The genetics of the Tuatha Dé Danann


The power of ancient DNA in terms of human evolution at this point is to a large extent the ability to understand the arc of human cultural history as reflected in our genealogies. Archaeologists have long attempted to infer aspects of social and cultural practice from material remains. Now, geneticists are getting into this game, with mixed results.

Today the Bradley lab in Ireland published a paper about the genetics of Neolithic Ireland (i.e., before the arrival of Bell Beakers ~2,500 BC). The first author is Lara Cassidy, who I interviewed last year. There is a reason this paper is in Nature.

Let me quote the abstract first:

…The scale and sophistication of megalithic architecture along the Atlantic seaboard, culminating in the great passage tomb complexes, is particularly impressive…Although co-operative ideology has often been emphasized as a driver of megalith construction…the human expenditure required to erect the largest monuments has led some researchers to emphasize hierarchy…Here we present evidence that a social stratum of this type was established during the Neolithic period in Ireland. We sampled 44 whole genomes, among which we identify the adult son of a first-degree incestuous union from remains that were discovered within the most elaborate recess of the Newgrange passage tomb. Socially sanctioned matings of this nature are very rare, and are documented almost exclusively among politico-religious elites—specifically within polygynous and patrilineal royal families that are headed by god-king…We identify relatives of this individual within two other major complexes of passage tombs 150 km to the west of Newgrange, as well as dietary differences and fine-scale haplotypic structure (which is unprecedented in resolution for a prehistoric population) between passage tomb samples and the larger dataset, which together imply hierarchy. This elite emerged against a backdrop of rapid maritime colonization that displaced a unique Mesolithic isolate population, although we also detected rare Irish hunter-gatherer introgression within the Neolithic population.

There’s a lot of moving parts in this research, and the most interesting element isn’t the genetics, but the social structure that you can infer from the genetics. It seems entirely likely that the “Megalithic civilization” of Atlantic Europe was hierarchal. But this pretty much confirms it. As noted in the paper violations of first-order incest taboos as a cultural norm (as opposed to deviancy) are strongly associated with very stratified preliterate or semiliterate societies (with the possible exception of Zoroastrianism). Additionally, this research highlights that a set of individuals, likely paternally related, seem to be enriched in elite burials.

In a few circles, there are ideas that Neolithic Europeans were peaceful and matrilineal. The existence of stratification like this and the likelihood of ‘god-kings’ makes that very unlikely in Ireland. Though there was no doubt some variation in Neolithic Europe, the existence of “long-houses” in Germany from contemporary cultures is ominous. The matrilineal element is distinct. There are matrilineal societies that are quite warlike (e.g., the Nairs of Kerala or the Iroquois). But the possibility of common Y chromosomes suggests that this was a patrilineal society, which is, on the whole, more common anthropologically.

To me this is the most awesome part of the paper:

The Brú na Bóinne passage tombs appear in Medieval mythology that relates their construction to magical manipulations of the solar cycle by a tribe of gods, which has led to unresolved speculation about the durability of oral traditions across millennia…Although such longevity seems unlikely, our results strongly resonate with mythology that was first recorded in the eleventh century AD, in which a builder-king restarts the daily solar cycle by copulating with his sister…Fertae Chuile, a Middle Irish placename for the Dowth passage tomb (which neighbours Newgrange), is based on this lore, and can be translated as ‘Hill of Sin’ or ‘Hill of Incest’…

This is incredible. Unless you are set in your ways I think it is hard to deny that the medieval Irish were passing on a recollection in their myth from an encounter between Bell Beakers and the late descendants of the Newgrange people. In The Isles Norman Davies argues that the Irish, unlike the English and the British more generally (Brythonic), kept their own mythology, and so have a sense of their past in a way that is uncommon among Northern European peoples. The Irish legends imply that there were multiple waves of people, and it is assumed that the people who live in the great mounds are the Tuatha Dé Danann, who became ancient Irish demigods.

I suspect that the early Bell Beakers viewed the monuments of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Newgrange people, like how some Americans view “Indian graveyards.” Even among modern people, there is superstition, so what can we expect from the ancients? The Greeks forgot their heritage and assumed that the cyclopean citadels of their ancestors were built by giants. No doubt agro-pastoralist Bell Beakers looked at the massive ruins, and perceived the work of the gods.

