Supposedly, for the very first time in the academic field, researchers have been able to credibly estimate the Anglo-Saxon ancestry of the British population, by using data from skeletons dating back to both Iron Age to early middle ages. In essence, this led to what is touted as a fair evaluation of the numbers game involved in Anglo-Saxon ancestry. And to that end, the scientists have extrapolated that around “a third of British ancestors were Anglo-Saxon immigrants.”
As we mentioned before, for compiling their data, the researchers started by analyzing skeletons dating to the late Iron Age and from the Anglo-Saxon period. As Dr Stephan Schiffels, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, made it clear –
By sequencing the DNA from ten skeletons from the late Iron Age and the Anglo-Saxon period, we obtained the first complete ancient genomes from Great Britain. Comparing these ancient genomes with sequences of hundreds of modern European genomes, we estimate that 38% of the ancestors of the English were Anglo-Saxons. This is the first direct estimate of the impact of immigration into Britain from the 5th to 7th Centuries AD and the traces left in modern England.
Simply put, the experts made use of the comparative analogy so as to determine the ‘native’ population’s genetic makeup back in 50 BC (Iron Age period) and the genetic makeup of the population that lived after 500 to 700 years. Now interestingly, a few earlier theories have maintained that Anglo-Saxons as a group didn’t generally intermix with the native population, thus leading to their relative segregation within the early medieval British society (that was later far more influenced by the continental Normans). But this study seemingly disproves any such hypothesis, with the number showing more than one-third English people having Anglo-Saxon roots.
And since we are talking about numbers, the figure in itself is pretty specific, especially when compared to the disparate percentages theorized by earlier conjectures that ranged from 10 to 95 percent. According to some, such exact (and presumably precise) figures are derived from the nifty academic ‘fusion’ of archaeological data and DNA study. As Dr Duncan Sayer, archaeologist and author on this paper, said –
Combining archaeological findings with DNA data gives us much more information about the early Anglo-Saxon lives. Genome sequences from four individuals from a cemetery in Oakington indicated that, genetically, two were migrant Anglo-Saxons, one was a native, and one was a mixture of both. The archaeological evidence shows that these individuals were treated the same way in death, and proves they were all well integrated into the Oakington Anglo-Saxon Community despite their different biological heritage.
The study done here was however not just limited to identifying the comparative genetics of Anglo-Saxons and their ‘English’ successors. The researchers also made use of the genome data collected by UK10K project and the 1000 Genomes Project and cross-referenced it with the genetic makeup of the skeletons. The result showed that Anglo-Saxons were genetically pretty similar to modern day Dutch and Danish people. Moreover, Anglo-Saxon ancestry is also prevalent in both Scottish and Welsh populations, by contributing to around 30 percent of their DNA.
And intriguingly enough, the researchers here have also devised a new method of analysis called the rarecoal. As opposed to conventional techniques of mapping ancient DNA – which mostly relates to assessment of common genetic factors passed down from the ancient times, the new method focuses on genetic traces that are relatively ‘recent’ in scope. This could potentially allow for more detailed analysis of the genetic makeup of a population by making distinctions between subtle genetic variants.
Source: Sanger Institute