Showing posts with label genogeography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label genogeography. Show all posts

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Colin Renfrew's "Archeology & Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins" Book Review

This book argues for an Anatolian "Urheimat" (original homeland) for a core group speaking what would spread out laterally across Europe and Central Asia into the Indo-European languages. He rejects much of the competing theory of Marija Gimbutas for a "Kurgan" culture from the steppes; he also dismisses identification of Indo-Europeans with massive invasions of horse-drawn charioteers who swept across the plains east and west spreading their warlike language. Instead, combining patterns of a branched family tree with a "wave" model of concentric circles of expansion by language families, Renfrew constructs an direction that shows how IE could, starting about 6000 BCE, have spread according to the laws of linguistic evolution at steady rates morphologically and phonetically, have become the familiar tongues we speak today.

I found this study rather stodgy. The Anatolian discussion takes up far less of the book than you might expect from the reviews on Amazon before mine. Renfrew's wide ranging, and the whole IE search for origins occupies only a part of a larger effort to take his fellow archeologists to task for ignoring or misinterpreting linguistic evolution within the artifacts they excavate.

The pace of the book's slow, if the facts stay abundant; the style of the methodological marshalling of so much archeological, linguistic, and comparative cultural data turned often leaden. Any work written for a non-specialist that addresses recondite debates and learned contentions may run the risk of such arcane discourse. But, Renfrew, while no natural tale-teller, remains convinced of his iconoclastic assertions, and if you are committed to understanding this subject, this and J.P. Mallory's near-concurrent "In Search of the Indo-Europeans" represent crucial texts on the origins of IE. While I'd been meaning to read Renfrew for a long time, what impelled me to finish it was the appearance in 2007 of David W. Anthony's "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language," which proposes a Pontic steppe origin in Russia and southern Ukraine for the riders who took Proto-Indo-European across the plateaus as an "elite" language of poetry about a male sky-god and began to leave its traces with other peoples who then began cultivating PIE.

As Renfrew wrote nearly two decades before Anthony, I was curious to see if I could find anticipations of Anthony's theory in Renfrew. I prepared to understand Anthony's OIE elaborations by first learning from how Renfrew built his foundation. He discourages the findings of linguistic paleology. He warns in matching cognates of Sanskrit "ratha" with Latin "rota" that it's "a far cry from saying that some hypothetical Proto-Indo-Europeans used chariots with wheels (or indeed carts with wheels) in their original homeland." (86) Also, he discourages Gimbutas' far-reaching establishment of a PIE Russian-Ukraine "Urheimat" to better assert his competing claim-- based on analysis of early Greek-- for Anatolia.

The liveliest part of the work remains for me the incorporation of Christopher Hawkes' "Cumulative Celticity" theory that Renfrew adapts to his wave-family tree (stammbaum) plotting for PIE. He denies that the La Téne artistic style presents a hub in Central Europe for the migration of Celts, shows how that noun can be defined eight ways, and favors Myles Dillon's reasoning that fundamental language changes began "in situ" in the places we find Celtic languages developing historically, rahter than emanating from a Continental center through massive migration or war. Therefore, the Iberian (Hispano-Celtic) or Goidelic (Q-Celt) branches of ancient Celtic languages stayed far enough on the Atlantic fringes that they did not alter with subsequent innovations that warped other Celtic varietals into insular Brythonic (P-Celt) or Western European Gaulish forms attested to in the historical record.

Finally, well before the genetic applications suggested by DNA comparisons with language from Stephen Oppenheimer ("Origins of the British," 2006), Renfrew predicts in passing that in Britain prior to the withdrawal of the Romans already many people may have spoken a Germanic language (137). However, Renfrew discourages in this pre-Genome Project breakthrough in genogeography a trust in such efforts as pioneered Luigi Cavalli-Sforza: "I think experience has shown that genetic arguments in relation to language and culture quite readily lend themselves to misleading interpretations." Still, the "wave of advance maps" such earlier scholars charted with their mapping of "various blood groups in Europe, suggesting genetic affinities," Renfrew finds may "await further assessment," which two decades later appears to be occuring with scholars such as Cavalli-Sforza, Oppenheimer, and Bryan Sykes, to name only three of those addressing their findings for a wider audience.

