Fiona Macrae
People in Britain are still living in the same ‘clans’ as in the 6th century, a study has revealed.
Caucasian Britons can be separated into 17 distinct genetic groups, according to research looking at those whose grandparents had all been born near each other and were white European in origin.
The Oxford University findings suggest little has changed in Britain for almost 1,500 years, with the people of Orkney the most distinct - a result of 600 years of Norwegian rule.
The Welsh are the next most distinct - having so much DNA from the first modern settlers that they could claim to be the truest of Britons. But even within Wales there are two distinct tribes, with those in the north and south of the principality less similar genetically than the Scots are to the inhabitants of Kent.
Clear differences can be seen between the inhabitants of Cornwall and Devon, while West Yorkshire and Cumbria also have their own genetic heritage.
Britain today is much more genetically diverse than 125 years ago, when the grandparents of those who took part in the study were around, but the same technique could be used to read someone’s DNA and work out which parts of the UK their ancestors came from.
Researchers analysed the genetic code of 2,000 white Britons and compared the results to data on more than 6,000 people from ten European countries.
They found that many of us have DNA that is 45 per cent French in origin while many white Britons are a quarter German.
Surprisingly, given that they invaded and occupied large parts of the British Isles for four centuries, there is little genetic trace of the Romans.
Similarly, the Vikings may have a reputation for rape and pillage but the genetic evidence shows they did not have enough children with the locals for their Danish DNA to be present today.
The Anglo-Saxons, in contrast, did leave a genetic legacy, with about 20 per cent of the DNA of many English people coming from the invaders who arrived 1,600 years ago.
Further DNA comes from earlier migrants from what is now Germany. The French contribution to our genes did not come from the conquering Normans but from much earlier.
Some is from the earliest modern Britons who arrived after the last Ice Age and more came from a mystery set of migrants who settled before the Romans invaded. Other countries to contribute genes to English DNA include Belgium, Denmark and Spain. The research, published in the journal Nature, did not find any obvious genetic footprint from the Romans or Danish Vikings.
However, this is not down to a lack of virility - merely that they were not here in large enough numbers to have had enough children for their genes to live on today.
Study co-leader Sir Walter Bodmer said: ‘You get a relatively small group of people who can dominate a country that they come into and there are not enough of them, however much they intermarry, to have enough of an influence that we can detect them in the genetics that we do.
‘At that time, the population of Britain could have been as much as one million, so an awful lot of people would need to arrive in order for there to be an impact.’
His colleague Professor Peter Donnelly added: ‘Genetics tells us the story of what happens to the masses.
‘There were already large numbers of people in those areas of Britain by the time the Danish Vikings came so to have a substantial impact on the genetics there would need to be very large numbers of them leaving DNA for subsequent generations.
‘The fact we don’t get a signal is probably about numbers rather than the relative allure or lack thereof of Scandinavians to English women.’
Others said that the Danes may actually have been more attractive to local women because their habit of washing weekly meant they were seen as cleaner.
It includes contributions from some of the earliest modern Britons who arrived after the last Ice Age and mystery set of migrants who came here after these first settlers but before the Romans.
Britain today is much more genetically diverse that 125 years ago but the same technique could be used to read someone’s DNA and work out which parts of the UK their ancestors came from.
The study took into account the fact that Roman soldiers came from many different countries and not just Italy.
Sir Walter said: ‘At that time, the population of Britain could have been as much as one million, so an awful lot of people would need to arrive in order for there to be an impact.
‘You can have a huge impact culturally from relatively few people. There is no evidence of a Roman genetic signature but there is evidence of what the Roman’s achieved.’
Dr Michael Dunn, of the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, said: ‘These researchers have been able to use modern genetic techniques to provide answers to the centuries’ old question - where we come from.
‘Beyond the fascinating insights into our history, this information could prove very useful from a health perspective. ‘Building a picture of population genetics at this scale may in future help us to design better genetic studies to investigate disease.’–Daily Mail