African Genes in Scottish DNA Study

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Map of medieval Scotland

The history that was taught at school says that Scots were originally Irish and Celtic people who migrated to Scotland and that Europe in general was the ancestral home of white people. Many people including Scots themselves have a long-held belief that the ethnic make-up of Scotland is strictly Scots, Irish, Celtic and Viking. However, up until 11,000 years ago, life in the northern land that lies on the edge of the European peninsula was impossible due to the last ice age. This means that Scotland became populated by immigrants who reached the northwest and couldn’t get any further. When it comes to Scottish and European lineage, historians make no mention of people of African descent, however DNA studies prove otherwise. Thus, all we need to do to identify the real Scots’ ancestry is to track the movement of the first people as they came to settle in Scotland over time, backed by the solid proof of DNA.

To solve the mystery, the “Scotland’s DNA” project was initiated by the collaborative efforts of Dr. Jim Wilson, Edinburgh University and historian Alistair Moffat, St. Andrews University. The project made use of advanced technology that allowed scientists to pinpoint a person’s DNA marker passed on from parents, which they use to track the person’s history and lineage by finding when and where these markers arose in history and the approximate time when they arrived in Scotland. The project found that Scotland has about one hundred different groups of male ancestry and more than 150 different types of female DNA were discovered originating from Europe, Asia and Africa. This was supported by a different study which reported that Europeans are a mix that resulted from the blending of at least three ancient populations. It also reported that the Indo-European languages have been brought to Europe most probably by the massive migration of populations from the Eurasian steppes.

The Indo-European family tree of languages

Early human migration (40,000 years ago)

Males have two pieces of DNA, the maternal DNA is inherited mitochondrial DNA from the mother, known as mt DNA, while the other is the paternal DNA, the Y chromosome from the father. The Y chromosome is the single largest inherited piece of DNA that is rich in information about ancestry, including deep ancestry dating back to prehistory. Females carry the mt DNA only, but it can still trace motherliness deep into the past and track the journeys of the foremothers as they came from the many different lands and continents to reach Scotland.

Y-DNA tree.GIF

The Y chromosome of all men is traced back to a single individual and the first known human, Adam. It is believed that Adam lived about 210,000 years ago in Africa. These means that all modern humans are derived from an initial expansion of the Homo sapiens range in Africa followed by migration out of Africa .With successive generations, new genetic markers came to be, which are traceable by scientists and historians and so they can trace their movement out of Africa and across the different lands of the Earth.

Over long periods of time, the mt DNA sequence has been slightly changed in different populations. Geneticists use these changes to identify the migrations of humans and classify them into specific haplogroups. The haplogroup L is a lineage of sub-Saharan Africa origin. By analyzing the complete mt DNA genomes of the haplogroup L in Europe in general and Scotland in particular, it was found that 35% of the sub-Saharan lineages arrived from Africa more than 11,000 years ago. The ancient links that connected sub-Saharan Africa to Europe were not only through North Africa but also by direct coastal routes. Another theory is that when the last glaciation forced Europeans to move southward, some bidirectional flow was promoted with the return of the populations to settle in the northern region.

Furthermore, the haplogroup J and E1b1b are the most common in people from North Africa. It is believed to have originated in the Middle Eastern part of North Africa about 5,600 years ago. 1.5% of Scottish people have been found to carry the E1b1b haplogroup.

Cheddar man (10,000 years ago)

In 1903 at Gough’s Cave in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, the oldest almost complete Mesolithic skeleton of the human species, Homo sapiens was found in Britain. What was more astonishing though is that the genetic markers of the Cheddar man didn’t indicate pale skin as it would be expected, rather, it indicated skin pigmentation that is typical of individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa.

The model of Cheddar Man rendered by Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

Rendered model of Cheddar Man

Reassembled skeleton of Cheddar Man

Reassembled skeleton of Cheddar Man

The Cheddar Man appears to have died in his twenties. He was about 166 cm tall with dark skin, dark brown hair and blue eyes. He overthrew people’s belief of how the first Europeans were of pale skin and blond hair. It is true that he is just one person, but the discovery of the Cheddar man is consistent with several other human remains discovered throughout Europe which is indicative of the European population at the time.

A soldier wearing Roman military uniform consisting of armour and a long red cape.

Roman general Quintus Lollius Ubricus

African Romans on the Antonine Wall (2000 years ago)

In 142 AD, construction of the Antonine Wall took place in the northernmost border of the Roman territory in Britain under the supervision of the Roman general and governor of Britain, Quintus Lollius Ubricus. General Ubricus, who was originally from Numidia (the modern day Algeria) was one among a number of African Romans stationed at the Antonine wall. This became known after findings of evidence in the form of pottery dishes and cooking utensils that were of the brazier style, a style of cooking popular in the north-west region of Africa. This, along with other facts such as the Mauretanian War that took place in what is now Morocco, indicates that there was significant movement of soldiers between North-west African and the Antonine Wall.

