Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age "king" who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a study has shown.

The monarch, who lived around 4000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent. It is likely his power stemmed from advances in technology such as metal working and wheeled transport which enabled organised warfare for the first time.

Although it is not known who he was, or where he lived, scientists say he must have existed because of genetic variation in today's European populations.

The study analysed sequence differences between the Y chromosomes of more than 1200 men from 26 populations using data generated by the 1000 Genomes Project.

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Dr Yali Xue, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, explained: "This pattern tells us that there was an explosive increase in the number of men carrying a certain type of Y chromosome, within just a few generations. We only observed this phenomenon in males, and only in a few groups of men."

The team used the data to build a tree of the 1200 Y chromosomes. It shows how they are all related to one another. As expected, they all descend from a single man who lived approximately 190,000 years ago. The research was published in the journal Nature Genetics.