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June 19, 2011 5:56 PM   Subscribe

Britain Is More Germanic than It Thinks, and Kon-Tiki explorer was partly right – Polynesians had South American roots.

England

Between about 402 AD and 550 AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire, about 200,000 Angles, Saxons and Jutes (don't forgot the Jutes!) sailed from Germanic areas to England, a massive influx of people, but they faced about a million native Britons (Celts):
The Celts were no match for these roughnecks. The Romans had taught [Celts] how to play the lyre and drink copious amounts of wine, but the populace in the regions controlled by the Pax Romana was barred from carrying weapons. As a result, the local peoples, no longer accustomed to the sword, lost one battle after the next and were forced to the edges of the island.

The army of the Britons was usually in retreat. Many fell into captivity. According to Härke, the captured Britons lived a miserable existence as "servants and maids" in the villages of the Anglo-Saxons. London geneticist Mark Thomas is convinced that the conquerors from the continent maintained "social structures similar to apartheid," a view supported by the laws of King Ine of Wessex (around 695). They specify six social levels for the Britons, five of which refer to slaves.

As a result of the brutal subjugation, the reproduction rate of the losing Britons was apparently curbed, while the winners had many children. The consequences are still evident today in the British gene pool. "People from rural England are more closely related to the northern Germans than to their countrymen from Wales or Scotland," Härke explains.
Polynesia

In 1947, Heyerdahl controversially claimed that Easter Island's famous statues were similar to those at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and sailed a raft from Peru to French Polynesia to prove it could have been colonised from America. Popycock said detractors. Recent DNA evidence appears to show he might have been partly right after all.
posted by stbalbach (51 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also, there is more than one narrative to post-Roman Britain, it remains somewhat controversial to say the least.
posted by stbalbach at 6:02 PM on June 19, 2011


Well I don't know what history I've been reading, but that first link basically accords with my understanding of the story. I don't think one anecdote from 1919 really provides much of a data point as to what Britain thinks.

As to the second link, I can only requote the scientist quoted: "Heyerdahl was wrong but not completely," he said.
posted by wilful at 6:12 PM on June 19, 2011


Re: Britain... duh. Both halves of the term 'Anglo-Saxon' refer to places in Germany. Maybe this is news to Der Spiegel-reading Germans, but I don't think it's much of a surprise to Britons.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:15 PM on June 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


Alternatively, Polynesians may have traveled east to South America, and then returned.

The Polynesians have maintained oral traditions about their wayfaring and navigational skills, having skillfully sailed through 16 million square miles of ocean -- before the Vikings even set sail. The Pacific Voyaging Society was formed to document, research and coordinate voyages recreating the ancient sailing methods; the first voyage was by Hokulea in 1975, sailing from Hawai'i to Tahiti using only ancient Polynesian navigation. In 2007 they sailed from Hawai'i to Micronesia and Japan. They are planning a world trip.

Is there any documentation of South American navigational feats during this time?
posted by Surfurrus at 6:15 PM on June 19, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't recall the Anglo-Saxon thing being all that new or controversial?
posted by Think_Long at 6:18 PM on June 19, 2011


Clearly, the Scottish are more Germanic than they thought.
posted by markkraft at 6:19 PM on June 19, 2011


Alternatively, Polynesians may have travelled east to South America, and then returned.

Echoing Surfurrus, this throwaway just seems like 100x the more likely explanation. There's even linguistic isolates and some evidence of exchange of food plants.
posted by meehawl at 6:20 PM on June 19, 2011


(Don't mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.)
posted by markkraft at 6:21 PM on June 19, 2011


Krauts & Limeys unite.

(so the rest of the world can unite in anger at you)
posted by jonmc at 6:23 PM on June 19, 2011


Thank you, meehawl. Yes, Hawai'i wasn't colonised by America until 1893 when Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown by Americans.
posted by Surfurrus at 6:25 PM on June 19, 2011


Re: Britain... duh. Both halves of the term 'Anglo-Saxon' refer to places in Germany. Maybe this is news to Der Spiegel-reading Germans, but I don't think it's much of a surprise to Britons.
and
I don't recall the Anglo-Saxon thing being all that new or controversial?
The article is claiming that the newness is a matter of scope, not existence. As it says:
Until now, the so-called Minimalists have set the tone in British archeology. They believe in what they call an "elite transfer", in which a small caste of Germanic noble warriors, perhaps a few thousand, placed themselves at the top of society in a coup of sorts, and eventually even displaced the Celtic language with their own. Many contemporary Britons, not overly keen on having such a close kinship with the Continent, like this scenario.
But, the article goes on to say, this prevailing "Minimalist" theory doesn't seem to stand up to scrutiny, and (it claims) the average Briton of today is far more Germanic than they think.
posted by Flunkie at 6:27 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't recall the Anglo-Saxon thing being all that new or controversial?

