The First East Anglians Part I

A recent purchase in a Norwich shop, was a used book: The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green.  The Society of Antiquities.  1973.  Caistor-by-Norwich, or as it is also known, Caistor-St Edmund, is located close to the confluence of the River Tas with the River Yare, in East Norfolk.  The Anglo-Saxon cremation urn cemetery there, was built outside of the walls of Venta Icenorum, a Romano-British town.  The book's authors suggest that the cemetery belonged to Anglo-Saxon mercenary soldiers, that were employed to defend the town, and their families that they brought over.  This fits the context of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, as proposed by traditionalist historians that support the accounts made in later centuries by Gildas and by Bede.  In this context, these finds could be suggested to have belonged to the very first East Anglians

I could wax on about it's extensive finds catalogue, and illustrations:

But instead, I'm going to copy here, a passage from the above book that I read this morning, after recieving an email from Stephen Arbon, concerning the Anglo-Saxon settlement of East Anglia.

"The suggested reorganization of the town defences in the third century implies a community still sufficiently large and viable to warrant such an expense.  The enclosure of some 35 acres must indicate that this area was thought worth defending.  Until the whole system is securely dated uncertainty must remain.  But the existence of external bastions does indicate that the defences were probably improved in the later part of the fourth century.  Further evidence for the existence of an adequate defensive system at the time comes from the forum and Building 4.  Five pieces of military equipment of the type associated with barbarian troops of this period have been found on these two sites, while a sixth was included in a nineteenth century collection.  All are late fourth - or early fifth century types and indicate the presence of a military force stationed in or near the town at this time.  A bone sword guard was picked up after ploughing in 1969 in the area of the Baths.  This too can perhaps be associated with the users of the metal objects.  By this time also, if the dating here suggested for the earliest barbarian burials in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery is correct, Germanic folk were already cremating their dead only some 400 yards outside the east gate of Venta.

It may also be significant in this context to note that a number of pieces of so-called 'Romano-Saxon' pottery have been recorded from the Roman town.  One such, unstratified, has already been published; three others are here illustrated on fig. 70.  Pottery of this kind has been held to indicate the impact of Germanic decorative taste on ceramic fashions in the later days of Roman Britain.  It certainly displays motifs that were popular beyond the Roman frontiers at this time; where datable, it occurs mostly in late fourth-century contexts, and its distribution lies mainly in those eastern parts of Britain where the barbarian influence was likely to be felt at the earliest date.  The presence of this hybrid pottery is another piece of evidence for the cultural conditions prevailing at Venta in its final phase.

Caistor is in fact one of the few Roman towns in Britain where Romano-Saxon pottery, late Roman military equipment, and early Germanic cremation cemeteries have all been found in close association.  The relationship between the soldiery to whom the military equipment found in the town belonged and the folk whose cremated remains were buried outside the walls is difficult to determine.  It is most natural to suppose that these finds represent two aspects of the same phenomenon, a body of Germanic mercenaries who in life defended the walls in their final form and in death were buried, in accordance with continuing Roman practice, outside.  If as is suggested by the presence of beads in some of the earliest urns, they had their families with them, they too would have been settled somewhere close at hand.  It may be objected that barbarian irregulars in Roman, or sub-Roman employment would be unlikely to cremate their dead with such persistence as the earliest users of the cemetery appear to have done.  It is true that most cemeteries of Germanic troops that have been recognized in Roman frontier areas on the Continent consist of inhumations, and the well known Dorchester burials are a similar instance in this country.  But it has to be remembered that most of the continental laeti in northern Gaul came of Frankish stock or from related German tribes beyond the Rhine who had long been familiar with Roman ways, while the Angles and Saxons who first settled at Caistor came from regions much further afield in north Germany and southern Scandinavia on which Roman civilization had made little cultural impact.  And, while it is true that no objects of Roman uniform equipment have been recognized in our cremation urns, such instances have been recorded in north German cremation cemeteries, indicating no doubt that individual Saxons who had served in Roman irregular units did sometimes return home to die and be cremated in accordance with their own ancestral customs.  At Caistor and elsewhere in eastern England such folk had fewer opportunities to return home to the Continent: they had come here to stay, and they continued to cremate their dead in their new homeland, unaffected by Romano-British habits, for which, in any case, they probably had some contempt.

