Saturday, July 30, 2005

Continuity, or not....   posted by Razib @ 7/30/2005 10:40:00 PM

Dienekes reports on recent extractions of mtDNA from remains in the Iberian peninsula1...not surprisingly (to me at least) there is continuity between the ancient populations and modern ones. This is relevant to debates about replacement of various aspects of the identity of one people by another. In places like Hungary, Spain or France it seems like there was elite replacement of the substrate language and culture (though not alleles). In contrast, in places like Bulgaria or Assam the substrate absorbed the elite. But, a problem crops up when people try and extend these particular cases to the whole world as if they hold true like a scientific law. For example, the recent story that "Britains have changed little since Ice Age" is a bit too neat, and fits into an archealogical bias that is part of the backlash against excessive typological thinking about "nations" before 1950. That is, the English nation were a volk of one tongue and one blood, which replaced the British ethnos in the 6th century, as hinted in Gildas' writings ("The barbarians drive us to the sea"). Rather, the archealogical and historical paradigms now tend to presume that the replacement of the British by the English was one of elite cultural imposition. If you read the old post Celts and Anglo-Saxons you will find that the "truth" as suggested by the genetic data that is emerging in the last 5 years is more complex than either replacement or acculturation.2 Strictly speaking the assertion that the peoples of the United Kingdom are descended from Ice Age Northern Europeans is probably correct, because even if there was an influx of alleles from Germany in the 5th and 6th centuries the two populations were not particularly distinct (well, at least in comparison to "Neolithic farmers" from the "Near East").

Since islands are relatively simple systems (migration is often constrained to choke points) I leave you with a post Japanese origins.

1 - I assume the reference to "Iberians" implies the peoples of the southern half of the peninsula, who in pre-Roman times spoke their own languages unrelated to Celtiberian and possibly distant from the Basque dialects. The people of Tartessos are the most prominent representatives of this cultural complex.

2 - I have read recently that the transition from a Celtic to an Anglo-Saxon peasantry was marked by a shift in the layouts of field and village in much of the east of England. Such changes could be triggered by cultural diffusion, but since the change wasn't functionally that important it suggests to me that there was some replacement of a Celtic peasantry by Germanic settlers who brought their own traditions and customs.