Great Britain’s gene pool reflects migrants, rather than tribes

| | March 24, 2015
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Some years ago I went to see a medieval farmhouse in north Devon. The owner was a hostile character with a gun and a mastiff. “Where you from?” he shouted as I approached. I said I was from London. “OK, as long as you’re not from Cornwall,” he said, spitting as he spoke. Cornwall was barely 10 miles away.

This was no petty football rivalry. It reflects, we are told, an ancient genetic difference. You find it between parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, between Scotland’s highlands and lowlands, between Pennine villages and Cumbrian dales. Gwynedd people have gazed for centuries across the Dovey estuary into Ceredigion and muttered: “They’re not real Welsh there.”

The latest DNA research from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, in Oxford, claims “astonishing results”. According to its author, Peter Donnelly, there was no specific Celtic people before the Romans arrived, or after: only genetic clusters. There was no Anglo-Saxon genocide after the Romans left but a steady westward movement of Germanic peoples, intermarrying with the pre-existing Britons.

The Oxford team has studied the genes of 2,000 Britons who can trace their parentage back to the late 19th century. The results mostly confirm conventional wisdom. The Celtic scholar Barry Cunliffe has long argued that after the last ice age the British Isles were repopulated by waves of migrants returning from warmer climes. With his emphasis on “mobility, connectivity and the sea”, he separates the “west side story”, of Atlantic colonisation, from the “east side story”: of Germanic and other northern Europeans’ migration across the North Sea. We already knew that by the sixth century Frankish-German tribes occupied most of what is now England.

Read full, original article: Britain is as tribal now as it has been for millenia

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