The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green.  The Society of Antiquities.  1973. 

A surviving stretch of Venta's wall at Caistor St Edmund.

An information board at the site of the old Roman town.

Drawing of Romano-British potsherds from a site that I recorded in Thetford Forest many years ago.  The bottom left sherd is of the type known as Romano-Saxon pottery.

In conclusion, I'm not prepared to take sides on this one.  we know that some very early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries surround the old Roman town of Venta Icenorum in Norfolk.  We still don't know with any degree of certainty what was the relationship between the town and these cemeteries. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found close to the walls of the Roman shore fort nearby at Burgh Castle.  Did they arrive as Gildas indicated, as invited guests and mercenaries?

Spong Hill Anglo-Saxon Cemetery to Gressenhall Workhouse

I recently visited Sutton Hoo, the ship-burial ground of early East Anglian kings.  However, Sutton Hoo, in south-east Suffolk, isn't the only known focus for the Anglo-Saxon kingdom.  Another exists closer to me, in mid-Norfolk.  Today I took a local field/road trip!

This blurry poor quality photo of a field was taken by myself earlier today.  I had to endure hunting around with grid references, and thorn scratches in order to take that.  I'm pleased.  I know what the legendary Spong Hill looks like now.  It doesn't look much does it?  However, this field has had the hell dug out of it over the past 250 years.  Why?  Because it yielded thousands of finds.  It is the site of a large and important Anglo-Saxon cemetery.  It is thought that around 3,000 people ended up here, the majority cremated.  That's a significant cemetery - 2,200 cremations dated to between 410 AD and 550 AD have been recorded here.  Many accompanied by stamped Anglo-Saxon urns, including some displayed in the Norwich Castle Museum exhibit below:

Cremations appear to have been the favoured method of disposing the dead in this cemetery, although later burials do exist on the site.  However, many of the early cremations here must have included the first wave immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon homelands on the Continent.  The most famous single artifact find in this field must be "Spong Hill Man".  The ceramic figure from an urn lid in the image at the top of this page.

My field trip today didn't end there.  Next stop had to be in the same parish.  A premium Late Anglo-Saxon site.  Again, it's appearance disguises it's former importance.  A low level ruin of a Norman chapel.  It is however believed that previous to being used as a norman chapel, and later as a medieval castle, it was the site of the very first Cathedral of East Anglia.

Today North Elmham is a village in Norfolk.  However, Spong Hill, and later, the Cathedral site, suggest that to the early East Anglians, this parish held far more importance.  North Elmham in mid-Norfolk was the first known ecclesiastical centre of East Anglia.  After the Conquest, the mantle was passed to Thetford briefly, before moving to Bury St Edmunds.  If you were not informed otherwise, today, you would have no idea that this village had once played such an important part in East Anglian, and English history.  An early base of the Anglo-Saxons perhaps?  Spong Hill had indeed been used by a significant local community.

Indeed, another site has recently been excavated - a Middle Saxon (AD 650 - AD 850) cemetery, only a few miles north of North Elmham, at Great Ryburgh.  This newly recorded site has hit the archaeological headlines for it's water logged timber coffins.

I love archaeology and all sorts of heritage.  However, I'm primarily a genealogist.  I'm of the school that 1) we should tell a story, and 2) we should embrace local history, archaeology and population genetics in order to tell a deeper story.  So how can I link the above sites to my family history?  Quite easily.  You see, I have lot's of recorded ancestors from my father's side - just a few miles to the south of Spong Hill.  Not all of their ancestry would have likely originated with the customers of the Spong Hill cemetery, or have venerated the timber cathedral at North Elmham.  However, in all likelihood - some of them would have.

So on this field-road trip, I venture only a couple of miles from Spong Hill, to a 19th century site of my ancestry that has a story worth telling.