And we shouldn’t underestimate the ability of oral tradition to recall events for premodern people. Mount Mazama blew 7,700 years ago, but native people in the area have legends of that explosion. Australian Aboriginals have myths that clearly outline and detail landmarks that are now underwater due to rising sea levels. The point is that it’s plausible that facts that are 3,000 years old could persist down to Christian Ireland, and be recorded by priests.

There are lots more I could say about this paper in the details. They found an infant with Down syndrome! They show recent introgression of hunter-gatherer ancestry into some Neolithic individuals. Also, they show hunter-gatherer substructure (Irish hunter-gatherers do not have ancestry from Magdelanian populations, only Villabruna). But the biggest aspect here is that this paper now sets a standard for how you can synthesize ancient DNA with archaeology and mythology.

Well done.


40 thoughts on “The genetics of the Tuatha Dé Danann


    Ugly, strong, solitary brutes lurking about in ambush, intelligent and humanoid, yet not human

  2. “In a few circles, there are ideas that Neolithic Europeans were peaceful and matrilineal.”

    Reminds of the sort of fantasies that Mesoamerican archeologists used to have about the Maya. A class of priests solely interested in astronomy and mathematics they said. After WWII linguists (including bizarrely enough some Russians), epigraphiers, and other archeologists deciphered the inscriptions from Maya monuments. Oops. turns out the Maya civilization was divided into numerous small kingdoms whose leaders warred against their neighbors incessantly with the object of capturing a neighboring king so that he could be sacrificed and his blood be used to propitiate the gods.

    Turns out that the Maya were humans just like us.

  3. The transition from Neolithic farmer to Beakers in the British Isles fascinates and confuses me. It doesn’t seem violent and the Beakers seem to have adopted farmer religious sites and even stories as illustrated in the paper, but the overwhelming demographic replacement on the other hand seems at odds. It couldn’t merely be introduced disease could it?

    @Difference Maker
    Apparently it was only much later that trolls specifically became ugly, strong, slow and dim-witted creatures in Scandinavian folklore. In earlier mythology the name was used to refer to jötnar, witches, ghosts, blackamoors, magic boars, foreign gods, devils, brunnmigi and berserkers.

  4. “In The Isles Norman Davies argues that the Irish, unlike the English and the British more generally (Brythonic), kept their own mythology…”

    That’s not entirely true. The Welsh preserved a (sonewhat equivalent) form of Brythonic mythology in their “Mabinogion”/”Mabinogi” (and other similar and associated texts), recorded in the Middle Ages and based on older pre-Christian/Pagan mythology previously transmitted orally by bards (much of it part of a bardic tradition that was patronized by the Welsh nobility until around the Rennaissance, and aspects of which survived much later). (The Mabinogi includes gods/characters based or derived on gods and cosmological themes.)

  5. Edit: “The Mabinogi includes stories about Brythonic gods/figures based on them, and cosmological…”

  6. Points of interest: From conclusions: “Overall, our results demonstrate the capacity of ancient genomes to shed light not only on population movements, but also on political systems and social values where no written records exist. This is particularly true when imputation and haplotypic analyses are used, which we here affirm outperform popular methods based on SNPs in the resolution of ancient population structure”.

    Leads to question of how much can be determined from existing datasets in regards to other populations on the same questions. (Possible somewhat critical on SNP capture methods – “We performed outgroup ​f​3​ -statistics of the form ​f​3​ (Mbuti; X, Y), across all pairs of Irish and British Neolithic individuals with whole genome sequence (whole genome capture or shotgun) available (Supplementary Table 3). We did not compare British from Olalde et al.​2018​ due to potential SNP capture bias.”) But I would think there are more shotgun samples that they have not used in this paper which could shed light?

    “To our knowledge, Irish hunter-gatherers also exhibit the largest degree of short runs of homozygosity (Fig. 3b) described for any ancient—or indeed modern—genome, a signature of ancestral constriction that supports a prolonged period of island isolation… Nonetheless, as there were no signatures of recent inbreeding (Fig. 1a), it appears Irish hunter-gatherers were capable of sustaining outbreeding networks within the island itself despite the estimated carrying capacity of only 3,000–10,000 individuals” relevant to questions we discussed in the last week on the most bottlenecked AMH populations.