Not in broad outline, rather the details of what happened are widely debated. Were the Celts massacred in a genocide, replaced by new Germanic people? Were they integrated culturally? Did they slowly die off, or did they remain largely in place slowly mixing genetically over time? Were the ASJ's a small elite minority of a few 10s of thousand warriors, or a major human migration? Some of the various theories in this Wikipedia article.
posted by stbalbach at 6:30 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that I have previously read that British and Irish people are essentially genetically indistinguishable from each other. I think I read this in some actual geneticist's book, and fairly recently (past five years or so). So such a huge difference in the Y chromosome populations, as shown on the accompanying map, seems pretty surprising.
posted by Flunkie at 6:37 PM on June 19, 2011


Meanwhile, the legend of the "Black Irish" has found genetic support; not from the Spanish Armada era, as claimed, but prehistoric migrations of Iberians, perhaps the Basque or their ancestors.

In other random facts, one-fourth of Oregon residents are of German ancestry, which surprised me.
posted by msalt at 6:52 PM on June 19, 2011


How did the Normans fare, genetically speaking? If their influence on the genepool is anything close to their influence on the language, I'd think this whole "more Germanic than they think" thing is all a bit moot.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:26 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Red Irish are descendants of Vikings, right? I'd always understood it to be the same genetic background of the Russians, having been victims of so many raids that the red of the Vikings' beards became the moniker for the whole region.

Of course, what the Irish called "Looting, Raping and Pillaging," my people just called "Tuesday."
posted by thanotopsis at 7:26 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


In other random facts, one-fourth of Oregon residents are of German ancestry, which surprised me.

Germans are in fact the most well-represented ancestral nationality in the US.

(I know, right?)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:33 PM on June 19, 2011


The Normans were the recent descendants of Norse Vikings who had settled among the Gauls so I imagine it's hard to distinguish their contribution to the gene pool.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:34 PM on June 19, 2011


And then the Danes and Norwegians invaded in the North in 800 A.D. and pushed all the Anglo-Saxons down into the South, and fought with them until the Norman invasion.

So yes, lots of big hairy-eared redheaded/blonde blue-eyed barbarians thundering back and forth across the landscape. It's all rather jumbled, really, so I'm not sure you can call the Anglo Saxons 'German', exactly.

And Freisian sounds ASTOUNDINGLY like English, anyway, so elements of the language already suggest the connection between that part of the mainland and England.
posted by jrochest at 7:47 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


My German teacher always told us that if you don't know the German word, speak it in English with a German accent and 3/4 of the time you'll be close enough.
The percentage is probably less than that, but there are a lot of Germanic roots in our language to reflect our colonization.

Paging languagehat!
posted by arcticseal at 7:51 PM on June 19, 2011


And Freisian sounds ASTOUNDINGLY like English, anyway, so elements of the language already suggest the connection between that part of the mainland and England.
posted by jrochest at 7:47 PM on June 19 [+] [!]

"Good butter and good cheese" is good English, and good Friese.
posted by kcds at 7:52 PM on June 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyone catch the allusion to "And did those feet in ancient time"/'Jerusalem" in the article?

Germans are in fact the most well-represented ancestral nationality in the US.

That, and Protestantism, is why people of German and English ancestry have always been "white", while the Irish, Italians, and Jews only latterly became "white". (When did Eastern Europeans become "white"?)
posted by orthogonality at 8:01 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fascinating about the presence of South American genetic markers in Polynesian populations. I've always admired Heyerdahl, and even though his hypothesis is still clearly wrong here, it's nice to salvage a fragment of truth in it.

Agree that the vastly more likely explanation was a Polynesian round trip, given their well-documented seafaring history. But the past - and the Pacific - are big enough for both explanations to be true.
posted by richyoung at 8:12 PM on June 19, 2011


(When did Eastern Europeans become "white"?)

You mean Russians, Prussians, and Austro-Hungarians? Pretty early on.

Ottomans, not so much.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 PM on June 19, 2011


Polynesian chickens in South America.
posted by fings at 8:29 PM on June 19, 2011


I went to the Kon-Tiki museum when I was in Oslo.
It's such an explosion of 70's Scandinavian hippie-ness.

Not only does it have the Kon-Tiki but Ra and Ra II as well.

Totally awesome.
posted by madajb at 8:48 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone catch the allusion to "And did those feet in ancient time"/'Jerusalem" in the article?

