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Britons prove their ancestry is diverse

By JW Dowey - 19 Mar 2015 10:11:6 GMT
Britons prove their ancestry is diverse

Putting history right! Lost in myth, the many standing stones, here in Cornwall, extend history back to times when your ancestors can first be traced by the very genes that you still carry. Surely these studies will extend history to the personal (and a medical) level and make more myths into a recognised reality.Men-An-Tol image ; Credit: © Shutterstockimage

Yet again your ancestry is being challenged, as DNA investigations uncover not only the key to disease, but also the very history that brought you into being. European colonisation of much of the world means that cystic fibrosis or multiple sclerosis incidence is often down to their genes, even in other races. It is the historical influence that is absolutely fascinating in this paper, which carefully dissects the British genomes of around 1900 and produces the most unexpected results. After the UK, Spain will be next to reveal its secrets, revealing, no doubt, some interesting conclusions on their great empire-building in the Americas.

The British tribal affinities, so obvious in some traditional northern football (soccer) support, are complemented in a surprising way in the studies. Instead of many colonists from Rome, Denmark, Norway, France and Belgium, the more ancient Celts are better represented in the populations studied, basically from the last century. This means that invaders contributed little to population, only to history. The Germanic Saxons definitely moved in on the Britons throughout the more boring southern and eastern populations, but with an obvious lack of genocidal activity. Even there, they only contribute half of the genetic contribution. Strong representation of the most ancient tribes known echoes their even larger and continuing influence on British characteristics in many regions such as Wales, Cornwall, and the English North-west and the North-east. Scotland retains its Celtic (and Irish) past, despite many years of Angle and Norman rule. Even several distant populations are closely related, while neighbours such as Devon and Cornwall have completely separate identities that can’t simply be explained by the small River Tamar separating them!

This fine-scale genetic variation gives us true signatures from history. The gene types are known as haplotypes, covering 2039 individuals who were very carefully chosen to show these genetic (and geographic) clusters. Britain nowadays is almost totally multi-cultural, making future studies more difficult (but not impossible.) Europe too, has recently adopted this pattern, and a total of 6,208 Europeans have been sampled. The work was largely accomplished by Stephen Leslie, Bruce Winney and Garrett Hellenthal working at Oxford University under the aegis of veteran Professor Peter Donnelly and many others such as the Wellcome Trust and the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium. Nature publishes the paper, with this review entitled British Isles mapped out by genetic ancestry.

The people studied show their history as post Mesolithic when they could walk across from Europe, and also pre-Roman, with a great differentiation between geographical regions. They have not retained, as expected in Wales, for example, a general Celtic population haplotype. Peter Donnelly exclaims, the patterns we see are extraordinary - the genetic effects we’re looking at are the result of probably, thousands of years of history. 21st century UK citizens come from all parts of Britain and the world, so much of the variation patterns are lost. We do have, however, 17 groups of haplotypes, each corresponding to ancient kingdoms such as the tiny West Yorkshire Elmet. When the Welsh and their allies, the Goddoddin warriors (the Votadini tribe from Southern Scotland) rode out to attack Bernician and Deiran Angles in an ancient poem, we can know see they were probably related!

Whatever your history, it seems we could know probably trace it with the help of quite urgent rural research such as this in that part of the world from which you sprang. When the Cornish language matches Breton in France, we can now see how people related to each other genetically, in times when there was written language and even before. By using maternal mtDNA and paternal Y chromosome information, this could be the mother and father of medical and historical research for a long time.