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The remains of a man from Africa who lived and died in 13th-century England have been unearthed in Ipswich. Analysis of the skeleton shows that the individual originated in what is now Tunisia, but lived for at least a decade in England. This is not the only surprising recent information regarding African presence in pre-modern England. A paternally linked gene known from Mali, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau has been present in the male lineage of a Yorkshire family for at least 250 years, and may reach back to the time of the Roman occupation.

(I should mention that the news articles I found do not mention what the excavated man's genetic ethnicity was, or if this has been determined. Was he of British or European extraction and Tunisian birth?)
posted by Countess Elena (46 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
And here I was pissed off that season three of Robin Hood had Friar Tuck as a black man.
posted by wilful at 4:55 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The title I almost gave to this post was, "Scientists agree: Kevin Costner's Robin Hood still sucked."
posted by Countess Elena at 4:56 PM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Be interested to know what the Yorkshire surname was, but I can see why they wouldn't include it. Thanks for the interesting post.
posted by Abiezer at 5:04 PM on May 4, 2010


The 13th Century does not seem very early to me for this at all, given that the Romans had made inroads into both Great Britain and Northern Africa well over 500 years before this, and also given that a North African explorer like Ibn Battuta covered so much distance not long after this. In other words, I'm not an expert but it does not seem surprising to me at all.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 5:06 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Man people get around.

There was a note in The Sandman how Catherine Of Aragon would have been considered "black" to modern people and the red0headed mummies in China and Othello and, and well yeah a big part of learning history is learning that people don't fit into these little boxes of time and place and as soon as people COULD get someplace, they did.
posted by The Whelk at 5:09 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unless the surname really was 'X' of course. Definitely unusual in Yorkshire but I believe it crops up again at later points in black history.
posted by Abiezer at 5:11 PM on May 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


This explains why John Bonham and Ringo Starr were such solid drummers.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:22 PM on May 4, 2010


I hear that they've found people from Medieval England all the way over in the Middle East too! And also that during the 13th century an Italian guy made it to China.
posted by XMLicious at 5:23 PM on May 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


And also that during the 13th century an Italian guy made it to China

And came home with... pasta!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:24 PM on May 4, 2010


And came home with... pasta!

This has been debunked. Check this out, for starters.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:40 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This does say he's from Tunisa, not Tanzania, or any where in sub-Saharan Africa. The Normans ruled England, their cousins ruled Sicily, not far from Tunisia. The man was a Berber, not a Black, a descendant of Carthage perhaps. Mediterranean trade wasn't something new.

But would a traveler from (Christian) Ethiopia, during the Crusades been that worthy of shock? Unusual, yes, but not impossible. Richard I certainly had much contact with Arabs, Berbers and Blacks, Indians and Asians in his life.

On the other hand, neither Edward 3 nor George 3 have any direct male descendants left! Though they both had lots of sons. There's nothing to indicate that this Yorkshire family predates the Plantagenets, but that the origin is forgotten might put them before the Hanovers. Obviously the Royals needed to marry more Celts.
posted by Some1 at 5:41 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Can someone with a knowledge of genetics tell me why the mutation tracked in the second link couldn't have occurred indigenously in Yorkshire as well as Africa?
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:44 PM on May 4, 2010


So Morgan Freeman really did help rescue Maid Marian from Alan Rickman!
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 5:48 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"So that would make Bethany ... part black?"
posted by bwg at 5:51 PM on May 4, 2010


This has been debunked. Check this out, for starters.

Thanks for the article, IndigoJones.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:53 PM on May 4, 2010


This is really interesting, but I'm not sure why it's necessarily unexpected. I mean... silk road, anyone?
posted by cmoj at 5:57 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The title I almost gave to this post was, "Scientists agree: Kevin Costner's Robin Hood still sucked."

"Unlike some Robin Hoods, I can speak with an English accent!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:07 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


There was a note in The Sandman how Catherine Of Aragon would have been considered "black" to modern people

More detail on this, please? Wikipedia says she had "long golden auburn hair, wide blue eyes, ... and a fair complexion."
posted by The Tensor at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2010


Ack, may not been Catherine, I'm getting Princessess mixed up, leme check my books.
posted by The Whelk at 6:13 PM on May 4, 2010


This is really interesting, but I'm not sure why it's necessarily unexpected. I mean... silk road, anyone?

