My Anglo-Saxon Mother (Moder)

This is a follow on from my last post, concerning the mapping of my paper ancestry over the past three centuries.  A noticeable cluster of ancestry (on my mother's side) appeared on the maps from three generations ago, in Broadland or East Norfolk, including the villages of Reedham, Limpenhoe, Cantley, Freethorpe, Stokesby, Beighton, Postwick, Hassingham, Buckenham St Nicholas, Halvergate, Tunstall, South Burlingham, Moulton, and Acle.

That this cluster is so firmly entrenched, suggests that I have had ancestry in that locality for a long time.  I have already postulated that this area would have acted as a prime settlement district for immigrants from between the fourth and eleventh centuries, from across the North Sea.  I thought that I would play on this idea a little more.

The map below shows East Norfolk as it would have appeared during the Fourth Century, with slightly higher sea levels than we enjoy today, and previous to any substantial engineered drainage:

The red dappling, outlines the main cluster of my mother's paper ancestry, that provenances there during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Such a strong cluster would suggest deep roots in that zone.

Very different to the present day Norfolk Broads and Coast.  Great Yarmouth and Breydon Water are replaced by a Great Estuary.  Reedham literally faced the North Sea at the head end of the estuary.  Indeed, 20th Century works in the parish church of Reedham, revealed hidden herringbone decorations made from Roman bricks.  it has been hypothesised, that these bricks may have come from a nearby Romano-British lighthouse.

Revisionist historians and archaeologists have for many years, argued that the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore, were in fact not defensive, defending the province from attack by marauding Anglo-Saxon pirates, but were instead used to control and tax North Sea trade with the province.  Some have even gone so far as to suggest that areas like this were already being culturally influenced by the North Sea Anglo-Saxon world.

The collapse of Roman administration, and the disintegration of much of Roman society, and the Roman way of life, made it easy for Continental adventurers to cross the North Sea from outside of the old Empire, and to settle in Eastern England.  Some of them may have been escaping exploitation from the elites that were gathering power in their homelands.  They knew how to live with a rural barter-economy, without the niceties that the Empire had offered the British.  A recent study of human remains in the Cambridge area, noted that within a very short time, even the local British were adapting the customs and artifacts of Anglo-Saxon culture.  Not only that, but those remains that were genetically profiled as of being of local British origin not only aped the new immigrants, but their burials were higher status and richer.  The poorer graves mainly profiled as newly arrived immigrants from the Low Countries or Denmark.  The researchers suggested that in the case of immigration (rather than invasion), this is what we should expect to see.  The immigrants had to settle for whatever they could get, which would often be poorer land.

I'm going to restate my view.  I support a number of recent genetic surveys, also backed up by many archaeologists, that the 5th Century AD Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain was exaggerated in it's ferocity by Gildas and Bede, rather like the Daily Mail exaggerates present day immigration and it's "damaging effect".  It was certainly a very major migration, but it appears to have left the lowland British genome with no more than 20% to 40% of it's DNA share.  It seems from recent genetic studies, that the present day ethnic English, inherit more DNA from prehistoric British populations, than they do from Continental Anglo-Saxons.  Not only that, but the immigrants seem to have married into British society, rather than slaughter it.  It was during the later Sixth Century, that emerging elites of the lowland British kingdoms started to claim ethnic identification, and descent from heroic Angles and Saxons.

In this post, I'm not going to particularly distinguish between the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the 5th/6th Century AD, from the hypothesised Danish settlement of the 9th/10th century.  Perhaps we should see them as waves of North Sea immigration, but perhaps not so entirely divorced from each other.  The earlier may have originated more from Frisia and Angeln, and the latter from a little bit further north in Denmark, but the cultures don't seem to have been that much different.  When I was a boy, travelling through the loam soils of Broadland to see my relatives in Cantley, I was always struck by the big Dutch barns on the landscape.  I was told that the Dutch had long had connections to the area.  Maybe my parents underestimated how far back these links across the North Sea went.

This 20% to 40% Anglo-Saxon DNA spreads across all of England.  Even the Welsh and Cornish have a percentage of it.  However, I was intrigued by a comment in Stephen Oppenheimer in his book Origins of the British 2007, when he did just remark that the highest marker was from an East Norfolk sample!

When I look at the above maps, and in relationship to Frisia, Saxony, Angeln, and Denmark, it appears to me that the Great Estuary must have seemed like a magnet to the boat loads of new settlers.  Rivers opening up from the North Sea, to rich arable soils and lowlands.  A recently closed shore fort - tax, customs, and immigration control free!  I can't help but imagine the first boats beaching or mooring at Reedham, Cantley, Halvergate (-gate, another Norse place-name) etc.

