Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

June 26, 2011

The different dynamics of memes vs. genes

Filed under: Anglo-Saxons,Celts,Culture,Demographics,Genetics,History — Razib Khan @ 9:28 pm

In my long post below, Celts to Anglo-Saxons, in light of updated assumptions, I had a “cartoon” demographic model in mind which I attempted to sketch out in words. But sometimes prose isn’t the best in terms of precision, and almost always lacks in economy.

In particular I wanted to emphasize how genes and memes may transmit differently, and, the importance of the steps of going between A to Z in determining the shape of things in the end state. To illustrate more clearly what I have in mind I thought it might be useful to put up a post with my cartoon model in charts and figures.

First, you start out with a large “source” population and a smaller “target” population. Genetically only the migration from the source to the target really has an effect, because the source is so huge that migration from the target is irrelevant. So we’ll be focusing on the impact upon the target of migration both genetically and culturally.

To simplify the model we’ll imagine a character, whether genetic or memetic, where the source and target are absolutely different at t = 0, or generation 1. ...

June 23, 2011

Celts to Anglo-Saxons, in light of updated assumptions

Over the past week there have been three posts which I’ve put up which are related. Two of them have a straightforward relation, Britons, English, Germans, and collective action and Britons, English, and Dutch. But the third might not seem related to the other two, We stand on the shoulders of cultural giants, but it is. When we talk about things such as the spread of language through “elite emulation” or “population replacement” they’re rather vague catchall terms. We don’t decompose them mechanistically into their components to explore whether they can explain what they purport to explain. Rather, we take these phenomena for granted in a very simplistic black box fashion. We know what they’re describing on the face of it. “We” here means people without a background in sociolinguistics, obviously.

To give an example of the pitfall of this method, in much of Rodney Stark’s work on sociology of religion (the production before his recent quasi-apologetic material) his thinking was crisp and logical, but the psychological models were intuitive and naive and tended to get little input from the latest findings in cognitive science. In One True God he actually offers an explanation for why ...

June 19, 2011

Britons, English, and Dutch

As a follow up to the previous post I’ve spent some of this weekend looking for the results which might shed some more light on the genetic impact of Germans on the British landscape between ~500-600 A.D. There are some problems here even assuming all other conditions are met: Northwest Europeans are already genetically rather close. This does not mean you can not distinguish an Irishmen from a German, but, once you take into account the clinal variation in gene frequencies due to isolation-by-distance models it becomes somewhat difficult to ascertain admixture in the spaces in between. After all, populations spatially between northern Germany and Ireland, the Brythonic Celts, are presumably going to be genetically between these two populations as well. That being said, space is not the only variable. Culture is another. The Celtic dialects spoken in Ireland and Britain are extremely distinctive, being of two branches of the broader language family, but there was still a clear resemblance between the two cultures (e.g., druids and other aspects of religion). In other words, the Celtiberians of Spain, the Galatians of Anatolia, the Gauls, and the various peoples of Britain in Ireland, all traded in a common cultural currency. ...

June 24, 2010

The English & Irish, together again

Filed under: Anglo-Saxons,Anthroplogy,Genetics,History,Irish — Razib Khan @ 3:12 am

One of the peculiarities of the synthesis of 19th and early 20th historical linguistics and biological anthropology was the perception by many British thinkers that the English, as the scions of the Anglo-Saxons, were fundamentally a different race from the Celtic nations to their west, the Welsh and Irish, and the Scots to the north (yes, I know the Scottish nation emerged is a mix of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon elements which were preponderant at different times and periods). In other words English nationalists would characterize their own race as a branch of the German peoples. English was a Germanic language, and the linguistic chasm emphasized more starkly a distinction from the Celts who inhabited Britain prior to the arrival of the Germans, and gave the island its name before they were marginalized and pushed to the “Celtic fringe.”

The historical context of this does not need to be elaborated in detail. The Emerald Isle’s integration into the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland was always a difficult affair. This was due in large part to religion (the lack of an effective Irish Reformation may have had other structural causes); the Irish were a Roman Catholic populace at a time when Roman Catholicism and loyalty to the monarchy were presumed to be contradictory. In 1800, before the potato famine and the English demographic explosion, Ireland accounted for one third of the population of the United Kingdom (I do not put much stock in the linguistic difference, as the Welsh speaking regions were firmly Protestant and so not perceived to be sources of equivalent dissension despite their cultural marginality). With the rise of taxonomic science what was a crisp social chasm was reconceptualized as a biological and evolutionary gap along the Great Chain of Being.

In the twentieth century the tide turned, today most scholars would assert that the shift from Celtic to Anglo-Saxon speech and culture in what became England was a matter of emulation, not genetic replacement. Personally I suspect that the pendulum has swung too far, but it does show how strongly influenced by fashion these sorts of preconceptions are.

Modern genetics can clear up the confusion to some extent. A new paper in The European Journal of Human Genetics surveys samples from Dublin, the south & southeast of England (the heart of Saxon Britain), Aberdeen, Portugal, Bulgaria and Sweden. Population structure and genome-wide patterns of variation in Ireland and Britain. I’ll just focus on the figures of interest in relation to the questions I aired above.

I’ve added some labels to figure 1, but it’s pretty obvious what it’s depicting. Each point is an individual. CEU = Mormons from Utah. This is mostly a British origin sample, but I assume its overlap with Swedes is indicative of the European immigration to Utah by early Mormon converts, some from Scandinavia.


And here is what economists would term a more stylized figure from the supplements:


These figures are showing what we know from other studies on European genetics; the largest component of variation seems north-south (at least until you start pushing into Russia where a simple European wide pattern starts to break down), and the second component is west-east. This is more evident in the frappe plots, where you see the individuals within the populations broken down by K ancestral groups.

Again, from the supplements:


The above figures require a little art in their interpretation. Remember that the PC charts are just representing the biggest components of independent variation within the data set. As for the frappe results, they don’t always represent real ancestral populations in a straightforward manner. Or at least we have no independent checks on what was going on ten thousand years ago in Europe. So below are the pairwise Fst values. Remember, these compare the proportion of between group genetic variation across the pairs. The print is small, so let me just tell you that the Fst value for England-Sweden is twice a large as England-Ireland. In other words the English of the south and east of England are closer to the Irish of Dublin than they are to the Swedes.


Ideally the Swedes would not be the reference population for the Germans of yore. Rather you’d want Frisians, Danes and Saxon Germans. From what I’ve seen in the other results on European genetics Swedes have been somewhat influenced by the Finns, who are genetically peculiar, so that might understate the German affinity of the English as some of the distance might be due to the Fennic component in the Swedish gene pool. But I’ve seen other studies which lead me to infer that the peoples of the Isles share more than not, and the English share more ancestors with the Irish and Scottish than they do with the Saxons over the sea.

H/T: Dienekes

Citation: Population structure and genome-wide patterns of variation in Ireland and Britain, doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2010.87

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