Gressenhall Workhouse.  Built in 1779 to house the poor of the local hundred.  It transformed into a less friendly place with the Poor Law Union Act.  I have joked that this is the family estate, as a number of my father's ancestors were associated with it.  As inmates unfortunately.  My 2xgreat grandfather William Bennett Baxter was born here in 1846:

His birth was illegitimate, and his mother, Eliza would have been a Jacket Woman:

He was not listed in the workhouse during the 1851 census.  He did later, on in a marriage register, claim William Bennett (who was a young but married local miller) to be his father.  His known ancestry was all local to the Dereham and mid-Norfolk area:

Could this be his initials that I today saw there on a wall in what use to be the boy's courtyard?

He married Harriet Barber who had also been born in Gressenhall Workhouse!  She was born there in 1847.  Harriet was also of a local family - and one with a history of illegitimacy.  The below pedigree chart is of her mother, also Harriet Barber, born at nearby Swanton Morley in 1826:

Her family were mainly in Swanton Morley - and with that high level of illegitimacy, I have tongue-in-cheek, suggested that as Abraham Lincoln's paternal line were in that same village, that we could be related there.  The point that I'm making is that these were local, rural, poor people, with most likely, local ancestry in that area.  The people inhumed at Anglo-Saxon cemeteries nearby most likely did count within at least a part of their ancestry.

So both William and Harriet were born illegitimate in the workhouse at Gressenhall.  The surprise that follows is that so were their first two children some years later.  Then they settled down in the Swanton Morley and Northall Green area near to Dereham.

I'll finish off this photo-blog of today's journey through ancestry with a simple photo, of a local lane in the area:

A visit to Sutton Hoo - Kings of East Anglia

A day off from work, and I had promised myself that I was going to get out and tick off a job that's been waiting some time.  A visit to the Anglo-Saxon ship burial site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.  Maybe I should have checked the weather forecast first.  I would have seen that Storm Doris was going to hit East Anglia.  Never mind, I got there and back in one piece, having circumnavigated a number of fallen trees.  Luckily, I arrived before the centre shut it's gates.  I was advised not to walk to the mounds, for fear of windfall - but only mad dogs and Englishman.  At least it was quiet.

The nature of these mounds was revealed back in 1938, when the land owner, Mrs Edith Pretty, commissioned an investigative excavation.  The burials have included whole ships, warriors, swords, grave goods from all over AD 7th Century Europe, and a horse.  The interpretation is that it was the burial site of the Kings of East Anglia during the 6th and 7th centuries AD.

The 1938 excavation revealed the soil marks and iron rivets of a burial ship.  Built in a clinker design, it appears similar in many respects to ship burials in Sweden, only at least two hundred years before the classic Viking examples.  Initially Mrs Petty and her team thought that they had found a Viking ship burial, but at it's centre - although there were no surviving human remains, they found a treasure of grave goods that suggested an Anglo-Saxon origin.  Nothing like it had been found before.

Excavations of the mounds have also revealed that treasure hunters and grave robbers had removed many artifacts during previous centuries, and caused much damage.  One reported dig in another mound here, during the mid 19th Century reported that they found no treasure, just lots of iron rivets - that they sold to the local iron smith to produce horse shoes!  This suggests at least one other ship burial at this site.

Mrs Pretty lived in a house close to the mounds, that is partly open to visitors.  Artifacts, letters, photos of the 1938 dig are displayed in the house.

The original Sutton Hoo Treasure is held in the British Museum in London.  I've seen it several times, but this was my first ever visit to the dig site itself.

Above, a proposed reconstruction of what the chamber in the ship may have looked like at the time of burial.  Although no human remains survived, it is speculated that this was the burial of King Raedwald, who ruled as King of the East Anglians AD 599 to AD 624.  Raedwald is considered the most powerful early 7th Century Anglo-Saxon king in the British Isles.  He belonged to the Wuffinga Dynasty of early East Anglian royals.  Below is a replica reconstruction of the famous ceremonial helmet found in the 1938 ship burial.

The helmet appears styled on ceremonial helmets worn by Roman generals in the late Western Roman Empire.  It has been suggested that the craftsmanship appears Swedish.  The Swedish links have led some to speculate that the Wuffing Dynasty may have had links to Sweden.

More replica reconstructions from the treasure that can be seen at the Sutton Hoo visitor centre.

Grave goods appear to have came from all over contemporary Europe - from Ireland, France, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Scandinavia.  This demonstrates the ability of the East Angle elites to trade goods from far away.