  7. As kind of mentioned on the open thread, the attraction of this paper is not just testing the ideas of Gimbutas and others about “peaceful matrifocal Europe” which are anyway dubious from general anthropological record. It’s about testing:

    1) the ideas of Turchin about when and where societies made transitions to higher political complexity. How much would this evidence of Neolithic hierarchy be predicted by that? Last time I checked Turchin’s theories on rise of complexity placed emphasis on meta-ethnic frontier – distance to steppe… Was he predicting early complex religious hierarchy in the most far off island in West Eurasia, on relatively small population base?

    2) Henrich’s ideas of fall of consanguinity motivated specifically by the church. To be specific, Henrich’s theory places great importance on log consanguinity.

    That is, his graphs predict little change between societies of 10-60% consang, and large changes going from 0.1-10%. It’s the log consang that matters.

    So it’s important to have a very accurate model of low end changes in consang/inbreeding coefficient, with essentially zero measurement error or bias, and of trends over time for preliterate period.

    Was medieval Western Europe actually different in consang/inbreeding at low end (e.g. going from 2-4% to 0.5% or something like this) from Iron Age, and did this postdate a specific intervention by the church rather than just reflecting a continued trend of larger population (and so more potential partners)? If these show no clear low end change beyond expectation from prior trend, then the “Western Church made us WEIRD” idea quite simply goes down in flames…

  8. There’s a medieval legend saying the earliest inhabitants of Ireland were Egyptian that may be based on some cultural memory of this.

  9. How likely is it that the Bell Beakers spoke an Indo-European language? The Steppe signal is obvious on the Y-DNA and the autosome, and we Irish are basically fossilized Beaker folk, but so are the Basque. Could the Steppe have been multilingual?

  10. The Basque have Bell-Beaker on the male lineage, but IIRC not so much in the rest of the genome.
    I’d not be surprised if old Western Europe was multilingual; we already know Spain and Italy were multilingual Before Urbe Condita. Maybe the Bell-Beakers imposed themselves on the old Aquitanians without changing their language. Like the Mongols over China, or the Mitanni over the Hurrians.

  11. @CupofSoup

    We don’t know.

    We can be pretty sure that Corded Ware folk were Indo-European linguistically, but there are two possibilities (or more) for Beaker derived populations. One is that R1a people spoke an Indo-European language and that R1b Beaker people spoke some other language, perhaps Vasconic, and then experienced a mass language shift to Celtic in the Iron Age, either due to elite dominance, or with a proto-Celtic population that was genetically hard to distinguish from the previous Beaker population, eliminating the population genetic signature of significant demic replacement. The clean sorting of an invisible trait like R1a v. R1b, even though other recently arrived Y-DNA like E-V13 is found at similar proportions in both communities, would certainly suggest a language divide as an invisible barrier encouraging male endogamy in societies that weren’t completely closed to significant numbers of outsider men. So does the replacement of Yamnaya R1b folk with R1a Sintashta folk close in time to the appearance of R1b Beaker people further West in Europe.

    I’ve similarly seen a paper making a strong circumstantial case that the LBK Neolithic farmers of the Danubian basin were very likely distinct from the Cardium Pottery Neolithic farmers of Southern Europe based upon comparing artistic style distinctions and evolutions in relic goods to historic era analogs of the same kinds phenomena lining up along linguistic lines. This is even though both have a predominant Western Anatolian farmer base, but with various kinds of European hunter-gathers introgressing on the distaff side in the LBK and with Aegean/Balkan Neolithic individuals introgressing in CP Neolithic farmers.

    I was of that view for a long time and I still don’t rule it out.

    But, this article suggests that there was some cultural continuity from Neolithic to Beaker, which could have led to the preservation of Neolithic toponyms despite language shift, for example. And, even if there was a linguistic divide, the genetic similarity would favor a divide within the same language family for both LBK v. CP Neolithic respectively (some “Old European” Anatolian first farmer language that is extinct or nearly so such as the Vasconic or Tyrsenian language families) and for Corded Ware v. Bell Beaker (each speaking a language that is part of the Indo-European language family).

