March 10, 2007

British & Irish genes: not that far apart

Last Tuesday's Science Times describes a new view of inhabitants of the United Kingdom as defined by geneticists at Oxford.

"Historians teach that [the Brits & Irish] are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country’s western and northern fringes." Turns out that geneticists are leaning toward a different interpretation; they are ... "struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans."

This chart nicely illustrates Where British & Irish Genes Come From.

Linguistics buffs may wonder how the difference in language arose for the two groups if they are not genetically different. This is alluded to in the article but discussed in more depth in the (excellent) Science Times podcast: language can be transmitted through the use of "technology." There is speculation that the Celts brought agricultural tools to Ireland and their language spread through the use of new farming techniques. Apparently historical linguists don't totally agree, but it seems reasonable to this armchair linguist.

For more, check out Stephen Oppenheimer's The origins of the British : a genetic detective story : the surprising roots of the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh.

A United Kingdom? Maybe by Nicholas Wade. March 6, 2007.

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