Sunday, June 30, 2002

Germanic invasions for real? Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

Germanic invasions for real? Back in the dark ages (in other words until 20 or 30 years ago) historians used to posit the idea that "invasions" of people (volkswanderung) shaped history. For instance, French aristocrats considered themselves descendents of Germanic Franks, while they viewed the peasants as Celtic Gauls (despite the fact by the Frankish conquest most "Celts" spoke Vulgar Latin). Thousands of years ago the invasion of "Aryans" into southern Europe was supposed to herald the coming of a new higher civilization (and into India, the Middle East and even China according to the pan-Aryanists). These people brought not only their culture, but their blood. Lower classes and ethnic minorities might be viewed as remnants of the pre-Aryan indigenes whose only role was to serve the master race. After World War II this sort of thinking was transitioned out of acceptable discourse. History and archaeology began to tilt toward the idea that cultural diffusion and transmission played a more important role than physical movement of peoples. There were many hints that this must have been so. Even before the advances in genetics a naked-eye inspection of "Aryan" upper-caste males in northern India and "Aryan" Germans compared to "non-Aryan" Finns would have been hard-pressed to figure out how the two former were supposed to be related while the latter would be considered "Mongoloid" due to their Finno-Ugaric language. The finding of Dr. Bryan Sykes that 80% of European's genetic heritage pre-dates the putative Neolithic culture-bearers that heralded the "demic diffusion" propounded by Cavali-Sforza and Colin Renfrew to me sounded the death-knell of the old way of thinking (and the finding of the Cheddar Man's relatives 9,000 years after his expiration). But here comes this story out of England showing that the Y-chromosome lineages of a sample of British men share more with Frisia than they do with their fellow Britons in Wales. For centuries scholars have wondered what happened to the Romano-British. The old answer was they were exterminated or expelled (to Wales), while the contemporary idea is that they were absorbed after their aristocracy was eliminated by the Anglo-Saxons. Unlike France, Spain or Italy, the Germanic invaders in England (what was than Britain or Alba) imposed their culture on the natives (their language, the name of their country and their religion before their Christianization). Or so we had thought, perhaps it was simply that the natives fled the field. Now, the key here is perhaps that these were Y-chromosome lineages. The Cheddar Man had shared mt-DNA with people living in the area 9,000 years after the fact, but obviously this was through the female line. It would not surprise me if English men were far more similar to Welshmen in their mitochondrial DNA-for perhaps the Anglo-Saxons married native women. The answers to historical questions about invasions, both demographic and cultural, surely lies somewhere in the middle. These sort of studies remind us not be become complacent toward the dominant paradigm of any given age.