    Another factor that is winning me over to the Bell Beakers as speaking some kind of Indo-European language is that the definitely Indo-European Tocharians, who wound up in the Tarim Basin ca. 2000 BCE (about 700-1000 years before any cultural horizon that is clearly proto-Celtic shows up in Western Europe, and pretty isolated from the rest of Indo-European cultures after that), have clothing and other practices that resemble very primitive Celtic designs (e.g. very basis tartans) and if I recall correctly more R1b than R1a, suggesting that some sort of embryonic version of what became Celtic, call it pre-Celtic culture, did exist at the time of the Bell Beaker people and was Indo-European in character. It would be much easier to flip speakers of pre-Celtic over to proto-Celtic via elite dominance in the early Iron Age without much demic replacement, than it would be to do so from say, a Vasconic language family member – much as speakers of one Slavic language can fairly swiftly learn another, or speakers of one Romance language can fairly swiftly learn another. But, the seemingly shallow time depth of the Celtic languages at the times that they are first attested, based upon linguistic data alone, does suggest that there must have been some sort of language shift accompanying the very visible changes in artifacts and cultural practices in the early Iron Age period we associate with the spread of Celtic culture.

    In the case of the Basque, I am coming around to the idea that a small group of men – perhaps experts in bronze and tin industry to cattle husbandry or archery or horsemanship or long distance trade – insinuated themselves in a short lived wave of migration into a Neolithic community that wasn’t bowled over by the men from the steppe, who were integrated into the Neolithic community enough to be prolific and high prestige elite members, but no enough at once with enough critical mass or king/chief level prestige, to bring about language shift before they adopted the local language. Their Y-DNA spreads, but generation after generation of locals marries into them, leaving little steppe mtDNA or autosomal DNA after a few generations. (I don’t think there is any realistic reason to think that Basque was a language of Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers given their strongly Neolithic autosomal DNA.)

    Even in a case where there was language shift, the Swede-Finns of Finland, their autosomal DNA and mtDNA are now overwhelmingly Finnish despite being linguistically Swedish, after a few centuries.

    Maybe a good analogy to the Basque would be South Indian, linguistically Dravidian, Brahmin men with significant Ancestral North Indian (i.e. ANI) autosomal ancestry and steppe sourced Y-DNA. The first wave’s ancestors secured an elite place in the social structure but either didn’t bring about or failed to sustain widespread language shift, even though they also had lots of cultural impact. But, they don’t have as much ANI and lower castes have much less ANI than comparable caste populations in the linguistically Indo-Aryan north (which given the admixture dates inferred from linkage disequilibrium measures probably had two waves of migration in the North, but just one in the South).

    I also would really, really like to get better data to allow us to piece together what the story of Y-DNA T in the Eastern-Central Deccan Peninsula with minimal West Asian or Northeast Africa autosomal DNA or mtDNA, across multiple modern linguistic boundaries but mostly Dravidian, is about. I suspect that this was a similar scenario, probably with a small, influential group of outsiders who were pivotal in incorporating Sahel African crops into the South Indian Neolithic, but need details phylogeny analysis of lots of South Indian Y-DNA T (and detailed high resolution Y-DNA T phylogenies from elsewhere) along with ancient DNA calibrations, mutation rate analysis, and linkage disequilibrium analysis, as well as ideally, some obscure local legendary history and well dated local archaeological relics, to really piece together the story.

  12. With regards to Henrich’s ideas on consanguinity and WEIRDness, I too have been somewhat skeptical that consangunity was changed drastically by the Western Church (has he mentioned the aDNA record in his papers?).

    That said, I think he may be onto something with the Western Church. Maybe someone can come up with counter-examples, but looking at other parts of the world, the existence of a massive hierarchical interstate sodality invested with massive amounts of ideological authority is really a strange phenomenon when you compare it to the rest of the world. It really strikes me as the most unusual part of medieval Europe when comparing it to the rest of the world. Are there any other examples of such an institution elsewhere in the world? It strikes me that Orthodox/Byzantine Churches should be what the ‘normal’ reaction to Christianity should be, with similar monogamous institutions and relative aversion to consanguinity but tethered a lot more strongly to state power.

