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Review of Blood of the Isles

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 12 months ago

Bryan Sykes (2006), Blood of the Isles: Exploring the Genetic Roots of our Tribal History

Bantam Press ISBN 0-593-05652-3 288 Pages + Photographs + Appendix: Graphs and Charts + Index, Hardback, £17.99


by Jo Harrington

This book came with a voucher for £50 off a DNA test, to be analysed by

Oxford University, which is not only the most novel freebie, but sounds

like an absolutely genius idea for funding further research. Bryan

Sykes is a Professor of Human Genetics at that university. His

background is in inherited conditions, before his skills were diverted

into genetic archaeology.


I am not a scientist nor do I have anything but the most casual interest

in genetics, therefore I am reviewing this not as a peer, but as a

fascinated layperson. My interest was piqued in a television

documentary about similar research, 'The Blood of the Vikings',

undertaken by University College, London, which demonstrated clear

Norwegian genes amongst isolated populations in England and Scotland.

The Blood of the Isles describes Oxford's more ambitious project,

which sought to discover the genetic make-up of those in all areas of

the British Isles.


Sykes and his team collected the DNA of literal thousands of people, in

hundreds of locations, throughout Eire, Northern Ireland, Scotland,

England, Wales and Kernow. Where possible, they also sought to

establish where each person believed their ancestry lay. Early

conclusions showed that many of their volunteers lived in the same area

where all four grandparents had lived, therefore establishing them as

settled in the area.


The extracted DNA was then interrogated for information from both the

mitochrondrial strand (mother's input) and Y-chromosome (in men only,

the father's input). Very quickly, patterns started to form which, when

compared to known histories and the DNA from ancient remains, began to

show a picture of how far the invasions and/or immigrations into Britain

had affected its population.


This all sounds very dry and heavy going, but it isn't at all. Of

necessity, there are some technical details, which only once caused me

to re-read a couple of pages to keep up. The author writes these

apologetically and soon lightens the narrative with a couple of

entertaining anecdotes or, on one memorable occasion, interrupting a

detailed exploration of Welsh DNA with a wistful remembrance of the

wonderful ice-cream in Lampeter, complete with instructions on where to

find the shop selling it.


Did the Saxons annihilate all the Celts in England? Did the Vikings

over-run the Gaels in Scotland? Where are the Picts today? How

completely were the Tuatha De Danaan wiped out in Eire? All of these

questions are answered in a compelling and convincing way, supported

throughout with evidence. Some of the conclusions truly rewrite the

established view of British history, as well as having profound

implications for national identities.


I know that it's traditional in an academic review to discuss those

conclusions, but they are so astonishing that I would prefer that others

take the journey towards them without knowing how it ends.


For more information: http://www.bloodoftheisles.net/

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