Anglo-Saxon? Everyone wants to be a Celt!

By Edgar "Bill" Wilson Nye (1850–1896) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It's true, I'll swear it.  You go on any online genetics, ancestry, or history forum, every other American, Canadian, or Australian of mainly European heritage, wants to have Irish ancestors.  Failing Irish, Scottish or maybe "Welch" will do.  People just don't want to be of English ancestry.  If a DNA test suggests British & Irish ancestry, then they pray that it's Irish or Scottish.  If it turns out to be English, well....  Let's keep that one locked in the wardrobe shall we?

We are just so out of favour, so misunderstood.  No wonder the English have a long running identity crisis.  I blame Hollywood for it, particularly that nameless Australian (now American) film maker with a chip on his shoulder about us.  Always portraying the English either as cruel, arrogant, evil upper class tyrants, or as bumbling, stupid peasants.  It's not completely true you know.  well, not about the latter.

The English are watered down Celts

Recent genetic studies suggest we are actually pretty admixed, and may actually have more "Celtic" British ancestry than we have Anglo-Saxon.  Sort of watered down Celts.  The POBI (Peopling of the British Isles) Study 2015, using quantitative sampling, suggested that the present day ethnic English have only 10% to 40% Anglo-Saxon ancestry, with the majority of our ancient heritage being in the British Isles much longer.  The Haak etal Study 2016 using qualitative evidence from ancient cemeteries in the Cambridge area, suggested that there indeed was admixture, and that the present day English are only around 38% Anglo Saxon in their ancestry.  A correlation.

A reconstructed Anglo Saxon

Don't take this one serious, but my DNA tests for ancestry are always atypical for a Brit, even an extreme for an Englishman.  I usually get only around 34% British on autosome tests.  Yet my genealogy is all South East English, and heavily rural local in East Anglia.  My DNA flavour is heavily Continental in it's flavour, with pulls towards Northern France, Germany, Scandinavia, and for some reason, Southern Europe.  I swear, I really am English!  My DNA confounds these tests.  The most logical answer is that it is population background, heavily localised in East Anglia.  Here is my mother's recorded ancestry:

Disgustingly local.  The last admixture was probably when the Danes beached at nearby Flegg.  On top of that, a fluke of genetic recombination.  Phasing suggests that I inherited from my mother, almost all of her DNA that 23andMe identifies as like French & German.  On top of that, a heap from my late father.  I might be sort of an accidental biologically reconstructed Anglo Saxon, with an embarrassingly low percentage of British Celtic ancestry!  I don't think that I'd make a good Anglo Saxon.  Crap at woodwork and farming.  Maybe I should grow back my beard?

Nah!  I look more like I'm homeless than a sword swinging warrior.

Anyway, it has put me into an Anglo-Saxon sort of mood of recent, and I feel like defending my humble immigrant ancestors.  As I've said before, I'm quite a fan of the perspective, that the Anglo Saxons were a real and significant migration event to Southern and Eastern Britain, but rather than the traditionalist view that they were a murderous army of invasion and genocide, that they were as often as not, simply farmers from around the North Sea, that were looking for opportunity.  They wanted land to farm.  They wanted to be free of their fealties on the Continent.  The collapse of Roman administration in Britain, gave them the opportunity.  The British elites were in disarray, and running in all sorts of directions.  British society was in crisis, a free fall.

I'm not saying that there was no violent conflict!  At times it would have been like this:

By Anon. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But alternatively, there could have been much more to their success.  They appear to have been incredibly successful farmers, with a culture that had adapted outside of the Roman Empire, in a very rural, illiterate, and non-monetary economy.  With the collapse of the state, they could have been incredibly successful in South East Britain.  Not because they had bigger swords to wave (something that I didn't inherit), but because they could sustain themselves well and prosper.

These guys could grow food, and pay their rent.  They knew how to work.  They provided the basis to Early English Culture and identity.

Now some photos that I took several years ago at the West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village in nearby Suffolk:

My Global 10 Genetic Map - and Frenchness!

