View Full Version : Ancient DNA Ireland?

09-09-2015, 04:31 PM
So while doing some googling there about a major cemetry that was discovered by the NRA (that's "National Roads Agency" folks ;) ) in Donegal back in 2003 I came across the following interestig titbit:

The proposed pilot project on ancient DNA will add a further strand to the scientific
analysis and inter-disciplinary aspect of the project. The pilot project will involve the
examination of DNA samples from a series of dated male burials excavated at two Irish
sites, Johnstown, Co Meath (02E0462) and Collierstown, Co Meath (E3068). The main
research questions involve identification of intrusive population groups and/or native
family groups in a specific cemetery and also evidence for disease mutation. Until now,
ancient DNA analysis has been largely restricted to a very small portion of the genome
which only allows resolution of very divergent human lineages. However, next
generation sequencing promises to allow analysis of thousands of genetic loci in
archaeological specimens and should allow finer differentiations to be made, such as
between those between people of Irish origin and those from populations in Britain. This
also should allow examination of genetic variants that are known to have physical effects
(eye colour, pigmentation, disease alleles) which are segregating in the modern Irish
population and for which an ancient population genetic description of prevalence has
intrinsic interest. The analysis will be undertaken by Professor Daniel Bradley, TCD and
Dr Ana Linderholm in the Ancient DNA Laboratory, Department of Evolutionary
Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University. Dr Linderholm works with
Professor Anders Gotherstrom one of the world’s leading experts on ancient DNA, with
the co-operation of Professor Orla Hardiman, Beaumont Hospital.

http://www.heritagecouncil.ie/fileadmin/user_upload/INSTAR_Database/Mapping_Death_Boundaries_Territories_and_People_Pr ogress_Report_09.pdf

The report is from 2009, other mentions of ancient DNA and more specifically Ballyhanna remains (close on 1,000 bodies discovered) include:

Sheila Tierney, under the supervision of Dr Jeremy Bird, is
attempting to extract and amplify ancient DNA (aDNA) from the archaeological human remains. Results are now emerging in both areas of research
and Sheila Tierney and Tasneem Bashir presented well-received papers outlining their research to date at the World Archaeological Congress held
in University College Dublin in July 2008.



Ballyhanna Research Project (Queen's University Belfast)


. Analysis of samples from Holdenstown 2, Co. Kilkenny, indicates an incoming
population who re-used an Iron Age monument to create a local identity in the fi fth
to sixth century ad (Tobin 2011). DNA evidence indicated a lack of familial links
between a female and juvenile buried in this monument. Although the results of such
analyses must be viewed carefully alongside other evidence, the potential for isotope
studies and other analyses made possible by technological developments to examine
both external and internal migration as well as dietary change is considerable. The
scope and potential of the study of ancient DNA is even more remarkable for what
it can offer to archaeological research, in respect not only of the thorny question of
people’s origins but also of their gender and familial groupings.

The Ballyhanna collection of remains if you ask me could be a gamechanger if they can extract a significant amount of viable aDNA from it. There are close on 1,000 remains found at that site in generally good condition dating from early medieval period.

09-09-2015, 04:38 PM
It is about time. We have had results from Iberia, Italy, Germany, France and Scandinavia. So far, none from the British Isles.

09-09-2015, 04:41 PM
Well as Ireland isn't a British isle, ye still out of luck there ;)

Leaving that aside we have the 10 ancient Genomes from Britain (3 from circa 100BC, 7 from Anglo-Saxon period).

Here's a intro pdf about Ballyhanna project:

I reckon the recession in Ireland has probably led to mass cuts in funding for projects like this. Could explain why we haven't heard anything in last 6 years.

09-09-2015, 05:29 PM
I remember in the 80's a cist grave was found close to where I am from, from what I remember there were bone fragments as well as pottery pieces. Would these types of burials have iinvolved creamtion?

Jean M
10-22-2015, 01:28 PM
Dan Bradley of the Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College Dublin, has aDNA samples in his lab from Ireland from a wide range of periods. He is still in the process of analysing them and would not be drawn on his results. This was in a lecture at GGI 2015, which should be available online in November (unless he banned recording of it.)

10-22-2015, 02:36 PM
I think I heard a figure of 20 samples from Neolithic, Bronze age and Iron age. If they get around to publishing those (assuming we talking about full genomes) it will at least provide a framework for archaeological community to reference.

The Ballyhanna page mention University of Wisconsin, think part of interest there is in research into Cystic Fiboris

Quick google and I found following pdf:

Some mention in Irish Times back in 2009!

There's obviously a very high rate of carriers of CF in Ireland, I think we might have the highest incidence of CF per 10 thousand population in the world.

12-20-2015, 01:31 PM
It looks like Dan Bradley is speaking at the National University of Ireland in Galway from 1900-2100 tonight:


Wish I could catch that lecture!

It's short notice, but maybe someone here will see this and make it down there.

Jean M
12-20-2015, 01:40 PM
It looks like Dan Bradley is speaking at the National University of Ireland in Galway from 1900-2100 tonight:

Certainly looks good:

Abstract: The TCD ancient DNA lab has been investigating wild, domestic and human mammal ancient DNA for ca. 20 years. The field is changing rapidly with the advent of new high throughput sequencing technologies. These will be discussed as will the inferences that have been made about the prehistory of farming, the Irish origins of the polar bear and the colonisation of our island.

Modern genetic variation allows us to estimate processes such as past migrations but, in truth, the past is a different country and one needs data from the past to check if such stories hold up. There are several ways to drill down to the past and ask, what were the patterns of genetic variation then and what can they tell us about the present. I will talk about this in the context of several examples from our work:
- using a cultural marker, Irish surnames, to leap back a millennium in Irish Y chromosome diversity patterns and observing a genetic signal of gaelic hegemony
- extracting animal DNA directly from parchments and the DNA postcoding of these precious artifacts
- extracting DNA from human bone; a 16th century signature of the slave trade
- DNA from cattle bones and the origins of farming in the Near East
- Bear bones from Irish caves and and the maternal origins of polar bears

Inigo Montoya
12-20-2015, 04:09 PM
I hope they'll record it and put it on the Internet!

12-20-2015, 05:02 PM
Apparently I goofed up. I saw the LARGE calendar on the right side of the page and took that as the date of the lecture. But if you look at the smaller print that says "When", it gives the date as 2014-02-11.

Oh, well. As Gilda Radner used to say, "Never mind."