Not only that, but during the 6th and 7th centuries, the sea levels dropped.  Desperate settlers could easily create new land with simple drainage methods.  This appears to be particularly relevant to the East Norfolk district of Flegg.  An island surrounded by new marshes, with the sea waters draining away.  Almost every parish on Flegg, finishes with the classic place-name suffix of Danish settlement - Fil-by, Stokes-by, Rolles-by, Ormes-by, Hems-by etc.  That the later settlers left so many place-names must reflect a great land grab by immigrant families.  The settlers had to fit in where they could.  their ability to exploit a drop in sea levels, and to perhaps make use of their engineering skills at draining land, must have been an advantage at settling in this area.  The drained salt-marshes proved top quality grazing land.  The marsh grasses of the Halvergate Triangle were used to fatten sheep, cattle and other livestock for centuries after. The marshes are dotted by small medieval man-made islands known as holmes (from the Old Norse holmr).

Conclusion

I've basically been making claims here, of direct descent from the North Sea Settlers that arrived in the eastern extremes of East Anglia between the 4th and 11th centuries.  I'm daring to suggest that my mother's established deep links with that area, may indicate that she has a heightened percentage of their DNA.  Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps there was more shuffling of genes across Britain into and out of that district during the medieval.  Perhaps the POBA 2015 survey was correct in dismissing any Danish settlement.

Why does it matter to me anyway?  I am equally proud of my Romano-British ancestry as I am of my Anglo-Saxon (or perhaps Anglo-Danish) ancestry.  The Romano-Britons seem to have largely descended from late prehistoric Britons - the people that erected all of those round barrows across Britain, that went on to build wonderful hill forts, the people that rebelled against Rome during the 1st Century AD.  However, I'm also proud of having North Sea settler ancestry.  They were the go-getters of their day, that uprooted to look for adventure.  Hard working migrants and pioneers.  Perhaps similar in some respects, to the Europeans that uprooted to settle the Americas, or dare I suggest, to the present day EU immigrants of Britain.

Years ago, I read a fascinating landscape history on this area, called The Norfolk Broads, a landscape history.  By Tom Williamson, 1997.  Unfortunately, I lent the book out.  I really would like to read this again now.

Where do we come from?

I can answer that now.  A set of maps that demonstrates the geographic spread of my direct ancestry back seven generations, to the early 18th Century.

I used a cropped relief map of England from Wikimedia Commons.  Attribution is: By Nilfanion [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The red dots mark the locations of each ancestor, preferably a birth or baptism place, if not, then the next best provenance.

Grandparent Generation

All four ancestors of this generation are represented on this map.  All four are located in the county of Norfolk, in the East of England.  These ancestors were born between 1900 and 1910 in England only.  They represent two generations back from myself or my siblings.

Great Grandparent Generation

All eight ancestors of this generation are represented on this map.  Seven are located in Norfolk, in the East of England.  These ancestors were born between 1859 and 1885 in England only.  They represent three generations back from myself or my siblings.

Great Great Grandparent Generation

All sixteen ancestors of this generation are represented on this map.  They are concentrated in Norfolk again, but with single representatives each in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, London, and Oxfordshire.  These ancestors were all born between 1830 and 1865 in England only.  They represent four generations back from myself or my siblings.


Great Great Great Grandparent Generation

Thirty of the thirty two ancestors of this generation are represented on this map.  The other two were undeclared fathers.  The main cluster is still in Norfolk, with a particularly dense cluster in the east of the county, around the River Yare.  Outside of East Anglia, I also had ancestors at this generation in Oxfordshire, London, and Lincolnshire.  These ancestors were all born between 1794 and 1837 in England.  They represent five generations back from myself or my siblings.

Great Great Great Great Grandparent Generation

Now the paper ancestry starts to fade away, with only 42 provenance ancestors out of 64 biological ancestors for this generation (seven generations back).  Therefore the map might lose some detail.  None-the-less, it seems to show the pattern settling, with most of my ancestry only deepening in Norfolk, and strongly clustering around the River Yare in East Norfolk.  Almost entirely restricted to East Anglia, except for a few emerging clusters in Wessex.

Surnames

The recorded surnames of my known direct ancestors are overwhelmingly of Medieval English form: 

Brooker, Curtis, Smith, Thacker, Tovell, Tammas, Hewitt, Lawn, Peach, Goffen, Norton, Barber, Baxter, Ellis, Hagon, Porter, Becket, Shawers, Key, Rose, Ford, Daynes, Quantrill, Crutchfield, Freeman, Larke, Waters, Ransby, Ling, Rose, Riches, Snelling, Merrison, Cossey, Shepherd, Durran, Edney, Hedges, Dove, Britiff, Harris, Tibnum, Mitchells.Briggs, Nicholes

The surnames Tovell, Thacker, Daynes, Ransby, and Hagon - all from my mother's Norfolk side, could hint at an Anglo-Danish influence.