My Global 10 Genetic Map coordinates:  PC1,PC2,PC3,PC4,PC5,PC6,PC7,PC8,PC9,PC10 ,0.019,0.0272,0.0002,-0.0275,-0.0055,0.0242,0.0241,-0.0033,-0.0029,0.0015

This is my position on the latest genetic map by David Wesolowski, of the Eurogenes Blog.  One point of interest that has been picked up on the Anthrogenica Forums, is my consistent closeness in ancestral results, to a Normand member!  Our Basal-rich K7 results were almost identical.  On 23andMe Ancestry Composition (spec mode), I just get a bit more French & German, while he gets just a bit more British & Irish.  We are close!

Another forum member argued though that it's my results that are skewed away from British, and towards North French.  He generated this map, plotting myself (marked as Norfolk in red), and my Norman Ancestral DNA twin Helge in yellow:

I had to point out though, that I've rarely seen other SE English with a record of local ancestry, test - and that the red circles representing British & Irish include many people with some Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Western, or Northern ancestry.  The map suggests a pull to Northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

As I commented towards the end of my last post, I initially expected a pull to Denmark, Northern Germany, and perhaps to the Netherlands.  This is because so many of my 17th-20th century ancestors lived on what was the frontier of Anglo-Saxon and Danish immigration during the 4th to 11th centuries.

But instead, autosomal DNA tests for ancestry all seem to be suggesting more shared ancestry from a more southerly direction - Northern France and Belgium particularly.  Although there has so far been a dearth of local testers from local families, the POBI survey seems to find this common among the English.  We appear to be a halfway house between Old British, and the French, more than the ancestors of Anglo-Saxons and Danes.  This contradicts the historical and archaeological records.  POBI suggested that this was due to waves of unrecorded immigration from the South during late prehistory.  Others have pointed the finger at Norman and French admixture in medieval Southern Britain.  It could be both!

Can I apply for French citizenship?

A DNA Reference for East Anglian Ancestry

GEDmatch Kit M786040

 The above map of East Anglia, plots the ancestral events from my Gramps genealogical database, for my mother's ancestry alone.  All 100% of the events in her family history occur in East Anglia, with a significant concentration on the loam soils of East Norfolk, north of the River Yare, and shouldering up to the marshes of the Halvergate Triangle.  It includes events for the immediate families of 127 direct ancestors, stretching back to the 1680's in places.  Events include such things as births, baptisms, marriages, burials, deaths, census records, occupations, residence, etc.

Surnames include: Tovell, Tovil, Tammas, Tovell-Tammis, Lawn, Gorll, Gaul, Rowland, Dawes, Curtis, Key, Goffen, Goffin, Waters, Merrison, Morrison, Smith, Dove, Porter, Springall, Thacker, Daynes, Daines, Quantrill, Wymer, Rix, Hagon, Page, Nichols, Nicholes, Shepherd, Ransby, Briggs, Barker, Rose, Brooks, Larke, Dingle, Annison, Britiff, Symonds, Sales, Jacobs, Yallop, Moll, Hewitt, Osborne, Ginby, Ling, Briting, Hardyman, Hardiment, and Norton.  Surnames are all English or of Anglo-Danish origin.

Recorded religions are: Anglican Church of England, Baptist, Congregationalist (Presbyterian), Methodist, and Weslyan Methodist.  No Roman Catholicism, Islam, or Judaism.

The area has no significant immigration events in recent centuries, however, it has long held connections with the Dutch.  It is not near to the drained Fens (to the West of East Anglia), so would not have attracted any significant immigrant labour.  The City of Norwich has had communities of strangers, including medieval Jews, and more substantially, protestant refugees during the 16th century, from the Netherlands.   French Huguenots followed to Norwich.

The best known immigration to East Anglia, took place during the 4th to 11th centuries AD, from across the North Sea.  The elites of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, claimed descent from the Angles, from Angeln  in the Schleswig-Holstein region of Northern Germany, that borders Denmark.  The area is rich in Anglo-Danish place-names.  East Anglia fell deep into the Dane-law.

Generation 2 has 2 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 3 has 4 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 4 has 8 individuals. (100.00%)

Generation 5 has 15 individuals. (93.75%)

Generation 6 has 30 individuals. (93.75%)

Generation 7 has 28 individuals. (43.75%)

Generation 8 has 26 individuals. (21.88%)

Generation 9 has 10 individuals. (4.69%)

Generation 10 has 4 individuals. (0.78%)

Total direct ancestors in generations 2 to 10 is 127.

