View Full Version : Ancient Britain had Apartheid-like society, study suggests

Thursday, July 20th, 2006, 06:36 AM
An apartheid society existed in early Anglo-Saxon Britain, research suggests.

Scientists believe a small population of migrants from Germany, Holland and Denmark established a segregated society when they arrived in England.

The researchers think the incomers changed the local gene pool by using their economic advantage to out-breed the native population.

The team tells a Royal Society journal that this may explain the abundance of Germanic genes in England today.

Read full article here (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5192634.stm)

Gorm the Old
Friday, July 21st, 2006, 04:02 PM
I don't see this as any different from the situation following the Norman Conquest. The Normans set themselves up as an exclusive elite, isolated by language and social standing from the Saxon majority. To compare this type of society to South African apartheid is an offensive and inflammatory metaphor.

Thursday, August 31st, 2006, 06:06 PM
Kate Ravilious for National Geographic News (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/) - July 21, 2006

When Anglo-Saxons first arrived in Britain 1,600 years ago, they created an apartheid-like society that oppressed the native Britons and wiped out almost all of the British gene pool, according to a new study.

By treating Britons like slaves and imposing strict rules, the small band of Anglo-Saxons—who had come from what is now Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands—quickly dominated the country, leaving a legacy of Germanic genes and the English language, both of which still dominate Britain today.

The new theory helps explain historical, archaeological, and genetic evidence that until now had seemed contradictory, including the high number of Germanic genes found in modern-day England.

"An apartheid-like social structure could explain the big genetic and language replacements that we see," said Mark Thomas, a genetic anthropologist at University College London, who lead the study. His team's findings appear in the current issue of The Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Racist Laws?

Historical and archaeological data suggest that no more than 200,000 Anglo-Saxons arrived in Britain around the middle of the fourth century A.D. This is less than half of the 500,000 newcomers that genetic models suggest would be needed to swamp the gene pool of the native Britons, who are believed to have numbered around two million.

And yet Germanic genes are abundant in the English population today. Genetic studies have shown that more than 50 percent of England's gene pool contains Germanic Y chromosomes.

Y chromosomes are genetic markers that are passed down from fathers to sons. (See an overview of human genetics (https://www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic/overview.html).) But the researchers say 200,000 Anglo-Saxons could have dominated the English gene pool in less than 15 generations if the newcomers held a higher social standing.

Historian Alex Woolf of Scotland's University of St. Andrews, who is not an author of the study, first suggested that early Britain may have had an apartheid-like society, Thomas says.

Woolf pointed out that ancient texts such as the laws of Ine—written 200 years after the Anglo-Saxons arrived—demonstrate that the Anglo-Saxons had the upper hand. The laws reveal that the life of an Anglo-Saxon was worth far more than that of a native Briton, who was known as a "Welshman" by the Anglo-Saxons at the time.

If an Anglo-Saxon was killed, for example, the "blood money" payable to the victim's family was two to five times more than that of a "Welshman."

To test Woolf's theory, Thomas devised a computer population model to study how such an apartheid-like structure would affect genetics.

By testing different combinations of ethnic intermarriage rates and levels of Anglo-Saxon social dominance, Thomas and his colleagues found that a small immigrant population could easily gain genetic supremacy.

When intermarriage rates were kept to less than 15 percent and Anglo-Saxons had a reasonably high social standing, then Germanic genes flourished.

"The surprising thing was that it didn't take much at all," Thomas said.

Servant and Master

The scientists say native Britons and Anglo-Saxons may have lived in a segregated, servant-and-master relationship. Such a system would give the Anglo-Saxons a strong reproductive advantage, the researchers say.

"People with German ancestry had a higher social and legal status, and they tended to have more children," said Michael Stumpf, a genomics professor at Imperial College London and a co-author of the study.

But not everyone agrees with the team's theory. Alex Burghart, an Anglo-Saxon historian at Kings College London, thinks that "apartheid" is far too strong a word.

"It is nonsense. There would be no need to legislate against interbreeding. All you need is a society with huge economic and social divides," he said. Sarah Foot, a medieval historian at England's University of Sheffield, also thinks the word "apartheid" is unwarranted. But she believes the research has merit.

"What is interesting is that there was seemingly no intermarriage between Britons and Anglo-Saxon settlers," she said.

"That isn't what one might have anticipated, and [it] also of course reinforces the fact that this was a migration of a people, not an invasion of a male military force," she said.

Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, also thinks Thomas' team has arrived at an interesting idea, but he has some reservations.

"I think they have come up with a reasonable deduction, but it rests on a complex series of pieces of evidence," he said.

"It is not necessarily the only possible interpretation," Tyler-Smith added.

Buried Weapons

Another question posed by the new study is why the native Britons ended up accommodating the Anglo-Saxons and their culture instead of rebelling. "The natives realized they were the underdogs and realized that the only way to assimilate upwards was to adopt the new culture," said Heinrich Härke, study co-author and archaeologist at England's University of Reading.

"They tried to improve their status by learning English, which is why English was adopted," he added. He notes that Anglo-Saxon cemeteries provide further evidence of a segregated society.

Archaeological surveys have shown that 47 percent of adult males were buried with their weapons, while the rest were buried without them, he says.

"We looked at [physical] stature and found that the men who were buried with their weapons were taller," Härke said. Anglo-Saxon men are believed that have been one or two inches (about two and a half to five centimeters) taller than native British men.

This suggests that the men buried with their weapons were of Germanic origin and had a higher social status, while the men buried without their weapons were native Britons with lower social status.

