Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Really a United Kingdom after all?

Both Bryan Sykes' "Saxons, Vikings, & Celts" and Stephen Oppenheimer's "The Origins of the British" are new books by two Oxford geneticists. Given my fascination with genogeography, this pair has topped my Amazon Wish List for months. Today's New York Times carried in its Science section a long article, complete with big map, charting what Oppenheimer argues is the true genetic origin of the vast majority (vastest of all in Ireland, only 12% of our gene pool) of the original inhabitants of that North Atlantic Archipelago we "Celts" (sic, as the article observes) call what you probably know but I try not to refer to as the UK.

The genetic argument reminds me of Bob Quinn's "The Atlantean Irish" argument (revised in 2005, reviewed by me at Amazon--see the link via the home page of my blog) of North African and Mediterranean connections between ancient Irish settlers and peoples of that temperate region of trade and navigational innovation. Quinn's thesis has been savaged, but alongside the "Atlantic Fringe" model that's undermined (see Simon Jones' book also reviewed by me) the Celtic construct which we forget is only 18-19 c romanticism, Oppenheimer may provide Quinn and Jones with further evidence to look not to the La Tene culture or Scythia or the Danube as to the Spanish coast, the Balkans, Asia Minor, and Sardinia as spawning grounds for we who descend from the peoples of the Northern isles.

Oppenheimer argues a much earlier date for Neolithic settlement after the last Ice Age, perhaps even 16,000 years ago rather than the usual 7,000 or so, given the glaciers retreated from the isles only 16,000 years back! They would have spoken a language akin to Basque-- the oldest on the Continent and the only remnant of the pre-Indo-Europeans left today. The Irish and the Basques share some genetic markers that, as David Bradley of TCD found out a few years ago, show they were isolated holdouts of the pre-IE invaders who either pushed them into these fastnesses or wiped out everyone else but them as the IEs brought agriculture-- at a kilometer a year, thousands of miles westward over millennia, 6000-4000 BCE. My blood type of O-positive and my Connacht origins, for example, show a 98% native genetic inheritance compared to much lower percentages in the east and north of Ireland, let alone Britain or Europe. I share statistically only a tiny bit with the Middle Easterners who brought agriculture slowly, year by year, field converted from forest, towards the Atlantic from the Mediterranean, across the continent. Quinn thinks that we need to replace such a tracking with the coastal routes; I am unsure how Bradley aligns with him, although Quinn refers to such a thesis in passing.

Whether its Oppenheimer's emphasis upon the Northern Iberian settlement of the isles or claims for Spanish origins from The Book of Invasions/ Lébor Gabhala, the Irish always have traced their roots back to Iberia, where Milesius and his sons, mythic progenitors, first set sail for Ierne.

The article details where Oppenheimer differs from Bradley and especially his competing author and colleague Sykes. The linguistic assertions are fascinating and I am eager to learn more since the archeological record reveals so little about pre-Romans in reference to their mentality and culture that did not survive as stone and bone and pottery, from the time before the invasion of Britain by Caesar. Celtic as a far more ancient language is suggested--back around the first farmers coming 4000 BCE he thinks rather than the usual 500 BCE I've been taught. Also, English, he proposes from a formally discredited theory using language dating newly matched up with genetic dating-- glottochronology (great new word of the day), came over with the Belgae at the time of Julius Caesar -- they were already living on both sides of the Channel. Oppenheimer wonders if English survived in southeast Britain rather than being brought with the Angles and Saxons-- don't forget those Kentish Jutes, I might add.

In sum, most peoples trace their true "blood" back to those post-glacial peoples who arrived long before the Celtic speakers. Farming spread perhaps more than their hordes. Carmel McCaffrey and Leo Eaton in yet another book I reviewed "In Search of the Ancient Celts," incorporate the conjecture that it's like Coke cans found among a Third World people today. The artifacts of a more advanced civilization can be dispersed, or the language for that matter as with global English today I add, but this dispersal of material goods does not mean a massive depopulation or invasion by the newcomers, only their cultural--and then linguistic-- dominance over the natives, who still outnumber by far the innovative blow-ins.


(Image footnote from me: Castlerea looks off one county too far south. Should not it be up one in Roscommon? The map in the April 07 portion of my blog under the Bryan Sykes review seems more correct.)

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