It`s Official: British (a.k.a. America`s Founders) Not Diverse At All
As every schoolboy
used to know, the episodes of group migration into
the British Isles were remarkably few between the Norman
Conquest of 1066 and the beginning of modern mass
immigration after 1945: the
French Huguenot refugees, the
modest flow of Ashkenazi Jews, and a few others.
Nevertheless, in recent years the
politically-correct elites on both sides of the
Atlantic have begun to promote the improbable contention
Britain has always been a land of immigration.
Ironically, just as this has become
an article of faith, genetic evidence has begun to pile
up about how profoundly wrong it is. Not only did
immigration after 1066 play a vanishingly small role in
the makeup of the offshore islanders, but even the
famous invasions of previous millennia—Normans,
Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Romans—merely added a
fairly minor overlay to the prehistoric gene pool.
Political control and
even language varied in the
British Isles over time. But the oldest occupants
endured, adapted, and flourished. In the words of Oxford
University geneticist Bryan Sykes in his new book Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland
[published in the United Kingdom under the title
Blood of the Isles]:
an ancient people …"
The family trees of the
Scottish, Welsh, and
Irish are overwhelmingly indigenous to the British
Isles since far back into prehistoric times. The title
of Sykes` first chapter, "Twelve Thousand Years of
Solitude," summarizes this finding. The "average
settlement dates" in the Isles for the ancestors of
modern British and Irish people, he estimates, were
around 8,000 years ago.
Historical population genetics is
an extremely complicated science. It`s not uncommon for
well-known authorities, such as Sykes and his rival
L.L. Cavalli-Sforza of Stanford, to differ. Bearing
that in mind, Sykes` recreation of the genetic history
of Britain and Ireland appears plausible.
Sykes` team obtained
DNA samples from 10,000 individuals in the United
Kingdom and Ireland and reviewed genetic records for
40,000 more. They looked at functionally trivial
mutations in the Y-chromosome to group each man into
clans based on patrilineal lines of descent (e.g.,
Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob who begat …).
And they examined mitochondrial DNA to group individuals
into matrilineal descent clans. (I
reviewed in VDARE.com Sykes` 2001 book The Seven Daughters of Eve,
outlined the initial European-wide genealogical
discoveries revealed by mitochondrial DNA. If you are
interested in the understanding the technical aspects
more, please see that article.)
From his database, Sykes concludes
that the majority of the genes of the peoples of the
British Isles are descended from the oldest of the
modern inhabitants: Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, who
began arriving 10,000 years ago from Continental Europe
after the end of the last Ice Age, as soon as the
islands became habitable again.
Global cooling had pushed modern
humans out of northern Europe and down into refuges near
the Mediterranean, remixing the early peoples of Europe.
(This may be one reason that,
as Cavalli-Sforza has noted, Europeans are the most
physically homogenous of all the
great continental races.)
the South, big game hunters trekked north again as
the ice melted, some getting all the way to Britain.
Before the seas fully rose, Britain was connected to
Europe by a land bridge, and the
Thames was a tributary of the
A smaller but still important
genetic contribution later came from the Neolithic
farmers, who had begun thousands of years before slowly
spreading northwest from the Middle East`s Fertile
Both the hunter-gatherers, who had
sought refuge from the ice in Mediterranean lands, and
the farmers, who had emerged from the
Fertile Crescent, appear to have followed the same
two main routes to the British Isles. One was a western
oceanic route from
Iberia north, primarily settling in Ireland and
western Britain. (I would speculate that the somewhat
darker coloration of the Welsh reflects this sunnier
origin.) The other main path was a central continental
route up the great river valleys into northern Europe,
and then west to eastern Britain.
In the British Isles, the
hunter-gatherer-fishermen presumably stuck to the
water`s edge, while the farmers cleared the inland
forest. This meant there were few incentives for a
genocidal clash between them, allowing the genes of both
to survive in large numbers. Over time, some of the
hunter-gatherers must have learned to farm, permitting
them to be fruitful and multiply. The two groups appear
to have merged, a happier outcome than typically seen in
more recent collisions between
farmers and hunter-gatherers.
Sykes writes: "Overall, the
genetic structure of the Isles is stubbornly Celtic."
(Interestingly, this means that the Irish and the
English are largely the same—and Sykes is unable to
discern any difference at all between the
Ulster Catholics and
as they are known to American immigration history).
Sykes points, out, however, that
the term "Celtic" is something of a misnomer:
`Celts` of Ireland and the Western Isles are not, as far
as I can see from the genetic evidence, related to the
Celts who spread south and east to Italy, Greece and
Turkey from the heartlands of Hallstadt and La Tene in
the shadows of the Alps during the first millennium BC."