Sie finden eine grune und artige lande.
posted by goethean at 9:04 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


And Freisian sounds ASTOUNDINGLY like English, anyway
Two separate points:

(1) No one, least of all the article, is contending that there's any doubt that the English language is a Germanic language. The article isn't about language at all.

(2) I always had heard that Frisian and English sound very similar, but then I actually listened to it. I now think that this claim is often made too strongly. It's certainly not mutually intelligible, and if I heard it out of context, I would probably guess it was German or Danish or Dutch, or hell, maybe even Swedish or Norwegian.

Note: I am not claiming that it's not more closely related to English than those other languages are. I don't doubt that at all. But it sure doesn't "sound astoundingly like English" to me.

Here's a little sample of spoken Frisian.
posted by Flunkie at 9:14 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought the Celts were invaders too, since their "homeland" was sort of eastern european, and that the original inhabitants of the British Isles were Nordic types.

Also, the royalty of England is almost completely german. Not germaine to this story, but I wanted to make that joke.
posted by gjc at 9:18 PM on June 19, 2011


Hi! I'm an archaeologist who specializes in Polynesia!

The Telegraph article drastically overstates the situation (Polynesia settled from South America? Absolutely ridiculous!!), but the possibility of human contact between Easter Island, the easternmost point of the Polynesian triangle, and South America has long been understood as a possibility. That said, it wasn't that the South Americans came west. No chance. They lacked the technology to make the open water voyages necessary. The Polynesians, on the other hand, who had 4000 years of sailing technology under their belt that allowed them to spread from Tonga/Samoa to Hawaii, New Zealand, Rapa Nui and all points in between? Yeah, there's the answer.

As for human genetic intermingling among Easter Island populations, I'll offer the academic answer of "No shit, Sherlock." Blackbirding (the slave trade, essentially, in the Pacific) brought lots of human groups together, and especially over on Easter Island where the practice was pretty bad. South Americans and Easter Islanders have been recombining their genetic material for hundreds of years, but almost entirely after the Europeans started moving people back and forth.

This isn't to dismiss pre-European travel between Polynesia and South America, but it appears to have been in such low numbers as to be incidental. The sweet potato is the big piece of evidence: called kumara throughout most of Polynesia (which, probably not coincidentally, is basically the Quecha name for it to; the Quecha being the people who lived along much of the west coast of South American), it is only present very late in Polynesian prehistory. We know this from carbonized chunks of sweet potato in cook fires.

The chicken evidence that everyone cites is still very controversial, partly due to problems with ancient DNA and partly because there seem to be some problems with the methodology. I don't know enough argue either side well, but I imagine it's the real deal.

So, anyways, where was I going with this? Oh, yes! The odds of contact between Easter Island and South America? Very good! The odds that this contact was directed from South America, rather than from Polynesia? Basically zero, and anyone that argues otherwise has to ignore nearly a century of archaeological, anthropological, biological, linguistic, and indigenous story evidence.

Like Thorsby seems to be doing.
posted by barnacles at 9:22 PM on June 19, 2011 [28 favorites]


Thank you, meehawl. Yes, Hawai'i wasn't colonised by America until 1893 when Queen Liliuokalani was overthrown by Americans.

It was certainly colonised by Americans, if not America proper, for over a century prior to that. (American Puritanism, along with measles and smallpox, had a lot to do with the effortlessness of the coup.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:23 PM on June 19, 2011


the original inhabitants of the British Isles were Nordic types.The original human inhabitants of Great Britain were not homo sapiens, and they lived there for far, far longer than we as a species have.

We're all invaders.
posted by Flunkie at 9:24 PM on June 19, 2011


barnacles, thanks! Do you know of any (recent?) studies about (possible?) connections between Polynesians and the Haida Gwaii, and other native peoples of the PNW? Long ago I remember reading something about it, but all I really remember was a lot of handwaving. What with advances in genetics these days, do you know of anyone who's looked at that?
posted by rtha at 9:31 PM on June 19, 2011


The odds that this contact was directed from South America, rather than from Polynesia? Basically zero ...

Mahalo, barnacles, that is why I was shocked to read this article title. The Polynesian's are so rarely given credit for their amazing wayfaring.