    If we think anthropologically about how sodalities create non-kin cross cutting bonds that facilitate the creation of larger societies, one can only wonder what the effect of the Western Church might have been…

  13. @Razib

    In a follow on post to this one at Brown Pundits you say “it does suggest that the early Indian mythological cycles have embedded within them a fair amount of information, though it will no doubt be mixed in with narrative elaboration and fabulation.”

    This is an excellent description of what I use the term legendary history for, eschewing the tendency to take this material which is often fantastic and elaborated as modern prosaic history (which doesn’t start to really take hold until the post-Bronze Age collapse dark ages are over and Iron Age civilization has established itself), but also not as complete fantasy spun out of pure imagination and completely divorced from reality (which appears at about the same time, splitting on cue much like the ability to distinguish finer grades of color with specific words does in a particular order).

    We see this again and again – the legend of Troy, this Irish case, the Arthurian legends, Genesis-Exodus-Numbers-Judges in the Hebrew Bible, in Persia, in China, in Japan, and yes, in India. While the Australian and Latin American examples you cite seem to be exceptions that prove the rule, so many of the legendary history tales seems to be rooted somewhere in the Bronze Age – some at the Neolithic-Bronze Age transition, some around the time of Bronze Age collapse, and some in between in the middle Bronze Age. European fey lore, for example, associates the “other” Fey with Bronze and the “us” humans with iron, suggesting a transition period. The Arthurian legends bridge the pagan transition that may have continuity to the Bronze Age even if the transition happened later to the Iron Age Christian tradition.

    Even in Latin American, I think there is a case to be made for a lot of pre-Columbian legendary history also dating primarily to the metal ages there (which come later than they did in the Old World).

    In much of sub-Saharan Africa, there’s kind of a leap straight from the Neolithic to the Iron wielding Bantu civilization and that transition is where you see the legendary history.

    I imagine that there’s some sort of fairly elemental and inextricable logic driving a trend like this that is seen so widely across different cultures (or maybe its just perception bias and lack of awareness of the older cases cited in this post). Maybe the more widespread and mass produced industry of the iron age, replacing a more individualized craft oriented industry of the Bronze Age, generates more economic surplus allowing society to support a class of people who can take the years of non-working time necessary to learn to read and write well, and to support enough of them that they are numerous enough that non-fictional recollection and fictional recollection can be specialized into different individuals. In contrast, hunter-gatherer and early Neolithic societies in earlier times having insufficient resources to even have generalist dedicated poet/bards to preserve all community recollections, fiction and non-fiction alike, orally, as the Bronze Age civilizations seemed to, thus making the early end of the metal ages the sweet spot for legendary history that blends fiction and non-fiction in accounts passed on orally in verse to make it memorable until society has the source to support specialized scribes and finally writes down the oral traditions that the class of bard/poets preserved.

  14. @Traject Chinese state formation would seem to me to be one of the more analogous time periods. Large volumes of DNA recently reported indicate that there were a lot of long distance within what is now China, population exchange that homogenized somewhat over time and involved non-kinship ties, and there was a focus on meritocracy over kinship in Confucian civil service exams.

  15. In human history dominance and exploitation can start when a surplus is regularly generated, must be stored, supervised und used in a respected manner.

    That’s why all firmly established and flourishing neolithic communities are ready for that. A necessity, it is not at this stage of development.

    I think the way of supervising and the kind of legitimizing the use of surplus decided how it worked out. In this realm strong kinship and force may have been important.

  16. @Zimriel, @ohwilleke – The Chinese, Indian and Mittani/Hurrian examples don’t really line up though, as the Bell Beakers virtually obliterated the pre-existing Y-DNA pool in the Basque Country, while the other cases you mention left the majority of the Y-DNA pool intact.

    Re: Celtic I agree that it pretty much has to be an Iron Age / Late Bronze Age language family. My thinking is Unetice->Urnfield (Proto-Italo-Celtic) -> Hallstatt (Proto Celtic). And I think Unetice has enough eastern influences in it for it to have been “Indo-Europeanized”… but that doesn’t really say anything one way or another about what languages the Bell Beakers spoke before them.

