Monday, January 12, 2015

Welsh DNA

Dafydd Iwan "descended from Welsh kings who ruled England" said the headline in the Daily Post, which seems all to typical of the high falutin' claims that usually ensue when DNA meets MSM.

This was all publicity of course for an upcoming project, backed by S4C, the Post and the Western Mail:

Other celebrities will be tested including Kath and Bryn and also members of the general public who will have paid up to £200 for the privilege - I'm guessing the celebs will get a freebie.  So what we have here will be a self-selecting sample and a good deal of what the project may well tell us we already know.  South Wales is full of folk with ancestors from Ireland, the West of England and further afield for example.

Mind you even more rigorous sampling gets things wrong, remember the Blood of the Vikings series which picked out Llanidloes as a likely place to find Welsh DNA.  Of course the town is slap bang in the middle of the 16C Arwystli plantation, typified by surnames such as Wigley, Ashton, Chapman, Jarman, Peate etc.  You could end up with Y-chromosome results more typical of Derbyshire and Lancashire than Montgomeryshire.

Of course a large sample of Welsh DNA is to be welcomed and hopefully that is what the project will achieve. It could find out more about the supposed Balkan hotspot around Abergele or the hinted "Pictish" DNA in Central Wales or who knows what else.

A large pinch of salt however, conclusions in this branch of science are open to frequent revision.  Time was  there was no Neanderthal blood in modern humans, then there was, then there wasn't, now there is.  Same goes for the out-of-Africa theory.

Meanwhile things could get a bit bothersome for S4C as a result of the controversy between the scientists behind the project and those at UCL.  It's already been the subject of an editorial in the magazine Nature and UCL have dedicated a section of their website to the matter.  Scroll down on this page to 24 September 2014 for a taster.

Anyone interested in joining the project can do so here.  Hopefully they'll get involved in the hope of uncovering something about the prehistory and unrecorded history of Wales and the Welsh people rather than just to bore the pants off us all with daft claims of being descended from Svein the Viking.  


Rob said...

I suspect that confirmation that 'Welshness' is a cultural rather than a racial phenomena would be, on balance, a rather good thing.

I was talking to Dai Hawkins the other day, BTW, and he denied that Jarman is a plantation surname (I, like you, believe that it is). This came up because I suggested that Bebb was one of the more famous Montgomeryshire names of English origin, something that was new to him.

radnorian said...

He may well be right as there are a pile of English surnames in Montgomeryshire unconnected with the conjectured plantation. There was a Jarman in Trefeglwys as early as 1596 though so I wouldn't bet on it.

Jac o' the North, said...

I sent them my £200 and they assured me that I'm a Jack.

Is this the same Alistair Moffat of Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, which argues that Arthur came from the area around Kelso?

radnorian said...

Hang on wasn't the first Jack a dog?

You're right about Moffat though.

Charlie said...

I was unaware, before reading this very interesting blog article, of the recent explosion in UK-based ancestry-testing companies, and have just spent an amusing half hour on the web learning that Eve's grandson and nine close relatives of the Queen of Sheba are all to be found alive and well in the UK. I see one of the companies is called YorshiresDNA and that their full test costs GBP 250 a go. I would have thought that, for anyone willing to spend that amount of money, the test is bound to come back negative...

By the way, what is "MSM", mentioned in the first sentence or so of the blog article? I've wracked my brains, but..

radnorian said...

Sorry for the delay in replying to this comment. MSM stands for Main Stream Media ie the corporate owned tv stations and newspapers as opposed to blogs, tweets, videos etc

Charlie said...

No problem for the delay- hope the system is working properly again. Many thanks for your blog, regularly covering several subjects that I find very interesting.

I've taken a bit of time getting my head around the concept, widely referred to in these DNA-based ancestry projects, of mitochondrial (mt) Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam, and how these individuals could be compatible with the postulated mininimum bottleneck in human population size (ever since our last common ancestor with chimpanzees) of a few hundred or thousand individuals. The penny has finally dropped, you'll be pleased to know, though I've also read that possible recombination between mtDNAs, and even male descent of mitochondria (albeit rare), might have thrown a spanner in the works of the mt Eve concept, or at least of any estimated dates for the woman (or earlier female primate) in question.

To mix between recent blog subjects, it seems that Robert Fitz Stephen of Trojan/French descent might benefit from a DNA analysis- he could turn out to be a grandson of the Queen of Sheba too.