Blood of the English

Are the English the ‘Neighbours from Hell’?  Well, I hope not.  I’m one of them.

It was interesting to read yesterday that English-born convert to all-things Welsh, writer Mike Parker, chose Valentine’s Day to launch his book ‘Neighbours from Hell: English Attitudes to the Welsh’. Its a history of Anglo-Welsh relations.

Perhaps my own family history is typical of many who live in Wales.  At grandparent level I have four surnames in my family tree (Brake, Mogg, Evans and Badcock – yes, my Mam was very happy to meet my Dad and drop this troublesome surname.  You can only imagine the ribbing she got in school).  Of these names only Evans provides me with a saving Welsh grace.  All the other names suggest ancestors from the South West of England who arrived in South Wales to work in the pits, such as my great-grandfather, Lancelot, who popped up in Mountain Ash, beautiful land of milk and honey, to swallow coal-dust for a pittance. 

And it reminds me that science has something to say about the English-Welsh affair. 

In his recent book, Blood of the Isles, Oxford University’s Professor of Genetics, Bryan Sykes, suggests that genealogical  DNA testing shows there is far less of the Anglo-Saxon of the English than you would imagine.

In fact no population group, not the Normans, nor the Vikings, nor the Romans have had much impact on British ancestry.  With the exception, that is, of the Iberians.  Yes, folks, we all come from Spain.

Another Oxford geneticist, Stephen Oppenheimer, agrees.

"Everyone has heard of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. And most of us are familiar with the idea that the English are descended from Anglo-Saxons, who invaded eastern England after the Romans left, while most of the people in the rest of the British Isles derive from indigenous Celtic ancestors with a sprinkling of Viking blood around the fringes"

But, it all appears to be myth.

"The genetic evidence shows that three quarters of our ancestors came to this corner of Europe as hunter-gatherers, between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, after the melting of the ice caps but before the land broke away from the mainland and divided into islands. Our subsequent separation from Europe has preserved a genetic time capsule of southwestern Europe during the ice age, which we share most closely with the former ice-age refuge in the Basque country. The first settlers were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language but possibly a tongue related to the unique Basque language."

So, there’s little difference between being Welsh and English.  If you’re Welsh, then roughly three quarters of your modern gene pool derives from this early source.  And if you’re English, then two thirds of your gene pool comes from the same source.

It may be well to remember this before the next Six Nations game!



6 comments


    Darren Mumford

    February 15, 2007

    ah mi Dios soy el espa???ol!

    theagingfanboy

    February 15, 2007

    One of the wonderful things about modern molecular biology is that it’s wrecking traditional stories of where people originally come from. All of a sudden those aren’t different people, they’re just distant cousins.

    The book discussed above deals mainly with mitochondrial DNA (only inherited from mothers) and Y-chromosome DNA (only inherited by sons from fathers), but there are lots of other genes to check. My mother’s family is originally Irish, and my father’s from central Wales, but I’m blood group B (arose in Asia, particularly India), so I must be part gypsey.

    Interesting isn’t? If you kow someone who’s a fanatical “part of britain nationalist” of any type and they’re blood group B then they’re not as much part of some special group as they thought.

    We’re all in this together folks.

    stu

    February 15, 2007

    This is very much like a recent Channel 4 production “So You Think You’re English?”. The aim of the programme was to plot people’s ideas of national identity against the hard genetic facts of their actual origins. The results were very interesting, especially from the people, who thought they were 100% English (militantly so in some cases) and who in fact have racial origins from Africa, Middle East and even Mongolia.

    theagingfanboy

    February 15, 2007

    I’ve often wondered how many people in England are eligible for the Ireland, Scotland or Wales Football or Rugby teams. I imagine that we’ve all got at least one grandparent from one of those countries.
    On the other hand it also means that we can all go Moris Dancing.

    Mark Grim

    February 15, 2007

    Recent C4 programme the Face of Britain contains the same inaccuracies (hardly simplifications) as here), according to which ‘the Celts’ arrived in Briatin 10,000 years ago. Then presumably nothing happened till the Romans came!

    European Archaeology of the last 2 centuries has proven this all to be incorrect. You might as well argue the world is flat, as dispute the Stone, Bronze and Iron chronology. Or the difference in skull shapes in Long and Round Barrows.

    As for the ‘Yes, folks, we all come from Spain’ here, that is simply untrue. The Anglo Saxons, Danes, Norse and Germanic tribes all came from the East. Suggest people read Bibby’s ‘The Testimony of the Spade’ as a good starting point.

    Keno

    February 15, 2007

    It’s great the way genetics has broken down old stereotypes, we have a DNA project in East Anglia:

    http://www.geocities.com/thurlowons/eagdna/frame_set.html

    below are the results, interesting stuff!

    http://www.geocities.com/thurlowons/eagdna/tables/hg_freq_y_n_s.html

    This is showing some surprising results for people with East Anglian Ancestry, In North Cambridgeshire the Celtic blood is as high as 61%! Nice to know we have more in common! I would imagine going towards Central England this percentage would go up!

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