Anglo-Saxon Spin Halted to Credit the Welsh at Last; US Historian Says Archaeology and DNA Is Putting the Real Britons Back Centre Stage

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), November 18, 2003 | Go to article overview

Anglo-Saxon Spin Halted to Credit the Welsh at Last; US Historian Says Archaeology and DNA Is Putting the Real Britons Back Centre Stage


Byline: Rhodri Clark

CENTURIES of banishing the Welsh to the margins of British history are coming to an end, according to an American academic.

Professor Chris Snyder, of Marymount University, Virginia, says modern science is forcing historians and students to accept that the real Britons - the predecessors of the English - had a bigger impact on the history of the British Isles than was traditionally assumed.

He says generations of historians, including the Venerable Bede in 731AD, have put an Anglo-Saxon spin on their interpretations of the past, belittling, maligning or ignoring the contribution of the Welsh and other pre-Saxon peoples.

But more recent research - especially by archaeologists - is providing firm evidence that the invasion by Angles and Saxons was much slower and smaller than Bede and others have claimed.

Now, says Prof Snyder, historians are having to accept that the Welsh, Cornish and other Britons had a lasting influence after the Anglo-Saxons arrived.

With DNA tests and other technology being deployed increasingly in archaeology, the traditional view of British history will become increasingly untenable, Prof Snyder predicted yesterday.

'The problem with the Welsh and other Britons is that they were Christian and had simple graves.

'The pagan Anglo-Saxon graves tend to yield a lot more information because they have more burial goods,' said Prof Snyder, who has some Scottish and Irish ancestry.

'A lot of burials in England have been interpreted as Anglo-Saxon but now more archaeologists are prepared to look at these as graves of British-speaking people from British communities under Anglo-Saxon rule.

'We are trying to establish how we can label a burial in England as British or Anglo- Saxon. In the absence of supportive goods, that makes it necessary to use DNA samples or measurement of bones. This will help us settle the question of how much the British underlies the Anglo-Saxon.'

It may seem ironic that it takes American academics to set the British record straight, but they have the advantage of not being seen to be on either the British or the English side of the fence.

Prof Snyder said, 'In America we're teaching the undergraduate students about British history.

'We have to think about how we tie all this together. Because we've had our own struggles we include more minority histories.

'We can't make British history English history. We have to look at all the regions of the British Isles. …

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