(Posted to Amazon US today. I reviewed Oppenheimer at length in the on-line Celtic Studies journal Epona-- "Rooted in the Body, Hidden in the Ground: Searching Beyond the Celt" -- as well as a shorter review on Amazon, where I also reviewed Sykes' "Seven Daughters of Eve" & "Saxons, Vikings & Celts." Try also for a broader worldview "Genes, Peoples & Languages" by Cavalli-Sforza.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Russian to investigate the origins of Welsh language
Western Mail, 13 Feb 2008.

A RUSSIAN scholar will lead a fresh investigation into the origins of the Welsh language by looking as far afield as Romania and Turkey, it was announced yesterday.

Dr Alexander Falileyev, originally from St Petersburg but currently working in Aberystwyth University’s Department of Welsh, has already written a report based on the presence of Celtic names in the Roman province of Dacia (modern day Romania).

And now, with the help of a £390,889 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, he will conduct the first full investigation into evidence linking the origins of the Welsh language to South Romania and as far east as Galatia, Turkey.

The ancient Celtic language, from which Welsh is derived, has already been traced back to inscriptions in areas like Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland.

More recently, the university’s Department of Welsh, a group led by Professor Patrick Sims-Williams, has used ancient place-names in sources like Ptolemy’s Geography to prove that Celtic was spoken over a much wider area.

Professor Sims-Williams welcomed the new grant. “We know that these areas were colonised from the third century BC onwards by peoples who spoke Celtic languages. “It’s becoming clear that Celtic was one of the major languages of ancient Europe, alongside Greek and Latin. It would appear that most EU countries have a Celtic past."


Hwyl fawr to today's post "Did They Speak Welsh in Romania" over at Alan Jones' blog "Independence Cymru" for alerting me to this Western Mail article.
http://alanindyfed.blogspot.com/2008/02/did-they-speak-welsh-in-romania.html

This map "1066 and All That" here's directly relevant from the N.Y. Times, 5 Mar. 2007.
http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/03/05/science/06brits_graphic.html

See my own detailed review, "Rooted in the Body, Hidden in the Ground: Searching Beyond the Celt," which examines John Waddell's "Foundation Myths" on the evolution of Irish archaeology alongside Stephen Oppenheimer's DNA-language study, "Origins of the British." See its published pdf.file:Epona 2(2007): 1-6
http://www.epona-journal.hu/epona_languages/English/files/issue_0712/Murphy_final.pdf

Saturday, December 22, 2007



Rooted in the Body, Hidden in the Ground: Searching Beyond the Celt:


My review, in Epona 2 (2007) 1-6: Stephen Oppenheimer's "Origins of the British" & John Waddell's "Foundation Myths."




Images: figurine of a perky Epona, the Celtic horse goddess.


Reminded me of the 7-6 c BCE Hallstatt figure from the "Cult Wagon." Cowgirl up!


Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Bob Quinn's "Atlantean Irish": Review

A paragraph added to my earlier Amazon review updates a bit this consideration of a book that readers of Bryan Sykes & Robert Oppenheimer (reviewed by me there and here) should find provocative. Quinn deserves credit for thinking about these issues before the DNA & genetic findings bore him out, two decades later. A fascinating argument! (I also review his childhood memoir, "Smokey Hollow," here and on Amazon US.)

Barry Cunliffe, John Collis, Simon James, Bryan Sykes, and Stephen Oppenheimer all further ideas that Quinn proposed over two decades ago in film and print. This book revises and expands his thesis. Readers intrigued by more recent DNA, archeological, and linguistic discoveries in Ireland and Britain should read this exciting, if rather rambling, argument for Irish settlement and cultural influences coming not from across the Continent from a La Téne central hub, but from Mediterranean and Iberian sources via travels along the "Atlantic fringe" up the coastlines. (I review Sykes "Seven Daughters of Eve" and "Blood of the Isles" and Oppenheimer's "Origins of the British," all of which should have acknowleged Quinn, on Amazon; the following review I wrote in 2005 before "Blood" & "Origins" were published.)

