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  • Saxons & Vikings

    British Archaeology, no. 26, July 1997: Letters: Saxons and Vikings
    From Mr. Edward Johnson

    Saxons & Vikings

    Sir: I cannot disagree too strongly with Martin Evison's article, 'Lo the conquering hero comes (or not)' (april), which argues that accomodation was the rule' between invaders and natives in early medieval Britain.

    As a linguist I must take Dr. Evison to task. Let us consider the Norman Conquest which led to a Franco-Norman immigrant group establishing itself as a ruling caste of perhaps 10 percent of the population. Though their linguistic impact was great, English continued to be at base a Germanic tongue, with a majority of the 5000 basic words of everyday use being Anglo-Saxon origin. Yet Dr. Evison would have us imagine a majority Celtic population becoming English speakers and bequeathing not more than ten words of their own language into our lexicon!) Likewise all the myriad new settlements and political units (wards, counties, and the like): some old names did survive and others were transliterated into Anglo-Saxon but these were the exception rather than the rule.

    The Scandinavian language (as Dr. Evison refers to it) didn't 'dwindle away after a few generations.' Old Saxon and Old Norse were sufficiently similar to allow intercommunication, and the first stage of the development of English was the crossfertilization os Saxon and Danish/Norse in the early Middle Ages. Of the 5,000 basic words of English, about 20 percent are Scandinavian, including: get, hit, leg, low, root, skin, same, want, wrong, white, sky, skirt, and skill. The Scandinavian impact on syntax and grammar was even stronger.

    As for the genetic evidence, we are still in our infancy in matters of genotype
    research. However, the blood groupings found in eastern England outwith the major urban centres are similar to North Germany and Scandinavia, that is 70 percent Group A. Rural Wales contains a majority of Group O, with a large minority of Group B, almost unknown in eastern England. Considering centuries of population movements and intermarriage, this is quite remarkable. Perhaps here we have a clue as to what should be done in order to sample for genes. We should choose from people in rural and semi-rural areas, whose four grandparents (or preferably, eight great grand-grandparents) were all from eastern England and were protestants (less likely to have married out of the community), and who have English surnames
    (such as those typical occupational names associated with Anglo-Saxon life: Smith, Carter, Miller, and so on). Perhaps then it will be possible to begin to consider the Anglo-Saxon genetic heritage, especially if this is done in conjunction with studies in Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

    Dr. Evison posits only one theory for the scarcity of a genetic variant here in England but quite common in Northern Germany. However, there are at least three possibilities. First, that England was predominantly Celtic even after the Anglo-Saxon invasion (Dr. Evison's view); second, that England was predominantly Anglo-Saxon but population movements, intermarriage, and other factors have led to a genetic shift; and third, that England was predominantly Anglo-Saxon but population change in North Germany has led to a genetic shift there as well as in England.

    I favour a combination of the second and third possibilites. In 70 or so generations since the Anglo-Saxon land-taking there has been emigration, immigration, exogamy, and much else besides. Up to the Norman Conquest documents indicate that the Anglo-Saxons were conscious of their Germanic origins and felt a bloodbond with other Germanic peoples. There is little indication of blood-bonds at this time between the Welsh and the English.
    Indeed, Celtic Christians at first hated the Saxons so much that they preferred not to proselytise these heathens, such was the resentment between the two races.

    Finally, in Schleswig-Holstein and Friesland, original homelands of the English, the majority or residents today are immigrants or descendants of immigrants of the last 200 years. A large minority, for example, are there as a result of the displacement of Germans from the territories lost in the East after the Second World War -- from Silesia, Prussia, Sudetenland and elsewhere.

    Yours faithfully,
    Edward Johnson
    Saltaire
    West Yorkshire
    29 April

  • #2
    Originally posted by Txschlib
    Perhaps here we have a clue as to what should be done in order to sample for genes. We should choose from people in rural and semi-rural areas, whose four grandparents (or preferably, eight great grand-grandparents) were all from eastern England and were protestants (less likely to have married out of the community), and who have English surnames (such as those typical occupational names associated with Anglo-Saxon life: Smith, Carter, Miller, and so on). Perhaps then it will be possible to begin to consider the Anglo-Saxon genetic heritage, especially if this is done in conjunction with studies in Wales, Ireland and Scotland.
    I have always been amazed that geneticists, at best, tend to follow the scientific rule of random sampling, and more commonly, simply sample whoever's available and willing (e.g., passers-by in a large city). It ought to be obvious that if one's goal is to project genetic results onto the past, one ought to target that portion of the population least likely to have shuffled genetically--i.e., the sedentary rural population.

    The descendants of serfs are the best for this.

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    • #3
      If anything, that letter supports the idea of a Germanic y-majority in England. I mentioned the linguistic evidence before, that Celtic had almost no impact on the development of the English language. Note that 20% of basic English words are of Scandinavian origin.

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