Gene Expression

Blood of the British

Two articles are out, one by Stephen Oppenheimer, author of The Real Eve, and another profiling some of Bryan Sykes’1 new research. The headlines are eye-catching, “We’re nearly all Celts under the skin!” The fine print:

Even in England, about 64 per cent of people are descended from these Celts, outnumbering the descendants of Anglo- Saxons by about three to one.

The proportion of Celts is only slightly higher in Scotland, at 73 per cent. Wales is the most Celtic part of mainland Britain, with 83 per cent.

i-5e38e27c34027686d6bb60b1e13dd47e-WHATEVER.jpgSykes and Oppenheimer tell the tale of the resettlement of northern Europe, and specifically the British Isles, by Iberian emigrants who ventured north. In both these stories the authors refer to them as “Basques,” the sole modern indigenous non-Indo-European people of Western Europe. But of course, 10,000 years ago there were no “Basques,” and it is not even guaranteed that the Basque language existed, as such (the modern Basque dialects might be descendents of one particular local dialect which spread and marginalized other languages). Both Sykes and Oppenheimer give relatively high estimates for the proportion of modern British ancestry that is attributable to the first settlers who came back north after the Ice Age, on the order of 3/4. Other works would probably ratchet it down a bit, perhaps 1/2. I think that overall though most workers believe 3/4 is closer to the reality. The other 1/4 are a melange of other groups, from Middle Eastern farmers to Norman aristocrats, though more of the former than the latter. There are varied numbers for the numbers of Anglo-Saxon settlers, and both these researchers tend to understate the impact. But, we can be sure of two things

a) The number of Anglo-Saxons was non-trivial. Whether it is 5%, or 50%, it is still significant in terms of the number of people who moved in just a few numbers. Elite language replacement usually leaves a strong substratum trace, but this is not evident in English (Oppenheimer’s explanation is that southern England was not Celtic speaking to begin with, though most would strongly disagree with this assesesment).

b) There is a strong geographical bias, with the North Sea coastal regions like East Anglia, “The Saxon Shore” of old, being the locus of the newcomers’ demographic expansion.

Uniparental markers (Y and mtDNA) can only tell us so much, specifically, they tell us histories of the genes, not the “peoples.” Of course, national narratives are what we are looking for, but the genes don’t always cooperate so occassional massaging of the “Results” section in the “Discussion” occurs….

1 – The author of The Seven Daughters of Eve.

Comments

  1. #1 Joe Shelby
    September 22, 2006

    heh – I’d kinda always suspected this, as neither the archeological record nor the historical record shows the romans or anglo-saxons really supplanting the existing population, merely controlling them politically and culturally (usually through enforcement of the language, first, as was tried in wales over a thousand years later).

    this was similar to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, where again the people were more likely to be natives in genes rather than spanish.

    only in the British conquest of north america was full supplantation of the native population so complete.

  2. #2 razib
    September 22, 2006

    heh – I’d kinda always suspected this, as neither the archeological record nor the historical record shows the romans or anglo-saxons really supplanting the existing population, merely controlling them politically and culturally (usually through enforcement of the language, first, as was tried in wales over a thousand years later).

    there is evidence for anglo-saxon replacement in other studies. this is not definitive. as for the archeological record, i think for anglo-saxons it is much more mixed than you might imply.

    this was similar to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, where again the people were more likely to be natives in genes rather than spanish.

    this is not true. latin american populations are trihybrid, with more european and indigenous than african, with european male ancestors and non-european female ancestors.

  3. #3 Joe Shelby
    September 22, 2006

    acknowledged. i missed that post (not reading as much that week due to the holiday).

  4. #4 razib
    September 22, 2006

    no problem. just have to reiterate background assumptions though, or the static can swamp the signal.

  5. #5 John Emerson
    September 22, 2006

    Entertaining, but what do we take away from it?

    Maybe I should take up Celt-bashing.

