of the Neolithic arrival (ie, Indo-European language was carried on the backs of the farmers across Europe) was accomplished by the introduction of a relatively small genetic group, (in the example of Ireland) just 6 to 9 percent of Irish lines.  Again, it would appear that we are talking about a scenario that was based on limited STR analysis which placed R1b in Iberia during the Last Glacial Maximum.  The view in this scenario is that most Irish (and British) lines arrived during the Upper Paleolithic into the Mesolithic, with the new genetic signatures of the farmers bringing agriculture and Indo-European languages (either during or at the tail end of the Neolithic expansion to NW Europe) making a noticeable but insignificant genetic impact upon arrival to Britain and Ireland.

Stephen Oppenheimer asks, “how could a new language arrive during the Neolithic without people?”, and “was 6% invasion enough to change language and culture? Probably yes…”  As Oppenheimer describes it, three-quarters of British/Irish ancestors were in place by about 5500 BC, prior to the arrival of agriculture in Britain.

Indeed, Bryan Sykes had said, in his book “Saxons, Vikings and Celts”:

I can see no evidence at all of a large-scale immigration from central Europe to Ireland and the west of the Isles generally, such as has been used to explain the presence there of the main body of ‘Gaels’ or ‘Celts’.  The ‘Celts’ of Ireland and the Western Isles are not, as far as I can see from the genetic evidence, related to the Celts who spread south and east to Italy, Greece and Turkey from the heartlands of Hallstadt and La Tene in the shadows of the Alps during the first millenium BC.

But the assumption that there were no people arriving would appear to be incorrect, particularly based on the SNP results we are seeing from 2008 and 2009, as well as the revised dating and placement of R1b.

The vast majority of male DNA in Ireland (and Britain) is R1b which appears to have emerged in SW Asia by 18,500 years ago, entering Europe about 8,000 years ago.  R1b was not present in Iberia during the LGM.  The supposed post-LGM movements of the R1b genetic group northward up from Iberia, an assumption based on analysis of a small number of STRs, did not happen.  There is, then, no 6 percent genetic signature arriving by the time the ‘Neolithic package’ and/or Indo-European languages arrive in Britain/Ireland.  There are essentially no Old Genetic Lines in Britain/Ireland (at least on the Y DNA side of the picture).  The size of the genetic group arriving near the dawn of the British/Irish Neolithic period is significant (ie, that 75+%), and arriving from the NW Continent.

The R1b-P312 haplogroup is the dominant haplogroup in Britain/Ireland, and they appear to have made their moves from the Continent right around the time of this Neolithic culture/economy and Indo-European language/culture arrival.  In other words, the strong majority of NW British and Irish lines arrived at this time.  This was a major population move, with culture and language coming along for the ride.  Does the genetic marker P312 correspond with the introduction of Neolithic culture in Britain?  This is not to say that it was the exclusive bearer, but it seems as though it may have done a fair bit of the heavy lifting.

In a March 2007 New York Times article on British/Irish DNA that features both Bryan Sykes and Stephen Oppenheimer, there is also reference to Christopher Tyler-Smith:


… the Y chromosomes of English men seem identical to those of people in Norway and the Friesland area of the Netherlands, two regions from which the invaders may have originated.  Dr. Oppenheimer disputes this, saying the similarity between the English and northern European Y chromosomes arises because both regions were repopulated by people from the Iberian refuges after the glaciers retreated.  Dr. Sykes said he agreed with Dr. Oppenheimer on this point, but another geneticist, Christopher Tyler-Smith of the Sanger Centre near Cambridge, said the jury was still out. “There is not yet a consensus view among geneticists, so the genetic story may well change,” he said. As to the identity of the first postglacial settlers, Dr. Tyler-Smith said he “would favor a Neolithic origin for the Y chromosomes, although the evidence is still quite sketchy.

By the way, I have purchased and read (and enjoyed) the above books by Drs Sykes and Oppenheimer.  It just looks as though the information revealed by the recent R1b SNP results is changing the story.

Related: Demic diffusion of agriculture into Europe supported by craniometric data (definition of Demic diffusion)

Related: A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages [Balaresque P, Bowden GR, Adams SM, Leung H-Y, King TE, et al. 2010 A Predominantly Neolithic Origin for European Paternal Lineages. PLoS Biol 8(1): e1000285. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000285]

The Beaker Folk

As we begin to consider Celtic movement into Britain/Ireland, we may well begin with the Beaker Folk, or, those peoples of western Europe whose culture featured certain types of beaker (drinking vessel) pottery.  This cultural period lasted from about 2800 BC to 1900 BC, or from the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic period through to the early Bronze Age.  Was P312 more or less aligned with Bell Beaker Folk, with L21 more or less forming the Goidelic group within that Beaker culture?

