DNA shows migrants who arrived in Britain around 6,000 years ago constructed the world’s most famous prehistoric monument.
It is as British as fish and chips and one of the country’s most famous sites, but new evidence suggests the roots of Stonehenge lie in the Mediterranean.
Scientists studying DNA from ancestors of those who built the world’s most famous prehistoric monument found they journeyed to Britain from what is now Greece and Turkey.
Arriving in Britain around 6,000 years ago, the newcomers virtually replaced the existing hunter-gatherer population, a study published in the journal Nature said.
Built in several stages, Stonehenge’s first monument was put up about 5,000 years ago and the unique stone circle was erected in the late Neolithic period about 2500 BC.
The migration was just one part of a large-scale expansion of people out of Anatolia in 6,000BC that introduced farming to Europe.
Researchers from Britain and the US found similarities between the DNA of Britain’s early farmers and those discovered in what is now Spain and Portugal, indicating this population arrived in the UK after journeying east to west through the Mediterranean.
But some groups appear to have landed on the western coast first before spreading to other parts of Britain, suggesting they didn’t cross the English Channel using the shortest possible course but instead sailed the Atlantic.
Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, said the findings match what is known about the spread of megalithic structures along Europe’s Atlantic coast.
DNA reveals that neolithic Britons were largely descended from groups who took the Mediterranean route, either hugging the coast or hopping from island to island on boats.
“This route is a continuation of the Mediterranean coastal dispersal route but of course in much more complicated maritime circumstances,” Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox, who was not involved in the study, said.
In contrast with other countries they settled in, these ancient Aegeans do not appear to have mixed well with British locals, as evidenced by their failure to leave much impact on farming relics.
Mark G Thomas, a professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London, who co-wrote the study, also found “considerable variation in pigmentation levels in Europe” during the Stone Age as shown from the genetic samples they examined.
Whereas Britain’s outgoing hunter-gatherers – including the oldest-known Briton “Cheddar Man” – likely had blue or green eyes and dark or even black skin, the farming populations migrating across Europe are believed to have had brown eyes and dark to intermediate skin.