Fan Chart up to most recent six generations:

Earlier Origins

The years and generations represented on the maps pretty much cover the past three hundred years of industrialisation and globalisation.  Much earlier, I'd expect less movement.  Therefore I feel that it would be safe to assume, that back to at least the medieval period, that my ancestry was concentrated in East Anglia, with a secondary patch in the Wessex area of England.  The recent POBA (People of the British Isles) 2015 study, suggested that the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms continued to act as localised gene pools into the high medieval period.

Before that, we had a period of immigration waves into lowland Britain.  The POBI study, supported a number of other recent studies based on genetic profiling, archaeology, and place-name study, to suggest that Anglo-Saxon immigration accounted for no more than 30% to 40% of lowland British DNA, and that the majority of English heritage had existed in the British Isles previous - perhaps to influxes of genes during the Bronze Age or earlier.  Genetic profiling of human remains in Cambridgeshire, of people identified as 5th Century immigrant (Anglo-Saxon), suggests the closest present day profile as Dutch or / and Danish.  The kingdom of East Anglia identified with the Angles ethnicity, that historically provenance their origins to the region of Angeln, on the Danish and German borders on the Baltic coast.  However how elites identify their origin, is often not based in fact, neither is their origin always shared by their subjects.

East Anglia fell to the Danish army, and subsequently to Danelaw control periodically during the late 9th to early 11th centuries.  Some parts of East Norfolk such as Flegg, are particularly rich in Old Danish place-names.  POBA 2015 failed to identify a Danish presence with their genetic profiling, but the place-name evidence and historical sources contradict this finding.  The 7th to 9th centuries saw a slight reduction in sea levels, that enabled the draining of new lands in East Anglia for settlement.  The same districts are rich in Old Danish place-names, strongly suggesting immigrant settlement.

Conclusion

POBI 2015 suggests that I have ancestors that have lived in lowland Britain, since at least the Bronze Age, and most likely, much earlier.  That very likely ties me to lowland British ethnicities of the Bronze and Iron Ages.  The dominant power in East Anglia during the Later Iron Age was the Iceni federation, famous for the Boudiccan revolt against Rome.

POBI 2015 and other studies, suggests an Anglo-Saxon immigration that accounts for 30% - 40% of English ancestry.  My strongest cluster is concentrated in the river valleys of East Norfolk, exactly the sort of landscape that I would expect any North Sea immigrants during the 4th to 11th centuries to concentrate.  Therefore, I would expect a high probability of actual Anglo-Saxon immigrant ancestry (based on recent studies, from the Netherlands area, and perhaps North Germany / Denmark).  Based on place-name evidence the area was later heavily influenced by the Danish.

When I receive my 23andMe DNA results, based on their genetic profiling of Y chromosome, mtDNA, and on general autosomal calculators, in their ancestry results, I would expect to see overwhelming British & Irish percentage.  However, will their autosome crunchers also predict a percentage in the Scandinavian, French & German, and North-West European 23andMe categories?  As autosomal DNA is so random, what will the results display?

23andMe

Still waiting for the results.  23andMe are not giving a very rapid service.  For starters, I received a sample kit with a Netherlands return address.  That apparently was a holding depot, where they stockpile some of the European samples, so that they can ship them to the USA cheaper.  My sample reached a US lab, but continues to sit in a queue.  It has now been 37 days since I sent my registered sample off, and the box is still in a queue, waiting to be tested.  Other customers are reporting some long waits further down the process in quality control.  I expect a long wait.

Six Generation Ancestral Fan Chart

Its not going to get any more complete than that.  The only two missing ancestors were unrecorded fathers.  That should pretty much reflect the paper background to my autosomal DNA.  It also illustrates quite well, how a complete ancestry fans out, doubliing in number each generation.  Of course, over enough generations, it starts to reduce again, as common ancestors shared by more than one line, start to appear.  Hence the homogeneous nature for example, of the English.

It is also not a proportional representation of where my autosomal DNA comes from.  At meiosis, I recieve 50% of my DNA from my mother, and 50% from my father.  However, before that, randomness creeps in, along with chromosome exchange, so that it's quite possible that I have inherited no DNA at all from some of my G.G.G grandparents for example, while others may be over-represented in my DNA.

I created the Fan Chart using the Open Source Gramps genealogy database software.  I'm really enjoying that program.

I do wish that 23andMe would hurry up.  Thirty four days since sending my sample, and so far it's reached a queue for testing in an American lab.  Judging by the moans and groans on their forums, I might have to wait for a total of three months in order to see results.

Recovered Genealogy

The above portrait is of my great great grandfather Billy Baxter (William Bennet Baxter), who was born in Gressenhall workhouse, Norfolk, in 1846.

Now that I've submitted a DNA sample to 23andMe, while waiting for the results, I keep thinking, and wanting to write about my heritage and ancestry.  Hence maybe the recent posts on my past archaeology work, my interest in our Anglo-Saxon heritage, and now more directly, my past and recent experience with genealogy.

