Imputed genomes and haplotype-based analyses of the Picts of early medieval Scotland reveal fine-scale relatedness between Iron Age, early medieval and the modern people of the UK

Adeline Morez* (Corresponding Author), Kate Britton, Gordon Noble, Torsten Günther, Anders Götherström, Ricardo Rodríguez Varela, Natalija Kashuba, Rui Martiniano, Sahra Talamo, Nicholas Evans, Joel Irish, Christina Donald, Erik Girdland Flink* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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There are longstanding questions about the origins and ancestry of the Picts of early medieval Scotland (ca. 300–900 CE), prompted in part by exotic medieval origin myths, their enigmatic symbols and inscriptions, and the meagre textual evidence. The Picts, first mentioned in the late 3rd century CE resisted the Romans and went on to form a powerful kingdom that ruled over a large territory in northern Britain. In the 9th and 10th centuries Gaelic language,
culture and identity became dominant, transforming the Pictish realm into Alba, the precursor to the medieval kingdom of Scotland. To date, no comprehensive analysis of Pictish genomes has been published, and questions about their biological relationships to other cultural groups living in Britain remain unanswered. Here we present two high-quality Pictish genomes (2.4 and 16.5X coverage) from central and northern Scotland dated from the 5th7th century which we impute and co-analyse with >8,300 previously published ancient and
modern genomes. Using allele frequency and haplotype-based approaches, we can firmly place the genomes within the Iron Age gene pool in Britain and demonstrate regional biological affinity. We also demonstrate the presence of population structure within Pictish groups, with Orcadian Picts being genetically distinct from their mainland contemporaries. When investigating Identity-By-Descent (IBD) with present-day genomes, we observe broad affinities between the mainland Pictish genomes and the present-day people living in western Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Northumbria, but less with the rest of England, the Orkney islands and eastern Scotland—where the political centres of Pictland were located.
The pre-Viking Age Orcadian Picts evidence a high degree of IBD sharing across modern
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1010360
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

We thank Gareth Weedall at Liverpool John Moores University for his valuable help with editing the manuscript, Jeanette Pearson at Inverness Museum & Art Gallery for facilitating sampling of Balintore material, Jean-Jacques Hublin, Mike Richards (at the time both MPI-EVA),
and the Max Planck Society for laboratory access and resources in kind and Orsolya Cze´re at University of Aberdeen for support with C:N determination.

Funding: AM was supported by ECR strategic
support of early career researchers in the faculty of
science at LJMU, awarded to LGF. LGF was
supported by the School of Geoscience, University
of Aberdeen. KB was supported by the Leverhulme
Trust (PLP-2019-284) during production of this
manuscript. The funders had no role in study
design, data collection and analysis, decision to
publish, or preparation of the manuscript

Data Availability Statement

All raw and mapped sequence data generated for this project are


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