Wednesday, July 20, 2005

STUBBORN BRITISH DNA

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Back 2060 years ago, a photographer for Murdock's Londinium Times, working with an embedded reporter, caught the gist of the Landing of the Roman Expeditionary Forces and their many allies of one or two soldiers from various obscure provinces and satrapies.

Note the fierce fighting! The Romans kept invading and the natives kept fighting. They fought and fought. Eventually, the Romans taught them how to read and write and give boring political speeches and they forgot about fighting and went back to what they loved doing the most: drinking and having sex.

And moving really big rocks around.

At that time, much of Britain had names like "Cambria" and "Ordovices" and "Silures". Dinosaurs and tribolites inhabited the place, obviously, only to turn instantly into fossils when the Romans renamed everything. The Silurians, once a mighty tribe of strange sea monsters, became a mere "Britannia Secunda". Not even "firstunda". The Ordovicians all died and became Flavians. Yech.

The Romans built roads. All the roads were absolutely straight. One would think the ancient Romans were a bunch of ill tempered German autobahn builders. But indeed, the Italians invented straight roads.

But the natives of Britannia always won in the end. In between drinking bouts with the Roman masters, they stubbornly kept the old names to the new roads. Names no Roman would ever choose. Icknield Street crossed most of southern England. Watling Street crossed it diagonally. The Fosse linked Lindum with Stonehenge. Hermin was a dogleg street just to irritate the Romans.

The Romans came and they went and nearly everything they built disappeared into ruins or worse, probably due to the drinking parties. But the names the British residents gave the Roman roads persisted, unchanged. So obviously, the people there using these roads were not invaders.

Over the eons, many people speculated about the British original residents. How long did they live there? Why do they drink scotch? Why do they love droll jokes? Who are they? People liked to imagine that invaders penetrated the young ladies and altered their genetic destinies. And that invaders wiped out many Brits and colonized the island over and over again.

But now we know the truth.

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Despite the Romans killing the great Cwen, Boadicea, the average Brit kept drinking, having sex and having children. Imagine that.

Breaking news from the National Geographic:
Despite invasions by Saxons, Romans, Vikings, Normans, and others, the genetic makeup of today's white Britons is much the same as it was 12,000 ago, a new book claims.

In The Tribes of Britain, archaeologist David Miles says around 80 percent of the genetic characteristics of most white Britons have been passed down from a few thousand Ice Age hunters.

Miles, research fellow at the Institute of Archaeology in Oxford, England, says recent genetic and archaeological evidence puts a new perspective on the history of the British people.

"There's been a lot of arguing over the last ten years, but it's now more or less agreed that about 80 percent of Britons' genes come from hunter-gatherers who came in immediately after the Ice Age," Miles said.

These nomadic tribespeople followed herds of reindeer and wild horses northward to Britain as the climate warmed.

"Numbers were probably quite small—just a few thousand people," Miles added.

These earliest settlers were later cut off as rising sea levels isolated Britain from mainland Europe.

New evidence for the genetic ancestry of modern Britons comes from analysis of blood groups, oxygen traces in teeth, and DNA samples taken from skeletal remains.

Ice Age hunter-gathers also colonized the rest of northwest Europe, spreading through what are now the Netherlands, Germany, and France. But Miles said differences between populations can be detected in random genetic mutations, which occurred over time.

The most visible British genetic marker is red hair, he added. The writer Tacitus noted the Romans' surprise at how common it was when they arrived 2,000 years ago.

"It's something that foreign observers have often commented on," Miles said. "Recent studies have shown that there is more red hair in Scotland and Wales than anywhere else in the world. It's a mutation that probably occurred between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago."
You know, when Tactius discovered the red hair, he also noted the other genetic marker: quick temper. Heh. He also remarked upon the huge Mastiff dogs that strode proudly across the green swards of England. He, and more than one Roman, noted the lovely lasses and acted accordingly but despite the attempts at getting them pregnant, genetically, it all washed away in the tides of stubborn British happy hours.