I first became interested in the family tree around the late 1980s.  I was a young married guy, on the brink of rearing my own family, so maybe there was a desire to find out where we came from, entwined with where we were going.  I can remember as a boy being interested in any tales about my alleged ancestors.  As I said in a recent post, I was always fascinated by the past.

I'm probably lucky in some ways.  Genealogy can be so Internet and computer databased these days.  I conducted most of my research before all of that.  I would visit county record offices and archives around England & Wales, and wearing white cotton gloves in reading rooms, sift through the original registers and documents - some of which were in the original handwriting of my ancestors.  Two of my ancestors had been long serving parish clerks in Norfolk.  I'd also visit archives in London, search through indexes of birth, marriage, and death (BMD).  If I wanted to order a BMD certificate, I'd write to a detective or genealogist, that would fetch bundles of certificates from the archives at a cheaper price than I could do it first hand.

With my wife, I'd also travel around the churches, cemeteries, and grave yards.  We'd interview elderly relatives, ask to see any family photographs or certificates.  Most were eager to tell their tales.

A nicer way of researching than sitting at home and paying to see transcript records in an internet database.  However, I made a mistake.  Computers were coming along.  I recorded too much onto obsolete system and using obsolete software.  Then I hit middle age.  I let go of too much, all of my notes, charts, and records.  My marriage collapsed, I moved on.  Holding onto things seemed futile when I have only one life.  I lost much of my genealogy.

Then a few days ago when I was looking at my old archaeology website on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I spotted a few pages on my old genealogy.  There was a link to a .gedcom file that included a lot of the data that I had accumulated years ago.  It worked, the Wayback Machine had captured my .gedcom file!  Data on over 1200 ancestors and relatives from both mine, and the ex's family.  I looked for some Open Source software and found the Gramps program.  I downloaded it and the .gedcom file onto both my Windows 7 PC, and onto my Linux netbook.  After fiddling for a little while, the software opened my old gedcom file - there was all of the data, or at least a lot of it.  Charts, resources, BMDs, baptisms, burials, etc.  Retrieved from an Internet Archive, and saved in a format that still works.

The above group photograph is of four generations.  The baby is my Aunt Gladys, the mother is my maternal grandmother, the man is her father, my great grandfather Sam Tammas-Tovell, and the old lady is my great great grandmother Eliza Tammas-Tovell (nee Lawn).  Probably taken in the Halvergate or Tunstall area of Norfolk around 1936

My Genealogy and 23andMe

Most of my recorded ancestry, and most likely, most of my actual ancestry, lived in the English county of my birth - Norfolk.  Seven of my eight grandparents were born in Norfolk. My autosomal data should be pretty typical for a Norfolk born East Anglian.  The exception was my paternal great grandfather, who was born in Victorian London, of mainly Oxfordshire descent.  On the 23andMe results, he should have passed down my Y chromosome haplogroup.  On paper I can go back another three generations, to a John Brooker, who fathered some children between 1815 and 1836 in the parish of Rotherfield Peppard in Oxfordshire.  All that I currently know of his origins, is that he stated that he himself was born outside of Oxfordshire.  He lived close to the county border with Berkshire, and I suspect that he may have originated from there.

My maternal line, which should represent my mtDNA haplogroup, as with most of my recorded ancestry, is very Norfolk.  I can trace it back to Sarah Daynes (nee Quantrill), born at Wymondham, Norfolk circa 1827.  I don't think that it would be too far fetched to suggest that my ancestors most likely lived in the Norfolk area since at least as far back as the old East Anglian Kingdom, and perhaps many of them much back further, perhaps thousands of years.  Some of them however were very likely to have been part of that Anglo-Saxon immigrant Third, and to have arrived from across the North Sea.  Some of them may have arrived a bit later.  East Anglia was very much a part of the Danelaw.  Many villages in East Norfolk - as in parts of Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, are regarded as having names that were Old Danish in origin.  Apparently even one of my family surnames - Tovell, has been identified as Old Danish, coming from Tofi-son-of-Hilda.  Another family surname Thacker has also been suggested as a Scandinavian form of thatcher.

I'll be interested to see how 23andMe analyse the Ancestry.  In all of my ancestry, I have not found any evidence of anyone coming from outside of England.  It's all Norfolk, London, and Oxfordshire - English surnames.  Therefore I'd expect the 23andMe autosomal results to come out pretty much under the British & Irish group.  However, should we ethnic English, because of our more distant history, expect elements of Scandinavian, French & German, and North West European?  My understanding is that autosomal data mainly relates to the most recent several generations.  My Y chromosome should belong to a common British male haplogroup.  It most likely passed through Oxfordshire in SW Britain.  My mtDNA should belong to a very East English haplogroup.  It might have arrived in Britain in late prehistory, or it might have arrived during the Anglo-Saxon or Viking period.

Too much speculation, I must expect my DNA results to take weeks to process.

There Was No British Genocide II

The above image, captured on a Pentax K110D and Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens.  Loom weights in the West Stow Anglo-Saxon reconstruction village.