  6. #6 razib
    September 22, 2006

    Entertaining, but what do we take away from it?

    pure replacement and pure diffusion are both false. the truth is somewhere in the middle. it doesn’t lean strongly to either side (this is where i think oppenheimer and sykes spin it, as their data is not the only game in town, and even their data does imply a non-trivial amount of newcomers within the past 2,000 years, especially anglo-saxons, scandinavians, etc.)

  7. #7 pconroy
    September 22, 2006

    I hate that the peoples of Britain and Ireland are called either Basque, Celts or Germans, as these are all modern entities, and didn’t exist at the time of the putative migrations or invasions. I would prefer terms like Iberian, or Central European…

    Does anyone have the actual data that they based their results on??

    One of the problems with studies like these is that until there is more resolution on the R1b Y-DNA lineage, then a lot of peoples from Western Europe can seem similar. So for instance the Normans who came to Ireland were probably largely R1b – with some I and R1a – and while I personally believe they had a greater genetic legacy on the population of Ireland than the Vikings had, it’s difficult to strip out their progeny from the background population, due to both being largely R1b…

    In regards to competing theories about apartheid like behavior by invading Anglo-Saxons, who supposedly with a comparitively small initial population greatly expanded their genetic legacy, well I’m sure the invading “Celts” did the same, as did the Normans after both of them… In those days elites always had more children. From books I’ve read about Normans lords in France, they were having enormous families, like 10-15 children on average…

  8. #8 gav
    September 22, 2006

    Celts? Bah. Iron age johnny-come-latelies.

  9. #9 SteveF
    September 22, 2006

    I have been at a Palaeolithic-Mesolithic meeting the last couple of days, at the British Museum. Traditionally, it has been believed that ‘British’ populations began to develop from recolonization after the Younger Dryas, when local extinction occurred.

    However, a lot of new dating, by Roger Jacobi and Tom Higham, is being undertaken and Jacobi stated that we simply can’t state that no people were present during the YD. In this context, Jill Cook mentioned that Oppenheimer is about to present genetic evidence for continuity of occupation.

    I think this is pretty cool; given the rapidity and severity of the environmental change at this time, survival during the Younger Dryas would suggest that these people were pretty hardy.

  10. #10 razib
    September 22, 2006

    I would prefer terms like Iberian, or Central European…

    i concur. but would “ancient southwest europeans ancestors of the english!” sell as many papers or books? no.

  11. #11 pconroy
    September 22, 2006

    Steve F,
    I think this is pretty cool; given the rapidity and severity of the environmental change at this time, survival during the Younger Dryas would suggest that these people were pretty hardy.

    Does this mean that some humans might have persisted in Britain or Ireland during the Last Glacial Maximum??

  12. #12 SteveF
    September 22, 2006

    No, it seems unlikely at this stage. Tom Higham has developed a new ultraflitration technique that screens samples more effectively for carbon removal. This has the effect of generally making dates older. The old C14 dates had humans deserting the UK a few thousand years before the LGM. As a result of this methodology being applied, they seem to have left even earlier than this.

    The Younger Dryas was pretty harsh in the UK; there are sites in Southern England with extensive frost shattering for example. However, the LGM was likely considerably worse, with a large ice sheet plonked down on half of the country.

    In some ways, it might not actually be that surprising that humans stuck around during the YD (and I must stress that we don’t actually conclusively know this yet). After all, Neanderthal were present during MIS3 when beatle and mammalian evidence suggest that climate was also pretty damned unnappealing. If they managed it, there is probably no real reason why we couldn’t, during vaguely comparable conditions in the YD.

  13. #13 SkookumPlanet
    September 22, 2006

    razib
    Good timing! I’m in the middle of reading about this period. Last night, the repopulating of Europe in the Mesolithic and, tonight, the beginnings of the European Neolithic. It’s Steven Mithen’s After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC.

