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Ancient Orkney DNA in the News

A PROJECT involving an international team led by researchers at the University of Huddersfield, which used ancient DNA to rewrite the history of the Orkney islands, has been nominated for a major award by the UK’s best-selling archaeology magazine, Current Archaeology.

Voting for the awards will remain live until early February and everyone can vote. Image credit Current Archaeology

Nominated for the Archaeology Awards in the category of Research Project of the Year 2023, the project was a close collaboration between genetic researchers in Huddersfield and their colleagues across Britain and Europe, and archaeologists living and working in Orkney.

Led by the University’s Professor Martin Richards and Dr Ceiridwen Edwards, the work formed part of a Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship programme awarded to Professor Richards and Dr Maria Pala in 2015, while the excavations at the Links of Noltland in Orkney, led by Hazel Moore and Graeme Wilson, were funded by Historic Environment Scotland.

Excavation under way at the Links of Noltland settlement site. (Historic Environment Scotland)

The findings revealed that, contrary to popular belief, Orkney was much less insular than had long been assumed. Instead, the islands had experienced large-scale immigration during the Early Bronze Age, which, unusually, was found to have involved mainly women.

Current Archaeology included the project in a special feature, written by the editor of the magazine, Carly Hilts, and was published on the front cover of their June 2022 issue.

Dr Edwards said:

“It is an immense surprise to have been nominated for this award, and I am very happy that our hard work is being recognised by the archaeological community. It would be absolutely amazing to win, but even being acknowledged is a great honour.”

To read more on the project and what was discovered, visit the University’s original news article that first featured the project and which goes into detail about the findings of the research.

The Huddersfield Archaeogenetics team were also major collaborators on a second nominated project titled: The Anglo-Saxon settlement of England, Migration matters: groundbreaking insights into early medieval England, and featured as the magazine’s cover story in November.

Voting for the awards will remain live until early February and is open to everyone. To cast your vote visit: www.archaeology.co.uk/vote.

Winners are to be announced as part of the Archaeology Awards at the Current Archaeology Live! 2023 conference which is being held at UCL’s Institute of Education on 25 February.

The prehistoric Orkney research was published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) entitled: ‘Ancient DNA at the edge of the world: Continental immigration and the persistence of Neolithic male lineages in Bronze Age Orkney’ by Katharina Dulias, George Foody, Pierre Justeau et al.

The Anglo-Saxon research was published in the journal Nature, entitled ‘The Anglo-Saxon migration and the formation of the early English gene pool’ by Joscha GretzingerDuncan SayerPierre Justeau et al.