Beakers — specifically, bell beakers — arrived in Britain around 2500 BC.  They declined in use by 2200-2100 BC and fell out of use by around 1700 BC, with the earlier pottery style more closely aligned with that found along the Rhine and the later styles more like that found in Ireland.

Bell beaker culture is associated with single burials, often with grave goods, with burials also taking place in tumuli or megalithic tombs, and had metallurgy, working copper and gold.  In arms, they had copper daggers and spearheads.  Pastoralism, or animal husbandry, was also a feature of Bell Beaker culture.

Megalithic Culture

Megalithic culture, or in particular those cultures that raised stone monuments as found in western Europe, lasted for three and a half millennia in Britain and Ireland, no doubt in various forms.  We may think of Megalithic folk overlapping/including groups such as Beaker folk.

L21’s arrival in Britain/Ireland was likely too late to have been involved with, say, the construction of the passage grave at Newgrange in Ireland (try the Clannad song).  L21 may have arrived in Britain to have been present for the major construction at Stonehenge in England (perhaps, very soon after), and was perhaps present for the creation of sites such as Callanish in the Hebrides.  At any rate, P312 folk would appear to be well situated in Britain during this period.

It is thought that L21’s arrival probably coincided more or less with the use of round barrows in Britain, as described here:


These are circular mounds, typically used to bury community leaders.  They are often several in a line off of a Neolithic Long Barrow.  There are quite a few different subsets of the round barrows.  The first three are bell bowl and disc barrows, all of which have a mound surrounded by a ditch.  The names describe the shape of the mounds.  It has been theorized that disc barrows are usually for women and the bell ones for men.  The other 2 remaining types are pond barrows, which have a depression carved out of the center and are surrounded by a bank, and saucer barrows which are just flatter and surrounded by a ditch.

Here is a page discussing Nordic megalithsBritish (and other) megaliths, including a megalith map and a listing by country.  Here’s a map of British Isles megaliths.  This site, too, appears to be quite extensive.

The Indo-Europeans

Who were the Celts of antiquity?  ‘The Fathers of Europe’, and all that.

Celtic is one of Indo-European cultural groups that moved into western Europe following a long history of development and movement from the foothills of the Himalayas.  Indo-European languages today dominate most of Europe, central and southwestern Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.

It is interesting that there appear to be strong connections between ancient Irish language/culture and that of Indian Vedic culture.  While I can’t comment on its veracity, this website gives an idea of the scope of the possible connections and asks some important questions about the ancient origins of Irish and Vedic culture.  This site comments on possible Irish/Vedic connections relating to astrology.

This article discusses the Common Ground of European Celts and Indian Vedic Hindus.


Imagine a wide swath from Iceland, Ireland, the European west coast across southern Russia, the Caucasus mountains, through Afghanistan and into India; that is the common ground for this unnamed mutual spiritual/cultural system. But there is more. The early Persians, the Hittites in ancient Turkey, and Greeks and Romans also spoke Indo-European language branches, and practiced parallel religions. The European, Asia Minor and Indian geography was blanketed by peoples speaking shared languages and following a single, multi-faceted mosaic of religions. Only Hinduism survived in India, though it mutated, and was nearly eclipsed by Buddhism. The Celtic religion survived most apparently in the ancient Irish faith and culture. Like the Vedas, the extant Old Irish literatures-memorized and transmitted through a 12-year training by an Irish bard/priest class who were the inheritors of the druids-are a window into Celtic thought and lifestyle.

VisWiki:  The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture; Indo-Aryan Migration.  More on the Vedas.

This presentation discusses Indo-European Origins in Southeast Europe.  This study suggests Anatolian origins of the Indo-European language family, beginning 5,800-7,800 BC.

Mycenaean Greece

The Lion Gate at Mycenae, Greece

(June 2009) In reading Barry Cunliffe’s “Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC to 1000 AD”, albeit with a keen P312-ish eye, we come across Dr. Cunliffe discussing the period 2800 – 1300 BC, and talking about Minoan Crete.  Interesting enough, but then he moves on to the Greek movement into Crete:


Minoan civilisation was flourishing when, early in the fifteenth century BC, palaces, towns and villas, with the exception of Knossos, were devastated by fire, leaving most of the sites abandoned.  The cause of the destruction continues to excite: natural catastrophe, internal strife or external attack have all been suggested, with the weight of opinion favouring the last.  After the destruction influences from mainland Greece greatly increase.  Mycenaean material culture replaces Minoan, mainland-style chamber tombs with weapon burials are introduced, and the language of administration, recorded in Linear B script, is now Greek, replacing the earlier non-Greek Linear A.  Crete had evidently been incorporated in the Mycenaean sphere though whether by armed invasion or peaceful annexation remains unclear.

