DNA is organised into very long and tightly packed units called chromosomes, each millions of nucleotides in length; 23 pairs of chromosomes; 22 of these pairs are called autosomes, with the remaining 23rd pair representing the sex chromosomes: ‘XX’ or females, and ‘XY’ for males. Together with your mitochondrial DNA, this complete set of chromosomes represents the entire genome. A copy of the genome can be found in almost every living cell such as skin cells, brain cells and muscle cells.

The genome is 99% identical to that of every other person alive today, but as the genome has a combined length of over 3 billion nucleotides that 1% of variability represents potentially many millions of differences, and it is these differences, called DNA polymorphisms, or ‘markers’, that make each of us genetically unique.

The latter half of the first millennium AD was a time of immense demographic change across much of the world. In Europe and the Middle East, the collapse of the Roman Empire was closely followed by Germanic migrations in the north and the rise of Islam in the Middle East. In the face of this metamorphosis, the old classical order was slowly replaced by a new Medieval society, with new tribal and feudal states forming that still inform the political map of Western Eurasia today. Looking at the genetic signatures of Europe, we can see small divergences within DNA that hint at some of these changes. It is at this time that the Orkneys become distinct from the rest of the UK for example, as waves of Viking settlement here contributed a significant amount of Scandinavian DNA to the population.

Cladistics – construction of Phylogenetic trees on the basis of shared characters derived from one Ancestor

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