The Basque Invasion

The Basque Invasion

The English are descended from the Angles and the Saxons, right? Only if you ignore the DNA record, which shows that most share a heritage with the Basques.

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The source: “Myths of British Ancestry” by Stephen Oppenheimer, in Prospect Magazine, Oct. ­2006.

DNA testing has sprung the innocent from prison, nailed the guilty with child support, and may now have finished off the concept of the WASP, the white ­Anglo-­Saxon Protestant, in favor of the unpro­nounceable WBP. It turns out that the ancestors of most English are not ­Anglo-­Saxons at all, but Basques, writes Stephen Oppenheimer, author of The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story (2006).

For the past few centuries, the ­Anglo-­centric world has believed that the English are descended from the Angles and the Saxons, who supposedly took over southern England after the Romans decamped. As for the rest of the kingdom, the Scots, Welsh, and Irish have been thought to be the successors of the indig­enous Celts, who had a glorious culture of spiral art forms and gold metalwork. Some Viking progeny were understood to have been sprinkled around the ­edges.

The genetic evidence is quite different. Three-quarters of the ancestors of the English arrived on what became the British Isles between 15,000 and 7,500 years ago, at the end of the last ice age, when England was still attached to the mainland of Europe, Oppenheimer writes. They were hunter-gatherers, and shared a genetic heritage with the Basques, who lived in the mountainous former ice-age redoubt their descendants still ­inhabit.

Periodic invasions of the British Isles began in the Neolithic Period, when humans took to farming, about 6,500 years ago. But these incursions had little effect on the basic Basque genetic heritage. That heritage is strongest in Ireland, where only 12 percent of the population descends from migrants who came after the Basques. In southern and eastern England, nearer the Continent, the figure is about one-­third.

Oppenheimer studied DNA samples collected in small, ­long-­established towns in the British Isles from residents whose grandparents had lived in the same place, and compared them with similar samples taken from the ancestral homes of Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Belgians, Vikings, Normans, and other ancient ­peoples.

The ­Anglo-­Saxons and the Celts were small immigrant groups. “Neither group had much more impact on the British Isles gene pool than the Vikings, the Normans or, indeed, immigrants of the past 50 years,” he writes. After the Basques, no single migrant wave contributed more than about five percent of today’s genetic ­mix.

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