'Most of the Gene Pool of the British Isles Is Very Ancient. It Has Nothing to Do with Celts or Anglo-Saxons . . .'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), January 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

'Most of the Gene Pool of the British Isles Is Very Ancient. It Has Nothing to Do with Celts or Anglo-Saxons . . .'


Byline: By Catherine Jones, Molly Watson and Rin Simpson Western Mail

New DNA research claims we may have more in common with the English than we thought - we both descend from Basques. Perhaps that explains the swarthy Welsh looks, says Catherine Jones LIKE a miner or a steelworker, many of the Welsh have got one of them somewhere in their family tree. Yes, a picture of someone who has the dark eyes, hair and colouring of a 'foreigner' - often causing the family to think there must have been some 'exotic' influence way back when. The Welsh sometimes seem easily categorised on a superficial level. You either have the dark, swarthy customers with near-black eyes or the pale- skinned, finer-boned lot with beautiful, startling blue eyes.

Pair the two together in a marriage and you can still get a brood with the curly dark locks, insolent dark eyes and chunky brown limbs of one of those spoilt Mediterranean fat kids you see running about piazzas in the evenings.

How many Welsh families like to have a bit of a joke about something 'rum' in one of the parents' family trees?

How else to explain the fact their children turn 'black' in a bit of sun and all get mistaken for French/Spanish/Italian depending on which country is the holiday destination of choice?

The more fun the family, the better the story they concoct to explain the beady black eyes staring out of a sepia family photo.

'Looks like a Portuguese sailor,' say some, looking round at the modern-day mob with their pale eyes and skin, and wondering where the heck he came from. Or where they came from.

Perhaps one parent - usually fair-skinned - makes mischief with haughty references to 'your father's family', as though it's awash with Romanian Gypsies who 'came over' in wagons to flog pegs.

Or, if you hail from West Wales, there's the Spanish ships wrecked on Pembrey Sands routine.

If you come from Llanelli and you're dark of skin and eye, you've probably heard the one about the Italian ice cream parlour owners - and how your Great Aunty May got taunted at school for looking like a senorita.

But what is the truth of our origins? Over to Professor Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford University, who says some 81% of the Welsh have DNA evidence which shows a common link to ancestors who came to Britain from northern Spain many thousands of years ago.

In fact, many Britons share a gene pool that can be traced back to Basque. Around three-quarters of the Welsh, Scots and English can be traced to those who arrived from the Basque country between 7,500 and 15,000 years ago.

Based on research into DNA studies across the UK and Ireland over the past 10 years, the professor's theory on British origins challenges mainstream historical views. And it might horrify those who like to think they are a distinct race apart from the English.

Most people in Scotland, Ireland and Wales were assumed to be descended from Celtic farming tribes who migrated here from central Europe up to 6,500 years ago. The English were thought to largely take their genetic line from the Anglo-Saxon invaders of the Dark Ages who supposedly wiped out the Celts in England.

But that's all part of a 'Celtic myth', says Professor Oppenheimer in The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story.

'The majority of the gene pool of the British Isles is very ancient and dates to the era after the last great Ice Age. It has nothing to do with Celts or Anglo-Saxons or any more recent ethnic labels.

'The Ice Age made Britain a polar desert and there was nobody living here around 13,000 BC until the first settlers came to the British Isles from the Basque country of northern Spain between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago.

'Something like three-quarters of the ancestors of our modern gene pool arrived then.

'The ancestors of some 88% of the Irish, 81% of the Welsh, 79% of the Cornish, 70% of Scots and 68% of the English arrived here during that period. …

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