Oxford University has discovered that Britons are still living in the same ‘tribes’ that they did in the 7th Century, through a study into our genetic make-up.

Genetically similar individuals were found to inhabit the same areas they did following the Anglo-Saxon invasion after the fall of the Roman Empire, and a map showing the tribes of Britain in 600AD is almost identical to a new chart which shows genetic variability throughout the UK.

The study was conducted by analysing the DNA of 2,039 people from rural areas of the UK, whose four grandparents were born within 80km of each other. As Biological and Natural Sciences applicants will be familiar with, a quarter of our genome comes from each of our grandparents, the scientists were effectively creating a snapshot of UK genetics in the late 19th Century, before the mass migration caused by the industrial revolution. They then analysed the differences in DNA at over 500,000 positions within the genome and plotted each person onto the map, using the centre point of their grandparents’ birth places, allowing them to see how the distribution correlated with their genetic groupings. History students can consider what we else we can learn from genetics about the movement of populations past and present, and how this effects a nation’s genetic identity. 

The most striking genetic split can be seen between inhabitants Devon and Cornwall, where the division lies exactly along the county border. This means people living on either side of the River Tamar have different DNA. Geography students could think about how and why such a genetic divide might exist. Additionally, there is no genetic signature from the Danish Vikings, despite them having controlled large parts of England in the 9th Century. This indicates that the Vikings conquered and kept largely to themselves before leaving. Only Orkney residents were found to have Viking DNA.

Students of Classical Archaeology and Anthropology should look further into the Anthropological history of the UK and how invasions may have altered the country. Politics students could think more about the concept of a national identity and how it relates both to genetics and politics.

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