In reading Cunliffe here, I was immediately struck by two things — first, the view stated by Henri Hubert that the Celtic, Latin, Greek split of the Indo-European people occurred at roughly the same time, and also Hubert’s view regarding the Celtic movement, “… their progress was a conquest.” (see section on The Celts below)  We can imagine that perhaps the Greek and Latin movements involved some degree of conquest as well.

The Mycenaean Greeks were believed to be of Indo-European stock, and John Chadwick apparently dated the first arrival of the Proto-Greeks to about 600 years before the Linear B was first introduced.

Early Bronze Age
It is believed that Mycenae was settled by Indo-Europeans who practiced farming and herding, close to 2000 BC.  Scattered sherds have been found from this period, 2100 BC to 1700 BC.  At the same time, Minoan Crete developed a very complex civilization that interacted with Mycenae.

It is also interesting to note that Classical Greek mythology asserts that Mycenae was founded by Perseus, grandson of king Acrisius of Argos, son of Acrisius’ daughter, Danaë, who is associated with the Irish goddess Dana and an Indic goddess of similar name.

This site on European culture/DNA notes:


These Proto-Italo-Celto-Germanic R1b people had settled around the Alps by 2300 BCE, and judging from the spread of bronze working, reached Iberia by 2250 BCE, Britain by 2100 BCE and Ireland by 2000 BCE. This is assumably when the R1b-L21 lineage came to the British Isles, from southern Germany. A second R1b expansion took place from the Urnfield/Hallstatt culture around 1200 BCE, pushing west to the Atlantic, north to Scandinavia, and as far east as Greece and Anatolia (=> see Dorian invasion below).



The presence of R1b in Greece could be attributed to the Dorian invasion (1200 BCE), which correspond to the expansion of the Urnfield culture throughout Europe and Anatolia, and to the destruction of the Near-Eastern civilizations by the Sea Peoples. Greek R1b (including southern Italy) is divided between the Proto-Celtic S116/P312 and the eastern variety (known as ht35) from Anatolia. If the Dorian were ht35, they could be the descendants of the Trojans (seeking revenge for the destruction of their city a few decades earlier), or of the Hittites (or a combination of both). If they were S116/P312, it means that they could have been Proto-Celts from Hallstatt. Of course it can’t be ruled out that the Trojans asked their “cousins” from Hallstatt for help to defeat the Myceneans, thus invading as a hybrid R1b faction of S116/P312 and ht35. The S116/P312 element could also be due to the later Roman occupation of Greece.

But could the Greek R1b not also have been partly from the Mycenaeans themselves?  If the Mycenaean Greeks had split from the Indo-European group which also fathered both the Latins and the Celts, could they also have brought R1b with them to Greece?

Video Documentaries:  Here seen in Part 1 and Part 2 are very well-done, interesting video documentaries on the Indo-Europeans in Northern Europe.  These clips bring together information on life in the Bronze Age of the ‘Beaker Folk’ which likely corresponds to the R1b-P312 genetic marker and the genetic and cultural base of the Celts. [Added Dec08’09]

The Celts

[I must thank Richard Stevens for his great work on the P312/L21 dna research and communications, including providing the references to Henri Hubert’s “The History of the Celtic People” (1934).  I have a fairly substantial library relating to Celtic culture and history, but I find little of it delves into the deeper origins.]


. . . The movements of the Celts were, in my opinion, likewise in two waves, and must have been governed by the same demographic laws [i.e., as those that governed the movement of other Bronze Age Indo-European peoples], by the same general facts in the history of civilization. In other words, the breaking-off of the Goidelic group, and probably the first Celtic colonization of the British Isles, must have occurred at the same time as the descent of the Latins into Italy, and that of the first Greek invaders into Greece. The differentiation of the Brythonic, Umbrian, and Doric dialects took place afterwards at some time unknown, among the groups which had remained behind and in contact with one another.. . . In short, the dividing of the Celtic peoples into two groups is an ancient event, of very great importance, connected with the great facts of European prehistory. It is the consequence of the breaking-up of the Italo-Celtic community (p. 139).”

