Genetic analysis of the Gallic population of the Iron Age

Arverni, Karnuti, Osismes, Edui, Biturigi Where Allobroges… Recent paleogenomic analyses, this discipline of reconstructing ancient genomes, have come to refine our knowledge of the Gallic peoples who inhabited the territory of France in the Iron Age, a period that is usually carved from the first Iron Age (or Hallstatt from 800-400 BC .e.) and the Second Iron Age (or La Tène from 400-25 BC).

In an article published in the science, journal owned by the group Cellseveral researchers have just presented the results of a series of studies conducted in six regions of France:We wanted to draw a genetic portrait of the Gallic groups, complete with the only known archaeological data., explains Claire-Elise Fisher, a paleogeneticist at the University of York (England), co-author of the article. To do this, a study of 145 individuals from 27 archaeological sites scattered throughout France yielded 49 complete genomes. “This was not without difficulty, given the small number of bones available. We had to find human remains that had escaped cremation, a common burial practice in the Iron Age.‘, points out Claire-Elise Fisher to Science and the future.

Sculptures of severed heads (2nd century BC) from the oppidum of Entremont (Bouches-du-Rhone). Credits: Leemage / AFP

So, in the south of France, DNA samples were taken from the remains of adults in the deposit of “severed heads” from the Gallic site of Kailar (4th century BC) in Gard, where about fifty human skulls were preserved (read in a frame), as well as on newborns and immature – an anthropological term used to refer to the skeletons of individuals under the age of five years. Thus, work on burial behavior among the Gauls suggests, especially after the discovery in 2009 of the Urville-Naquiville necropolis in the English Channel, that young Gauls under 10 years of age were buried and then cremated.

In the Iron Age, there were no mass arrivals of foreign groups.

Instead, in the north, DNA samples were taken from graves with graceful chariots. “These studies primarily revealed homogeneity within the Gallic groups, indicating that there were no massive arrivals of outside groups during the Iron Age, as sometimes expressed.says Mélanie Pruveau, coordinator of the National Research Agency’s Ancestra project (ANR-15-CE27-0001), which aims to trace the settlement of an area corresponding to modern France by studying the impact of each wave of migration from the Neolithic to the Merovingian era.

The variation that differs between Iron Age Gaulish groups is due to specific cultural and funerary choices rather than different origins. Thus, the people buried in the Greek stalls of Cap d’Agde (Hérault), who were studied at the genomic level, do not differ genetically from the rest of the population of the region practicing other rites. “We also noted no significant differences from the Bronze Age (2300-800 BC) groups that preceded the Iron Age groups.summarizes Claire-Elise Fisher. The diversity and admixture of Bronze Age populations is found among the Iron Age Gauls., continues the paleogeneticist. These mixings are the result of previous large migrations of groups from sometimes very distant regions, such as the first agriculturalists who arrived from the Near East during the Neolithic period 6,000 years ago, whose legacy we still carry in our genome.

Gauls are descended from many differences and crossbreeding

The results proposed in this review support the idea that those who were called Gauls in the geographic area of ​​present-day France were descended from local Bronze Age populations that gradually evolved between regional groups sharing certain traits. as well as biological exchange. In very rare cases, a genetic relationship requiring clarification was also observed between the populations of Languedoc and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as in Normandy with the inhabitants of England, which indicates mobility between individual regions. “Details that could not be seen only at the archaeological level and that these genetic data, hitherto almost absent, complement“adds Marie-France Deguillou, a paleogeneticist at the Pacea*-UMR 5199 laboratory and lecturer at the University of Bordeaux.”On the other hand, in the context of the rewriting of history that we are seeing in recent times, it is important to remember that the Gauls came from many differences and crosses, and that migrations have always been the driving force behind human development.“.

*Pacea: From Prehistory to the Present: Culture, Environment, and Anthropology.

“Severed heads” Kaylar
In 2003, a cache of weapons and severed heads was discovered at the site of the Gallic Iron Age Kailar in Garda. Severed heads are a Gallic ritual practice. Approximately 2,500 human remains have been identified, corresponding to approximately fifty individuals. Only fragments of the bones of the head have been preserved. The study of these remains showed that these heads had been in the open for a long time. While no signs of nailing have been found in Kailar (in other regions, skulls with nailed nails have occasionally been found), traces of round perforations suggest that some of the heads were attached by a link.

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