Genetic Analysis Offers Clues to Occupants of Mass Burial

England Facial ReconstructionsLONDON, ENGLAND—Nature News reports that a new genetic analysis of the remains of six adults and 11 children discovered in an ancient well in the East of England in 2004 suggests that the dead were closely related to today’s Ashkenazi Jewish populations. Evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas of University College London and his colleagues compared the DNA of six of these individuals with more than a dozen modern western Eurasian groups to make the identification. They also used computer simulations to determine that the number of genetic disease variants carried by the six individuals was consistent with what is observed in today’s Ashkenazi Jewish populations. It had been previously suggested that this rise in rare genetic variants was due to a sharp drop in the Ashkenazi Jewish population between 500 and 800 years ago. This new data will push that timeline back, Thomas explained, since the rise in genetic variants was detected in these bones, which have been radiocarbon dated to between 1161 and 1216. This time span encompasses an anti-Semitic massacre that took place in the Norwich area in 1190, he added. Finally, Thomas noted that in 2013, the remains were reburied by the modern Norwich Jewish community, based upon a previous, less conclusive genetic analysis. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Current Biology. To read about Jewish families who kept kosher in medieval Oxford, England, go to “Laws of the Land.”


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