Literally, as soon as I posted my There was no British Genocide article, I come across links to yet a newer study.  Dr Stephan Schiffels of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, sequenced genomes of human remains from Hinxton, Saffron Walden, Linton and Oakington - all close to Cambridge. 

The dates of the remains ranged from the Late Iron Age, until the Middle Saxon.  The team reported that:

"In the cemetery at Oakington we see evidence even in the early Anglo-Saxon period for a genetically mixed but culturally Anglo-Saxon community, in contrast to claims for strong segregation between newcomers and indigenous peoples. The genomes of two sequenced individuals (O1 and O2) are consistent with them being of recent immigrant origin, from a source population close to modern Dutch, one was genetically similar to native Iron Age samples (O4), and the fourth was consistent with being an admixed individual (O3), indicating interbreeding. Despite this, their graves were conspicuously similar, with all four individuals buried in flexed position, and with similar grave furnishing. Interestingly the wealthiest grave, with a large cruciform brooch, belonged to the individual of native British ancestry (O4), and the individual without grave goods was one of the two genetically ‘foreign’ ones (O2), an observation consistent with isotope analysis at West Heslerton which suggests that new immigrants were frequently poorer".

Based on this study, the team proposed that the immigrant portion of English DNA lay around a third, or 20 - 40% of total.  Not so far from the findings of 10% to 40% by the POBA 2015 study.  The newer study though confirms that the populations appear to have mingled closely, and that people of Romano-British ancestry were quickly adopting an Anglo-Saxon identity.  It was a surprise to find that the higher status remains Anglo Saxon dressed remains were actually of local Romano-British heritage, while some of the poorest remains were immigrant Anglo-Saxons.

Based on comparative genetics, the team suggests the origins of the immigrant Anglo-Saxons were Denmark and the Netherlands.

Full story can be found published under Creative Commons in Nature here, and the BBC news release here.

So once again, the genetic analysis suggests that rather than an Anglo-Saxon invasion wiping out the Romano-Britons, that a series of immigrations - not outnumbering the locals, arrived, and apparently mingled in.  Around a third of the population were immigrant Anglo-Saxon from the Continent.  Even the higher status locals, were apparently copying the new Anglo-Saxon culture.

The ethnic English are a surprisingly homogeneous population, with roots here going back several thousand years.  Immigrations arrive, provide admixture, but are then absorbed.  That is who we are.  Bede exaggerated the genocide.


There was no British Genocide


The Anglo-Saxon Invasion according to History

When I was eleven years old, and had just started secondary school, we had this odd lesson that I still recall.  Our headmaster (who we hadn't previously encountered) took our class, but pretended to be the caretaker, taking the class in the absence of a teacher.  Bizarre behaviour, I don't know what he hoping to teach us from this, except perhaps to be careful how we judge people. 

He was a Welshman.  At one point during the session, he told us eleven year olds, that his people, were the real Britons, and that we English kids were the descendants of land thieves.  Our ancestors had invaded the British lowlands following the collapse of Roman Britain, and had slaughtered his people, driving the survivors to the hills of Wales.  It must have made an impact on me.  Sure enough, when my interest in history turned to the making of England, the text books pretty much confirmed his story of genocide.  We English weren't the real British, our ancestors were marauding, barbarians from Northern Germany, the Anglo-Saxons.  The prime sources of this tale were two accounts, one from Gildas, written from the British perspective, during the century that followed this alleged genocide, and the other was Bede, written as from the perspective of an Anglian Christian monk, another century later. 

The Archaeologists revision

I became interested in amateur archaeology from around the late 1980s, and volunteered as an enthusiastic field-walker (surface collection survey).  My read list grew.  I completed a two year extra mural course in landscape archaeology with the UEA.  I encountered more and more interpretations from British archaeologists, writing from the 1970s on, that something didn't seem right about the traditional Gildas/Bede account of genocide.  There was no archaeology of genocide.  There was more evidence of continuity through that period.  The Roman towns started decaying long before hoards of Anglo-Saxons arrived to dismantle them.  The Roman shore forts of the "Saxon Shore" - despite the usual claims that they were erected to fight off Anglo-Saxon raiders into Roman Britain, just didn't seem particularly defensive.  The archaeology suggested that their role might have actually been to control and tax imports and exports across the North Sea to the Germanic lands.  There appeared to be more shifts of settlement patterns a full century and a half after the alleged Anglo Saxon invasion, than directly following it.

The Bede claim is that two Anglo-Saxon chiefs, Hengist and Horsa, conscripted by the Romano-British as mercenaries to protect south-east Britain from attack, mutinied, called over their cousins, and commenced the Anglo-Saxon invasion.  It doesn't sound right.  Their names Hengist and Horsa are sometimes used in Germanic folklore and mythology, associated with a pair of horses.  It's not too far from the Romulus and Remus characters of the Rome origin myth. 

