Present-day people from England and Wales harbour more ancestry derived from Early European Farmers (EEF) than people of the Early Bronze Age1. To understand this, we generated genome-wide data from 793 individuals, increasing data from the Middle to Late Bronze and Iron Age in Britain by 12-fold, and Western and Central Europe by 3.5-fold. Between 1000 and 875 bc, EEF ancestry increased in southern Britain (England and Wales) but not northern Britain (Scotland) due to incorporation of migrants who arrived at this time and over previous centuries, and who were genetically most similar to ancient individuals from France. These migrants contributed about half the ancestry of Iron Age people of England and Wales, thereby creating a plausible vector for the spread of early Celtic languages into Britain. These patterns are part of a broader trend of EEF ancestry becoming more similar across central and western Europe in the Middle to Late Bronze Age, coincident with archaeological evidence of intensified cultural exchange2–6. There was comparatively less gene flow from continental Europe during the Iron Age, and Britain’s independent genetic trajectory is also reflected in the rise of the allele conferring lactase persistence to ~50% by this time compared to ~7% in central Europe where it rose rapidly in frequency only a millennium later. This suggests that dairy products were used in qualitatively different ways in Britain and in central Europe over this period.
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