April 23, 2008

Criticism of Anglo-Saxon apartheid theory

See my entry on How the Anglo-Saxons outbred the British for details of the Anglo-Saxon apartheid theory. The New Scientist has details on the new study. Germanic invaders may not have ruled by apartheid:
Pattison reviewed existing archaeological and genetic evidence, and conducted a new analysis of British DNA. Then, starting in 2001 and working backwards to pre-Roman times, Pattison calculated for each generation the net population growth and the origins of immigrants.

He concludes that people with Germanic origins came to Britain well before and after the early Anglo-Saxon period, and this long period of immigration can explain a relatively strong Germanic genetic signal today.

He adds that about 60% of the current British population still has some native Briton DNA, arguing against the idea, put forward by Mark Thomas at University College London and colleagues that Saxon invaders ethnically purged the country.

The textual and archaeological evidence collected by Thomas's team is also controversial, says Pattison.
The home page of John Pattison.

Pattison, J.E., Is it Necessary to Assume an Apartheid-like Social Structure in Early Anglo-Saxon England; in press, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, April 2008.

UPDATE (Apr 23): The paper is now online. I like this kind of paper which tries to capture some of the complexity of human movements. Quite often in genetics one sees simplistic explanations of population origins. A prime example of this is the Paleolithic/Neolithic theory of European origins, that has been done to death, as if Europe and Asia weren't connected for tens of thousands of years before the emergence of agriculture and ten thousand years after it, allowing the movements of people both ways; all this complexity is shoved under the rug and origins are sought in a simple admixture event at the onset of the Neolithic.

In some cases, the nature of the migration makes a "repeat performance" unlikely, as in e.g., the arrival of the ancestors of Native Americans to the New World at a time when there was a land passage to it.

Quite often, the more dramatic events in a land's migration history tend to overshadow the more quiet and long-standing ones. The sudden arrival of a people in a short period of time, be them Anglo-Saxons in Great Britain, or European colonists in the New World, leaves a lasting impression, and is likely to be remembered well into the future, whereas the more limited and occasional movements of people from the same source areas but over longer periods of time do no attract attention: e.g., one tends to remember the Mayflower, the Puritans, etc. in the history of the colonization of North America, but the flow of British immigrants did not really cease for any substantial time ever since.


Pattison's paper makes two unrelated arguments against the thesis of Thomas et al. (2006). The first one is that the disadvantages suffered by indigenous Britons were a kind of incentive for them to adopt a Germanic identity; the second, that pre- and post- Anglo-Saxon migration can account for the Germanic Y-DNA in England, so the effects of the social situation during the time of the Anglo-Saxon migration need not have been so dramatic or even at all present.

The first claim:
A similar strategy was employed by the Moorish Caliphate in Medieval Spain: Jews and Christians were subject to a special tax—the jizya, which Muslims did not pay—in an endeavour to encourage non-Muslims to convert to Islam. According to the Qur’an (1990), non-Muslims who refused to pay the tax, were required to either convert to Islam or face the death penalty. The ethnicities of the people involved were of no concern.
This does establish the essential difference between the regime of apartheid and the proposed situation in England at the time. In a South-African-style apartheid regime it was impossible for a member of the disadvantaged group (blacks) to become part of the advantaged one. In the Muslim case, it was possible for non-Muslims to become Muslims. Thus, in both cases there was discrimination, but in one case there were rigid boundaries between groups, while in the other there was not - at least not in the direction of Christian->Muslim conversion.

It should be noted, however, that while wherever Muslims and Christians co-existed, there was a steady discrimination against Christians, resulting in conversions, emigration, or massacres, all of which would have diminished the Christian element, at the same time, the Christians were a source of economic revenue for the regime, and the policy of the Muslim political authorities, e.g., the Sultan in the Ottoman Empire was not so much to eradicate the non-Muslim population, but rather to maintain it with enough freedom for it to be productive, but also with enough fear to be subservient to the dominant group.

The second issue is the real substance of the paper: was the social situation (whether one calls it apartheid or not) in early Anglo-Saxon England the cause of the significant Germanic element in modern Englishmen or not? That is an empirical question relying on the prevalence and arrival of Germanic elements in pre-Anglo-Saxon England and their subsequent arrival over the centuries. The paper does succeed in weakening the case for a substantial contribution of Anglo-Saxon/Briton social tensions in favor of the former's genetic success.

Is it necessary to assume an apartheid-like social structure in Early Anglo-Saxon England?

John E. Pattison


It has recently been argued that there was an apartheid-like social structure operating in Early Anglo-Saxon England. This was proposed in order to explain the relatively high degree of similarity between Germanic-speaking areas of northwest Europe and England. Opinions vary as to whether there was a substantial Germanic invasion or only a relatively small number arrived in Britain during this period. Contrary to the assumption of limited intermarriage made in the apartheid simulation, there is evidence that significant mixing of the British and Germanic peoples occurred, and that the early law codes, such as that of King Ine of Wessex, could have deliberately encouraged such mixing. More importantly, the simulation did not take into account any northwest European immigration that arrived both before and after the Early Anglo-Saxon period. In view of the uncertainty of the places of origin of the various Germanic peoples, and their numbers and dates of arrival, the present study adopts an alternative approach to estimate the percentage of indigenous Britons in the current British population. It was found unnecessary to introduce any special social structure among the diverse Anglo-Saxon people in order to account for the estimates of northwest European intrusion into the British population.



n/a said...

"He concludes that people with Germanic origins came to Britain well before and after the early Anglo-Saxon period"

Doesn't sound promising. Stephen Oppenheimer already tried something like that.

terryt said...

I think it tends to support the idea that immigration is seldom a single movement by a single group of people. It appears there was cultural and genetic contact between Britain and coastal germany for centuries.

harry said...

An awful paper that starts badly and gets worse. Full of misquotes and very selective in what is quoted accurately. It's just a tendentious argument.

Urselius said...

I think that what is meant by Germanic in this paper is really "Those areas which are German speaking now." Of course those who brought "Germanic" genetic input into Eastern Britain before the Romans may or may not have spoken a Germanic language. Language and genes are not linked in any hard and fast way.

The apartheid theory was incredibly simplistic and just plain wrong. In Bede's history there are four ecclesiastical brothers (all bishops and some later made saints) that Bede unequivocally calls "English:" Cedd, Ceadda (St Chad), Cynebil (Cunobelin!!!) and Caelin (Ceawlin, Kollen, Colin) strangely all of them have British Celtic names. If you have such easy crossing of linguistic and national divides at the very top of society (bishops being upper-class folk) then you can bet that it was similar thoughout society.

Crimson Guard said...

Germanics before the Romans? Who the Belgae?

Karen said...

It doesn't really matter what you call them. They were continentals from what is now Germainc speaking territory. There is a large area of NW continental Europe, including all of Holland, where place names suggest a non-Germanic and non-Celtic language was spoken. What would you call these people?

We only know of the Belgae because the Romans mention them, doubtless there were other groups crossing the North Sea before them.