It seems to me that we had been in a bit of a quandary when it comes to The Celts, ‘we’ being you and I as we look at the popular, modern histories of Celtic peoples.  On the one hand, we refer to the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland, the Welsh, the Bretons, and other surviving Celtic language/culture.  We inherited some of the language — my Dad is from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where Gaelic culture survives … my Grandmother had Gaelic, and her Mother’s first language was Gaelic.  I wore a kilt on my wedding day, as did my best man; a piper stood on a hillside by the chapel where I was married and played as we all arrived and left, he later piped us into our wedding banquet.  Though I wouldn’t call myself “a professional Scot”, there is lots of scotch whisky in my house.  My province has its own tartan.  My son bears a Gaelic name.  Celtic music is popular here.  It survives, in one form or another.  So, that’s us here and now, but what about those Celts of central Europe, back there and then?

For interest:  here is the website of Oifis Iomairtean na Gàidhlig, the Province of Nova Scotia’s Office of Gaelic Affairs.  Here is the Province’s 2002 Report on Gaelic in Nova Scotia.

Here is a link to the website of Comhairle na Gàidhlig, the Gaelic Council of Nova Scotia.  The Highland Village Museum at Iona, Cape Breton, presents this online Cape Breton Ceilidh.  Also check out the Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts at St. Ann’s, Cape Breton.

Here’s a short clip from the Discovery Channel on the Gaelic language in Scotland.


Soldiers Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
The site of my paternal line’s first settlement in the New World (1817).
The little sand spit/dune in the center of the pic is known as a ‘barachois’,
and are common on the Bras D’Or Lakes (actually a brackish inland sea).
[Joe Campbell photo]

On the other hand, we have had the ‘romantic’ Celt of Iron Age west/central Europe who were ‘the Fathers of Europe’ and who sacked Rome, etc.  Ah, but they were that loose collective of tribal groups, never forming a cohesive political entity.  Too tribal.  Swallowed up by encroaching peoples from all sides.  Sad.  What could have been.  Hallstadt, the Man with the Golden Shoes, La Tene.  The people of creative energy and power who might have given Europe such a different history.

So, there are the two sides.  But where is the connection between Gaelic Ireland or Brythonic Britain and those Celts of Germany and Austria?  The story was, insofar as I could tell, that these Hallstadt/La Tene Celts ‘by 300 BC or so’ had moved into (invaded) Britain and Ireland, supplanting the existing peoples.  So they brought Gaelic and Welsh with them (so recently), and in the process left little or nothing of it behind in Germany (again, so recently).  Hmmm.

A more reasonable account would be to put the Celts of the British Isles and the Hallstadt/La Tene Celts of Germany/Austria as distant cousins, rather than being directly related as central European father/founder and British Isles offspring.  Looking at the evidence from P312 and L21, we can start to paint a picture of the northwestern migration of central European peoples from Germany down along the Rhine and across the North Sea into Britain.  Again, if L21 is 3500-4500 years old, this would/could place it in Britain around the time that Stonehenge was raised (it had been dated about 4500 years ago, but a recent analysis has put it at around 4200-4300 years ago).  Could L21 have been present?  Might L21 have found its way to the Outer Hebrides by 4000 years ago when the standing stones at Callanish were raised?

September 2010 update: again, as more and more testing comes in of P312 males, we’re seeing more L21 present in France and Iberia; this may not change conclusions too much, other than to say that L21 did indeed also spread to the southwest.

Celtic Archaeology and Language

In his 1997 book, The Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe writes,


It was during the Late Bronze Age, roughly 1300-750 BC, that the Celtic language developed its recognizable characteristics in Western Europe.  By 600 BC Celtic was spoken in Iberia, Ireland, and around the Italian Lakes, and it is reasonable to suppose that it was also in use over much, but not all, of the intervening area.  Where and when Celtic emerged as a language distinct from other Indo-European tongues is still a matter of much debate, but the general consensus of linguists — that the origin lay within the Rhine-Danube zone late in the second or early in the first millennium [BC] — is perfectly consistent with the archaeological record.

Professor Cunliffe notes “there is little in the archaeological record to suggest migration or even the spread of a dominant military elite”, and suggests that Celtic languages moved as a lingua franca and via a religious caste/elite strongly associated with the increased metals trade.  “Plausible”, sure, but less plausible in light of genetic evidence.

Once again, the genetic results are indeed pointing us to a large-scale migration of people into the British Isles from the Celtic homeland taking place much earlier during the Late Neolithic through the Early Bronze Age.  If Celtic languages developed into their “recognizable form” by the Late Bronze Age, does this necessarily imply that this was the period during which they arrived in the British Isles and Western Europe, and are we trying to force Goidelic here when it may have arrived in the British Isles a thousand years earlier?

