Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings (Revised and Updated Edition) Revised and Updated Edition by Jean Manco (Thames & Hudson), a review byStephen Darori (#stephendarori, @stephendarori), The Bard of Bat Yam (#BardOfBatYam), Poet Laureate Of Zion (#PoetLaureateOfZion)

The author - while neither an expert geneticist nor an archaeologist - does a fine job of portraying the history and origins of modern Europeans in clear and intelligible terms that don't bog the reader down with overly complex discussions of DNA. Contrary to other reviewers I regret the author did not add more genetic discussions regarding the DNA of modern Europeans given that almost each European nation is somewhat distinct genetically, though its genetic clusters are often closely related to its neighboring countries. Nevertheless there are genetic tables and maps aplenty in this book.

All in all this is one of the most interesting books I've ever read on the subject of European origins.

The below is intended as a summary of the author's main conclusions rather than a pure review of the book:

The author's introductory chapter explains the complexities involved in genetically mapping any people group/ethnicity anywhere and the temptation to make assumptions based on national biases or the historical record. DNA itself is a challenging matter as it tends to break down upon the death of an individual. Hence the overwhelming reliance on DNA from ancient human remains discovered in caves and other frigid places in the Alps or Siberia. The other thorny issue has to do with language and cultures. The temptation is to assume that one's ethnicity corresponds with one's language and one's culture. But what does one do when the famous Beaker culture pots are found as far north as Norway or when the metallurgy of the Celtic La Tene culture first found in France are discovered further afield? Do the spread of those objects guarantee the genetic spread of the respective ethnic group or does it mark the limits of the culture's mercantile interactions? The same applies to the Indo-European languages that dominate most of Europe and extend to this day all the way from Iceland to northern India. Did the arrival of the Indo-Europeans in Europe mark the arrival of the "true" Europeans or were preexisting Europeans absorbed into the dominant Indo-European culture?

So when did human beings arrive in Europe? The first homo sapiens entered Europe some 46,000 years ago during the Paleolithic Age. Around 20,000 years ago (the Mesolithic Age) the glaciers of the ice age were at their height and humans retreated from northern Europe. About 10,000 years ago people began to recolonize northern Europe and the British Isles. Around 9,000 B.C. the first farmer began to enter Europe from the Near East. Around 6,200 BC (the Neolithic Age) an environmental crisis caused a new wave of farmers to spread into mainland Europe. Are modern Europeans descended from all of these different migratory waves? Apparently so. Europeans genetically viewed are comprised of these 3 distinct groups: The genes of the above mentioned Mesolithic hunter gatherers (20,000 B.C.) are still be found in almost every fifth European as well as the ancient farmers coming from the Near East around 9,000 BC. The third noticeable genetic group hails from the Ancestral North Eurasians (ANE), a Paleolithic people living in eastern Siberia who survived the Ice Age by hunting mammoth. Surprisingly this mammoth hunting ancestor of modern Europeans also happens to be the genetic ancestor of Native Americans who crossed the Bering Straight after leaving Siberia.

The domestication of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs and the cultivation of plants began around 11,000 years ago between the Taurus mountains of Turkey and the Zagros mountains of Iran. Farming and herding of animals then spread to Cyprus by 9000 BC and then from Cyprus to Crete by 6700 BC before reaching the Greek mainland by 6500 BC. These groups of farmers with their herds of livestock in turn were followed by pottery making peoples that settled in Greece and Hungary even as other migrants entered Europe via Spain from North Africa. The beginnings of agriculture were slow but there was a burst of migratory farmers around 6200 BC and another rapid expansion of agriculture as farming spread to the British Isles and Scandinavia by 4000 BC. Having tested 100 Europeans who lived between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago it is clear their DNA is distinct from the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. In all likelihood the hunter gatherers were displaced by these Neolithic farmers.

Returning to the question of the Indo-Europeans the author notes it has long been believed the Indo-Europeans originated in the Pontic-Caspian steppe that spreads from the southern Ukraine all the way to Kazakhstan. Between 3100 and 2800 BC the Yamnaya culture found in the Ukraine began to flow westward suggesting that the ancestral speakers of Italic (the ancestor of the Romance languages), Celtic (the ancestor of Irish, Gaelic and Welsh) and Illyrian (the ancestor of Albanian) began to split apart. These people settled along the Danube River and in Hungary while others introduced the Bronze Age to Albania and Bosnia. The ancient Greeks were descended from this stock and settled in Bulgaria before colonizing northern Greece even as their Armenian cousins crossed over into modern Turkey. Meanwhile the future Baltic and Slavic speakers headed up the Dnieper river in the Ukraine before separating around 1400 BC. The Balts would eventually reach Latvia and Lithuania whereas the Slavs remained in a much smaller region in the Ukraine before they burst out in all directions around 600 A.D.

Why were the Indo-European peoples so successful in occupying Europe and displacing the Neolithic farmers? The answer is their economy and technology. Their technology would grant higher agricultural yields producing a greater population even as their wheeled vehicles and bronze and warrior caste would have given them the military advantage. Nevertheless these highly mobile migrants were illiterate and absorbed a great deal from the cultures they conquered in the Near East and Asia. The genetics also seems to match the startling spread of the Indo-Europeans from northern India to the ends of western Europe. Y-DNA R1 (inherited from one's father), specifically R1a1a (M17) dominates northern India and is also very common in Baltic and Slavic peoples of eastern Europe today. Meanwhile R1b1a2 (M269) is predominant throughout the rest of Europe, making these 2 genetic markers a perfect match for the geography of the Indo-European languages.

