Like father like son most European men descend from a handful of Bronze Age forefathers

A team of researchers from the Department of Genetics led by Professor Mark Jobling and Dr Chiara Batini have discovered that most European men descend from just a handful of Bronze Age forefathers, due to a ‘population explosion’ that took place several thousand years ago.

The research team determined the DNA sequences of a large part of the Y chromosome, passed exclusively from fathers to sons, in 334 men from 17 European and Middle Eastern populations. The research used new methods for analysing DNA variation that provides a less biased picture of diversity, and also a better estimate of the timing of population events.

This allowed the construction of a genealogical tree of European Y chromosomes that could be used to calculate the ages of branches. Three very young branches, whose shapes indicate recent expansions, account for the Y chromosomes of 64% of the men studied.

In addition, past population sizes were estimated, and showed that a continuous swathe of populations from the Balkans to the British Isles underwent an explosion in male population size between 2000 and 4000 years ago. 

The study, 'Large-scale recent expansion of European patrilineages shown by population resequencing’, has been published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications and is funded by the Wellcome Trust.