In the story of Gaelic and other Celtic languages, the “deus ex machina” does appear to be the arrival of the single nucleotide polymorphisms P312 and L21 both in the sense of the ancient folk migrations to the British Isles and the present-day attempts to tell the tale.  “Folk migration” sounds rather benign, doesn’t it?  “Invasion” or “conquest” are probably more apt, but it is very possible that the Celtic movement from the Rhineland to the British Isles took place over the course of generations and perhaps centuries.  Perhaps we require a new term to describe the Goidelic arrival to the British Isles.

In “The Celtic Realms” by Myles Dillon and Nora Chadwick (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1967), the authors write:


We can go further back in time [prior to the 6th century BC] and it appears that the original home of the Celts was east of the Rhine, in the country that is now Bavaria and Bohemia, and westwards as far as the Rhine itself.  The evidence for this opinion is in a comparison of place-names with archaeology.  In the Bronze Age, about the end of the fourteenth century BC, there appears in central Europe, a culture marked by burial customs and by forms of decoration of weapons, ornaments, tools and pottery, that are hitherto unknown there and are found in association.  The burials are in mounds (tumuli) of earth heaped over the grave, and some archaeologists identify this culture with the emergence of the Celts.  Following on the tumulus culture, there appears a new fashion of burial according to which the body was cremated, the ashes were placed in an urn, and the urns were deposited in cemeteries, known as ‘urnfields’.  [...]

Many archaeologists would identify the emergence of the Celts with the appearance of urnfields in south central Europe, as there seems to be a cultural continuum from the time they appear, at the close of the Bronze Age, through the Hallstadt period and down to La Tene.  But this is too late, in our opinion, for the separation of Celtic as a distinctive dialect, and it is better to regard as already Celtic whatever can be dated to the beginning of the second millenium BC.  [...]

The Celtic settlement of the British Isles is more difficult to trace.  It seems now that we must choose between two extremes.  About 2000 BC came Bell-Beaker people, whose burials are in single graves, with individual grave-goods.  The remarkable Wessex Culture of the Bronze Age which appears about 1500 BC is thought to be based upon this tradition.

The authors mention the other extreme as the Iron Age folk who appear to arrive around 600 BC and who constructed the hill forts in Britain.  “At present, in our opinion, either view is tenable, and we confess to preferring the early date.”  Do we really even know that these Iron Age hill fort (oppida) builders were new arrivals?  Was this more of an adoption of Continental designs thanks to all the trade that was taking place?  Anyway, I think we can agree with their preference for the earlier date for the Celts; I’m just wondering if there was new people arriving at this time (perhaps just an elite?).

Incidentally, the etymology of a name like that of the river Isar, which runs through Bavaria and western Austria, is an interesting one.  Was it the spread of R1b-P312 which helped move the language basis for this placename throughout western Europe?

Again, it does appear that the timing of L21 arriving in Britain would match the appearance of round barrows, or round graves (a shift from the long barrows of earlier Neolithic times).

Bronze Age round barrow, Peak District, England

It’s worth following the story of British metallurgy at this point.


It is impossible to understand early metal working without looking at the early Bronze Age itself. Only in recent years we have started to get a glimpse of how rich and complex the early Bronze Age was. Not only did they build stone circles, but they also built huge ceremonial landscapes, often incorporating henges, avenues, barrows and stone and timber circles. They marked some important points in the calendar with alignments, built huge timber enclosures, but the biggest single use of the ceremonial landscape was for the rituals of the dead, the passage from this world to join the ancestors. It is thought that Stonehenge was only the end of a journey that started at Woodhenge, (Timber circle) timber for the living, stone for the dead, with rituals and feasting on pigs on a mass scale, a huge wake, with a great procession escorting the dead, travelling down the river Kennet to the beginning of the avenue that leads to Stonehenge, to deposit the remains or bury them in one of the many barrow that surround Stonehenge.

Over the 800 years of the Early Bronze Age in Britain we see an intensive building of stone circles, and the embellishment of several henges with stone circles, and later additions of avenues. Barrow cemeteries spread and became part of the ceremonial landscapes we see around Stonehenge and many other prehistoric sites. On the archaeological record in Britain the first objects made of gold and copper appear around 2300 BC, at a time of rapid growth and development. There is a slow, but marked change in the burial practices from a few centuries earlier, family or clan burials in long barrows with little if any grave goods. The use of the long barrows with groove ware pottery, being slowly abandoned in favour of single burials in round barrows, with a new type of pottery, a style imported by a migrating people from the Rhine area of Europe.

The arrival of this new pottery and people have a profound effect on the archaeological record and appear to take over and dominate all burial practices and from the arrival of Beaker pottery 2500 BC it spreads across Britain to be found at nearly every ceremonial site and most burials during the early Bronze Age. From here on most graves are furnished with grave goods: archaeologists call them the Beaker package, which included one or more of the following: a beaker, flint tools, arrowheads, daggers, flat axe of copper and gold work in the form of disks and basket earrings.