Some archaeologists pointed out that the east and west Britains, had always been different - since prehistory, not just since the Anglo-Saxon period.  They suggested that the West had a maritime influence down the Atlantic seaboard - to Ireland, Brittany, the Bay of Biscay, and Iberia, while the East had a maritime influence from the North Sea World - Belgium, Netherlands, North Germany, Denmark, Norway, etc.  Seas, rather than dividing Britain from external influence, had long provided highways of ideas, culture, and maybe genes from different zones of mainland Europe. The suggestion was that these two maritime influences had brought cultures, beliefs, trade, and even people, differently since prehistory, to either side of Britain. England had long been a part of the North Sea World.  Wales and Cornwall on the other hand, had long been a part of the Atlantic Celtic World.

Archaeologists were also questioning traditional histories of the Celts in Europe, and particularly in Britain.  It was pointed out, that the Romans and Greeks appeared to use that description for a number of tribal peoples that lived outside of their world, in Central Europe.  No-one then had used the word "Celt" to describe the Britons.  It was only much later, with the rise of nationalist movements, that Western Britons started to embrace the identity.  Some archaeologists accepted that there was a grouping of cultures, Gaelic linguistic groups, and art forms, shared along the European Atlantic Seaboard, from Northern Portugal to the Western Highlands of Scotland.  They called it the Western or Atlantic Seaboard Celtic, to distance itself from the Hallstatt, and classical references to the Central European Celtic culture.  It was never proposed though, that this was ever a homogeneous, or self-identifying "people".

More and more archaeologists argued for a revision of Britain's Dark Age histories.  They could not find archaeological evidence of genocide.  They were arguing for a partial displacement - that the Anglo-Saxons were immigrants that settled the British lowlands during the 5th Century AD, but did not "replace" the Romano-Britons, and instead, intermarried with them.  Some suggested that only small numbers of Anglo-Saxon elites may have arrived - and that their culture trickled down to their British subjects.  Some dared even suggest that there was no invasion, nor substantial Anglo-Saxon settlement of Eastern Britain at all.  Cultural influence merely crossed the North Sea in the vacuum of a collapsed Roman administration. 

Not all agreed though.  Many conservative historians, and even some archaeologists, continued to use traditional models of 5th Century invasion hypothesis.  School text books probably didn't change much.  Popular history continued without too much interruption.  Archaeological interpretations of the 5th/6th centuries were often confused concessions. 

Then genetic testing started to arrive.

Stephen Oppenheimmer is a British paediatrician that has developed a career in researching and writing popular science books concerning the genetic evidence for human origins.  After his best seller Out of Eden, in 2007 he published a book examining British roots, titled Origins Of The British .

He argued that 1) there was no Anglo-Saxon invasion. The ethnic British today were descended mainly from people that arrived here at the end of the Ice Age - both East and West British.  There was more admixture from later immigrations in the East, but it was still a minority in the mix. There was a genetic marker difference between east and west, but both populations had descended from the same haplogroup, that he believed had spilled out of the Basque Ice Age refuge at the end of the last Ice Age.  2)  Saxon culture had been in Britain for a longer time than traditionally accepted, that it existed in Roman Britain, perhaps even Iron Age Britain.  He argues that the term Saxon used in Britain referred to ethnicities in Roman SE Britain, that already used a Germanic language.  Not to refer to people from Saxony in modern day Germany.  He proposed genetic markers that he regarded as Angle arriving during the 5th Century, but these were not, he argued, ever a majority even in England.  Indeed, he argued that the later settlement of Danes left a bigger impression.  3) He claimed that the English language appears to date it's divergence from other Germanic dialects, long before the 5th Century AD.  He suggest that is because a form of it had already long existed in SE Roman Britain, perhaps even earlier.

You can imagine that his conclusions and hypothesis made quite a stir.  Some revisionists were ecstatic.  Some conservatives regarded it as crackpot.  He was stating that the English were as British as either the Welsh or Scots.  Just as the old Celtic origin myth had excited Irish and Welsh nationalists over the past few centuries, I saw the leader of the BNP (a British Far Right political group) on TV, citing poor Oppenheimer's book as evidence that the English were an ancient British people, pure and free of immigration.  An unfortunate interpretation of an interesting and provocative book.

Since 2007, genetic studies and understanding of British origins continue to progress, and will do so in the future.  One of Oppenheimer's assertions has been contradicted by studies of European human genes in general.  He believed that something like 60 to 95% of British inheritance had been here since before the Neolithic, descending from hunter-gatherers that arrived before 6,000 years ago.  The European-wide evidence suggest that some of his haplogroups had arrived in Europe later.  At least two significant waves of genes have entered Europe over the past 7,000 years, replacing the vast majority of earlier hunter-gatherer genes.  The first, it is suggested, arrived with the Neolithic - originating in the Middle East, and reaching NW Europe by 6,000 years ago.  The second, only recently discovered, originated it is suggested, on the Eurasian Steppes, and has been associated with the Yamnaya culture of pastoralists.  This has revived the old Indo-European hypothesis.  There is a possibility, that there was a significant expansion westwards from the Steppes and Balkans, and that they carried the Indo-European language, that so many modern European languages descend from.  The genetic data hints that this wave of genes arrived in West Europe around 4,200 years ago.  Some people are also associating it with the arrival of the Bell Beaker assemblage of artifacts and monuments. 