The British “Celts” have
been in the British Isles long before the emergence of
Central European Celts known to anthropology and the
military history of the Roman Republic. These British
“Celts” adopted the Celtic language, but otherwise
their relationship with the continental Celts, if any,
Sykes guesses that the
La Tene-style handicrafts in Britain was not the
result of mass immigration from Central Europe, as
anthropologists have long presumed, but simply of
British Isle goldsmiths
learning to copy the latest style from the
Continent. (Similarly, the recent
mass-production in China of knick-knacks emblazoned
with the Celtic Cross for Dublin tourist traps doesn`t
mean that Guangdong is suddenly filling up with
seems to me that the constant tendency to interpret past
events in terms of movements is completely the wrong
assumption. Surely the correct starting point is to
assume that our ancestors were sufficiently resourceful
and skillful to pick up virtually any skill."
The half of modern British/Irish
DNA that comes from female ancestors is especially
native to the Isles.
Sykes points out that after the
arrival of the agriculturalists in Britain:
genetic bedrock on the maternal side was in place. By
about 6,000 years ago, the pattern was set for the rest
of the history of the Isles and very little has
disturbed it since."
The one region where there was
subsequent large-scale female immigration was the
northern islands of
Shetland and Orkney. Some 30-40 percent of today`s
inhabitants trace their maternal ancestry to
There was also a limited
immigration during historic times of women into eastern
and northern England, accounting for 10 percent of the
maternal genes in the east and 5 percent in the north.
Whether these women were Saxons,
Vikings, or Normans is hard to say because they are all
so similar genetically. The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes,
who invaded England after the Roman evacuation in 410
A.D., were from southern Scandinavia and northern
Germany. The Vikings, who sacked the monastery of
Lindisfarne as early as 793, were centered merely a
little farther north and west. The
Normans were simply Vikings who had conquered Normandy
and adopted the French language.
Sykes` guessed, based on sketchy
historical evidence: most of this newer maternal-side
DNA was introduced by the Vikings.
The Vikings/Normans were incredibly
dangerous—their conquests ranged from the Volga to North
America, from Greenland to Sicily—for the paradoxical
reason that during the Dark Ages they cooperated with
each other better than their less ferocious victims did.
(To defend against Viking raids, Europeans eventually
feudalism, the fundamental institution of the Middle
Ages, to support the expensive knights in shining armor
needed to rapidly mobilize and defeat a Viking raid.)
Yet, despite their taste for
rapine and pillage, the supremely opportunistic
Vikings were not averse to family outings either,
apparently bringing their womenfolk with them to farm in
Orkney and East Anglia.
The Romans appear to have imported
almost no women into Britain. Sykes found only a
"tiny number" of examples of exotic mitochondrial
DNA that might represent female slaves imported by the
Romans from Syria or black Africa.
The famous historic invasions left
a larger, but still limited, mark on the male
Roman soldiers no doubt left
children behind, but it`s hard to pick them out because,
Empire matured, fewer Legionnaires were recruited
increasingly decadent Italy, and more from the
northern reaches of the mainland Empire, where the
men were genetically closer to the British.
All together, the Saxons, Vikings,
and Normans account for the ancestors of about 10
percent of Englishmen living south of the old
Danelaw line between London and Chester, and 15
percent north of it, "reaching 20 per cent in East
(Remarkably, this ancient ethnic
palimpsest can be seen to this day in the United States.
As David Hackett Fischer pointed out in
his great history of British settlers in America, Albion`s Seed,
American Puritans tended to originate in
East Anglia and other once-heavily Danish regions of
England. In turn, the American states founded by
Puritans and their descendents feature the most famous
colleges and the highest NAEP school achievement test
For one thing, it offers an
important perspective on the current obsession with the
supposed educational blessings of racial diversity.
college president in America publicly denounces the
mentally-stultifying effects of a
non-diverse student body. (Diversity
of opinion, of course, is somehow
much less fashionable on campus.)
And yet, William Shakespeare, who
likely never left homogenous England in his life,
sketched what is perhaps the most diverse array of
personalities in world literature. Nor have the British
Samuel Johnson and
John Lennon, Oscar Wilde and the
Duke of Wellington—been grievously lacking in real
This is not to say that the close
observation of racial diversity doesn`t add interest to
our understanding of humanity … or Shakespeare wouldn`t
Othello, the Moor of Venice, the tragic hero of one
of his greatest plays.
What it does show, however, is that
even in the most superficially uniform racial groups,
there is almost endless human richness to be found.