Bob Quinn confronts received knowledge and upends the status quo. Living in a Conamara gaeltacht since 1970, his adopted locale inspired him to ask two questions that impelled the saga adapted in this update (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2005, 20 euro) to his 1986 work, Atlantean. Bono, in an interview with Bob Dylan, cited Quinn's initial contention: tracing ancient Gaelic song to North Africa. A new edition's range of illustrations, attractive font and design, and incorporation of material gleaned from refinement and elaboration of his initial foray into largely uncharted intellectual waters presents iconoclasts with a model of how to construct an alternative to what everyone assumes to be the only way from which to perceive 'reality.'

Looking at the púcán boats that once dotted his Atlantic coast, he noted their resemblance to lateen sails on Egyptian dhows; listening to sean-nos melodies, he marvelled at their pentatonic counterparts from the Arab realms. Quinn targets cultural echoes, archaeological evidence, and linguistic links tying Ireland not to the conventional La Tene-Celtic and thereafter European-centered diffusion pattern, but to a neglected nautical passage that, he reasoned, had long escaped the gaze of Continentally ethnocentric scholars fixated on an Indo-European genesis for the peoples and crafts that entered into the island. Now, Quinn's thesis contradicts the Celtic origins which many Irish have celebrated for 300 years.

His findings, necessarily scattershot and rather random, resemble a Victorian vicar's parlour-displayed assemblage of bric-a-brac. (Only source titles, not precise citations, fill his endnotes, frustratingly.) I suppose Quinn might retort it's instead structuralist bricolage, a bold thrust to delve deeper below the psuedo-Keltic veneer appliqued by Revivalists and Romantics to excavate the broken shards and ghostly palimpsests abandoned by those who travelled the "wine-route" from as long as 5000 BCE along the Southern Mediterranean littoral, until, drawn by tin from Cornwall and smugglers to Ireland, moving up the Iberian coasts until they continued due north to the first landfall the western and southern island shores. He advances that the true impetus for Irish culture came from North African, Egyptian, and Mediterranean lands rather than Central Europe, the Roman empire, and its successors.

Neither the ancient classical nor the native Irish authors, Quinn insists, called the indigenous people in our island 'Celts' -- this being an antiquarian and so relatively early modern coinage. In what was for me the most intriguing section of his study, he contends that North African substrata underlie our Irish language itself, and he relates the legendary accounts of the Iberian and Egyptian origins of the island's first ancestors to the migrations that would have brought trade, colonisers, refugees from early Christian persecutions, and monks to Ireland before the suspect arrival of a largely fabricated Patrick. While I lack the familiarity that Quinn has with his many sources, I wondered why, however, his use of mitochondrial DNA studies to support his claims cited Bryan Sykes (his eloquent Seven Daughters of Eve. London: 2001) of Eve, but not the concurrent team led by David Bradley from TCD, whose assertions a few years back in Science appear to complicate what Quinn simplifies about the coming of the earliest settlers from Asia Minor to Connaught thousands of years ago, Bradley's team, and other research by Brian McEvoy and colleagues at TCD, and by D.B. Goldsmith and colleagues, also depends on genetic markers still overwhelmingly present in natives to the West today. None of these researchers, active in the past decade, have been cited by Quinn, an obvious flaw.

But maybe Quinn's stacking his evidence? Bradley's TCD team and recent geneticists argue for an Atlantic fringe origin, but from Northern Spain to Scandinavia rather than further south and east. Simon James and Barry Cunliffe, among other leaders in pre-Roman Celtic-British studies, have accepted the invalidity of the "Celtic" invasion of the islands and the west thesis. Emerging challenges by linguists to the Central European genesis and Celtic invasion pattern seem to clash in their findings with Quinn's Mediterranean-African genesis for the early Irish.

