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Women, not men, were first to colonize Scottish Islands

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By Tom Campbell via SWNS

The history of the Scottish Islands needs rewriting after scientists found they were colonized by women rather than men, according to a new study.

Ancient DNA from human remains on the Orkney Islands shows most of the population was replaced through immigration during the Early Bronze Age, but some descendants remain.

An international team led by researchers at the University of Huddersfield has used ancient DNA to rewrite the history of the Orkney Islands. (Graeme Wilson via SWNS).

Orkney was a hugely influential cultural center during the Neolithic period when farming first took hold around 5,000 years ago, say researchers.

But over the next millennium, as Europe moved into the Bronze Age, the island appears to have been left behind.

Understanding what exactly happened has proven difficult because archaeological remains from this period are scarce.

But now, scientists from the University of Huddersfield have managed to shine a light on the islands' fall from grace.

Study author Professor Martin Richards said: "This research shows how much we still have to learn about one of the most momentous events in European prehistory – how the Neolithic came to an end."

Remains from Bronze Age humans discovered at an archaeological site called the Links of Noltland on the remote island of Westray were analyzed by the researchers.

DNA revealed most of the island's population had been replaced during the Early Bronze Age through large-scale immigration.

The new arrivals, who likely spoke Indo-European languages, had genetic ties to pastoralists living on the steppe lands north of the Black Sea.

While this mirrored what was happening across much of Britain and other parts of Europe, there was one distinctive difference, the researchers found.

The migration was driven by women instead of men. This meant male lineages from those who were already living on the islands - the Neolithic population, survived for at least another thousand years.

Most of them were however replaced during the Iron Age and today, they are "vanishingly rare."

The long term stability and self-sufficiency of farming on the Orkney islands could explain why they bucked the trend, the researchers say.

DNA suggests men living on the islands were already heavily involved in farming by the peak of the Neolithic period.

This meant they managed to weather the 'recession' which gripped most of Europe at the dawn of the Bronze age and maintain their grip on the population.

The findings suggest Orkney was less insular than previously thought, with ongoing negotiations between local men and newcomers over many generations.

Co-author Dr. George Foody said: "This shows that the third-millennium BC expansion across Europe was not a monolithic process but was more complex and varied from place to place."

The findings were published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

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