Sys Rq, 1893 was the official date; the missionaries and sailors and (most of all) early capitalists who corroded the Hawaiian culture were still under the rule of the Kingdom till that date. Hawai'i was a monarchy that had diplomatic ties with nations around the world (and a special relationship with the British royal family). The overthrow had more to do with 'manifest destiny' (Teddy Roosevelt) and it the Queen's decision to avoid bloodshed - she trusted in American integrity. (It is worth noting that five years later the Americans slaughtered about one million Filipino 'insurrgents' in that 'colonization campaign'.)
posted by Surfurrus at 9:40 PM on June 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha, I haven't heard of anything between the Haida Gwaii and other peoples in the Pacific Northwest, no. There's been some talk about the possibility of connections between Polynesians and California Channel Islanders, but we are far from anything conclusive! At the moment, it's all based on astonishing similarities in artifact form (I saw some fishhooks from the Channel Islands and my jaw dropped: if you hadn't told me, I would have thought they were from the Marquesas!) and some links between canoe styles and terminology that appear to be pretty tenuous.

It's interesting you raise the issue of genetics, because one of the things we're finding is that human genetics are actually awful for tracking human movements! One of the great things about humans is how we tend to have sex with each other with wild abandon, backgrounds be damned! Well, that's great for humans, mind you, not for science.

As a result, instead of trying to track contacts and connections between people with human genetics researchers are going after what we call "commensal" animals. These are animals that could only have dispersed through the pacific by human help, either accidentally or intentionally on rafts. I know of work in this area on dogs, chickens, rats, and even spiders!

But, I believe that no one has yet demonstrated clear evidence of pre-European North America/Polynesian contact. It'd be great if they did: I love it when history gets more complicated!
posted by barnacles at 9:44 PM on June 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I always had heard that Frisian and English sound very similar, but then I actually listened to it. I now think that this claim is often made too strongly. It's certainly not mutually intelligible, and if I heard it out of context, I would probably guess it was German or Danish or Dutch, or hell, maybe even Swedish or Norwegian.

Note: I am not claiming that it's not more closely related to English than those other languages are. I don't doubt that at all. But it sure doesn't "sound astoundingly like English" to me.


Well, okay: it sounds astoundingly like Old English, much more so than German or Dutch do, and there are several words and grammatical structures that are still mutually intelligible. There isn't any language that is mutually intelligible with English, because it's such a mass of overlaid influences and loans and creoleisation.

But this is really much less interesting than the Polynesian & South American discussion. :)
posted by jrochest at 10:16 PM on June 19, 2011


Well, that's great for humans, mind you, not for science.

Ha! Makes sense.
posted by rtha at 10:28 PM on June 19, 2011


I'm German but have lived in the UK in 96 and 97 and then in the US since 98. As I continue to use both languages on a daily basis I find myself surprised on a regular basis. At least once or twice every year I get to a point where I realize that the two languages are even more closely related than I had thought before. By now I've discovered so many subtle and not so subtle overlaps and similarities in vocabulary that I can't understand for the life of me why I had been struggling with vocabulary back in school. It's basically the exact same language with some differences in pronunciation and grammatical structure. I think if my teachers had pointed out similarities in words and their common roots it would've been a lot easier.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:45 PM on June 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


How did the Normans fare, genetically speaking?

The Norman Conquest was a small group of elites. They mixed but it wasn't the wholesale replacement like what happened to the Celts. You can see Norman names around, like "Norris", which originated in England when William de Noers (William of Noyers), Steward of William the Conqueror, came over from Normandy soon after 1066.
posted by stbalbach at 11:24 PM on June 19, 2011


Hi! I'm an archaeologist who specializes in Polynesia!

Really, best Metafilter practice recomments that you always follow this with "but I am not your archaeologist, and you should not take this as archaeological advice."
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:57 PM on June 19, 2011 [8 favorites]


Barnacles: the secondary evidence of South American / Polynesian contacts includes more than DNA. Chickens were domesticated from Southeast Asian jungle fowl, yet the Auracana chicken was used in South America before the coming of Europeans. Musically both regions use elaborate panpipe orchestras using the "hocket" technique of playing in which one melody is shared between two musicians. Yams, peppers, and other legumes may also have made the passage.

Not enough of this kind of evidence exists to make an argument for North American to Asia contact. For one thing, the northern Pacific is less amenable to low tech open boat cruising, and the currents work against such America to Asia casual travel. Asians coming to America is a different story. Whether intentional or by accident, Asian seafarers definitely reached American shores. When Admiral Perry went to Japan in 1854 he hired on Japanese translators who had been sailors on a coastal rice cargo boat which drifted off course and landed in British Columbia and enslaved by the Makah. The Japanese sailors were later ransomed from the Makah but could not return to Japan and Perry found them in a boarding house in Hong Kong. (Any Japanese leaving the island was automatically condemned to death. When Perry started negotiations with the Shogun the talks stalled for months because the Japanese demanded the death of the translators.)
posted by zaelic at 12:05 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


More on the shipwreck of the Japanese ship Hojun-Maru in 1832 and its illustrious survivors. There have been Japanese shipwrecks in Hawaii and Mexico as well.
posted by zaelic at 12:23 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, cool fact.

