Sunday, 1 May 2011

A Day Conference on Ancient Britons, Europe and Wales

A very interesting day conference is being held at the National Museum, Cardiff, on 4th June 2011. The subject of the conference is "Ancient Britons, Europe and Wales: New Research in Genetics, Archaeology, and Linguistics". The conference is sponsored by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and The Learned Society of Wales. The conference programme is as follows:

Professor Marc Clement (Vice Chancellor, University of Wales) Welcome 9.30

Professor John T. Koch (CAWCS) Wales, the ancient Iberian Peninsula, and the end of Celtic Studies as we know it 9.40

Professor Sir Walter Bodmer (Oxford) The genetic structure of the British populations and their surnames 10.25

Tea 11.20

Dr Stuart Needham (National Museum of Wales) Cultural Connections in the Maritime World of the Bronze Age 11.45

Dr Catriona Gibson (CAWCS) ‘Verging on Atlantic’: Bronze Age entanglements along the coastal zones of Ireland, Wales and Iberia 12.30

Lunch 13.10–14.25

Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe (Oxford) The Celts: our changing vision 14.30

Professor Mark Jobling (Leicester) Power and limitations of genetics in studying (pre)history 15.15

Discussion 16.00

Close 16.45

A flyer for the conference can be seen here.

The registration form can be downloaded here.

Professor Sir Walter Bodmer is the lead researcher on the People of the British Isles Project, whose results are eagerly anticipated. Professor Mark Jobling is the Professor of Genetics at Leicester University and is the co-author of some of the key papers on the Y-chromosome that have been published in the last decade.

I have booked to attend the conference along with some of my fellow ISOGG members and DNA project administrators. It promises to be a very interesting day.


Anonymous said...

I attended this conference and was not particularly impressed. One of the stories is that Celtic language and/Culture had "early" links to Iberia and not Austria.

All that, and yet they say Celt is a myth. And now "new" DNA tests are showing there is more Saxon etc genetics in England than realised .... and that Oppenheimer's theory and testing, has been blown away.

These genetic tests are becoming a "dangerous" toy that cause confusion and arguments.

Debbie Kennett said...

Genetic tests are not a dangerous toy. It is an established science but one of the problems is that the science is advancing so rapidly that it can be very difficult to keep pace with the latest developments. Oppenheimer's book was published in 2006. He drew his conclusions based on very limited datasets. His book also focused exclusively on the Y-chromosome (passed from father to son) and mitochondrial DNA (passed on through the female line). Oppenheimer has also never had his results published in a peer-reviewed journal. Hundreds of new markers (known as SNPs - pronounced snips) have been discovered in the intervening years and the Y-DNA tree has been completely redrawn. ISOGG maintains an up to date version of the Y-tree:

Oppenheimer's mtDNA analysis was based on partial sequencing of mtDNA which was then standard. Nowadays scientists routinely sequence the entire mitochondrial genome, and again numerous new branches of the mtDNA tree have been discovered.

Oppenheimer's book is therefore now very out of date and his theories have been largely superseded because of the introduction of the new high-resolution DNA tests and because many more samples are now available for analysis.

The results that Professor Sir Walter Bodmer presented at the conference were taken using autosomal DNA - DNA from the 22 autosomal chromosomes. His results provided a picture of the admixture of the present-day population. He did reveal some striking patterns and in particular the correlation with Anglo-Saxon occupation. It is however premature to imply that this DNA is "Anglo-Saxon". It is more likely to be a reflection of the limited geographical spread of the population in the last thousand years or so. I suspect that when the People of the British Isles project analyses the Y-DNA and mtDNA of their participants a completely different picture will emerge.

I found the talks on linguistics hard to follow but from what I understood researchers have redrawn the phylogeny of the Indo-European languages and the Celtic language now appears to be much older than previously thought, dating back at least 4000 years BC. The latest theory is that the Celtic language spread along the western Atlantic coastal zones.

Unknown said...

Have you heard anything recently about the POBI project? Their website hasn't been updated for a couple of years.

Debbie Kennett said...

The big POBI paper should with any luck be published in Nature in the next few weeks. The last I heard it was submitted back in February and the authors were dealing with referees' comments. I've been to a few talks where some of the maps have been shown. I promise you it will be worth the wait.

Unknown said...

Yes, it will be interesting. Although I can't help wondering how they can distinguish properly between Britons and Anglo-Saxons. Britain may aready had sharp genetic differences from east to west.

Debbie Kennett said...

I don't think they can distinguish between Britons and Anglo-Saxons. There is a big red mass on the POBI maps in the south-east of England that might represent Anglo-Saxon ancestry but it all depends on the dating. I suspect it might be a reflection of more recent admixture radiating out from London.

Unknown said...

Why do you think that?

Unknown said...

I thought that they took recent movements into account.

Debbie Kennett said...

There's been so much admixture since the Anglo-Saxons arrived that I doubt that it will leave a signal. I'm happy to be proven wrong when the paper is eventually published.

Unknown said...

I don't think that the Anglo-Saxons ever totalky replaced the Britons in what is now England. Although, I think that they probably made a substantial contribution to the gene pool.

Unknown said...

Have you ever read any of Prof. Heinrich Harke's papers on Anglo-Saxon migration? They are superb.

Debbie Kennett said...


I haven't read any of Prof. Harke's papers. My focus has been much more on genealogies within the last 1000 years. Which of his papers do you particularly recommend? Has he done a good recent review?

Unknown said...


Prof.Harke is an archaeologist who has a special interest in the Anglo-Saxons, although his research has taken a different course recently. When approaching the problem of Anglo-Saxon migration into Britain, he uses evidence from several different sources (textual, archaeological, biological, etc).

If you can, I would suggest that you locate his paper "Anglo-Saxon immigration and Ethnogenesis", which contains DNA infomation supplied by Dr Mark Thomas of the UCL (who has co-authored several papers with).

I appriciate that this might not be exactly your cup of tea, but with the POBI paper coming up, this paper might go some way to explaining the genetic patterns we are likely to see.

Unknown said...


I have taken another look at the POBI map; I don't really understand the significance of the different colours but I noticed that quite a large portion of Britain has been left out of the survey (Powys, Hertfordshire, etc).

Debbie Kennett said...

Jamie, Thanks for the reference to the Harke paper which I've finally managed to locate and read. It was a very useful and interesting review paper. Our knowledge has moved on and it's not really possible to make too many inferences from Y-chromosome data alone, which is why the results of the People of the British Isles Project, using autosomal DNA, will be so interesting.

There is no significance to the colours on the POBI map other than that they represent genetic clusters. The clusters were identified when the results were put through a computer program and tagged with the co-ordinates of the place of birth of the participants' four grandparents. I seem to remember that they took an average of the co-ordinates. The researchers did have problems getting samples from certain areas.

POBI have identified a big cluster in the south-east of England which correlates almost perfectly with the four Anglo-Saxon maps in Harke's paper. It will be interesting to see if this cluster does actually date to Anglo-Saxon times. However, I note that Harke says that Anglo-Saxon acculturation was a gradual process: "We must therefore conceive of the Anglo-Saxon migration as a process rather than an event, with implications for variations of the process over time, resulting in chronological and geographical diversity of immigrant groups, their origins, composition, sizes and settlement areas in Britain."