Bearing the traces of peoples pushed ever westward as farmers advanced, a kilometer or so a year, the peoples (whose genetic traits distinguished at 97% in the West of Ireland among males of native descent vs. 3% in today's Turkey) came not over water but presumably over land--driven across Europe as they were pushed ahead by agriculturalists---unsettled folks from the Fertile Crescent who were shunted ever westward as farmers ploughed Europe over thousands of years. The remnants of those pre-farmers wound up settling finally into Connacht's spaces--the last nearby refuge on the North Atlantic fringe.

Again, certain portions of Quinn's argument, even to this general reader, appear akin to romanticised notions of solidarity with au courant Arab and Third World solidarity rather than the 'Thomas Cook model' of radial diffusion from an Alpine or Danubian homeland, favored by many 19 and 20c scholars. The evidence, as Quinn admits at times, for a maritime rather than continental dependence influencing Irish development depends far too often for academic scrutiny upon perhaps coincidental or random findings, albeit painstakingly and cleverly compiled by Quinn over three decades and more. His basic reliance upon his interpretation of Irish from its status as a living language rather than using Romanised inscriptions to re-create a Celtic tongue appears convincing, and I await further scholarship to clarify Quinn's educated guesses. Like the vicar, his collection impresses somewhat but also leaves the viewer muddle-headed as he examines many labels, evaluations, and connections between displays.

Chapters on Wales, Vikings, and Sheela-na-Gigs sway uneasily beside steadier accounts of monastic art, mythmaking, and the pirate trade with Algiers and Morocco. The Berber-Irish parallels again smack of the type of overly enthusiastic detective fieldwork that Lorraine Evans (Kingdoms of the Ark. London: Pocket Books, 2001) presented in establishing archaeological patterns making Queen Scota of Milesian lore into the eponymous ruler over Ireland's hordes and the instigator of the British race. I enjoyed both Evans and Quinn's attempts to scour the taint of British Israelitism off of their navigational tools, and I wondered why the latter author neglected the former, but I fear that those hidebound and tenured will publish on largely unconvinced by either freelancer's revolutionary reports.

Frustration emerges as Quinn recounts throughout his revised work the skepticism he faced from this establishment. Re-orientalists, as I term Quinn and Evans, preach to British and Irish audiences that their 'myths of origin' need not be based in a proto-Brussels conclave.

Many today, in classrooms and libraries, may not pay much attention to such independent scholars and thinkers. Yet, I applaud for Quinn that he speaks boldly from his own, equally defensible, certainly progressive, sea-ready fastness. If we descended from the Atlantic fringe sunder a Celtic heritage, we can then boast our descent from Atlanteans!

Revised from a review in the Belfast on-line journal The Blanket, "Re-orienting perspectives," March 2005.

Anyone driving from Galway city through to, say, Carna, might agree with Quinn. You hug the sea more than the mountain in drawing your bearings, your domain, and your living. Its towns and enterprises meet the needs of those traditionally travelling by huicear and not Honda, currach and not Cortina. Commonsense shows, in what Quinn should have displayed with localised and more modern archaeological maps, that from Neolithic times contacts can be charted drawing the West and South of Ireland into Spanish ports and settlement and trade more than European markets. For all the willful and accidental vagaries within Quinn's spirited and never less than readable chapters, this author takes on the 'Celtic' giant and chops his Irish progeny down to a less Eurocentric, more portable and shipworthy size. From the Arabic term for any trefoil, by the ways Quinn unveils, we import shamrakh.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Deep Ancestry: Spencer Wells' Genographic Project

BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5061296382227459730
Here's my review, posted today, to Amazon US about another DNA gene pool plunge, this time by the leader of the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project. My wife and I have to send off our cheek swabs soon for the greater good of humankind. I predict she's K or N1 mDna, and I am R1b Y-chromosome.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/genographic