It is in these Beaker barrows that the first metal objects arrive, and were most probably powerful symbols of status of the new ruling social elite. Until a few years ago it had always been generally accepted that the first metal work arrived with the beaker people, but more recently some archaeologists have realised that early metal work in Britain must have been heavily influenced by earlier metal work, being imported from Ireland, where the earliest copper mining dates from around 2400 BC on Ross island and possibly earlier. Beaker pottery was found in connection with the site.

The Amesbury Archer — an L21 Celtic Connection?

In 2002, researchers uncovered human remains very near Stonehenge, a man and his son, with the remains dated approximately 2300 BC — the man has been dubbed ‘the Amesbury Archer’.  Why might the Archer be significant in relation to my story?  A number of things, including how he was buried, and … his teeth!

Analyis of the Archer’s tooth enamel (for oxygen isotopes) determined that he was likely raised in the area of Switzerland or southern Germany or western Austria.  But he appears to have been living in the area around the Salsbury Plain about the same time that Stonehenge was being constructed.

Here’s another good resource on the Amesbury Archer.  And here’s an image of his burial remains.

Dr. Andrew Fitzpatrick has written an interesting paper:  In His Hands and In His Head — the Amesbury Archer as a Metalworker.

And what about his burial?  As Richard Stevens puts it, referring to Henri Hubert,


… he identifies the Goidels, who he believes were the first Celts to enter the British Isles, and who, he says, did so in the early Bronze Age, as the Beaker folk, whose men (in Britain and NW Germany) were tall, roundheaded, and who were buried on their sides in round barrows with “flint and copper daggers, arrowheads, and flat perforated pieces of shist which are ‘bracers’, or bowman’s wristguards” (Book I, p. 172). Recall that this is exactly the type of burial in the case of the famous “Amesbury Archer“.

Now I had thought the Beaker folk were a good match for P312+ in general, and that may still be the case, but if we are trying to connect L21+ with the Goidels (given the level of L21+ in Ireland), then, using Hubert’s ideas, that would make them mostly L21+ rather than a more generalized P312+.

In this connection, Hubert notes that the people buried with beakers in Iberia were of a different physical type with a different skeleton. He also sees more similarities between the Beaker folk of Britain and those of NW Germany in their round-barrow burials, their grave goods, and in their skeletal types. It was Hubert’s belief that the Goidels came to Britain from NW Germany.

Richard also goes on to explain that Hubert sees strong linguistic and placename arguments, lending credence to a Goidelic L21+ association.  I’m not sure if analyzable genetic material has been retrieved from the Amesbury Archer or his son ~ that would be of tremendous interest, whatever the result.  (May 2009 update: no genetic testing appears to be forthcoming any time soon)

Here’s what appears to be a pretty informative site on The Peopling of Europe.

And check out this report on the amazing archaeological find of a 4000 year old royal tomb at Forteviot, Scotland.  This site would appear to have been constructed post the P312/L21 migrations.


Hidden beneath a four-ton slab of rock and surrounded by ancient carved symbols of prehistoric power, a spectacular high-status potentially royal tomb, dating back 4,000 years, has been discovered by archaeologists in Scotland.

The find – of international importance – is unique in Britain. The excavations at Forteviot, near Perth, have yielded the remains of an early Bronze Age ruler buried on a bed of white quartz pebbles and birch bark with at least a dozen personal possessions – including a bronze and gold dagger, a bronze knife, a wooden bowl and a leather bag.

Clan and Hearth

As Kevin Campbell, the administrator of the Campbell DNA Surname Project, has noted, a clan such as Campbell (or any of the major Scottish clans) is made up of a tapestry of family lines, including the founding family line, as well as those belonging to land owners, farmers and commoners who lived within the founding family’s sphere of influence.  Such appears to be true for my own paternal lineage.

It would appear that my paternal line were from the MacGregor Clan; communication with a few individuals to whom I had a likely recent common ancestor suggested this link.  After reviewing my genetic ancestry test results, Mr. Richard McGregor, head of Clan Gregor International, wrote to me, advising:


I`m pretty sure we are looking at what might be termed a clansman`s DNA in that your DNA shows connection but more likely before the time of surnames.  I suggest that … yours would be an Argyll based family who were absorbed into the Campbell group.

Prior to DNA testing, we had no idea really where Dad’s paternal ancestors came from in Scotland; no idea of a place that could be looked at as home.  We appear to have that now, as well.  The MacGregors once held lands in Argyll, losing the title to Campbells, particularly those who supported Robert The Bruce.  There appears to be a connection in my line to the area in Argyll known as Craignish.  I should hope to visit there one day, to be sure; the images that I’ve seen of the Craignish Peninsula are beautiful.