The Bell Beaker Culture with its unique pots spread over Europe between 2700 and 2000 B.C. This culture arrived with immigrants and spread throughout Europe from southern France,northern Spain and Switzerland to Poland and southern Norway and the British Isles. The Bell Beaker people were related to and partially descended from Neolithic farmers and at some time they came into contact with a Copper Age people known as the Stelae people who also spoke an ancient variant of Indo-European who were moving up the Danube River from the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe. It was here that Proto Italic-Celtic began to split into the languages of the Romans and the Celts. The Etruscans of central Italy divided these peoples linguistically for centuries before the Roman conquest of Gaul reconnected the speakers of Italic and Celtic. But the convergence of the Bell Beaker peoples with other Indo-Europeans from the Steppes of the Ukraine might explain the genetic divergence between the Celtic peoples of the British Isles and the Celtic peoples that inhabited Spain, France and Italy some 3,000 years ago. The modern Celtic peoples of Ireland, Scotland and Wales are known for the Y-DNA R1b-L21 whereas their Iberian cousins in Spain and Portugal carry a slightly different but similar genetic marker, R1b-DF27.

The author assumes the Bell Beaker people are the Celts, for they introduced the Bronze Age to Britain around 2450 BC and pumped new genes into a waning agricultural society in the British Isles. The Bell Beaker culture flourished in Cornwall as tin, the necessary ingredient for Bronze was discovered there in large quantities. But why are there 2 distinct Celtic languages in the British Isles today? The author believes Irish and Scots Gaelic arrived earlier along with the Late Bell Beaker Culture while the rest of Britain, England, Scotland and Wales continued to receive waves of immigrants throughout the Iron Age. That would explain the difference between Irish and Welsh.

The Iron Age spread throughout Europe, adding greater mobility and much better weaponry to the continent. The famous Hallstatt culture (800 -500 BC) is named after the famous discovery of the Celtic culture in Hallstatt, Austria. This culture eventually encompassed a vast swathe of central Europe, Spain and England earning the Celts the name "the fathers of Europe." But the Celts were not to rule for long as their Indo-European cousins, the Romans, gradually conquered the entire Mediterranean area and moved into the Celtic heartlands of central and western Europe and finally Britain. Nevertheless the Roman gene print on the peoples of Europe is less than would be expected, for the Roman legions were filled with more and more Germanic warriors and fewer Romans.

The Roman Empire in turn fell to another Indo-European cousin, the Germanic tribes, as more warlike tribes from the steppes of Asia forced the Germans into the Empire for safety. This in turn caused a spattering of Germanic DNA among the Romanized peoples of Italy, France and Spain. The Germanic people themselves originated in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia and then continued to spread southwards into Celtic territory before overcoming the Romans. To this day the Germanic peoples of Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Austria and England have a number of typical genetic markers. The most typical germanic markers are I1, R1a1a1 (M417), R1b-U106 and the particularly Nordic marker Z284. The fact that the Germani moved south absorbing rather than eradicating the Celtic peoples of central Europe is confirmed by the presence of the "Celtic" genes R1b-P312 and R1b-L21. Conversely the "Germanic" R1b-U106 is dominant in northern Europe and then fans out geographically in a way that corresponds well with the Germanic conquests of the western Roman Empire after 476 A.D. Nevertheless the genetic imprints of the Germanic conquests vary. In England the genetics bears out the fact that the Germanic Anglo-Saxons from Denmark, Holland and Germany wiped out or displaced almost the entire Celtic population, driving the Celts deeper into Wales and Cornwall, whereas the Germanic Franks of Belgium and Holland conquered France at such a rapid rate that the majority of French today are much more closely related to the Celtic Gauls and Romans of Caesar's conquests.

The Slavic people today number 270 million people yet they are the most closely related of all the European peoples. They originated in the Ukraine near to Kiev and were unknown to history before the sixth century A.D. when they began to fill the void left by the Germanic peoples in eastern Europe. They surged east into Poland and south into the Balkan states as well as north and east into the Russias. The Slavs derive from a small population whose ancestry dates to some 2000 years ago.

The final chapter addresses the Viking contribution to European DNA. The problem is that it is no easy task identifying Viking DNA since it is so closely related to other Germanic DNA. Thus it is currently impossible to distinguish a Dane from an Englishman who has Danish Viking genes given the similarity between Danish and Anglo-Saxon genes. It is, however, possible to identify Norwegian genes in the British Isles. And so one can verify genetically what historians have known all along - that Norwegian Vikings colonized the Shetland Islands, the Orkney Islands, and the Outer Isles of Scotland. The further afield the Vikings went the more one finds men with Nordic Y DNA and Celtic Mt DNA indicating that Viking men took Celtic women for wives. The Viking imprint on the Irish is minimal and the author does not offer any details of how much Viking blood the heirs of Duke Rollo in modern-day Normandy have, though one would suspect the Norman population to be at least 15 % Viking today. More time is given to the Swedish Viking influence in Russia as the Vikings went to great efforts to sail down the Dnieper and Volga rivers to Constantinople to trade with the Byzantine Empire. The Swedes gave Russia its name, for the Viking overlords were known as the Kievan Rus, but the Russian Vikings were a warrior elite whose genetic footprint is barely noticeable today in Russia or the Ukraine.

Overall this book does a good job of linking history and ancient archaeological cultures to the genetic evidence that we had as of 2015. I only give the book four stars, for our knowledge of genetics continues to grow at an astonishing rate such that this book may well need significant revisions in just a couple of years.

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