    So far I like the book a lot. I know none of these details and he’s got details by the bushel. That will probably be the book’s drawback — way, way too much information to remember it all. It’s encyclopedic. But, contrary to a few reviews I’ve seen, I like his narrative recreations of various cultures and his “imaginary” narrator doesn’t bother me at all.

    So, thanks. I’ll let you know in advance what I read next so you can prep a couple more tailored posts!

  14. #14 razib
    September 22, 2006

    It’s Steven Mithen’s After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC.

    good book. i didn’t like the imaginary narrations myself :)

  15. #15 David B
    September 23, 2006

    Oppenheimer’s stuff seems well-researched, but his idea that the Belgic tribes in southern Britain (pre-Anglo-Saxon) spoke a Germanic language is pretty flakey. There are lots of Roman-era inscriptions, with personal names, etc, and I don’t think anyone has noticed anything un-Celtic about them.

    As for Bryan Sykes, he is such a rampant sensationalist that I put a heavy discount on his stock! Before deciding ‘we’re all Basques’ I would want to see more about the distribution of these haplotypes elsewhere in Europe.

  16. #16 Douglas Knight
    September 23, 2006

    I hate that the peoples of Britain and Ireland are called either Basque, Celts or Germans, as these are all modern entities, and didn’t exist at the time of the putative migrations or invasions. I would prefer terms like Iberian, or Central European…

    These terms may be misleading, but they are not anachronisms.

    OK, the term Basque is probably only two thousand years old, thus post-migration. And it probably never matched how it’s being used here. But the ancient use of Celt and German seem to be what’s being used here.

    The modern term “German” is much narrower than the ancient, but I think most people understand that. I don’t see any problem with Celt at all. While the Irish are probably the only people who get called Celts today, I think the term is understood quite broadly, and people talk about, say, Celtic influence in France.

    But maybe I don’t think they’re so misleading because I’ve already been mislead. In that case, please enlighten me!

    One might object not on grounds of accuracy, but on grounds of precision. Iberian is more precise than Celtic, but Central European is less precise than German.

    You require javascript to post? Disgusting.

  17. #17 pconroy
    September 23, 2006

    Douglas,
    The problem I have with Irish or British being called “Celtic” is that there is very little evidence for mass migration of Celts to Ireland or Britain, more like elite dominance + iron weapons to produce a Celtic culture.
    Ireland is about as Celtic as Hungary is Magyar or Turkey is Turk – i.e. not much genetically, much more culturally.

  18. #18 Douglas Knight
    September 24, 2006

    pconroy,
    Now I’m really confused. Your last comment makes it sound like you endorse the ancient usage and object to the modern usage. But isn’t it the ancient usage in “We’re nearly all Celts under the skin!”? Why did you write ‘invading “Celts”‘?

  19. #19 Shogun
    September 24, 2006

    @Razib:

    What’s the source for the image (map of Europe)?

  20. #20 pconroy
    September 24, 2006

    Douglas,
    The consensus is that the “Celts” emerged in Central Europe, particularly Halstatt in modern Austria, with possible antecedents further East. This culture spread throughout Central Europe and later into Western Europe in the last few centuries BC.
    Ireland shows very little signature of a Central European heritage – at least on the Y-DNA, mtDNA shows more, but in general mtDNA across Europe is fairly homogenous.
    So the traditional culture of Ireland is “Celtic”, but the Irish are NOT “Celtic”, for the most part, genetically.
    Since this is primarily a Genetics Blog, the use of the term Celtic to describe the Irish or British can cause confusion, that’s what I meant.

  21. #21 razib
    September 24, 2006

    What’s the source for the image (map of Europe)?

    i drew it. but see cavalli-sforza’s history and geography of human genes.

  22. #22 razib
    September 24, 2006

    the correlation between genes & culture (e.g., “celtic” or “germanic” haplotype profiles) is weak enough in europe that i do think it is useful to decouple linguistic terms from the genetical context.

  23. #23 eoin
    September 25, 2006

    “Oppenheimer’s explanation is that southern England was not Celtic speaking to begin with, though most would strongly disagree with this assesesment”

    Wouldn’t they have been latin speaking?