[Image credit. Not much on "deep ancestry" Google image comes up except the boring cover of the book, and eventually a fantastically contentious Wikipedia page full of block, violations, flames, and passion. Reminded me of a Lewis Carroll Wonderland fracas. Or, considering my post last night, how soon an image search for "Jewish Forward" led to antisemitic cartoons by page four. Anyhow, this is from a study by Weston Smith, "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration," reprinted on Gutenberg Books Australia, from a 1930s anthropologist. This is from some dentally bold sharers of my probable R1 haplotype, across the Sruth na Maoile on the Isle of Harris; the best smiles from those on a "primitive" rather than the Sugah i' th' Tae diet. Yesterday also in the Forward issue I read of a reader's zayde who read the Forverts slowly, sipping the "glass tea" while taking, slowly, a sugar cube from a Swee-Touch-Nee tin. He held the cube between his teeth, horse-like, and then drank the tea. The cube dissolving, another took its place. The pages turned. If you are reading this in similar posture but as upwardly mobile grandson of landsman or urban pioneering heiress from bogtrotter, don't spill your g-d damned five-dollar latte on your two-thousand-dollar keyboard.]


Compared to Wells' earlier "Journey of Man" and Bryan Sykes' "Seven Daughters of Eve" and "Saxons, Vikings & Celts," (all three also reviewed by me on Amazon), this is considerably briefer, compressing the genetic information of both mDNA (female-transmitted) and Y-chromosome (male markers) lineages into 250 pp. including a long appendix listing all of the major profiles. Contrasted to the colorfully organized information on the National Geographic Society's "Genographic Project" online site, these appendices largely duplicate the same material in somber typeface. But, having it in book form combined with the previous 175 pp. of text, this makes a concise primer for public and home libraries that, even in our web-dependent age (as you and I know as we read this post!), still need print backup and expansion of material that on the web, as on the NGS site, must be too diffused and remains a bit unwieldy for easy cross-referencing and browsing.

The maps here tend to comment silently upon the material Wells discusses. Unfortunately, Wells more often than not fails to tie his sober, but not altogether dry, text tightly enough to the graphics. You look at the charts and can figure them out, sure, but if the author had taken greater effort in being more explicit, e.g. "see figure 6, where the so-and-so can be seen ranging across the this-and-that at such-and-such a rate," the integration of print and visuals would have enhanced the combined presentation of what can be challenging material for the layperson.

Wells, identified in the author's endnote as a "child prodigy," is ideally placed to write such an introduction to our "encapsulated history," but this efficiently summarized book does feel (as another reviewer commented) as a work in progress. Part of this sensation that much more is going on beneath what can be easily paraphrased for not-specialists may be that the popularization of whats going on in labs now may lag a couple of years behind what only a few experts (Sykes, Oppenheimer, and Wells himself along with possibly Luigi Cavalli-Sforza on a very short list) have the ability to translate findings derived from massive amounts of extraordinarily complex raw material into understandable prose aimed at the general reader.

Bits buried in the appendices demand whole books of their own. I look forward to future volumes about these issues....Half of Ashkenazi Jews can trace their line to four women, and three of those from one "K" group and another "N1." 10-20 people crossed the Bering Strait's landbridge to engender as "Q3" most Native Americans. Click languages may have been the earliest forms of speech. Berbers in North Africa and the Saami ("Lapps") near the Arctic Circle share roots. A non-Asian "X" haplotype is one of the five present among Native American populations; "X2" came not through Siberia but from Western Eurasia. (I wanted to know how this fit into the Kennewick Man controversy, but Wells seems to edge away from debate.) Hitting the Pamir Knot of three mountain ranges connected in Central Asia split up a formerly cohesive Eurasian clan into three main groups as they could no longer move east across that continent's Eastern France-to Korea "superhighway."

Seeing that Sykes has fired off two recent books aimed at the same audience, and that Stephen Oppenheimer also of Oxford (where Sykes taught too) has "The Real Eve" and the new "Origins of the British" in the past few years, now Wells has two. They-- each author having a book around 2002-4 and a second book within the past year) overlap in data and approach, but Oppenheimer appears the most academically dry, Sykes the most eagerly imaginative, and Wells takes the middle ground. No imagined scenarios (unlike Sykes, who by the way has a competing project to gather DNA data) for our NGS leader, but Wells does try with various individuals to make his chosen representatives from today's genetic lines come alive a bit with their own encounters with the data that the NGS finds.