In other coolness news, Thor Heyerdahl is my step-grandmother's cousin's brother-in-law, twice removed. I know! I can hardly believe it myself.
posted by msalt at 12:27 AM on June 20, 2011


I've linked to this book before many times but I'll do it again.

The Origins of the British is a pretty comprehensive study of origins from a scientific point of view, using genetic studies. It's conclusions (from Wikipedia):

"By far the majority of male gene types in the British Isles derive from Iberia (Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average only 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory..."

"...75-95% of British Isles (genetic) matches derive from Iberia... Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of the British Isles have similarly high rates. England has rather lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples..."


I'm sure this isn't the last word on the topic, but the book does a lot to dispell some common myths, such as the idea that the 'Anglo Saxon' genetic component is significant (only really in parts of East Anglia) and that the Celtic 'culture' originated in Eastern Europe (no - SW France). If you're at all interested in this topic I'd really urge you to read it.
posted by Summer at 1:18 AM on June 20, 2011


Also, on the language question, Melvyn Bragg's book is particularly good on the influence of Frisian, Danish, Norman French and Latin.

The book linked above, the Origins of the British, also has some speculation about how old Old English is (older than we think - perhaps even pre-Roman, he thinks).

Interesting language fact: Ireland once had a Germanic language related to Middle English called Yola.
posted by Summer at 1:23 AM on June 20, 2011


The Normans were the recent descendants of Norse Vikings who had settled among the Gauls so I imagine it's hard to distinguish their contribution to the gene pool.

And the Franks weren't French Celts, but they had displaced them before the Vikings showed up.

The Celts were no match for these roughnecks. The Romans had taught [Celts] how to play the lyre and drink copious amounts of wine, but the populace in the regions controlled by the Pax Romana was barred from carrying weapons. As a result, the local peoples, no longer accustomed to the sword,

LOLWUT.

First up, the Saxons were already raiding into Roman Britain and were part of the general push of Germaic tribes rolling over the Roman Empire. Did someone take away the northern legions' swords, too?

Apart from raising Britons into the auxiliaries (where their children could later become Roman citizens), Roman Britain was heavily garrisoned in part because of more-or-less continual uprisings (as well as Pictish threats in the North). Uprisings with, you know, weapons and things. And the early Saxon successes in northern Britain (against the Romans) went hand-in-hand with Pictish and British actions, if anything.

Perhaps the fact that the Britons abandoned industry (iron mining ceased within a century of the retreat of the Empire; most cities were partially or wholly abandonded; stoneworking necessary for building and bridgework was replaced by woodworking) and technology probably had as much to do with it as anything.

lost one battle after the next and were forced to the edges of the island.

Actually, it took hundreds of years, and the Britons won a number of major battles that stopped the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes and then rolled them back. Yes, they lost in the long run - but it's a time frame that's lasted longer than most modern European states have existed in their present form (Germany as a nation, for example).

I hope their genetics are better than their history.
posted by rodgerd at 1:44 AM on June 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


They forgot to tell us that the Angles et al came to Britain at the invitation of the Celtic Labour Party, who wanted to increase the islands' diversity. They instituted policies to ensure that the newcomers needs would be met in their Germanic language and scolded the native slaves for their xenophobia.

They confidently predicted that newcomers would adapt to the Celtic ways of Britain and make amends for Roman Britain's part in promulgating Empire.
posted by TSOL at 9:53 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


"...Or so the Germans would have us believe."
posted by Eideteker at 10:48 AM on June 20, 2011


They forgot to tell us that the Angles et al came to Britain at the invitation of the Celtic Labour Party, who wanted to increase the islands' diversity. They instituted policies to ensure that the newcomers needs would be met in their Germanic language and scolded the native slaves for their xenophobia.

They confidently predicted that newcomers would adapt to the Celtic ways of Britain and make amends for Roman Britain's part in promulgating Empire.


MetaFilter's own Enoch Powell, everyone. *slow clap*
posted by Sys Rq at 11:34 AM on June 20, 2011


(My other LOLWUT moment was around the HORRORS! OF! SAXON! SLAVERY! If the Saxons were captured by Britons, they were enslaved. Romans by Saxons? Enslaved. Britons by Romans? Britons by Britons? Slavery was the norm. The world ran on a slave economy.)
posted by rodgerd at 1:13 PM on June 20, 2011


Half remembered quote from a 50`s radio show in England. Jimmy Edwards.

"Theres the Frisian Islands in the North, and the little bit warmer islands in the South"
posted by jan murray at 2:35 PM on June 20, 2011


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