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April 14, 2004

Same auld song?

A reader pointed me to this story titled Split Between English and Scots Older Than Thought. Frankly, I really don't get the excitement...Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer published The Real Eve: Modern Man's Journey Out of Africa last year, and there is this slick site from The Discovery Channel that show-cased what seems like a "companion" documentary, somewhat along the line of Spencer Wells' recent output. The articles that have just come out kind of confuse me. We've blogged several times on the topic of English archaeogenetics: British genes, CELTS AND ANGLO-SAXONS, Wales, England, Cornwall, genetics.... and English and Welsh differ genetically (well, it's clear that the genetic histories of some peoples are more important than others!). The vectors are pointing in a variety of directions, but I think David B sums it up well:

The positive evidence, so far as it goes, seems to me consistent with something closer to the ‘Wipeout’ theory than the ‘Upper Crust’ theory, though with survival of ‘wealh’ populations in varying proportions...However, the feasibility of a scenario does not mean it is true. Further genetic evidence may finally resolve the controversy. If it is in fact proved that the ‘Celtic’ element was predominant in southern England, this would have interesting implications for cultural history and evolution, for it would show that a complete change of language and culture can be imposed by a dominant minority, in an illiterate pre-industrial society, and in a short period of time.

The genetic differentiation between the peoples of the "Celtic Fringe" (forget that Scotland's "Celtic" identity is somewhat of a recent invention) and those of England seems to be amply explained by the Y & mtDNA studies that researchers like Bryan Sykes & Spencer Wells have surveyed which indicate that humans during the last glacial maxima retreated to "refugia," whether that be Iberia, the Balkans or further east in the Ukraine. As northern Europe became habitable once more, these populations expanded and their co-mingling has resulted in the varied populations of northern Europe (a coalescence time on the order of tens of thousands of years for the various lines is reasonable in light of the genetic isolation that the Ice Age would have imposed on these populations). It is important to note that each population is a mosaic of various paternal & maternal lineages in different proportions, and easily digestible summations that express these nuances are very difficult to come by. (so you get headlines like: "English and Scots genetically same!" or "English and Scots genetically different!")

Posted by razib at 11:34 AM