This week I had a chance to read an advance copy of a new book by Bryan Sykes:, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. The book describes a systematic, ten-year DNA study of more than 10,000 volunteers. Through this study, Bryan Sykes was able to determine the genetic makeup of the British Islanders and their descendants.
The 288-page paperback is being released in the United States with the title of Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. However, it was released in the U.K. last month under the titles of Blood of the Isles. Apparently, the phrase "the isles" isn't commonly used in North America; so, the publishers decided that a different title would be appropriate for North American readers.
Like most of the world, the British Isles have been invaded time and again since before records were kept. The island location probably made it especially attractive to those intent on rape, plunder, and pillage. An island with many miles of shoreline is especially difficult to defend. Some invaders only stayed long enough to steal whatever was available and then leave. Others stayed longer and even moved their families to the newly-conquered lands.
In 54 BC, Julius Caesar launched the first Roman invasion of Britain. Unlike the people they conquered and the previous invaders of the British Isles, the Romans had a written language. They were the first to record detailed accounts of the Celtic tribes that inhabited the Isles. However, nobody could prove the origins of these tribes until Bryan Sykes began his studies.
The Romans eventually left five hundred years later, only to be replaced by successive waves of invading Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans. Many theories abound. One theory is that many invaders "settled in" and intermarried with local residents. A contrary theory says that most invaders remained aloof and separate from the people they had conquered. If so, that would have created separate genetic layers within the British Isles.
Where do you fit in? Sykes and his team took DNA samples from 10,000 people across the U.K. and Ireland in an attempt to answer these questions.
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland covers many topics. Here is a list of the chapters:
- Twelve Thousand Years of Solitude
- Who Do We Think We Are?
- The Resurgent Celts
- The Skull Snatchers
- The Blood Bankers
- The Silent Messengers
- The Nature of Evidence
- The DNA of Ireland
- The Picts
- The DNA of Scotland
- The DNA of Wales
- Saxons, Danes, Vikings and Normans
- The DNA of England
- The Blood of the Isles
The author starts with myths of the ancestry of the British Isles. He discusses the mythical race of giants ruled by Albion, the son of the sea-god, Poseidon. Later invaders reportedly came from Greece, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia, and elsewhere. Sykes briefly recounts the legends of King Arthur and points out that no proof of Arthur's existence has ever appeared. Sykes goes on to describe the various kings and invading armies though the ages. He spends the rest of the book proving and disproving the various myths concerning invaders. Sykes describes the individual origins of the Irish, Scots, Welsh, and English, based on his analysis of mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome.
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland is a fascinating blend of history, mythology, science, and medicine. Bryan Sykes skillfully weaves all these disciplines into a search for the truth about the origins of the people of the British Isles.
Bryan Sykes is one of the world's leading DNA researchers. He is a professor of human genetics at Oxford University. He also founded Oxford Ancestors, a company that traces human genetic backgrounds. He is best known for his book, The Seven Daughters of Eve, which was a New York Times bestseller. He also has investigated the DNA of many living and deceased people, including those known as the Ice Man and the Cheddar Man, as well as many individuals claiming to be surviving members of the Russian Royal Family.
If you are interested in history, in mythology, in DNA, or in genealogy, you will find Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland to be a fascinating story. I had planned to "speed read" it before writing this review. Once started, I changed my mind and read every page... slowly. I suspect that you will, too.
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland is available from Bryan Sykes' web site at http://bloodoftheisles.net as well as from Amazon.com, RootsBooks.com, and all other bookstores. If not in stock, you can order it by specifying ISBN 0393062686. The book retails for $26.95 but is available for about $18.00 from some discount bookstores.
Readers in the British Isles may purchase the same book under the title of Blood of the Isles from Amazon.co.uk, RootsBooks.co.uk, and from other bookstores by specifying ISBN: 0593056523. Blood of the Isles has a retail price of £17.99 although it sells for about £11.00 at various discount bookstores.