Africans in the Scottish Royal Court (500 years ago)

Related image

John Blanke, trumpeting at a royal tournament, 1510

During the ruling of King James IV of Scotland and even long before him, Africans were acknowledged, respected and appreciated for their different skills that they displayed in the Royal Court. In a time when the ruling class valued musicians and entertainers above all other skilled workers, African presence among those was a prominent one. Records constantly refer to a certain “Moor Taubroner” or the “African drummer” who seems to have been an important person to the king. He wasn’t only present in the Scottish Royal court but was even bought a horse to accompany King James IV on his various tours around his provinces. Treasurer’s accounts show that African musicians and dancers were given good payments in return of their performances. Furthermore, the accounts also show that the king offered lavish gifts to African guests of his court, which indicates that these African individuals were of high social status.

African descendants of inter-racial relations

It was fairly known that European men, Scottish included who travelled constantly and voyaged to the Caribbean often had relationships with women of African descent. Although it was rare for the man to marry his African partner, it was known that in the case of slavery, he would buy her freedom in order to have legal rights over his children.

In some cases, the African-Scottish children became abandoned by their fathers, and this was even documented by the father himself. In other cases, the children would normally assume their father’s surname and the father would send his children to Scotland for education, where they often continue to build a life for themselves.

A 15th century depiction of Scota (left) and Goídel Glas voyaging from Egypt to Scotland

The myth of Scota and Scotia

In Scottish and Irish mythology, Scotia and Scota were the daughters of two different Egyptian Pharaohs. The myth has various versions regarding its details one of which is that Scota married Goídel Glas who was exiled from Egypt, and the two became the founders of the Scots and Gaels. Another version says that Scota married Niul, who was a scholar of languages and contributed to the creation of the Gaelic language. Together, Scota and Niul had a son, Goídel Glas, the ancestor of the Gaels. As different as the story versions may be, they all conclude that Scota was the ancestor of the Gaels, which is why in mythology she is referred to as “Mother of the Scottish People”.

Ever since Scottish land was first discovered, Africans from the different regions of Africa, whether North Africa, Northeast Africa or West Africa have been involved in the development of Scotland. The first of the three European ancestries entered Europe 40,000 years ago before the ice age. Then, 7,000 years ago, a mass of migrants from North African and the Middle East swept north and introduced farming to Europe. 2,000 years later, the Yamnaya followed the same northern path.

Scotland grew as a result of the diffusion and blending of a diverse range of ethnicities. This explains the evolution of the genetic make-up of modern Europeans and discredits the assumption of how people looked like in the past based on how they look like today.


  • R. A. Houston, Scottish Literacy and the Scottish Identity: Illiteracy and Society in Scotland and Northern England, 1600–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ISBN 0521890888
  • International HapMap Consortium, 2005, “A haplotype map of the human genome”, Nature, no. 437 (27 October), pp. 1299-1320.
  • Cruciani F, La Fratta R, Santolamazza P, Sellitto D, Pascone R, Moral P, Watson E, Guida V, Colomb EB, Zaharova B, Lavinha J, Vona G, Aman R, Cali F, Akar N, Richards M, Torroni A, Novelletto A, Scozzari R (May 2004). “Phylogeographic analysis of haplogroup E3b (E-M215) y chromosomes reveals multiple migratory events within and out of Africa”. American Journal of Human Genetics. 1014–22. doi:10.1086/386294. PMC 1181964. PMID 15042509.
  • Cruciani, Fulvio; Trombetta, Beniamino; Massaia, Andrea; Destro-Bisol, Giovanni; Sellitto, Daniele; Scozzari, Rosaria (2011). “A Revised Root for the Human y Chromosomal Phylogenetic Tree: The Origin of Patrilineal Diversity in Africa”. The American Journal of Human Genetics. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.05.002. PMC 3113241. PMID 21601174.
  • Breeze, David J. (2006) The Antonine Wall. Edinburgh. John Donald. ISBN 0-85976-655-1
  • Lennon, Joseph (2008). Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History. Syracuse University Press. p. 5-57. ISBN 9780815631644.
  • “Human Evolution”. Natural History Museum. Retrieved 17 November 2017.

6 thoughts on “African Genes in Scottish DNA Study”

  1. William (Bill) Watson

    This is fascinating to me personally as I am Scottish by birth, descended from British antecedents over the past thousand years (with a dash of Viking and European before that) but my YDNA Haplogroup is E1b1b1!
    [I live in Australia nowadays.]

  2. The African origins of the Scottish are confirmed here by DNA studies. However, I got my knowledge of the African root of Scotland by 200 year old books none of which is mentioned in the references cited for this article. The books have much more detailed information and it is fascinating.
    It is one theory that said the Africans were shipwrecked during to battle between Brittan and The Spanish Armada. Actually, the African were in the British Isles long before Spain got its name

  3. born in the north of england to scottish parents I have been wondering what would turn up in my dna. what is the best company to provide testing on ethnic origins/makeup?

  4. Here in the British Caribbean from Jamaica to Trinidad & Tobago we have a large population of African origin with Scottish heritage that’s part of the folklore and evident in the physiology. Just a result of the power of slave owners over women during 400 years of slavery. I would like to see this study replicated in the British Caribbean.

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African Genes in Scottish DNA Study

by Editorial Team time to read: 7 min