  17. Is Tianyuan ancestral to Yana? Pretty crazy that the majority of Irish males descend from a Chinese male.

  18. @CupOfSoup, it’s the proposed continuity that bothers me. Across the Atlantic islands, the Neolithic populations were displaced as much as the Mesolithic folks. So, why would the Bronze Age Irish adopt and transmit any tradition from or concerning the Neolithic Irish? Here’s an analogy. Our own history shows how little knowledge the British had about matters Irish or any meas on it today (“Curry my yogurt”, “feeding crocodiles”, etc). And despite making up no more than a quarter of the Irish population were able to eradicate popular knowledge of the Gaelic past for crude stereotypes, Gaeilge with English which of course carried their terms and concepts, and still barely mention the subject let alone teach it as part of their own. Were it not for manuscripts and historians we would only have their narratives (which the rest of the Anglophone follows). So, how likely is it the Bronze Age Irish carried ANY traditions pertaining to those they almost entirely replaced, which were surely in another language?

    As to the language(s) of Bell Beakers, yeah, I have wondered for years if they were multilingual. Gearoid Mac Eoin firmly stated he that “the language which became Irish was the first Indo-European language to be spoken in Ireland. It was introduced here during the first half of the first millennium B.C. from Britain, probably by immigrant families. It is impossible to be more precise except that it must have been before 325 B.C., the date of Pythias of Massilia, and may well have been before the formation of the wealthy aristocracies of continental Europe which postdates the foundation of Massilia about 600 B.C …” So the time-span seems daunting, while the issue of language shift(s) adds further complications.

    Regardless. This is a work that will stimulate much-needed discussions, and for that alone it is worthwhile. Bal o Dia at an obair go leoir.

  19. Re: Mt Mazama:

    “Crater Lake was formed about 6500 ybp by the implosion of Mt. Mazama—an unusual result of volcanic eruptions, which typically spew their debris upward and outward at enormous speeds and across great distances. The Klamath Indians, however, seem to have a tradition that speaks of the mountain collapsing very much in the way that modern geology explains it. As always, the question is: which came first, the opportunities for outsiders to explain it to the Klamaths or the telling of the narrative for the first known time?

    “This first recorded occasion, anyway, seems to have been as early as 1865, when a young American soldier named William Colvig recalled that he collected an account from a Klamath leader named Lalek, although Colvig made his account of this narrative public only in 1892. In the meantime other investigators had also collected Klamath stories, but none of these mention a collapsing mountain. Most notably, the story does not appear in the monumental compendium of A.S. Gatschet, who collected Klamath traditions in the 1870s, just a few years after Lalek’s purported testimony … Nor has it appeared in any stories since, other than those influenced by, or merely repeating, the first publication. This mystifying absence must be accounted suspicious, given the putative centrality of this myth for the Klamaths.” (Henige, 2009, pp. 168-169)

  20. @Jason, re Beaker movements and continuity of myth I think we do have a slightly dim picture of a multi-generational process in terms of Beakers moving. There’s at least some y-dna continuity. I still think there’s some possibility that there could have been slightly earlier population movements that assimilated somewhat (or assimilated some stratum in Isles at least) and initially had a bit more steppe ancestry than Olalde’s paper estimated the incomers to have. There is a discontinuity in time between samples we have for the Neolithic and Beaker period and working out where the exact “farmer” ancestry in later groups is from is difficult, particularly if it is a composite (and divergences between them are slight).

    Religious ideas might be more likely to survive when you’ve got people moving about who might readily believe that the gods in a particular place they move into are different and worth worshipping (like the perhaps apocryphal story about how the Romans would offer to worship opponents’ gods better when they went to war against them).

    @CupOfSoup, this question on Basque and Beakers has come up a few times; my stance is I don’t think it’s absolutely excluded, *but* also there isn’t anything to speak *for* it (for Basque from the steppes), in terms of the attested distribution of languages. Unlike Indo-European where we have to explain attested distribution from as wide as Central and South Asia to Western Europe, and that favours a dispersal point in the middle, and where the lexicon probably favours the Copper Age date. Basque is a language isolate found in one place and no pre-divergence lexicon can be reconstructed. Unless we’re really “all in” on it being just implausible for Beaker groups and successors, often with male biased migration, to adopt languages in SW Europe (and they must have at least once, unless Basque and Iberian are *very* closely related, which hasn’t been evidenced at all), it seems to be more parsimonious based on distribution that they just did “adopt” them in SW Europe through some chain of transmission we don’t understand.

