Rathlin Man


Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland


Do you remember hearing about cases where scientists recover prehistoric DNA from the skeletal remains in an ancient burial site only to discover living descendants? 

If you hadn’t before, you will now. It’s us!

Our earliest known ancestor lived on Rathlin Island, the most northern point of Northern Ireland off the coast of County Antrim….4,000 years ago! This island is also only 11 miles away from the coast of the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, so it is quite easy to see that our ancestors might have migrated in one direction or the other. 

Everyone in Guthrie Family Group 2A can now claim a relative who lived there during the early Irish Bronze Age. This is long before surnames came into use, so this ancient man is technically not a Guthrie, but we do share his DNA.

Three male skeletons were recovered from a burial cist discovered behind McCuaig’s Bar in Church Bay. The bones were dated to approximately 2026-1534 B.C. The first of these remains, designated Rathlin1, contained enough DNA for high quality genome testing. This man is considered to be the earliest known Celtic arrival in the British Isles. 

Unlike another skeleton found on Rathlin Island, which was that of a Stone Age woman, these Bronze Age men possessed genetic ancestry similar to the herders of the Pontic Steppe on the shores of the Black Sea. Exactly when and why these men arrived on Rathlin Island, or how long they lived there will probably remain a mystery. Upon their deaths they were buried in a cist (pronounced ‘kist’), which is a stone-built coffin typical of Bronze Age burials.

The next step in the genetic testing process was to compare the Rathlin1 results to the rest of the Big-Y tree to determine his origins.

Haplogroup designations provide us with a broad estimation of our ancient human origins. We can tell what geographic region or regions they developed or migrated by examining their genetic markers. The presence or absence of SNPs show the branching of this big human family tree as our ancient ancestors settled in different parts of the world, and eventually divided into the smaller and smaller branches that form our modern family trees. 

Rathlin1 Haplotree Results:  Z30233+ and FGC3903-
GFG2A Kit#24607 Results: Z30233+ and FGC3903-

The designated Haplogroup listed for most of GFG2A is Haplogroup R-M269. This is one of the most common in Europe, but it is also just the broadest category on our part of the human Haplotree. 8 of the 14 Guthrie Family Groups originate from R-M269. Back in the early caveman days, we were all related, but over time our groups separated becoming distinct from one another and carrying unique genetic markers and traits. 

Additional subclass testing is required to confirm a specific haplogroup by discovering whether an individual’s DNA is positive or negative for various SNPs. Take a look at our Y-DNA Colorized Results Chart to see how our Haplogroup is listed. Most have R-M269 in RED (Unconfirmed Haplogroup based on the raw Y-DNA results). Results in GREEN are confirmed at different levels of SNP testing. R-L21 and R-DF21 are confirmed ‘downstream’ findings. Our official Haplogroup is now R-Z30233.

When Rathlin1’s results were compared to other data collected by researchers studying other Irish groups, it was found that it was positive for Z30233, but negative for FGC3903, unlike previous discoveries. Our participant is the first in the R-DF21 and Subclades Project with identical results. This means that all men in GFG2A can also infer their relationship to Rathlin1. He may or may not be a direct paternal ancestor, but these results appear to indicate that we definitely share one.

Rathlin1 “probably had a light hair shade (61.4%) and brown eyes (64.3%). However, each Rathlin genome possessed indication of at least one copy of a haplotype associated with blue eye color.” Also interesting to note is that Rathlin1 was a genetic carrier of hemochromatosis, known as the ‘Celtic’ disease. It is an inheritable recessive genetic disorder that causes excessive retention of dietary iron. The markers for this disease are found commonly (11%) in the modern Irish population. As it happens, RWG (Kit#24607) has also had testing done at 23andMe to include genetic health data, which showed that the marker for hemochromatosis was present.

Guthrie men in our Y-DNA project are encouraged to upgrade their kits to include Big-Y tests or the SNP Packs for R1b-DF21/R1b-L21. Join the R-DF21 and Subclades Project when your results are in. It would be great to provide more genetic proof of our connection to Rathlin1.


Source information from Alex Williamson’s Big Tree and Peter Biggins.

Haplogroup R1b: R-P25 (aka R-M343)
The most frequently occurring paternal lineage in Western Europe, as well as some parts of Russia and Central Africa. Everyone in the Haplogroup R1b descends from this prehistoric man.

P312 MAN
4120 BC to 3880 BC
Men with the P312 mutation lived around 5,880-6,120 years ago (about 196-204 generations).  This mutation is the most common SNP across much of Western Europe.

3880 BC to 3040 BC
Western Europe
Men with the L21 mutation lived about 5,040-5,880 years ago (about 168-196 generations).

L21 is sometimes referred to as the “Atlantic Celtic” SNP. In their book The Scots, A Genetic Journey, Allstair Moffat and James F. Wilson say L21 “could be said to be the most emphatic signal of the Celtic language speakers of the British Isles. It is found in England, Wales, and Scotland, and it is almost certainly characteristic of those farming communities who may have spoken early forms of Celtic languages in the centuries around 2,000 BC.”

3040 BC to 2800 BC
Western Europe|Men with the DF13 mutation lived around 4,800-5,040 years ago (about 160-168 generations).

2800 BC to 2680 BC
Men with the DF21 mutation lived around 4,680-4,800 years ago (about 156-160 generations).

Known descendant branches from DF21 Man include:
– S971 (includes the Three Collas)
– Z30233 (includes Rathlin1 Man, Seven Septs of Laois, Isle of Man, and a NE Irish Scottish Cluster)
– FGC3213 (includes S5456 Galway Bay Cluster, S190 Little Scottish Cluster, and P314)
– S5488, which includes the Ely O Carroll Cluster

Z30233 MAN
2025 BC – 1885 BC
Rathlin1 Man was Z30233+, but S971- and FGC3213-, and a likely predecessor to those men in the Galway Bay and Little Scottish Clusters and the Three Collas. He lived on Rathlin Island during the early Bronze Age


FAMILY TREE DNA – R-DF21 and Subclades Project Admin: Rory Cain

[READ REPORT] Cassidy, Laura M. “Neolithic and Bronze Age Migration to ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome.” PNAS, vol. 113 no.2, dos:10.1073/pnas.1518445113

[READ REPORT] Keith, Arthur. “77. Report on Human Remains from Cist Graves, Rathlin Island.” Man, vol. 29, 1929, pp. 98–100., http://www.jstor.org/stable/2789039.

[READ REPORT] Tildesley, M. L. “78. Archaeological Evidence for the Date of Cist Graves, Rathlin Island.” Man, vol. 29, 1929, pp. 100–104., http://www.jstor.org/stable/2789040.

This one has nothing to do with Rathlin1, but it does have to do with Robert the Bruce and Rathlin Island. [ARTICLE]


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