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A 3D Basicranial Shape-Based Assessment of Local and Continental Northwest European Ancestry Among 5th to 9th Century CE Anglo-Saxons

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The settlement of Great Britain by Germanic-speaking people from continental northwest Europe in the Early Medieval period (early 5th to mid 11th centuries CE) has long been recognised as an important event, but uncertainty remains about the number of settlers and the nature of their relationship with the preexisting inhabitants of the island. In the study reported here, we sought to shed light on these issues by using 3D shape analysis techniques to compare the cranial bases of Anglo-Saxon skeletons to those of skeletons from Great Britain that pre-date the Early Medieval period and skeletons from Denmark that date to the Iron Age. Analyses that focused on Early Anglo-Saxon skeletons indicated that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Anglo-Saxon individuals were of continental northwest Europe ancestry, while between a quarter and one-third were of local ancestry. In contrast, analyses that focused on Middle Anglo-Saxon skeletons suggested that 50–70% were of local ancestry, while 30–50% were of continental northwest Europe ancestry. Our study suggests, therefore, that ancestry in Early Medieval Britain was similar to what it is today—mixed and mutable.
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