The Scots of today are descended from a pastoral, nomadic people living in the Russian Steppes, who were among the first humans to make use of the wheel.
New research conducted at Harvard University has discovered that genetic material which derives from an ancient population from the shrublands of what is now eastern Russia has been passed down to the modern day inhabitants of Scotland.
A paper to be published in next month’s American Journal of Human Genetics has observed for the first time that people in northern Britain have a higher levels of genes of Steppe ancestry than their counterparts in the south of England.
Geneticists and archaeologists are now carrying out more work to discover more about Scotland’s Russian inheritance.
The Harvard geneticists made their discovery when analysing 113,851 samples held by the UK Biobank.
Their paper concluded: “Analyses of ancient Eurasians revealed that populations in the northern UK have higher levels of Steppe ancestry and that the UK population cannot be explained as a simple mixture of Celts and Saxons.”
Previous studies have suggested that today’s Europeans are descended from three groups: Stone age farmers who came from what is now modern Turkey; hunter-gatherers and those of Steppe ancestry.
Research has shown that the Steppes populations were horse riders and among the first to use wheels to build chariots and wagons – features that made it easier for them to migrate huge distances.
Kevin Galinsky, one of the paper’s authors, said “One hypothesis could be that the Steppe arrived in the UK first. They were horse riders and among the first to develop the wheel. They arrived first. Then the farmers arrived later, but they were much more prosperous because they knew how to farm rather than just living off the land.
“When Romans arrived they would have brought a lot of farmer ancestry with them and similarly when the Anglo Saxons arrived they would have brought a lot of farmer ancestry.
“Probably the Celts had very high Steppe ancestry and then the subsequent groups to arrive, who may not have spread as far but were very successful where they were. So they arrived in southern England and that’s where they stayed and that’s where this ancestry has remained.”
Galinsky’s co-author, Nick Patterson, added: “It turns out that the Celts have a little bit more Steppe ancestry than the southern English. It is a fairly subtle effect, but statistically extremely convincing.”