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BRITARCH  July 2006

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Subject:

Re: Britain 'had apartheid society'

From:

Paul Barford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 19 Jul 2006 22:47:32 +0200

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Well, it all looks pretty dubious to me.

When you read the text you find (as if we could not guess) that its based on
those older studies of the modern samples from a few market towns (from
which we realise that the term "germanic genes" should be interpreted as
"not Welsh"); the other genetic input is the "Capelli et al." model which
was discussed here on Britarch at great length. I for one remain totally
unconvinced that they had collected the data they needed to come to the
conclusions they did or that they were interpreting the data correctly.

What we do not have of course is a proper sample of the genetic structure of
the pre-fifth century AD population of the areas of both studies. Both
assume that it would have been like the "welsh" one, but that is a totally
untested assumption. So we have no way of knowing whether the pattern which
is now being labelled as "germanic" (and then automatically assumed by
Turner et al to be "Anglo-Saxons") actually did not begin accumulating much
earlier due to other types of cross-Channel contacts even going back to
earlier prehistory. If so of course, there is nothing much to explain.

Capelli et al's samples on which this new model is building were too poor to
look at that at all [I set out the reason I think that in Britarch when we
went through it ad nauseam a year ago or more].

So perhaps before laboriously building another model to explain the
discrepant data of the first, it would be better science to go back and
examine the underlying assumptions of the first to see if the problem does
not lie there.....

Secondly, a key element of the present argument are the written sources, to
be precise two law codes, Ine's and Alfred's. A lot of people have got very
excited about the way Ine's treats "Welshmen"; our three authors do too. But
I think they fail to note three things. One of them is that as a legal
document, Ine's code is very difficult to interpret at this point, there are
a lot of inconsistencies when you try to see how it would have been applied
(for example in various permeations of that English-Welsh dichotomy) which
means its not telling the whole story. In that case, it would be unwise to
use this one point as a keystone for a whole argument. Next, it was created
in Wessex (although big by this time, still a restricted and discrete area).
We learn what applies to"Welsh" there (which ones, in all of the kingdom or
just part of it - for example on a frontier zone?). This does not however
have to reflect what applied to "Britons" in West Saxon lands a generation
before Ine, still less in other areas of the Anglo-Saxon world. And finally,
just look at the names of the West Saxon kings before Ine. Cerdic is not a
terribly Anglo-Saxon name, neither are the names of many of those others
claimed as Ine's ancestors. Many of them as many scholars have noted have
"British" sounding names, so where's the "apartheid" if the royal family
(the only one we know about in any detail) was not practicing it? Of course
our three authors will explain this away as just being "wrong", or an
"exception", they will accept one written source uncritically because it
suits their model, but dismiss the one that does not. This is quite typical
of the way a lot of archaeologists use written sources by the way,
especially when creating  "ethnogenesis" models as here.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept "apartheid" in some areas with
a rich array of emblemic artefacts in graves and settlements, do we really
expect the same relationships between Brit and Anglo-Saxon to apply to the
early days of Northumbria, Bernicia, Mercia, or even Lindsey and the Middle
Angles? Here the "British" element probably played a totally different role
than in the classic kingdoms down south such as Kent, Sussex and East
Anglia. I really do not see how Turner et al can generalise in such a manner
especially on the basis of what seem to me to be very dodgy interpretations
of some genetics. And let us be clear, the Capelli et al data which they are
trying to explain covered all of England.

Thirdly, I also find (extremely) dubious the assumption which plays a key
role in this model that if you speak a Germanic language, you'd be a better
warrior than if you dont. And it made you a better breeder and more
successful in life. That seems to be a stereotype going way back to models
of the past that are best forgotten (except as a warning against the
resurgence of this kind of chauvinistic claptrap).

Because this appears to me to be merely germanophile chauvinism. We all know
that there were a lot of pretty good warriors and people who gained wealth,
prestige and advantage in the British kingdoms which resisted the
Anglo-Saxon takeover well into the period when this hypothetical "apartheid"
is supposed to have lasted. So what happened to their genetic material?

Fourthly, those of us who have excavated Early Saxon sites with their grub
huts and 'orrible domestic pottery might well question whether the actual
differences in standards of living of the majority of the population were
all that much different between the two groups. It may be OK being a king
like Redwald or a guy like the Essex "King of Bling" (or the lord of Dinas
Powys or Tintagel), but throughout the fifth and sixth centuries the
majority of the Anglo-Saxon population were subsistence farmers, not
infrequently living on lands which would be considered marginal (Mucking,
West Stow). I think we are falling into the trap of assuming that if
somebody was buried with a brooch or a weapon or two, they "must have  been"
wealthier than somebody who was not. But that in itself is an assumption.

Fifthly, I find the citation in the paper of a few cases of contemporary
examples of "ethnic exclusion" to bolster the theory a rather dubious
tactic. The vast majority of the evidence from right across Europe at this
period shows precisely the opposite (and that includes the Italy cited by
these gentlemen). Early Medieval ethnic groups were not solid entities like
culture-historical billiard balls which roll over the map one bouncing off
the other. The Early Medieval ethnicity was most often (as I understand it
anyway) an open structure. Prestige was gained by accumulating followers,
not driving them away. Indeed (despite what Bede thought), we know that
those Anglo-Saxons who came to England were not a single group from a single
area of the Continent which decided to pack up and move en masse to the
green island over the water. They too came together by accretion from
several distinct areas of the Germanic world (including Scandinavia). This
could not have happened if each group among them had a policy of keeping out
strangers.

Finally, I cannot help feeling that the White Supremacists will be having a
field day with this interpretation;  germanic supremacy has "once again"
been "scientifically proven". This alone should be reason enough for
scholars to try and encourage caution when faced with such wide-reaching
interpretations based on a little "science", a lot of wishful thinking,
seasoned with statistics and computer-generated graphs and served up to a
credulous media.

Paul Barford

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