Historical evidence shows that these kinds of differences continued until the early seventh century, after which the apartheid-like structure appears to have broken down, Härke adds. Just 300 years of Anglo-Saxon dominance was enough to almost obliterate native Britons' gene pool and culture, he concludes.

"In England today there is no ancient British identity left except for a few place- and river names," Härke said.


Dr. Solar Wolff
Friday, September 1st, 2006, 05:39 AM
This situation seems similar in some ways to the relationship between whites and blacks in America. Why haven't the blacks disappeared?

Sunday, January 28th, 2007, 04:44 PM
The Anglo-Saxons who conquered England in the fifth century set up a system of apartheid that enabled them to master and outbreed the native British majority, according to gene research published on Wednesday.

In less than 15 generations, more than half of the population in England had the genes of the invaders, investigators say.

"The native Britons were genetically and culturally absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons over a period of as little as a few hundred years," said Mark Thomas, a University College London biologist.

"An initially small invading Anglo-Saxon elite could have quickly established themselves by having more children who survived to adulthood, thanks to their military power and economic advantage.

"We believe that they also prevented the native British genes getting into the Anglo-Saxon population by restricting intermarriage in a system of apartheid that left the country culturally and genetically Germanised," he said.

"This is what we see today - a population of largely Germanic genetic origin, speaking a principally German language."

(Source (http://www.pubs.royalsoc.ac.uk/media/proceedings_b/papers/RSPB20063627.pdf))

Sunday, January 28th, 2007, 06:47 PM
I wish more research would be done on the degree to what the so called Apartheid system affected not only genotype but phenotype in the Anglo-British population. In the study by Thomas, Stumpf and Haerke they mention the difference in height between the British and Germanic men but nothing more about their morphology. I would like to know to what degree the Apartheid system was reflected in the racial characteristics of the English.

The most common instance I have encountered of an osteological study of differences between the two groups was that mentioned in Coon concerning a group of early Saxon immigrants and their British wives and hybrid children:

Although there was a difference in the localities from which various groups of Anglo-Saxons came, little regional difference is manifest in the series from England. The Jutes who settled in Kent, and who came from the peninsula of Jutland, seem larger faced than the Saxons themselves, but the difference is actually slight.85 In the total Saxon group studied by Morant, both males and females belong to the same clearly differentiated type, and there is no confusion between them and the Iron Age form. They thus preserved their racial identity at least until the end of the eighth century.

A number of individual cemeteries, which date from the earliest period of Saxon invasion, give us a lively picture of the manner in which the first Saxon raiders and settlers operated. One of these is the graveyard at East Shefford, Berkshire; containing eight male and twelve female adults, as well as eight infantile and juvenile specimens.86 All of the adult males thirty years of age or older represent a single type, the classical Saxon, and all are long headed. One of the females belongs to this same type, and she was buried differently from the other women, with horse trappings in her grave. The rest of the women were rounder headed, with cranial indices going up to 82.4, and some of them were planoccipital. They had wider, shorter noses, some prognathism, and shorter, shallower jaws. The adolescent women seem to be a blend of these two types. Although many of these differences may be due to sex and age, others, such as the fundamental head form, are clearly racial.

This cemetery presumably represents a raiding party which settled in the upper Thames waters before the onset of the mass invasions. It seems to have included less than twelve men and only one woman who were Saxons. The other women, being Bronze Age descendants, were apparently British wives of Saxon invaders, while the children were their offspring.

The excavation of a round barrow at Dunstable in Bedfordshire throws further light on the survival of the Bronze Age physical type into the Saxon period.87 The primary burial of the barrow was a woman of the Early Bronze Age; secondary graves contained cremated bodies of the Middle Bronze Age, while tertiary burials, heaped in a ditch, consisted of one hundred skeletons of persons of the Saxon period who had apparently been executed, or slain in battle. One-tenth of them had their hands tied behind their backs when they died. Owing to the absence of grave goods, for these people were informally slaughtered in a ditch, it is impossible to tell exactly who they were. The view that they were Saxon settlers violently received by the natives is unsubstantiated. Judging by their racial type, they must have been natives slaughtered by the Saxons.

This series contains a hundred skulls, of which those of 52 males are suitable for study. This extensive series resembles the British Bronze Age means in most dimensions, but through the narrowing of the cranial vault, it indicates a certain degree of mixture with the Iron Age Keltic people. This excellent series, in agreement with that from Berkshire, proves conclusively that the Bronze Age people did not die out in England but kept on mixing steadily with the Keltic invaders and survived racially into Saxon times.


The case of the East Shefford group gets recycled over and over again. Peter S. Wells, in his popular book the The Barbarians Speak, mentions it at some point, but beyond that offers no analysis of differences in racial morphology in his discussion of Celts and Germans.

There must be plenty of material to work with to study the way in which selective breeding would have moulded the racial character of the English. How can we explain the (and I have never been to England myself and thus cannot speak from personal observation) fact that most modern British Englishmen tend to be more similar to the Iron Age Keltic type than the Germanic Reihengraeber type? How might the racial composition of England have been affected by emigration to the colonies in imperial times? Was the Anglo-Saxon type, which is now largely relegated to East Anglia, once more widespread than it is now? Did the Industrial Revolution in fact see a resurgence of the pre-Germanic indigenous dark-haired, slight, and brachycephalic "Celtic" type(s) as Beddoe and others argued?

I would like to hear what Agrippa has to say about these issues.