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Brit men descend from mammoth hunters, not farmers

'Of course it mammoth, woman. Ate rest on way back'

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Today's British man could be descended from exciting, live-life-on-the-edge hunter-gatherers rather than migrating farmers as previously thought, according to a new gene study.

Britons' slightly sexier past comes courtesy of scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, who examined the set of genes called R-M269, which is present in more than 100 million European men.

Looking at how this set spread across Europe is key to understanding how the continent was populated and where the dispersal points were. A previous study had found the set spreading from east to west, which, coupled with other indicators, led to the conclusion that British men had likely descended from farmers migrating from around modern-day Turkey.

The Oxford/Edinburgh study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society, did not find this pattern in its larger dataset.

"Our work overturns the recent claims of European Y chromosomes being brought into the continent by farmers," Dr Cristian Capelli, the Oxford geneticist who led the research, said.

If the farmers didn't bring the genes with them when they arrived, then modern Brits are likely the children of the hunting and gathering humans who survived the Ice Age by moving south on the continent and later returned to northern Europe around 40,000 years ago. Which, depending on your viewpoint, is a somewhat, um, cooler past.

However, the debate is likely to continue as dating ancestry through genetics is a tough task, according to Dr Jim Wilson of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Population Health Sciences, who co-authored the study.

"Estimating a date at which an ancestral lineage originated is an interesting application of genetics, but unfortunately it is beset with difficulties and it is very difficult to provide good dates. Many people assume that the more genes the more accurate the dates, but this is not the case: some genetic markers are more suited to dating than others," he said. ®

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