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Posted April 18, 2010
DNA mapping of the British Isles for the already challenged.
Saxons, Vikings and Celts by Bryan Sykes is an interesting introduction to the subject of DNA mapping of the British Isles. It is not for anyone who already knows something, almost anything, about the history of the Isles or has any familiarity, gained from the local newspaper or otherwise, with the subject of DNA. The tone is avuncular and the intent is, I presume, to engage the attention in this subject of people who otherwise would have no interest in it and perhpas never heard of such a thing. There are stories about the collection of genetic samples in schools and other public places, and the perils faced by the collectors, such as dealing with the false teeth of matriarchs who consent to making a genetic donation. This kind of information is interesting to me up to a point, but the book is far more digressive in such respects that I like. As an attempt to interest a junior high school (if that obscure term may still be used) student in the sciences this book succeeds pretty well, but it will leave more sophisticated readers wishing for more in the nature of the findings and the subject of DNA. By more sophisticated, I mean someone who has taken a college level survey course in English history, no matter how long ago, or who occasionally reads the science page of a newspaper.
One aspect of the book that is not high-lighted, but in my opinion is definitely present, is the financial interest of the author. Like many well educated people who appear on PBS fund raisers to make presentations that feature their books, Dr. Sykes has an interest in how successfully he can interest the reader in the subject of his book. The television presenters are interested in selling books, and Dr. Sykes has written other books, so I assume he is interested in selling them as well. What I suspect is of far greater interest than book sales is DNA testing itself. Dr. Sykes has a business that performs DNA testing for a fee. He mentions in passing a number of times that people have come to his business for testing. The first such mention is in the preface to the North American edition of the book. The business is Oxford Ancestors Ltd. I went to the company web site to see what I could learn there. As I suspected, there are products for sale. There is nothing wrong with this and one is entitled to sell one's products that are legal to be sold. I merely point out that the book ties in to something else that is not obvious from the information on the cover.
To sum up, the book is interesting but unlikely to provide much of value to the common reader. It is probably a very good introduction to the subject for someone who is wholly ignorant of its existence, and would be a nice gift for a teenager who needs a gentle push towards more serious consideration of science as an area of study in college. For the rest of us, there is always the public library.
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Posted March 13, 2010
This book was interesting, readable and the process leading up to the conclusions was more fascinating then the conclusions themselves. It debunked many misconceptions to include the Arthurian legend in Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain" and the Saxon superiority myth.
It described many technical processes in easily understandable terms to include blood groups, DNA mutation as the basis of evolution, and the linkage between mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) and the Y chromosome to our matrilineal and patrilineal ancestors.
This process of examining mDNA and Y chromosome mutations identified 36 matrilineal clans; seven of them in Europe. The age of these clans was calculated by using the mDNA mutation rate of one change every 20,000 years. These clans and approximate ages are Jasmine - 10k, Katrine - 15k, Tara - 17K, Tara - 17K, Velda - 17k, Helena - 25k, Xenia - 25k, and Ursula - 45k. Twenty-one paternal clans were identified; eight of them in Europe and five of them in the British Isles. They are Oisin, Wodan, Sigurd, Eshu, and Re. The Y chromosome mutation rate is one change every 1500 years.
The conclusions revealed the matrilineal heritage of the entire British Isles as similar, ancient and continuous back to Paleolithic and Mesolithic settlers to include an Iberian and maritime migration. There was a strong Viking matrilineal overlay in Orkney (30%) and Shetland (40%) and a strong Saxon/Dane/Normal overlay in eastern and northern England (10%). There was also a small number of very unusual clans discovered in the southern part of England that originated from sub-Sahara Africa, Syria and Jordan that might be the descendants of Roman slaves.
The paternal ancestry of the Isles appears to be predominantly descended from the clan of Oisin which appears to have originated in Iberia. There is also evidence of the Genghis Kahn during the long historical period of clan warfare and during Saxon/Danish invasions and settlement. Basically this effect refers to the tendency of powerful men kill indigenous males and inseminate the good looking women which results in patrilineal descent from only a few successful male ancestors. Overall there appears to be a Woden clan overlay in England indicating that 15% of men are descended from Saxons or Danes (but reaching 20% in what was East Anglia) and 2% are descended from Normans.
Great interest in identifying the clan matriarch and patriarch responsible for our individual inheritance has become so popular that an organization, Oxford Ancestors, has been formed to do so.
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Posted July 24, 2011
Book very interesting...but how do I get tested?
I enjoyed the book and am now hooked. I want to find out my maternal lineage, but my Google searches kept turning up nothing on the company or the authors. The website provided went to a dead site. :(
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Posted October 6, 2011
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Posted March 15, 2012
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