But even this attempt at connecting the world of the test tube with that of those people we pass every day is not carried through enough. The relatively brief amount of discussion given, say, the African American "Odine" who shares Thomas Jefferson's own very rare if not unique genetic marker proves a letdown. Wells builds up the case with flair, but we fail to find enough by that chapter's end to understand exactly where the 3rd President got his genetic marker from and how its rarity in England points to a rather exotic lineage not only for Odine today but any descendant of the Jefferson clan.

In summary, the appendices and a well-chosen short list of suggested books and websites both anthropological and genealogical make this a useful source for beginners wanting a deeper look at their deep ancestry than the NGS site can provide, but not so technical as to bewilder the reader. In passing, Wells is surprisingly reticent about recruiting for the NGS project in his text, but there is an advertisement on the book's final page with information for those who wish to contribute. The NGS by the way uses the funds raised from volunteers here towards a Genographic Legacy Fund that gathers data for free from indigenous and traditional communities, so it's a worthwhile cause.

I would have liked to know more about how, if Wells studied with Luigi Cavalli-Sforza for his doctoral work at Stanford, or if Wells presumably worked alongside geneticists Oppenheimer and Sykes at Oxford, how his own project and conceptualization of how the DNA research could be used differed from his eminent mentors. (As an aside, Sykes in his recent "Saxons" book never mentions Oppenheimer who I assume is just down the hall from him at Oxford!) Cavalli-Sforza with his HGDP and Sykes with his company Oxford Ancestors appear to have slightly divergent goals from the NGS study, and I remain a bit unclear about where the three DNA-gathering enterprises cooperate or whether they are all amassing their data separately. Wells hints a bit about HGDP, but does not mention Sykes' company. I suspect that the whole scientific and enterprenuerial venture's combined story here may have to wait another half-century, when an elderly Wells (he's well under 40 now!) composes his memoirs.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Threading "British" & "Celtic" DNA Labyrinths

Following up my blog post earlier this month on the NY Times' Nicholas Wade's March 6 article about the debates over the common "Celtic" indigenous origins attributed to most of the "British" Isles' present-day inhabitants, here's today's Amazon review of Bryan Sykes' "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain & Ireland." (WW Norton, 2006). Alas, but no local library yet carries his colleague Stephen Oppenheimer's new book, "The Roots of the British: A Genetic Detective Story."

Earlier reviewers sum up Professor Sykes arguments well. I read "Seven Daughters of Eve," and what struck me about this "sequel" is that Sykes does not engage in the imaginary narratives with which he enlivened the composite "life and times" of his seven genetic prototypical mDNA matriarchs. Those tales gave a poignant and charming (albeit popularized and therefore probably bound to annoy his colleagues) glimpse into the conjectured "inspired by a true story" that we cannot fully translate from Paleolithic Europe. "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts" avoids this fictional device.

Reading between the lines, as many readers and critics misunderstood his "seven daughters" as "real" individuals, Sykes may have opted for less creative methods to explain the patriarchal counterparts-- which are far more numerous if less attractively developed here in their genetically distinguishable progeny, it seems from their Y-chromosome variants. Instead you get potted histories and summarized geographies of the early formation of the land and the tribes that entered the various insular regions post-Ice Age. While valuable to a general readership who never heard of Geoffrey of Monmouth or learned where the Grampians sprawl, such data does fill these pages with a lot of material that veers tangentially from his genetic research. It's difficult in a book aimed at non-scholars to combine so much information from so many fields; it reminds me too of Jared Diamond's similarly ambitious, polymathic, and synthesizing efforts that roam widely in rounding up support for the grand scientific thesis that spans millennia. Like Diamond, Sykes arouses scholarly and popular controversy. He too likes a good anecdote, and labors to entertain as well as educate, and shows he can speak to audiences outside the learned seminar. We need academically trained authors who can fill this necessary role and so counter so much merciless jargon and dismal prose from their more timid, tenure-tracked, and dryasdust peers.

