Wednesday, May 7, 2014

On peopling the British Isles

Well, yes, Oppenheimer refers to controversy, but the advantage of his book is that he is attempting to look at all the most recent data, recheck the various conclusions and draw new ones if necessary. The advantage of studying the British Isles is that during the LGM (the coldest part of the last ice age) the Isles were either covered by Ice or an uninhabitable icy desert. In other places there was continuity, but not on these islands. At some point people came from some place and colonized them. The ideas scoffed at by Sellar and Yeatman are old and abandoned my most scholars. Genetic studies have pretty much convinced everyone that Romans, Jutes, Frisians, Vikings, Angles, Saxons and Normans were not as big a deal as was once thought. A "foundation stock" was already there, perhaps as early as 12,000 bc and it stayed there and flourished during all the famous invasions. When in recorded history these invasions took place, some of them were of the same stock as the people who were already there. Here is Oppenheimer:

"At the time of the great post-LGM European expansion of 15,000 years ago, there was no North Sea. Instead, there was a flat grassy plain stretching all the way from Poland and the southern Baltic, through southern Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Frisia and Holland across the North Sea and into eastern England (Figure 3.3). In fact, had they wished, our forebears could have walked in a straight line all the way from Berlin to Belfast, although in practice they seemed to prefer wandering along beaches. If it still existed today, the North Sea Plain would be in the centre of the Ingert distribution (Figure 3.8). Ingert dates overall in Europe to 21,000 years and may have originated in a Balkan Ice Age refuge (see below).59 Three British founding clusters from Ingert (I1c-1, 2 and 3) date to around 13,000, 14,000 and 12,000 years ago, respectively.60 This suggests a pre-Younger Dryas (i.e. Late Upper Palaeolithic) spread for at least part of the Ingert branch. While Ingert is present at a low rate of about 3.3% throughout the British Isles, this figure rises to over 10% on parts of the English north-east coastal region, in particular York and Norfolk. Given this distribution, the age of Ingert in the British Isles,61 and the fact that he is no more common on the neighbouring Continent, the chances are that this represents the echo of an ancient intrusion. To me this is the first of a series of specific, dated, early British genetic intrusions from the Continent which tend to mitigate claims of a later Anglo-Saxon genocide." [Oppenheimer, Stephen (2012-03-01). The Origins of the British: The New Prehistory of Britain (Kindle Locations 2422-2430). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.]

Some place Oppenheimer said that during the Younger Dryas the sea dropped something like 127 feet. That apparently permitted the North Sea area to become the plains he refers to. So while I'm not willing to read all the books that Oppenheimer did, his argument seems persuasive that after the Younger Dryas receded and temperatures warmed, southern parts of Britain, Wales, and Ireland (which during the Younger Dryas had land extended much further south than it does today), enabling groups to walk across the North Sea Plain as early 12,000 bc forming the foundation stock that spread north as the ice receded.

Except . . . there are apparently two famous "refuges" where people clustered during the Younger Dryas, the Basque and the Balkan. The first people to people the British Isles, in Oppenheimer's opinion came from the Basque refuge. Those people moved north peopling the Western Area of Europe which included crossing the grassy plain which is now the North Sea. The earlier view was that this peopling was done from the Balkan refuge, spreading people across central Europe and then to the British Isles.

I do wonder about the names various scholars assign to genetic markers, "Ingert" for example. There is some sort of fame involved, like naming a mountain or a feature on Mars. Do scholars acknowledge other scholars marker names? Some time ago I read Saxons, Vikings, and Celts, the genetic roots of Britain and Ireland by Bryan Sykes. He assigns a number of names represented by genetic markers, but I don't find those names in Oppenheimer's book. Since Sykes wrote his book in 2006 and Oppenheimer in 2012 perhaps Oppenheimer is using more recently identified genetic markers. However, I thought that only the discoverer of these markers got to name them and I hadn't the impression that Oppenheimer was doing research that extended to the identification of markers. That worries me a little, for if he is renaming other researchers' markers, how will the casual reader ever keep track?

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