My own haplotype is pretty close to the Scots Modal Haplotype, by the way.

As it happens, all of my Dad’s ancestry is Highland/Island Scot (Campbells, MacDonalds, MacIsaacs and Gillises, to name the main ones), with many people on his mother’s side coming from South Uist (Kilaulay, Frobost, and Stonybridge).  I have an ancestor who drowned in Loch Bi.  Many were Glenaladale settlers who left from South Uist (as well as North Uist, Barra, Benbecula, Morar and Moidart) to settle on Price Edward Island in the late 18th century/early 19th century; they tired of perpetual tenanthood and opted for their own grants of land on Cape Breton Island in the area between Boisdale (a South Uist placename) and East Bay.


For me, and for many others it would seem, another important/interesting question relates to Dalriada.  Tradition holds that Gaelic arrived in SW Scotland (Argyll) through the arrival of the Dalriadic Gaels from Ireland.  They established a kingdom in Argyll, and eventually spread their influence throughout Scotland.  As it may be likely that there was a fairly heavy flow of people between Northern Ireland and Argyll for centuries prior to the Dalriadic arrival in the 5th century, a question may be Was southwestern Scotland already Gaelic?  We may get some form of answer via dna.

Worth a gander:  Were the Scots Irish?  In this paper, Glasgow’s Ewan Campbell suggests that Gaelic was present in SW Scotland back to the Iron Age (and I wonder if it could have been earlier still) with the Scottish Highlands being the divide between Gaels and Picts, not the North Channel.  While the evidence may be scant, the evidence for any folk migration into Argyll in the first part of the first millennium AD is not there either.

Mitochondrial dna/Matrilineal Heritage

The story of my matrilineal genetic heritage (ie Mom’s maternal line) starts here with my mitochondrial haplogroup H; specifically, I am H1.  Here’s the wiki entry on H:


Several independent studies conclude that haplogroup H probably evolved in West Asia c. 30,000 years ago having arrived to Europe c. 20-25,000 years ago, spreading rapidly to the southwest of the continent. This would make its arrival roughly contemporary with Gravettian culture.  They are also coincident in that the spread of subclades H1, H3 and the sister haplogroup V reflect a second intra-European expansion from the Franco-Cantabrian region after the last glacial maximum, c. 13,000 years ago.

Could the theory that H over-wintered in the Franco-Cantabrian (Iberian) ice age refuge fall through the same traps that we saw with R1b?  Well, perhaps, but unlike R1b, there is evidence of mtDNA haplogroup H in Europe prior to the Last Glacial Maximum.  For example, Paglicci 23 is the name given to human remains found in a cave at Paglicci in southeast Italy and dated 28,000 years ago; Paglicci 23 is haplogroup H.  Paglicci 23 is actually identical to the Cambridge Reference Sequence (CRS) in HVR1 (one of the two main areas of the genome where human mitochondrial ancestry is analyzed).  And studies of mtdna H haplogroup show that the Franco-Cantabrian (Iberian) ice age refuge was a major gene pool for western Europe.  Given the Paglicci evidence, H is certainly present in Europe for longer than stated above in that Wiki entry, and would then be perhaps older than 30,000 years.  It may then be associated not only with Gravettian culture in Europe, but also the successor Aurignacian culture (musical lot, them).  It appears that the name given to my H1 clan/subclade mother is a nice one — ‘Hope’.

Present-day H1 distribution map

With mtdna, mutations occur at a slower rate.  This means that other people within my H1 subclade are tracing their ancestry back to a common ancestor who lived at a much more distant point in the past; so the subclade is older and includes more people than, say, my R1b1b2 y subclades.  Right now, H1 is the ‘deepest’ that I can go in terms of ancestry testing; hopefully, in future, we’ll be able to narrow things down further somehow.

Human Migration by mtdna haplogroups

Haplogroup H came out of ancestor group HV.  HV was thought to be found in testing of human remains dating to 24,000 years ago (either HV or RO) — as far as I know, this would not be running counter to an H age estimate — the person with the HV/RO mtdna may have been from a line that saw no further mutation.  The HV group is thought to have emerged in western Eurasia between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago (I would guess the earlier estimate, if not earlier still).  HV came out of RO is dated about 40,000 years ago and arose in the Arabian Plate.  Its immediate ancestor is haplogroup R which arose in southwest Asia before 55,000 years ago.  R descended from haplogroup N which emerged about 65,000 years ago in southwest Asia or in east Africa; together with sister clade M, these are the ‘out of Africa’ haplogroups (for us non-Africans, those ancestors that moved off the continent and began the great peopling of the rest of the planet).  N comes out of L3 which emerged 84,000 to 104,000 years ago in east Africa, with L3 coming out of L1 in west Africa and existing 150,000-170,000 years ago.  L1 descended directly from our most recent common matrilineal ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve. who lived perhaps 170,000 years ago, perhaps earlier, perhaps later.  A long way from ME to me.  8-)

