Go back where you come from! You violate our traditions and are trying to replace us!
I guess that’s a familiar complaint. Britons were complaining about all those immigrants from the European mainland who were waltzing in, smug as you please, after the fall of Rome, and I presume they were taking all the jerbs. Now science demonstrates the takeover.
In the eighth century C.E., an English monk named Bede wrote the history of the island, saying Rome’s decline in about 400 C.E. opened the way to an invasion from the east. Angle, Saxon, and Jute tribes from what is today northwestern Germany and southern Denmark “came over into the island, and they began to increase so much, that they became terrible to the natives.”
But in the later 20th century, many archaeologists suspected Bede, writing centuries later, had exaggerated the invasion’s scale. Instead, they envisioned a small migration of a warrior elite, who imposed their imported culture on the existing population. Now, a sweeping genomic study, published this week in Nature, suggests Bede may have been at least partly right. New DNA samples from 494 people who died in England between 400 and 900 C.E. show they derived more than three-quarters of their ancestry from Northern Europe.
It was the Angles and the Saxons!
“You can’t deny there was a big shift in material culture—Roman Britain looks very different from the Anglo-Saxon period 200 years later,” Hills says. In spite of that, “Most archaeologists have been critical of the idea of migration,” rejecting it as an overly simplistic explanation for cultural change.
But the new DNA analysis revives it. Together with previously published DNA, samples from more than 20 cemeteries along England’s eastern coast suggest a rapid, large-scale migration from Northern Europe, beginning by 450 C.E. at the latest. “Some Anglo-Saxon sites look almost 100% continental European,” says co-author Joscha Gretzinger, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “The only explanation is a large amount of people coming in from the North Sea zone.”
Anglo-Saxons go home! Pack up your things and move back to Germany. Or France. Or Poland. And take your foreign ways and your strange foods and your filthy habits with you.<
Except…here comes the kicker.
Traces of western British and Irish ancestry in people buried on the continent suggest a reverse migration, too, with migrants’ descendants moving back after generations in Great Britain. The results undercut the idea of Great Britain as an isolated island, upset only occasionally by invasions. “Actually, the North Sea was a highway, where people were coming and going,” Hills says. “Maybe mobility is a more normal human state than we think.”
So, like, maybe we should just get used to populations changing over time?