By now I’m sure you’ve all see the Nature article, “The fine-scale genetic structure of the British population” that’s been getting so much play the last few days.
Essentially, researchers at Oxford University, funded by the Wellcome Trust, analysed genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data from over 2,000 people living in the UK.1 They made sure that each of their subjects’ four grandparents were born within 80km of each other. To quote the abstract, “This reveals a rich and detailed pattern of genetic differentiation with remarkable concordance between genetic clusters and geography.”
There were several interesting maps and figures included in the article. The first is is the representation of their findings.
Here’s how they map those findings to populations in Europe.
And this is their notion of peoples in Britain at the start of the seventh century.2
To quote the abstract again, “The regional genetic differentiation and differing patterns of shared ancestry…carry clear signals of historical demographic events.” They estimate that the Anglo-Saxons contributed a good chunk, though less than half, of the tested populations’ genetic material in the southeast and that “in non-Saxon parts of the United Kingdom, there exist genetically differentiated subgroups rather than a general ‘Celtic’ population.”
Lots of eyebrow-raising stuff here (for me, anyway). Three things to be going on with:
1. The division between Dyfed and Gwynedd puzzles me. Obviously the mountains were a barrier to intermingling, but the sea has always been a good intercultural route. So why the split? Are tides and currents and winds between north and south so awful? I don’t know enough about that or, clearly, Welsh history. (Any pointers to good information eagerly accepted.)
2. The difference between Dál Riata and Pictland is also distinct but less surprising to me given my understanding of the landscape, both physical and cultural. The division between Dyfneint and Cernyw, though in some ways not surprising (place name and other language markers hint strongly at its existence), in other ways flat out amazes me. Those populations are separated only by a river—which in much of the rest of the isle would be no barrier at all. Just a river…
3. I am oddly pleased by the fact that us Elmetians form our own little subgroup.3
All of this is provocative stuff and will take some mulling, but meanwhile if anyone is willing to venture preliminary thoughts I’d love to hear them. I’m particularly interested in how this might pertain to the endless biological-versus-cultural-replacement discussion.
1 Only the north of Ireland was represented—I don’t know why—so this is the UK, not Britain. It’s a pity; it would have been interesting to see, for example, if the Dublin area mirrored the Danelaw results or if they looked more like Orkney.
2 I snipped this. See the whole thing here.
3 Full disclosure: though my mother and her mother were born in Leeds, my father, and three grandparents (and most great-grandparents) were from all over the isle. I’m a mutt. Eh, hybrid vigour…