The point is, that these two late prehistoric waves of genes appear to have replaced the vast majority of earlier European genes.  A study published only last week, of Irish origins found particularly strong links to this Late Neolithic wave, from the Steppes.  The modern English may have some genes that originated in the Ice Age refuges of Europe, but they appear to be swamped by later immigrations of farming populations from the Middle East and the Steppes.  It doesn't however, yet appear to disrupt his assertion that their genes had been here long before the 5th Century.

People of the British Isles Study 2015

A newer study of British origins that promises to be the most comprehensive of all, using new improved mathematical models.  It produced a few surprises.

  • There is no homogeneous British Celtic group.  Wales had more genetic diversity than anywhere else in the British Isles.
  • The Cornish are different from the English - but are more like the English than they are like the Welsh.
  • The English are a homogeneous group, although regionalism can be detected, that correlates with the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
  • Anglo-Saxon immigration influence on English genetics is a mere 10 - 40%. Most of our genes were indeed already here much earlier.  The English are mainly British. There was no Anglo Saxon genocide of the British.
  • The Welsh do appear to have a high level of hunter-gatherer inheritance.  Maybe Oppenheimer is vindicated on this one.
  • The Danish are missing.  They could not find a visible genetic marker left by the Danish Vikings in Dane-Law England!
  • "The analyses suggest there was a substantial migration across the channel after the original post-ice-age settlers, but before Roman times. DNA from these migrants spread across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, but had little impact in Wales."

So there it is.  Gildas and Bede overplayed the 5th Century Anglo-Saxon Invasion.  Genetic surveys suggest that less than 40% of English genes originated with the Anglo-Saxons, perhaps even as low as 10%.  Most English genes arrived here in Britain much earlier; between 6,100 and 3,800 years ago.  The ethnic English can look at Iron Age, Bronze Age, probably even Neolithic monuments across the British lowlands, and consider them built by our ancestors.  My Welsh headmaster had it wrong.

So what was it like in 5th Century England?

I have recently read Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070. 2011 Robin Fleming.  A well researched history, where the researcher has not only referred to traditional historical sources, but leans heavily onto modern archaeology.  Fleming doesn't use Oppenheimer's suggestion of a Saxon presence in Roman Britain.  However, she does side with the new evidence of partial immigration, with few cases of any immigrant Anglo-Saxons outnumbering locals in any area of Britain.

How I interpret her book, I see the 5th Century Eastern Britain now as a very multicultural place, full of different dialects, languages, traditions and belief systems.  What people believed, and how they talked during the 5th Century, most likely differed from one farmstead to the next farmstead.  The largest ethnic group were the Romano-Britons.  How they dealt with the collapse of Rome varied from one community to another.  Some appear to have tried to revert to pre-Roman ways and even belief systems.  Others tried to preserve the Roman way of Life - the Romanitas .  Some communities preserved a form of Christianity, although in the absence of Rome, it most likely deviated towards the heretical.  Many of them would have embraced the new arrival cultures from across the North Sea - new fashions, dress, status symbols on the markets.  They became Anglo-Saxon.  Of the newcomers - 10% to 40%, there were a multitude of tribal ethnicities.  Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Allemani, Suevvi, Franks, etc.  They most likely arrived from Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, France and maybe as far away as Poland and East Prussia.  The lowlands of Britain were rich and fertile, it's rivers and coastline highly accessible.  The collapse of Roman administration, and a crisis in local society had left Britain open for adventure and investment.  A collapse of import duties, taxation, administration - the land to grow in.  A land of opportunity.

Some of these ethnicities may have had areas of Eastern England where they did dominate, where elites could gather power and identity.  However, genetic studies keep supporting the archaeologists - there was no major invasion.  The Romano-Britons left more of their genes to survive, than did the immigrant Anglo-Saxons.  English people had roots here in Britain since at least the Later Neolithic,  some of our roots may go back much further.  We have Anglo-Saxon roots from the Continent as well, but a minority of the genetic mix.

Fleming goes on to argue that it was in the following century, the 6th Century, that an Anglo-Saxon identity was developed.  Following the collapse of Roman society, and the immigrations from across the North Sea, at first it was sort of a free multicultural grab all.  Then as elites started to emerge, and expand their power into kingdoms during the 6th Century, they started to encourage cultural identities for their subjects.  Some emerging royal households were perhaps keen to claim descent from brave adventuring warriors of the North Sea World.  The "East Saxons", The "East Angles", the "South Saxons" etc.  This identity trickled down to their subjects regardless of the identity of their own ancestors.  The royal house of West-Saxon that survives today as the British Monarchy, claims the Germanic deity Woten (Odin) in their family tree.  It was now that lowland Britain transformed into Anglo-Saxon England.