I would guess that my maternal line arrived in Britain quite early.  We now have evidence of human life in Scotland from 14,000 years ago.  Based on my Mom’s family coming from a very Scottish part of Nova Scotia, I would bet on Scotland being the homeland on that side, but it’s not traceable – either by genealogy or genetics — at this point.  So far, I have but one ‘high resolution’ genetic match in mtDNA areas HVR1 and HVR2, and this person appears to come out of a Scottish line (as far back as he can go on his maternal side).  So, if Scotland, perhaps an early arrival but who knows?

Anyway, a lot of goodly stuff thanks to one ol’ cheek swab.  8-)

Background Reading

My reading on the subjects of archaeology, human genetics and dna ancestry research is based on a large amount of information on the web, and, specifically, the following books:

  1. The Double Helix – A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James D. Watson (1968, Touchstone, New York)
  2. DNA – The Secret of Life, by James D. Watson (2004, Knopf, New York)
  3. Saxons, Vikings and Celts – The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland, by Bryan Sykes (2006, Norton, New York/London)
  4. The Seven Daughters of Eve, by Bryan Sykes (2001, Norton, New York/London)
  5. The Origins of the British, by Stephen Oppenheimer (2006, Constable & Robinson, London)
  6. Celtic Britain, by Nora K. Chadwick (1963, Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., New York)
  7. The Celtic Realms, by Myles Dillon and Nora K. Chadwick (1967, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London)
  8. The Ancient Celts, by Barry Cunliffe (1997, Oxford University Press)
  9. Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC to 1000 AD by Barry Cunliffe (2008, Yale University Press)

So, Watson informed me about DNA, Sykes introduced me to genetic ancestry research relating to Britain and Europe, and I got down to business with Oppenheimer; unfortunately, it seems I may well have been ahead of myself, and would have had better timing on my reading if it had begun a year or so later.  D’oh!  Pressing on, I’m more interested now in ready British and Celtic pre-history, and am heading in that direction now.  Aside from the Chadwick book listed above, I do have a number of books on Celtic culture and history in my library (admittedly, many I have only skimmed at this point).  The P312 Forum is an excellent resource.

Other websites that I like to check out include:  Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog; John Hawks; The Genetic Genealogist; Mathilda’s Anthropology Blog;; and Yann Klimentidis.

Long Way Back

Back in the spring of 2008, I had no real understanding of my paternal lineage (I had assumed the family came from Argyll but had no information beyond the arrival in Nova Scotia in the 1830s) and certainly no idea that my family had deeper European roots preceding millennia of residency in Britain.  Now, I have the information on the Continental roots, a location of family roots, and a family connection outside (as well as within) the Clan Campbell.  Pretty wild, very cool.

I guess a main reason for developing this page is for me to try to get information regarding the R1b1b2a1b5* haplogroup.  Since beginning this page, however, I have found some solid resources.  If you are able to help me understand my roots, or just want to say hello, please send me an email.

Being a good science citizen

Nice when your personal interests (and associated investment) can play a small part in a grand area of research and study, one that can help tell the human story for us now and for all generations to come.  I suppose another part of this research for me is being part of the cusp, among the first few hundred thousand humans to have their DNA ancestry tested.  Many of you who are reading this will have had dna ancestry testing done as well.  My/our test results will help researchers today and in the future ~ I’m/we’re part of what really are the early days of this genetic research.

Along with the financial expenditure related to my own genome, in 2010 I have made a financial contribution to the L21+ Project where research can be better focused on exploring L21 in Europe.  If you are L21, why not do so as well; if you have other results, why not go support research related to your own subclade?  Click here (scroll to “R” on the lef-hand list, then look for “R-L1plus” on the right-hand list).


Anyway, this whole line of research is awesome.  It’s amazing and sublime to cast one’s mind back through time and try to imagine how things were.  It’s amazing to think of how we’re all related.  It’s amazing to think of what all of our families must have had to overcome just to survive through to this point; we are, all of us, Survivors, after all.

[Established April 15, 2009; Last Updated September 18, 2010 - I’ll continue to update this page as thoughts/info come to me.]

Thanks for visiting!



Page Views (iWeb version) from May 2009 to June 2012: 3,678