The Irish people have a lot more in common with Middle Eastern people than previously believed, according to new research by scientists into the origins of Irish DNA.
Through sequencing the first genomes from ancient Irish humans, geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queens University Belfast have discovered that Irish ancestors were composed of two migrant groups, one of which was a group of Middle Easterners.
By studying the 5,000-year-old bones of a female farmer found in a tomb near Belfast, they found that the Stone Age farmers who settled in Ireland originally came from the Fertile Crescent, the region which stretches from the Gulf through today's southern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and northern Egypt.
It is in this part of the Middle East that agriculture was invented, which explains why the scientists found that Ireland's early settlers were black-haired, brown-eyed farmers who possibly arrived through the southern Mediterranean and brought cattle and cereals with them.
By studying the remains of three men who lived between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago and were found in County Antrim, they found out that the second group of migrants, who arrived after the Middle Eastern migrants, originally came to Ireland from eastern Europe.
The occasionally blue-eyed eastern European migrants were Bronze Age copper miners who were initially from the Pontic Steppe of southern Russia and knew how to work with gold.
These settlers brought many of the genetic qualities that distinguish the Irish people today, including the genetic variant for the hereditary blood disorder haemochromatosis which is very common in Ireland. The scientists suggested that these migrants from the steppes might have also brought the language that is now Irish.
"Modern Europe has been shaped by two episodes in prehistory, the advent of agriculture and later metallurgy. These innovations brought not only massive cultural change but also, in certain parts of the continent, a change in genetic structure," wrote the researchers in their work, which was published in the scientific journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' .
These new results are considered a breakthrough in the research into Irish origins, because they have proved that migrant communities didn't compete with the original Irish people as was previously thought, but that they actually became the Irish people.
In addition, the scientists used the technique called "whole-genome analysis" in a new way, as they used it not to read the genetic characteristics of each individual, but the wider history of the migration and settlement of Irish ancestors in the DNA from all of the four bodies.