    That’s how it appears to me… but it’s a topic that, for some reason, seems to manage to get heavily charged, so I’ll leave it there.

  21. Have to comment that it’s pretty clever science communication to line up releasing this paper a week before the solstice itself, great way to maximize how many people will be thinking about it over the weekend 😉

  22. @Mick

    Eh, seems fine to me. The lady you linked praises the paper and engages with it. I too think the 4000 year old folk memory thing is pretty far-fetched. It’d be nice if they could criticize something without dragging in politics and imagined biases, but that’s no big deal – they aren’t trying to write off ancient DNA as racist pseudoscience or anything.

  23. @Mick, ditto Megalopias. Doctor Boyle is one of our finest scholars, with every point she made valid and correct. Read her work, or at least that of ANY Irish medievalist. Their knowledge of Gaelic Ireland in particular are streets ahead of Anglos, who when they bother, continue to use the same old paradigms and phrases, which were wrong anyway and are now obsolete.

  24. Academic archaeology and history seems to be extremely… allergic to anything that even carries a whiff of early 20th century romantic macho ideas about the Bronze Age (and the sort of thing that fuels “pulp fiction”) being correct. Even when those ideas, like incestuous god-monarchies, were actually true!

    I’m not totally unsympathetic to that, as a lot of that stuff does seem silly, when it bubbles up. (Of course that Margaret Mead-Marija Gimbutas romanticism of other prehistoric / neolithic peoples beats it out for silliness).

    However, the central point of the paper, when we read it, is less about claims of really clear established evidence of practice of a divine monarchies who inbred (which is talked about in fairly qualified terms in the paper), and more that to override the taboo of origins and gain pride of place in the central chamber of the most active point of use of the monument, this suggests the individual had a prominent place in a pretty established and hierarchical social structure. (“However, given the nature of the interment, his parentage was very likely to have been socially sanctioned.”)

    I.e. it’s far away from the stance of “Disarticulated remains in large monuments demonstrate a collectivist ideology with a flat social hierarchy and reproductive structure, in which the monuments were used to subsume the identities of individual dead into a collective set of ancestors and lessen social distinction”. (Often the story that is still reproduced about collective burial in monuments in neolithic Atlantic Europe!).

    This sort of allergic reaction seems to be colouring the response here a bit, and reacting less to the substance.

    Overall, I’m glad we got this paper from someone who at least tried to interpret, very carefully, the findings in light of other actually documented examples of monumentality and how high status cultural burial in those monuments interacted with restricted close-kin mating. (“the only known definitive acceptances of such mating occur among siblings— specifically within polygynous elites—as part of a rarely observed phenomenon known as ‘royal’ or ‘dynastic’ incest. In all of these documented cases (for example, in pre-contact Hawai‘i, the Inca empire and ancient Egypt), this behaviour co-occurs with the deification of political leaders and is typically limited to ruling families, whose perceived divinity exempts them from social convention. Both full sibling and half-sibling marriages are found most commonly in complex chiefdoms and early states; researchers have generally viewed them as a means of intensifying hierarchy and legitimizing power in the absence of more advanced bureaucratic systems, alongside tactics such as extravagant monumental architecture and public ritual.”)

    I could easily some academics out there finding the “Neolithic incest king” and then interpreting it in terms of either fluid sexuality among the collectivist neolithic population or the awfulness of male dominated systems leading to sex abuse, depending on the flavour of academic feminism most popular, and their high regard for disabled people! (Essentially some sort of tale of complete invention with no anthropological or historical grounding).

    (Have to add as well, it takes real damn chutzpah to add a bit of “Orientalizing the Irish as a colonized people!” spin onto a paper wholly *by* Irish authors – Irish authors who call out on twitter the term “British Isles”, no less – , on the genetics of people who wholly predate any people who are recognisable as the present day Irish nation, by millennia!)