The above photograph is of the wedding of my mother's parents, at Limpenhoe, Norfolk, in 1932.  It includes four of my great grandparents, and a great great grandmother.

I like to present my mother's heritage as a good reference for an area of particular interest.  An area that saw substantial early medieval immigration and admixture, from across the North Sea.  23andMe reports our haplogroup as H6a1.  Uploading the raw data to James Lick's mthap analyser, and to WeGene, both give a best match of H6a1a8.

That so much of her recorded ancestry, is so deeply rooted into East Anglia over the past 330 years, and particularly that one part of Norfolk, would suggest that she has strong East Anglian ancestry stretching back at least to the early medieval, and perhaps earlier.  I have recorded marriage between third, and second cousins, within her East Norfolk direct ancestry.  

        
Update 11th May 2016.

Her results are in.

23andMe AC (Ancestry Composition) standard mode:

European 100%  Broken into:

NW European 78%  Broken into:

  • British & Irish 9%
  • French & German 1%
  • The rest, broadly NW European 69%

Broadly European 22%

23andMe AC Speculative mode:

European 100%  Broken into:

NW European 93%  Broken into:

  • British & Irish 36%
  • French & German 13%
  • Scandinavian 4%
  • The rest, broadly NW European 40%

South European 2%

Sub Saharan African 0.1%

  • East African <0.1%

Eurogenes     K13

Oracle.  Closest single population:

  1. SE English   Distance 4.9
  2. South Dutch    Distance 5.19
  3. West German   Distance 6.23
  4. SW English   Distance 6.99
  5. Orcadian   Distance 7.19

Oracle-4 Closest two populations mixed:

  • 50% South_Dutch +50% Southeast_English @ 4.49

Oracle-4.  Closest three population mixed:

  • 50% Southeast_English +25% Southwest_Finnish +25% Spanish_Aragon @ 3.49

Oracle-4.  Closest four populations mixed:

  1. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Valencia @ 2.92
  2. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Murcia @ 3.10
  3. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Castilla_Y_Leon @ 3.13
  4. North_Swedish + Southeast_English + Southeast_English + Spanish_Aragon @ 3.25
  5. North_Swedish + Portuguese + Southeast_English + Southeast_English @ 3.28

Eurogenes EU Test V2 K15

Oracle Closest single population:

  1. South Dutch   Distance 4.02
  2. SW English   Distance 4.3
  3. SE English   Distance 5.04
  4. Irish   Distance 6.72
  5. North German   Distance 7.15

Oracle-4 Closest two populations mixed;

  • 50% South_Dutch +50% Southwest_English @ 3.45

Oracle-4 Closest three population mixed:

  • 50% Danish +25% Southwest_English +25% Southwest_French @ 1.57

Oracle-4 Closest four population mixed;

  1. French_Basque + North_Swedish + West_German + West_Scottish @ 1.22
  2. French_Basque + Irish + North_Swedish + West_German @ 1.26
  3. French_Basque + Norwegian + Norwegian + South_Dutch @ 1.39
  4. French_Basque + North_Swedish + Southeast_English + West_German @ 1.44
  5. Danish + French_Basque + Norwegian + South_Dutch @ 1.46

Eurogenes ANE K7

  1. Western/Unknown Hunter-gatherer 64%
  2. Early Neolithic Farmer 19%
  3. Ancient North Eurasian 14%
  4.  Ancestral South Eurasian 1.7%

Eurogenes Hunter Gatherer V Farmer

  1. Baltic Hunter Gatherer 54%
  2. Mediterranean Farmer 36%
  3. Anatolian Farmer 6.7%
  4. Middle Eastern Herder 1.3%

23andMe Neanderthal Ancestry

  • estimated 2.9%

DNA.land

West Eurasian 100%  Broken into:

North/Central European 80%

South European 10%:

  • Italian 8%
  • Balkan 2%

Finnish 6%

Sardinian 2%

WeGene

  • French 59%
  • Britons 32%
  • Finns 8%                                                                                                            

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.