  24. #24 pconroy
    September 26, 2006

    Eoin,
    I would think that Southern England’s towns would definately have been latin speaking, while more rural areas would have been speaking either a Brythonic or Continental Celtic dialect – in other words a dialect akin to Welsh or Gaulish.
    If we assume the Southern Britons were largely composed of Belgae, then I would suspect a dialect akin to Gaulish.

    Note that there is evidence of the Belgae being in Eastern Ireland also, and many think that one of the putative invasions of Ireland by the “Fir Bolg” (Men of/from Bolg), is a reference to them.

  25. #25 eoin
    September 26, 2006

    pconroy,

    thought bolg meant soft or belly. St. Patrick was a latin speaker and must have been a rural dweller of sorts, from the Western Coastal areas of Southern england. However you are right the latin language would have spread from the towns to the countryside, I believe that France had residual Celtic speakers until the revolution. Without the Anglo and Saxon invasions, then, England would be speaking a variation of a Romance language.

  26. #26 razib
    September 26, 2006

    St. Patrick was a latin speaker and must have been a rural dweller of sorts, from the Western Coastal areas of Southern england.

    he was from the elite. ancient elites often had rural villas.

    , I believe that France had residual Celtic speakers until the revolution.

    the only celts after the 6th century on the continent were, to my knowledge, bretons, who were large derived from brythonic emigrants from the isles (though there is some debate about a possible indigenous celtic substratum also contributing to the mix).

    p.s. oppenheimer speaks of the belgae as germanic, but my understanding was that they were multi-linguistic (e.g., some member tribes of the confederation were celtic speaking, some germanic, some mixed)

  27. #27 pconroy
    September 26, 2006

    Eoin,
    You are partially correct, Irish for soft=bog (pronounced “bug”), Irish for stomach=bolg.
    But “Fir Bolg”, does not mean Stomach Men or Men of/from Stomach – that wouldn’t make sense – it means Bolg Men or Men of/from Bolg, which is a cognate for Belg-ae.

    Razib,
    Even though Oppenheimer speaks of the Belgae as speaking a Germanic dialect, this article on the Belgae says that any attested Belgae personal or place names were Celtic, though some of the tribes affiliated with the Belgae confederation might have been Germanic. But then goes on to say that for Caesar, Germanic may just have meant, originating on the East of the Rhine…
    Here’s a map showing the Menapii – a Belgae tribe in Ireland, and the town of Menapia – modern day Wexford town, in Wexford – in the extreme SouthEast of the country.

  28. #28 Eduard Selleslagh
    October 22, 2006

    About Caesar’s Belgae: Caesar himself and contemporaries concur that the Belgae spoke a different language than the Galli (“qui ipsorum lingua Celtae appellantur”). My idea is that the Belgae spoke a Brythonic (P-Celtic, Welsh) variety of Celtic. My reason is basically that ‘balch/balchai’ in modern Welsh means ‘proud’, a likely name a warrior tribe might give itself.
    Physically, inhabitants of Wallonia (southern, French speaking Belgium) are similar to those in Wales (the dark haired), while in Flanders and S. Holland, there is a mojority of Frankish types, except in the eastern provinces of (Belgian and Dutch) Limburg and bordering regions, where the ‘Welsh’ types are more frequent (ancient territory of Atuatuca Tungrorum e.g., now city of Tongeren). Of course this is not scientific, but it might guide further investigation.
    About the Basque Britons: There are a few elements of unknown etymology in the English language that might point to a Basque origin: ‘ill’ and ‘kill’, possibly related to ‘hil'(likely a descendant of ‘*kil’, meanig ‘to die’, also used in numerous compounds like ‘hilotz’,cadaver, (‘hotz’ = cold), ‘hiltzaile’ = assasin), and ‘il-‘, an affix suggesting darkness, like in ‘ilargi’= moon (actually meaning ‘dark-light’, or ‘ilun’ = dark. Hil and il clearly belong to the same semantic field of ‘death, darkness’.
    On the other hand there are the Mendip hills near Bath. In Basque ‘Mendi-pe’ means ‘at the foot of, below, the mountain’.
    Basque ‘mendi’ means mountain; it descends from a reconstructed *ben-d/ti’, the suffix meaning ‘group, area with several items…’ or something of that kind. It seems likely to me that Celtic ‘b/pen’ (mountain, peak, head)is actually Basque.

