Survey suggests aggressive invaders had little genetic effect on native UK populations

So on the genetic purity distinctions (still favoured by some of our politicians) between Planters and Native Irish the news from the science journal Nature is, erm, not so good. [It rarely is! – Ed].

DNA_map2The BBC’s Science Correspondent Pallab Ghosh notes:

According to the data, those of Celtic ancestry in Scotland and Cornwall are more similar to the English than they are to other Celtic groups.

The study also describes distinct genetic differences across the UK, which reflect regional identities.

And it shows that the invading Anglo Saxons did not wipe out the Britons of 1,500 years ago, but mixed with them.

Published in the Journal Nature, the findings emerge from a detailed DNA analysis of 2,000 mostly middle-aged Caucasian people living across the UK.

Not that this will be a surprise. Comfortable old myths can be used to cover a complex human history.

The survey included sample points in Northern Ireland, which ties the population to two distinct groups which connect with western Scotland and the Highlands and the other in southern Scotland and southern England.

Since the Republic was not included in the study it cannot make comparisons across the border, but it does find some micro fine distinctions between old English counties:

There is also a marked division between the people of Cornwall and Devon that almost exactly matches the county border. And the People of Devon are distinct again to those from neighbouring Dorset.

The pattern suggested by the research is not one of annihilation of native population, but rather a gradual assimilation into the base population…

The new analysis shows a modest level of Saxon DNA, suggesting that the native British populations lived alongside each other and intermingled with the Anglo Saxons to become the English.

There is some evidence in the study that intermingling did not happen immediately following the Saxons’ arrival, but occurred at least 100 years later. This suggests that Britons and Saxons had separate communities to begin with, and then over time they began to merge.

The Normans for instance, despite their huge political impact on Britain and Ireland and yet have barely left a genetic trace behind them. Ditto the aggressive Danes in the east of England.

It’s not aggressive invasion that seems to port genetics, but rather the sort of long term settlement and intermarrying in places like Orkney (which according to the survey Norwegian DNA only accounts for 25% of those surveyed).

It would be interesting to see this kind of research intensified and focused on Ireland. NOt least because the data is likely to yield some interesting long scale insights on who (in our most deeply conservative selves) we actually are.

As Stephen Fry has noted

History is not abstraction, it is the enemy of abstraction.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty