Almost two out of three (64%) modern European men belong to just three family lines from the Bronze Age, according to research into DNA sequences.
Geneticists at the University of Leicester determined the DNA sequences of a large part of the Y chromosome, which is passed on from fathers to sons, in 334 men from 17 European and Middle Eastern populations.
The research used a new way of analysing DNA which provides a less biased picture of diversity and also a better estimate of the timing of population events.
The study also shows there was a population explosion from the Balkans to the British Isles between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago.
Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics said: “The population expansion falls within the Bronze Age, which involved changes in burial practices, the spread of horse-riding and developments in weaponry. Dominant males linked with these cultures could be responsible for the Y chromosome patterns we see today.”
Previous research has focused on the proportion of modern Europeans descending from Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, hunter-gatherers or more recent Neolithic farmers, reflecting a transition which began about 10,000 years ago.
Chiara Batini from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, said: “Given the cultural complexity of the Bronze Age, it’s difficult to link a particular event to the population growth that we infer. But Y-chromosome DNA sequences from skeletal remains are becoming available, and this will help us to understand what happened, and when.”
The study, Large-scale recent expansion of European patrilineages shown by population resequencing, is published in the journal Nature Communications.
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