What puzzles me is the lack of any bibliography, any footnotes. Even popularized accounts usually provide references or suggestions for further reading. The work by Paul Besu into Scots emigrants' search for roots sounds intriguing from the quotes on pp. 53-4. But what's Besu's book, or article, titled? From where in his work are the quotes taken? There's nothing to go on here.

Sykes apologizes at one point for having to even mention "haplotypes." I was relieved he finally did; he builds on Prof. David Bradley and his Trinity College Dublin team's analyses of Irish DNA that were initially published about half-a-dozen years ago. When Bradley had announced this data initially, I had searched in vain for any layman's explanation of the study beyond a paragraph or two in the press. This book met my expectations for a summary of Bradley's team's work I could understand. Certainly, as on pp. 112-113, Sykes shines when he talks of the humanity behind the numbers to the thirteenth decimal point, and how the Isle of Skye's weather at his second home suits his scholarly pursuit. These moments of candor and passion sparkle amidst the recitals of the highest peaks in Scotland, evidence from Roman amphorae, and where to get the best ice-cream in Lampeter! It's as idiosyncratic as the studies of his lovingly- described forebear in research, John Beddoe, a century ago.

In "A United Kingdom, Maybe?" by Nicholas Wade, in the March 3, 2007, Science section of the New York Times, Stephen Oppenheimer's theory that most in the Isles descend from ancestors 16,000 years ago is also explained along with Sykes' somewhat variant interpretations. But Oppenheimer, also a geneticist at Oxford and so presumably just down the corridor from Sykes, is never mentioned in SV&G. Why? Professional rivalry? Reluctance to mention his colleague's work that would be explained in Oppenheimer's 2006 "The Origins of the British," that came out alongside Sykes' book? Silence seems strange, given both profs work on "British" DNA. Maybe it's academic etiquette or cautious reticence.

Oppenheimer agrees overall with Sykes that the Isles were settled by the group still genetically predominant today. Oppenheimer appears to claim a date significantly earlier than Sykes suggests here with "Cheddar Man," (whose tooth drilling by Sykes begins his book vividly) but the two are both arguing for a primarily "Celtic" (despite the problems with that psuedo-"racial" 19c term for a linguistic and not an ethnic identity common among certain earlier Europeans, as Sykes explains well) "bedrock" of shared ancestry for most of the Isles' present-day people. Sykes wanders these Isles before asserting this in his conclusion. Lots of his byways are fascinating, others depending on the reader's own predilections may be tedious, as on any journey with an eager if rambling guide.

Certain places of interest on the journey lack necessary details. While he cites Ireland's island-wide population at 5.7 million, how does the current situation in the Republic whose 10% of its residents are now foreign-born effect his estimations, which seem to assume all of the Irish population are of families at least a few centuries longer established? Similarly, I wondered how soon the genetic impacts of Italians, Poles, Jamaicans, Nigerians, or Chinese begin to alter the DNA composition in ways that can be measured in the peoples native to, but intermarrying with now, those arriving in recent decades as global immigrants into Great Britain. Did Sykes in his gathering of samples only test people who knew they had "native" origins? This selection is implied but not explained.

Also, he cites for a surname, e.g. "Dyson," (pg. 272) that 90% of those with the paternal surname share the same Y-chromosome from common ancestry. Does this confirm the rumor of supposed (10% of, some say, although this figure by others as been said to be inflated) offspring who are not paternally sired by their putative "fathers"-- or what of those adopted into a family, or in the old days fostered? Is there a "rate" measurable of non- "paterfamilial" births by women that shows a pattern over the centuries of a steady percentage of extra-marital pregnancies? Does this 10% explain the less than 100% chromosomal match to a surname assuming a paternal descendant's lineage? I am guessing these effects, but Sykes never tells us why there's this 10% discrepancy or its DNA cause.

