Britain is a melting pot of different cultures with centuries of immigration bringing new ways of life to our island.
Now scientists have discovered that around a third of English people’s ancestry comes from the Anglo-Saxons, who migrated from continental Europe between the fifth century and the seventh century. When they arrived in Britain, they brought with them a new language and social structure to replace those established by the Romans before they withdrew from Britain in the early fifth century.
As part of a research project to find out more about where we come from, scientists have sequenced the genomes of 10 skeletons found in eastern England which dated back to the Iron Age all the way through to the Anglo-Saxon period.
The study, which has been published in the journal Nature Communications, found that the DNA of those living in Anglo-Saxon times bore more resemblance to people living in the Netherlands and Denmark today than the Iron Age skeletons did.
And on average between 25% and 40% of the ancestry of modern Britons can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxons. This proportion is greater in eastern England, where the Anglo-Saxon migrants settled.
And even populations in Wales and Scotland, which are usually associated with Celtic heritage, were found to have some Anglo-Saxon ancestry, although it was lower than eastern England.
The skeletons which provided the samples of ancient DNA used in the study were found in four locations near Cambridge – Hinxton, Saffron Walden, Linton and Oakington.
Roman gladiators used in study
A separate study published in Nature Communications looked at the genomes of nine people who had lived in York during the Roman occupation of Britain.
Professor Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin and his team discovered that six of the people, who are thought to have been indigenous Britons, showed more similarities to modern inhabitants of Wales than people living in York today.
However one of the people whose DNA was analysed had genetic similarities to people from North Africa and the Middle East, indicating that people arrived in Britain from other parts of the world during the Roman era.
The skeletons involved in the research project are believed to be the remains of Roman gladiators or possibly legionaries. This conclusion was made because the majority were tall men under the age of 45. The bodies had been decapitated and there was evidence of trauma to their bones.
DNA can tell us a lot about people from their gender and eye colour to their geographical heritage and paternity. DNA tests are often associated with establishing the paternity of a child but there are a range of other options available including relationship tests which can find out whether you are biologically related to another person who could be a sibling, grandparent or even aunt or uncle.
Genetic profile tests can give you vital information about your DNA and are often used by people in dangerous professions to make the identification of their body easier if the worst should happen.