    Besides, on the linguistic front, one should certainly take into account the reconstruction of the West-European landscape by Prof. Kalevi Wiik of Finland (http://www.lib.helsinki.fi/bff/399/wiik.html). He consideres the whole Atlantic Façade as having been Basque, linguistically. Some of his followers think Celtic is actually the Italic variety spoken by the first ‘italicized’ ‘Basques’.

    A last (linguistic) point: Welsh still has some ‘ergative’ tendencies, a rather rare grammatical trait, present in Europe only in Basque. It means that the transitive form (subject-direct object-verb) is not possible (“Basque has no direct object”); instead, some construction resembling passive mode is used (actor-subject(=pseudo-d.object)-verb). The only other ergative languages in Eurasia are all limited to the Caucasus valleys.

    About the term ‘Iberian': the Iberians were clearly distinct from the Basques. They seem to have come from the Eastern Mediterranean via the islands to the Spanish Mediterranean coast. They spoke a language, still little understood but readable, that is of the – apparenly – same general structure (agglutinative, SOV, suffixing…) as Basque but clearly different (otherwise we would understand it a lot better). However, it is obvious that there was some form of interpenetration with Basque (some words, elements, grammatical suffixes… are the same)Which may have modified Basque much more than Iberian, the latter being a much higher, more or less urban, culture. The Celtiberians (Aragon) were a mixed people who spoke a basically Celtic language mixed with Iberian and written in the Iberian semi-syllabic alphabet. It is far from obvious that the same modification would have occurred in the language of the ‘Basques’ of the Atlantic Façade north of Spain and Gascony.

  29. #29 Delos
    December 31, 2006

    Oppenheimers book uses data that goes into more depth about R1b genetic marker. he defines all the sublineages (16 of them) that are almost exclusive to the basques and the welsh and irish and cornish. He even works out when they formed and when they arrived to the British Isles.

    Secondly the majority of people in Wales have a meditteranean appearance (wales is 84% r1b and has a med input on the mtdna too). Most welsh and cornish and western irish people have black hair and brown eyes as do people in some regions of scotland.

    evidence if welsh meditteranean appearance.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Passing_of_the_Great_Race_-_Map_4.jpg

  30. #30 Delos
    December 31, 2006

    Oppenheimers book uses data that goes into more depth about R1b genetic marker. he defines all the sublineages (16 of them) that are almost exclusive to the basques and the welsh and irish and cornish. He even works out when they formed and when they arrived to the British Isles.

    Secondly the majority of people in Wales have a meditteranean appearance (wales is 84% r1b and has a med input on the mtdna too). Most welsh and cornish and western irish people have black hair and brown eyes as do people in some regions of scotland. All anthropoligists that have surveyes the British people have always stated the welsh as being either considerably darker than the english or of meditteranean appearance.

    evidence of welsh and cornish meditteranean appearance.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Passing_of_the_Great_Race_-_Map_4.jpg

  31. #31 Fred Colbourne
    February 23, 2009

    Some writers already argue that almost all French Canadians have some Native American ancestry, resulting from several centuries of intermarriage, but most people are unaware of the fact. My Ontario birth certificate says that I am English and French. But genealogical research shows: Irish 30%, English (Dorset/Cornwall) 50%, French Canadian 20% (?). The question mark indicates that there is some evidence of Ojibewa ancestry, probably 5%, reducing the French component to 15%.

    A similar sort of mixing process may have taken place in Ireland and other parts of Europe.

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