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Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland Hardcover – December 11, 2006
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“Make[s] a good case for genetics taking its place alongside archaeology and history as a tool for understanding the past.” (Ann Forester - Library Journal) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Background: Because a person's nuclear DNA is derived from both parents in equal parts, trying to track one's genetic heritage backward is complicated by the doubling of the number of ancestors each generation. Even the most recent arrivals considered in Sykes' study, the Normans, ca. 1066, go back about 1000 years, or 40 generations. This gives us about 2-to-the-40th-power ancestors in that generation. That's a big number, roughly equal 10-to-the-12th-power, or about 100 times the current population of the entire Earth. This apparent conundrum reflects the fact that there must have been a large number of intermarriages among cousins of various degrees in the course of the 40 generations, so that many of the names on our lists of 10-to-the-12th-power ancestors would likely be repeated several times over. The message here is that the genetic heritage of a specific individual (his nuclear DNA) really can't be tracked back far enough to reach any useful conclusions about the population of the Isles in 1066 or earlier. However, all is not lost.
Methodology: To overcome this problem, Sykes uses two genetic markers that are passed on unchanged, except by rare genetic mutation. First, mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) is passed on to all offspring by their mother, unmodified by any contribution from the father.Read more ›
The book is not heavy on technicalities but the necessary background is clearly explained. DNA is the instruction set for a living organism. Most of it gets mixed in sexual procreation, half coming from each parent. This does not happen, however, to two particular kinds: mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) which is copied from mother to children and is passed on only by daughters, and the DNA of the male Y-chromosome which is copied from father to sons. Because these come from only one parent, they remain stable over a great many generations. To cut to the chase, it is possible in principle to use mDNA to trace your matrilineal ancestry - mother, grandmother, great-grandmother - all the way back. Twenty thousand years ago there was just one living woman from whom you inherit your mDNA (maybe her mother was alive too - oh, all right, her granny as well).
By studying and comparing mutations in the mDNA sequence (random unimportant copying errors which, once they occur, are passed on) it is possible to allocate all human beings to a few dozen groups or 'clans'. Within each clan the lines of matrilineal ancestry are inferred to converge to one woman whom the author calls 'clan mother'. For example, most people of west European origin are descended from one or other of seven clan mothers who lived between 10000 and 45000 years ago. Prof. Sykes believes he can determine where as well as when these clan mothers lived: 'Helena' in the south of France, 'Jasmine' in Syria and so on.Read more ›
Reading between the lines, as many readers and critics misunderstood his "seven daughters" as "real" individuals, Sykes may have opted for less creative methods to explain the patriarchal counterparts-- which are far more numerous if less attractively developed here in their genetically distinguishable progeny, it seems from their Y-chromosome variants. Instead you get potted histories and summarized geographies of the early formation of the land and the tribes that entered the various insular regions post-Ice Age. While valuable to a general readership who never heard of Geoffrey of Monmouth or learned where the Grampians sprawl, such data does fill these pages with a lot of material that veers tangentially from his genetic research. It's difficult in a book aimed at non-scholars to combine so much information from so many fields; it reminds me too of Jared Diamond's similarly ambitious, polymathic, and synthesizing efforts that roam widely in rounding up support for the grand scientific thesis that spans millennia. Like Diamond, Sykes arouses scholarly and popular controversy. He too likes a good anecdote, and labors to entertain as well as educate, and shows he can speak to audiences outside the learned seminar.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I just discoved that I have a much higher percentage of Irish blood than I thought I had and this book has helped me develop a greater knowledge and interest in the Celtic... Read morePublished 17 days ago by Larry Welch
An interesting, rather technical, but understandable book for the layperson. Basic genetic knowledge is useful, but not necessary as the author is a good teacher and "explainer". Read morePublished 23 days ago by Ed Rothschild
SoO Much Information regarding the DNA information of the Irish, Scotts, and the whole British Is. Easy to Read.Published 1 month ago by Terry
A subject potentially dry as old toast is transformed by a master storyteller scientist into a riveting account of migrations, myths and shared prehistoric moms and dads. Read morePublished 2 months ago by outlawyerjay
The wiring was excellent, the information fascinating, but the narrator was sometimes difficult to hear or fully understand... Read morePublished 2 months ago by CmariePurple
Interesting history behind the gene mapping. Without the backstory, this book would be about 15 pages long; a real dearth of actual data. Read morePublished 2 months ago by H. Thompson
Very well written and easy to understand . I am not a scientist, but the author empowers me to feel like one.Published 3 months ago by nicki smith