I'm going to finish this incredibly long boring post with a thought. 

The past twenty years have seen a new wave of immigration, particularly into Eastern England.  EU immigration from Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Romania, the Czech Republic, Portugal, and Bulgaria.  I live near to a town that has seen some of the highest percentages, maybe 20 - 40% of the town population is EU.  The last time that this area saw such immigration levels may have been the 5th century.  Okay, this is different.  We live in a 21st Century Capitalist nation-state with towns, cities, mass media.  I can see that in a generation - the kids of these new adventurers from the Continent will be undistinguishable from the Britons, except for some odd sounding surnames.  When I go down town, I can buy Bulgarian mushrooms, eat in a Lithuanian bistro, buy Polish vodka, etc.  I can't help seeing some similarities between the present and the 5th Century.  It's a cool time to live in England.  Here is my 5th Century England:

Edit:  More recent evidence from the Cambridge Area in 2016 here.

23 pairs of chromosomes

Crease Drain and the Red Tile Wind Farm

I took this photograph yesterday, using the Yashica T2 loaded with Kodak Tmax 400 film.  We actually had a little sun on one of my days off work, so I took a day trip with the Yash to Huntingdon.  The late sun on the way back looked great for shadows and landscapes, so I pulled up here at Crease Drain, to take a few photos of the Red Tile wind farm between Warboys and Chatteris.  I wanted the capture the straight lines and black soils of the Fens here.  I'm quite pleased with this one.  I don't photograph landscapes too often.

23andMe

Night shifts can be a bitch.  Tiredness, upset metabolism, before you know it, you have a break, and you've bought something that you don't need from the Internet.  On a recent night shift, I ordered a 23andMe personal genetic profiling service.  I'm now waiting for the DNA sample kit to arrive.

I've been attracted to genetic profiling for some years.  Particularly for any ancestral data that such a test might provide.  Genealogy was a past interest of mine, and using traditional archiving materials (it was before I had internet access), I had already collated a family tree of over 1300 individuals for my kids - going back on their mother's side to the early 17th Century.  That along with my good knowledge of British prehistory, and landscape archaeology, I'd say that I have a pretty good idea of what my heritage is.  However, at the same time, I have been very skeptical at some of the claims made by Ancestral DNA companies, that appear to target New World customers, with suggestions that they can pinpoint the European (and other) nationalities, and even ethnicity, of their ancestors.  I can't believe such claims, surely in truth, the genetic map of Europe is too blurred from thousands of years of migration and genetic flow, to be used as a tool with such accuracy.

However, what attracted me to 23andMe, is that they don't appear to make such promises with their genetic profiling.  Instead of ridiculous claims to show percentage of Celtic, Slavic, Germanic, etc.  They at most divide Europe into wider geographical zones such as Irish/British, French/German, Scandinavian, East European.  I expect that my 23andMe ancestral profile will be mainly Irish/British, perhaps with a percentage of Scandinavian, and even French/German.  I'll see if I'm correct.  Even then, I hope for more reliable data such as my haplogroups, my mtDNA, my Y chromosome - where they may have been and when.  However, on the Ancestral aspect, what perhaps helped me to plunge into the bank account, was that 23andMe are now producing your percentage of DNA that is believed to have originated in a Neanderthal genome.  Not necessary to know, but for the armchair anthropologist in me - very cool.  I'm guessing around 2.6%.  I'll see again if I was correct.

Another aspect of the 23andMe approach that I quite like though - is that they don't focus just on the ancestral, but instead, offer the service for health information.  This aspect has been very controversial.  Critics have suggested that this could lead to a World where we select DNA for our offspring, where insurance premiums could be set according to your genetic profile.  However, my father's family suffered dreadfully from cancers and Alzheimer.  I would rather know if I should be doing more about my lifestyle, in order to adjust for the genetic probability.  Genetic profiling isn't just about fun, it could extend my well being.

I'll see if I still feel the same in 12 months.  What will I learn, how will I find the 23andMe service, will it change my life at all?  Come back in a year's time if I'm still here.

Running with Dogs No.15


I've been quiet on here the past three days. I actually fell a little bit off the saddle, into a man-well perhaps.  A large glass of brandy, a whole box of chocolate coated brazil nuts, and a bit of cake just made me feel that I'd let myself down.  Then I missed an opportunity for a run.  However, I'm back in the saddle now.  I will cross that twelve stone barrier any day.  Today I ran with the dogs in stormy cold weather (some sleet, 0 C) for 4.5 miles at a pace of 5.9 mph, in 45 minutes.  A slight improvement in performance. The hold ups are now less to do with my poor fitness, and more to do with my lurcher's desire to piss up every tree.

Back on track.