Yeah wait till you hear about the Jews in China
posted by danny the boy at 6:27 PM on May 4, 2010


Some1:

Both Edward III and George III do have direct male line descendants. Those of Edward III are in an illegitimate line, and those of George III are descended from his fifth son, while Victoria was the daughter of his fourth son.

As for the queen who was supposedly "African," that is probably a reference to George III's wife, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who had ancestors in the medieval Iberian royal families, which more likely than not intermarried with the "Moors" who had settled there.

Related is the case of Abram Gannibal, an Ethiopian POW who was freed by Peter the Great in Russia, and became the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, who wrote an unfinished novel about him.

(Why yes, I am a huge genealogy nerd. How could you tell?)
posted by dhens at 6:28 PM on May 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


It looks like I might be repeating what has already been posted, but I suspect that a sub-Saharan genetic contribution to the European gene pool has been occurring over the last several thousand years, even predating the Egyptians. The Sahara has not always been the formidable barrier to migration as it is today. An ancestor of some monarchs of Europe is Giulia de Medici reputed to have been of partial African ancestry. Russia's greatest poet, Pushkin, was the great grandson of an Ethiopian.
posted by millardsarpy at 6:49 PM on May 4, 2010


This whole thing brings to mind one of my favorite Firesign Theatre exchanges:

"Where are you from?"
"Nairobi. Isn't everybody?"
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is really interesting, but I'm not sure why it's necessarily unexpected. I mean... silk road, anyone?
Truuuue, but most of Western European "white" history has to do with where 'we' went and what 'we' did, and doesn't talk so much about what other people did.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:53 PM on May 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


dhens: OK, I believe you. I had really thought the whole Ernest line had died out about WWI; I was miss led. As for E3 illegitimate line; well, no doubt that had to do with mixing with Britons and Celts rather than Germans and French, right?

So, did the real Jacobean King really own a pizzeria in Naples? And is that line still going? Or is this such an obvious derail that I shouldn't ask?
posted by Some1 at 7:08 PM on May 4, 2010


Some1:

No problem; I'm a PhD student in history (not British history, though), correcting people on historical facts is, for better or for worse, in my nature.

The Ernestine line did not die out in World War I; however, they were stripped of their British titles for "taking arms against the United Kingdom," and of course they soon lost their German titles too when the German Empire fell in November 1918.

Excepting con men, the Jacobite line is currently represented by Franz, also heir to the defunct throne of Bavaria. Bavaria and England had different succession laws, and so the Jacobite claim will split from the Bavarian claim and eventually be held by his grandnephew, Prince Joseph, heir to the still-extant throne of tiny Liechtenstein.

Interestingly (and here we get back to the thread) a member of the Liechtensteiner princely family is the only European royal married to someone who would be "black" in the American construction of race.

The current Marquess of Milford Haven, a close relative of Prince Philip, is descended from Pushkin and thus from the Ethiopian Abram Gannibal.
posted by dhens at 7:37 PM on May 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Nthing that i don't find this strange at all.

The Berbers and Muslims controlled most of Spain for centuries, and Spain had the finest universities in Europe. In fact, in the 13th century, England was basically a cultural backwater, and Al-Andalus was at the height of its power.
posted by empath at 8:22 PM on May 4, 2010


Not surprising, but I think it helps us the history and art-history students to remember that Michelangelo met Rubens under a fresco depicting the corn and tobacco of the "New World". It's those little boxes of history that are so dangerous.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 PM on May 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


A long time ago I made a related post that doesn't show up here. I'll add some tags and see what happens.
posted by tellurian at 8:50 PM on May 4, 2010


Be interested to know what the Yorkshire surname was, but I can see why they wouldn't include it.

This BBC article says it's a rare surname that starts with the letter R, but won't give the full name.

Can someone with a knowledge of genetics tell me why the mutation tracked in the second link couldn't have occurred indigenously in Yorkshire as well as Africa?

They're not talking about a mutation in such-and-such a gene. They're talking about the phylogeny of the y-chromosome itself. Here's what that looks like (click the main haplogroup letters to expand each branch of the tree).

