Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The astounding speed of human genetic transformation: The Germanization of Britain

Really dumb title. Fascinating research with immense implications:
BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Britain 'had apartheid society'

... There are a very high number of Germanic male-line ancestors in England's current population. Genetic research has revealed the country's gene pool contains between 50 and 100% Germanic Y-chromosomes...

... Estimates range between 10,000 and 200,000 [germanic] Anglo-Saxons migrating into England between 5th and 7th Century AD, compared with a native population of about two million.

To understand what might have happened all of those years ago, UK scientists used computer simulations to model the gene pool changes that would have occurred with the arrival of such small numbers of migrants.

The team used historical evidence that suggested native Britons were at a substantial economic and social disadvantage compared to the Anglo-Saxon settlers.

The researchers believe this may have led to a reproductive imbalance giving rise to an ethnic divide.

Ancient texts, such as the laws of Ine, reveal that the life of an Anglo-Saxon was valued more than that of a native's.

Dr Mark Thomas, an author on the research and an evolutionary biologist from University College London (UCL), said: "By testing a number of different combinations of ethnic intermarriage rates and the reproductive advantage of being Anglo-Saxon, we found that under a very wide range of different combinations of these factors we would get the genetic and linguistic patterns we see today.

"The native Britons were genetically and culturally absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons over a period of as little as a few hundred years," Dr Thomas added.

"An initially small invading Anglo-Saxon elite could have quickly established themselves by having more children who survived to adulthood, thanks to their military power and economic advantage.

"We believe that they also prevented the native British genes getting into the Anglo-Saxon population by restricting intermarriage in a system of apartheid that left the country culturally and genetically Germanised.
Astounding. Vastly outnumered by the indigenous peoples, the newcomer's advantages combined with selective mating meant a complete ethnic and genetic conquest in mere centuries. I would never have guessed this. I wonder if it explains what happened to the Neandertals. In that case the Cro Magnon immigrants probably didn't interbreed very much and might have had very significant technological advantages. The Neandertals might have vanished, by the standards of history, overnight.

This is one of a series of stories emphasizing that the human genome has been under extensive selection pressure in the past thousand year, far more than most biologists had once thought.


Anonymous said...

About a year ago there was another article about how the dna from Ice Age skeletons in Britain showed they were ancestral to the present population.

How to reconcile the difference?

JGF said...

Yeah, good question! I'll try to track this down...