  25. @Matt, well ‘the British Isles’ IS a wholly political term. Anglos don’t have a problem with it because they ignore it’s modern political uses by wrongly insisting it’s “just geographic”, and because it’s culturally affirmative to them. As Irish people generally know their mutual history better than the British, as they didn’t and don’t identify as British, naturally the term is disliked, so not used. It was valid from 1 May 1707 to 21 January 1919. Not before. Not after. And as a glance at events over the last four centuries demonstrates, Ireland and the Irish WERE colonised and Othered by the Anglo-British. Any imperium can dictate reality because they have the power to do so, and Anglo politics has plagued the facts of Irish history for centuries. What’s contraversal about that?

    Allow that Irish academics are allergic to certain notions for good reasons. Simply because they don’t conform to Anglo cultural paradigms does not mean they are wrong. Rather, given their depth of knowledge is greater, that their comments and conclusions are actually correct and that Anglo beliefs that, while widespread in the Anglophone, are often wrong. Norman Davis’s book is a good example (cited on this site more than once over the years) and even that comes from a man who was sympathetic to non-Anglo narratives. Thus the problem is systematic in the Anglophone (not just the UK) because it’s culturally and educationally indoctrinated.

    That the same bias shows up in papers by Irish people again points to the long-term effects colonisation and anglicisation. It’s a LONG process to correct …

  26. “That the same bias shows up in papers by Irish people again points to the long-term effects colonisation and anglicisation. It’s a LONG process to correct …”

    Awhh! Just give us the “correct” history, we’ll read it.

  27. @Jatt_Scythian No. I am arguing that Y-DNA T was intrusive to India and was a plausible vector for knowledge of how to cultivate Sahel domesticates (presumably obtained by that vector in turn from Sahel farmers) to make their way to Southern India.

    There are many plausible possibilities. Somalia, Egypt, the Levant, Yemen and West Asia are all near the top of the list. Somalian or Egyptian maritime trade participants would be close to the top of my list of likely candidates.

    If it wasn’t agricultural technology, I’d be curious to know what else the source of Y-DNA T in India could have brought that would led to so many descendants in the Indian gene pool.

  28. “Allow that Irish academics are allergic to certain notions for good reasons. Simply because they don’t conform to Anglo cultural paradigms does not mean they are wrong”

    Wow, have I just read the Irish version of Gaska, or vAsiSTha and the OIT gang?

  29. Well my comment had nothing to do with ethnicity or chauvinism. It was asking folk who comment on such matters to learn from experts in these disciplines, namely Irish scholars (whether they are Irish or another nationality is irrelevant; their expertise is what counts). But it is interesting that you didn’t perceive it that way. Why?

  30. @Adrian Martin

    “Doctor Boyle is one of our finest scholars, with every point she made valid and correct. ”

    How can you say this when she’s criticizing the paper for assuming incest was widespread in Neolithic Ireland, when the paper says nothing of this sort?


    Methinks the lady has a chip on her shoulder and just gets triggered when she reads “Irish” and “inbreeding” in the same sentence.

  31. But of course you do.

    That way, you can dismiss those points and avoid dealing with them seriously.

    Which can work both ways.

  32. I mean there was Ydna T in Iran though? Doesn’t it pop up in the Zagros Neolithic? How is Ydna T any different from other West Asian groups like G, J2a,J2b and L in India? It just got luckier I guess. I’m not even sure that’s true given the frequencies of J2 and L in the Indus Valley.

    Do South Indian exhibit any affinity to Egyptians and Somalians? Also it would be quite weird all the y E1b guys stayed home while the y T guys ventured east.

  33. My understanding is that a picture is emerging of the prominent T clade in the Horn being very young and low in diversity (, with a TMRCA of 1900 ybp. Whether or not it crossed over from Arabia shortly before that is an open question, but the phylogeny seems to imply it. T-BY181210’s prominence in Somalia seems to be the result of a surprisingly recent founder effect — similar to the strange story of E-M81; E-PF2546 in the Maghreb. I don’t know anything about Indian T, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest Deccan samples linked to this branch. Do you have any subclade information for them?

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