In other news, I have a sub-Saharan direct-maternal-line ancestress (mother's mother's mother's...mother), which I never would have known if not for DNA testing. That line of my family goes back, as far as I can trace on paper, to a Jewish woman born in Warsaw in 1800. Clearly Jews and Africans had some mixing back in the day, probably during the Roman Empire days when both groups were often slaves (post Bar Kochba revolt). Alas, phenotypically, my family are pasty-assed, and unfortunately prone to melanoma and basal/squamous cell carcinomas. Which sucks.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:20 PM on May 4, 2010


And came home with... pasta!
Think about it -- would people who eat with sticks invent spaghetti?
posted by CCBC at 1:16 AM on May 5, 2010


For what its worth C12th is modern.
Very few of the ''Romans'' who lived along Hadrian's Wall were from Rome itself, or even Italy. Like their Emperor Hadrian, who was a Spaniard, they came from many different lands. Surviving inscriptions show that they included Germans, Spaniards, Gauls, Africans, Syrians, Arabians and people from Dacia (modern Romania). Hadrian's wall was completed about 130 AD. Here's a little more.
posted by adamvasco at 2:00 AM on May 5, 2010


That's nothing. Recent evidence has found that people from Norfolk migrated as far as Sufffolk as early as the 1970s. This is astonishing news to ethnodemographers.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:24 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's no need for this to descend into fanciful mythologising MuffinMan - next you'll have us believe that people from the Lincolnshire Fens have been spotted shopping Peterborough or something equally far-fetched.
posted by Abiezer at 4:37 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes. The racialized nationalisms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have greatly obscured the mobility of genes and populations in the Old World. Another neat illustration of this is the specimen E597, who seems to have been a German who ended up as a mummy in late dynastic Egypt. It would be fascinating to know the history of that particular life.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:55 AM on May 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's no need for this to descend into fanciful mythologising MuffinMan - next you'll have us believe that people from the Lincolnshire Fens have been spotted shopping Peterborough or something equally far-fetched.
Gosh, yes. Why, it was only a couple of days ago on the train that I overheard a young woman preposterously claiming that she and her family sometimes made the epic journey from Leighton Buzzard to Bletchley to shop at Tesco's. Clearly, we're reached some kind of horror tipping point here. We can't have people believing this nonsense. We must fight this pseudo-scientific diffusionism before it completely takes over the public sphere.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:04 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Leighton Buzzard? I mean, it's so patently just a made-up name and a made-up place but these silly stories just keep circulating. What's next, Chorlton-cum-Throatwarbler?
posted by Abiezer at 5:08 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The entire south east is like that, Abiezer. Awash with transparent toponymic lies. Sometimes, I despair when I see people claiming to live in places like Thundridge or Braughing or Stansted Mountfitchet. What we can do about it, I just don't know.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:17 AM on May 5, 2010


I'm always amused when someone racist crows on about their "pure" Scottish roots. Don't they know about Scotland's Black History? (audio may be unavailable; memail if you want to hear it)
posted by scruss at 6:02 AM on May 5, 2010


I'll have nothing said about Stansted Mountfitchet! My middle-income family brought me up perfectly proper there, unlike what occurred with those werbs from Thundridge.
Toponymic, my arse.
My niece was head of the Toponymic Verification Council (1963) and the findings re: Thundridge, were unfortunately inconclusive.
posted by tellurian at 6:02 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


This also tells us how accurate gene expressions are at describing racial lineage.

Variation within our own species is actually quite high, and while a particular group of genes can be somewhat linked with our notions of racial lineage, it is actually a very, very poor indicator overall.

But, people do get around, so it's not like this should be much of a surprise. Well, except for those who think that race and character are determined by some specific genes.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:34 AM on May 5, 2010


This is a local shop! For local people! There's nothing for YOU here...
posted by Naberius at 8:17 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't they know about Scotland's Black History?

Valve has done quite a bit of education on that subject
posted by empath at 11:09 AM on May 5, 2010


The trouble with much (simplistic) history is that it assumes that everyone pretty much stuck close to home. But facts seem to suggest that a lot of people wandered all over the place. Probably we're so far away from nomadics, so long attached to pieces of land we call ours, that we can no longer quite comprehend how common roving once was. And practical: pillaging satisfies a *lot* more quickly than waiting for yams to grow.
posted by Twang at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2010


Regarding Asparagirl's maternal DNA line, I found that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth indirectly had an African colony from about 1651 to about 1661 through Courtland. Possibly, one or more voyages between the Commonwealth and that part of western Africa occurred during that time period.
posted by millardsarpy at 1:34 PM on May 6, 2010


"Probably we're so far away from nomadics, so long attached to pieces of land we call ours, that we can no longer quite comprehend how common roving once was."

It's still very common. A move from NY to LA is still an epic rove even if one stays in the same country.
posted by Mitheral at 6:59 AM on May 7, 2010


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