Derek Roberts, professor of human genetics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, said that a new study of genetic differences of the British revealed about eight distinct regions where many inhabitants are descended from ancient settlements.
In Britain, like the rest of Europe, there is a genetic gradient running from the North-west to the South-east that is a remnant of successive waves of migrants from the Continent, he said.
As newcomers arrived from the south, older populations were pushed north to 'regions of refuge'. The inhabitants of Orkney, for instance, are genetically quite distinct from the rest of Britain, and even parts of Europe. They must be 'the relics of an ancient population' that has remained isolated for many years, Professor Roberts said.
Inhabitants of South Wales could be traced back to pre-Celtic times and people living on the Orkneys had the oldest lineage of all, linking them with neolithic settlers dating back 7,000 years.
American researchers who collated years of studies also found that the residents of the central area of the Lake District were genetically distinct from the people who lived on the edges of the district.
They found that the central residents had many genes similar to those of present-day Norwegians. Professor Roberts suggested that this was because about 1,000 years ago Vikings settled in what is now the Lake District.
Another genetic boundary occurs in East Anglia, roughly separating Norfolk from Suffolk. Professor Roberts said that this was possibly the ancient divide between early settlements of the Angles and Saxons.
Knowing more about genetic differences and similarities will help medical researchers understand more about inherited disorders that affect local populations. Orkney residents, for instance, suffer the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in Britain, probably for genetic reasons.Reuse content