When the Angles and Saxon strode onto the stage, they, like the Romans, renamed everything and got everyone to mix up three or four languages now so it was no longer Celtic or Latin/Celt or sign language but became early English.

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Here is the actual manuscript of the famous poem, Beowulf. Beowulf's struggles to get directions from the average Brit is what the poem is all about. They, of course, gave their ancient names to the Roman roads but the dog leg of Hermin Street always threw off the invaders so they would get lost all over again. This caused great gloom and suffering for the Saxon hero.
Ða wæs on burgum Beowulf Scyldinga,
leof leodcyning, longe þrage
55
folcum gefræge (fæder ellor hwearf,
aldor of earde), oþþæt him eft onwoc
heah Healfdene; heold þenden lifde,
gamol ond guðreouw, glæde Scyldingas.
ðæm feower bearn forð gerimed
60
in worold wocun, weoroda ræswan,
Heorogar ond Hroðgar ond Halga til;
hyrde ic þæt wæs Onelan cwen,
Heaðoscilfingas healsgebedda.
þa wæs Hroðgare heresped gyfen,
65


The average Brit paused in his drinking and carousing to learn enough Saxon to whack it into the lingo of the Romanized native tongue to create this new monster of a language. Everyone was pleased with this. Pure Celtic languages continued unabated and this new tongue sort of slogged alongside. But even the Saxons couldn't break the iron grip of the original dwellers. For 10,000 years they hung out together and they kept right on doing this, blissfully and I presume, with a good dose of lust.

My own ancestors took to lusting for England's fair damsels and lands so we joined William the Conqueror. Once again, the invaders shovelled their own linguistical nutcrackers into the British fires and the stubborn natives clung to all the previous languages and warped and woofed the entire thing into a brand new tapestry. This unhappy business forces young school children even today to memorize the spelling of all those odd ball mongerel words. No other European language has spelling bees just so one can prove one can memorize a zillion words. The ruling class of England clung to French, itself a bastard language, for as long as possible.

This scheme failed miserably. Telling a native to get out of the way in French only caused them to halt the oxen and scratch the head, slowly. "Wot? Wot, I say, chap?" Sacre bleu.

The Normans demanded beef. But nothing would show up unless they told their native servants to fetch a cow. All the names of all the animals stayed stubbornly British even as irritable Norman lords yelled themselves hoarse for venison or pork or escargot.

If the Norman kids didn't learn the native chit-chat, they would have starved to death.

The stubborn British so habituated them that Icknield Street and Watling Street and all those other streets kept their postal designations. Not only that, the Normans hanging around these places picked up so much native lingo they ended up being utterly unable to understand hardly a word of their own kind back in France!

Which explains nearly entirely why the French and Brits get along so very very well. Ahem.

Back to the scientists:
Britain's population in the late Stone Age may have much been larger than historians once supposed. For instance, scientists have calculated that it would have taken around 30 million hours to create Stonehenge.

"By the time Stonehenge was built you'd had about a thousand years of farming," Miles said. "The population's expanding, and people are getting together to form big labor forces to put up these big public buildings."

Population estimates based on the size and density of settlements put Britain's population at about 3.5 million by the time Romans invaded in A.D. 43.

Many historians now believe subsequent invaders from mainland Europe had little genetic impact on the British.

The notion that large-scale migrations caused drastic change in early Britain has been widely discredited, according to Simon James, an archaeologist at Leicester University, England.

"The gene pool of the island has changed, but more slowly and far less completely than implied by the old invasion model," James writes in an article for the website BBC History.
They probably played cricket at Stonehenge, too. It was part of the ceremony dedicated to placating the sun making the days shorter and shorter all summer.
"It is actually quite common to observe important cultural change, including adoption of wholly new identities, with little or no biological change to a population," Simon James, the Leicester University archaeologist, writes.
Britain: a prolific Island indeed.

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