The Origins of the British
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The Origins of the British is a book by Stephen Oppenheimer, first published in 2006 and revised in 2007. Oppenheimer argued that neither Anglo-Saxons nor Celts had much impact on the genetics of the inhabitants of the British Isles, and that British ancestry mainly traces back to the Palaeolithic Iberian people, now represented best by the Basques, instead. He also argued that the Scandinavian input has been underestimated.
Oppenheimer uses genetic studies to give an insight into the genetic origins of people in the British Isles and speculates on how to match this evidence with documentary, linguistic and archaeological data to give insights into the origins of Britain, the Celts, the Vikings and the English. Oppenheimer uses DNA databases provided by Weale et al., Capelli et al. and Rosser et al. to provide new analyses of the haplotype distributions in both the male and female lines of the populations of Britain and Ireland (as well as Western Europe).
He breaks down the R1b haplogroup into a detailed set of "clans" that are undefined.
He makes the case that the geography and climate have had an influence on the genetics and culture of Britain, because of coastline changes. These genetic and cultural changes stem from two main zones of contact:
- The Atlantic fringe, mainly from Spain and Portugal, to the western British Isles
- Northern Europe, originally across Doggerland to eastern England and from Scandinavia to northern Scotland
Oppenheimer derives much archaeological information from Professor Barry Cunliffe's ideas of the trading routes using the Atlantic from Spain, and from the writings of:
- Simon James (The Atlantic Celts - Ancient People or Modern Invention?)
- Francis Pryor (Britain B.C.: life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans
- John Collis (The Celts: origins, myths & inventions )
- Colin Renfrew, (Archaeology and Language - The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins)
The work of the geneticist Peter Forster has strongly influenced Oppenheimer's linguistic theories. He uses the evidence that the Germanic genetic contribution to eastern England originated before the Anglo-Saxon conquest of much of England incursion to suggest that the possibility that some inhabitants of the isle of Britain spoke English well before the so-called "Dark Ages".
Oppenheimer's main ideas include:
- The importance of Barry Cunliffe's Atlantic routes to the settling of Britain.
- Since much British genetic material dates to the re-settlement of Britain following the ice ages, all subsequent invasions/migrations/immigrations occurred on a relatively small scale and did not replace Britain's population.
- The origins of Celtic culture lie in southwestern Europe. The Central European (La Tène culture) theory for Celtic origins has no basis. Celtic culture arrived in the British Isles before the Iron Age and only involved limited movement of people, mainly into the east of England.
- There are some differences between the male and female origins of the British population, but these are small.
- Some genetic evidence is in support of Renfrew's theory that Indo-European origins comes with farming.
- Genetic evidence suggests that the division between the West and the East of England does not begin with the Anglo-Saxon invasion but originates with two main routes of genetic flow — one up the Atlantic coast, the other from neighbouring areas of Continental Europe. This happened just after the Last Glacial Maximum. There is a cline between east and west, rather than a sharp division.
- Scandinavian influences, stronger than suspected, may outweigh West Germanic influence.
- A genetic difference exists between the Saxon areas of England and the Anglian areas. (Oppenheimer suggests that the so-called Anglo-Saxon invasion actually mostly consisted of an Anglian incursion.)
- English being native to east Britain might explain the lack of Celtic influence on early English and the genetic split between East and West.
- Classical sources differentiate between Gallic/Celtic and Belgae. Sources state that some of the (northern) Belgae have a German origin. Various archaeological and linguistic evidence make for a weaker case for Celtic presence in Belgium and Eastern England than in Gallic/Celtic or western Britain.
In Origins of the British (2006), Stephen Oppenheimer states (pages 375 and 378):
"By far the majority of male gene types in the British Isles derive from Iberia (Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average only 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory..."
"...75-95% of British Isles (genetic) matches derive from Iberia... Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of the British Isles have similarly high rates. England has rather lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples..."
In page 367 Oppenheimer states in relation to Zoë H Rosser's pan-European genetic distance map:
"In Rosser's work, the closest population to the Basques is in Cornwall, followed closely by Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and then northern France."
He reports work on linguistics by Forster and Toth which suggests that Indo-European languages began to fragment some 10,000 years ago (at the end of the Ice Age). Oppenheimer claims that Celtic lanuguages split from Indo-European languages earlier than previously suspected, some 6000 years ago, while English split from Germanic languages before the Roman period, see Forster, Polzin and Rohl.
- Stephen Oppenheimer: The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story, Constable, 2006.
- Stephen Oppenheimer. Myths of British ancestry, Prospect magazine, October 2006
- Stephen Oppenheimer "Myths of British ancestry revisited" Prospect magazine, June 2007
- A United Kingdom? Maybe, The New York Times, 6 March 2007.
- Stephen Oppenheimer on The Bradshaw Foundation website
- Journey of Mankind: the Peopling of the World