More gaps remained after I read "S V & C." The "DNA of Wales" chapter seemed rushed. If Ealdgyth on pg. 227 was Queen of Wales before the death of Gruffudd, why did she have a Saxon name? More crucially, speaking of Welsh genetic roots, why the lower- than- expected rate of Y-chromosome "Oisin" mutations in mid-Wales? He mentions and maps in the back but does not give any in-depth detail about the "families" of the less common markers metaphorically named Eshu and Re. Where are these groups from? No help here. I don't understand how Wodan differs from Sigurd exactly.

Finally, he argues that women rarely move about as much as the men who invade and kill off their male enemies but spare their womenfolk as potential mothers. Where did all the males keeping alive the Y-chromosomes of the pre-Germanic Atlantic-Fringe, Celtic-speaking peoples retreat to and procreate undercover in the Isles? Is Sykes arguing that the maternal "native" stock is mostly "Celtic" and so this numerical preponderance outweighs the part-"Celtic," part-"Germanic, etc." male mix traceable in their Y-chromosomes? Or, is even the male side mostly majority "Celtic" even without the female indigenous element? I still am unsure.

If Gildas' claims of the "Ruin of Britain" were exaggerations, then how did these pre-Germanic cultures adapt to their new overlords, linguistically, while preserving their stubbornly "native" bloodlines genetically? More needed filling in here. Especially since on pg. 285 he notes the opposite claim, that Y-chromosome diversity in regards to dating its settlement dates has been challenged by claims to "patrilocality," men staying put while women wander off to marry. Sykes challenges this indirectly with the "Genghis effect," but I remain puzzled about this counter-claim of "men stay, women go" that opposes his book's conclusions.

But this uneven presentation manages still to end powerfully. He compares the mDNA to a smooth umbilical cord back into maternal mists, while the male Y "thrusts its way from generation to generation." (I add, in both senses of the word!) This maniacal patriarchal drive wreaks havoc, enslaves and kills in the name of conquest and destruction and empire. "We could not have any more different conduits into the depths of our ancestry." (pg. 279) I agree with reviewers who note that in our DNA quest we are only grasping two strands of a multi-colored thread, the only two whose twists we can follow, and that this obvious fact, strangely unacknowledged by Sykes, does threaten to become too reductive a trail to chart accurately our ancestral passage through the labyrinth of time.

As Sykes notes, the blur of Teutonic ancestries with the Vikings, Normans, Danelaw, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Roman legionnaires makes easy "tribal" genealogies difficult to unravel from the "Wodan" and "Sigurd" strands. This key point, undermining the manipulative historical claims by the English to an Anglo-Saxon, anti-Roman Teutonic, and therefore anti-Roman Catholic legacy of Germanic freedom fighters, finally explains why so many chronicles, legends, invasions, and conquests were "justified" by those who took over the name of the earlier British if apparently not their maternal inheritance to an ineradicable pre-Germanic, indigenous, eventually Celtic-speaking matriarchal heritage for the majority in today's Isles. Pg. 206: "The later arrivals may get all the headlines, but it takes a lot to displace indigenous genes, especially on the female side." I remind you how James Joyce mused in "Ulysses" that paternity is a "legal fiction." But the woman's own record, DNA shows, can never lie.

As a non-scientist, I am grateful for Sykes' book. Despite its starts and stops, I am happy to have gone along for this intellectual ride. I am sure that geneticists will build upon the raw material here and find more intricate structures in our veins and sinews that will explain much that Sykes and his colleagues now can inevitably only suggest as educated guesses or speculate upon.

(P.S. Image: from Luigi Cavalli's map of Y-chromosome haplotype distribution; area #17, Castlerea in Roscommon, is the exact barony that my Finans, Dockerys, Fordes, and an O'Connell or Connell or Connellan all occupied since, well practically time immemorial. It has the highest percentage on this chart of the Isles, 90%, of R1B haplotypes passed down through the male line-- indicating a considerable degree of genetic isolation from the rest of the gene pool. See more at: http://www.geocities.com/littlednaproject/Cavalli.htm )

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.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/06/science/06brits.html

(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.)