Despite their tales of origin, most people are the mixed descendants of many migrations.
THE THREE-PART European mixture varies across the continent, with different ratios of each migration and trace amounts of other lineages. But those quirks rarely match the tales people tell about their ancestry. For example, the Basques of northern Spain, who have a distinct language, have long thought themselves a people apart. But last year, population geneticist Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden reported that the DNA of modern Basques is most like that of the ancient farmers who populated northern Spain before the Yamnaya migration. In other words, Basques are part of the usual European mix, although they carry less Yamnaya DNA than other Europeans.
Farther north, the Irish Book of Invasions, written by an anonymous author in the 11th century, recounts that the “Sons of Míl Espáine … after many wanderings in Scythia and Egypt” eventually reached Spain and Ireland, creating a modern Irish people distinct from the British—and linked to the Spanish. That telling resonates with a later yarn about ships from the Spanish Armada, wrecked on the shores of Ireland and the Scottish Orkney Islands in 1588, Bradley says: “Good-looking, dark-haired Spaniards washed ashore” and had children with Gaelic and Orkney Islands women, creating a strain of Black Irish with dark hair, eyes, and skin.
Although it's a great story, Bradley says, it “just didn't happen.” In two studies, researchers have found only “a very small ancient Spanish contribution” to British and Irish DNA, says human geneticist Walter Bodmer of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, co-leader of a landmark 2015 study of British genetics.