The genetic structure of the British population

The current edition of Salon, the on-line newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London, has an interesting article about the genetic structure of the peoples of the British Isles. I have reproduced this below.

The Traces of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons

As DNA analysis becomes faster, more reliable and much cheaper, understanding the genetic history of ancient populations is attracting growing interest from historians and archaeologists around the world. Debate is growing on the relative merits, and differing applications, of using data from living populations, from which genetic histories can be inferred, and from excavated human remains (ancient DNA or aDNA), from which characteristics of early individuals can be directly observed.In ‘The “People of the British Isles” project and Viking settlement in England’ (Antiquity 90, 1670–80, published 23 much-publicised historical genetic study, published earlier this year in Nature. The article proposed significant continental input to lowland British populations from Anglo-Saxon invasions, with little evidence for Viking admixture. This appeared to contradict some archaeological studies, which have been down-playing Anglo-Saxon immigration and seeing increasing evidence for Viking settlement.

Kershaw and Røyrvik argue that the People of the British Isles project’s DNA data, obtained from modern Europeans, can be read differently, largely on the grounds that the alleged Anglo-Saxon and Viking genetic homeland areas are similar or even indistinguishable: the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ signature might in fact be a Danish ‘Viking’ one. To support an alternative view, they point to ‘substantial archaeological connections between Hedeby [Denmark] and the Danelaw [England]’, and argue that ‘linguistic and archaeological sources suggest sizeable Danish Viking settlement in England.’

The map (adapted from Antiquity) shows Scandinavian artefacts found in Britain, mostly by men with metal detectors, the subject of Kershaw’s doctoral thesis and her book, Viking Identities: Scandinavian Jewellery in England (2013).

For further information see, for example,


More church wall paintings restored

In October (see the Blog Archive) i published pictures of the wall paintings at St Agatha’s, Easby, nr Richmond.

The latest edition of Salon (the on-line newsletter from the Society of Antiquaries of London) has an article on the same topic, reproduced below.

Bodies, Dragons and a Many-headed Whore

This extraordinary scene is among many painted on the walls of a church across the road from the house in which William Shakespeare was born. He would not have seen it, however. The year before his birth in 1564, his father saw to it that the murals were ‘defaced and limewashed’.

The Stratford Town Trust, custodian of the Guild Chapel in Stratford-upon-Avon, has restored two of the paintings, helped by a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. They once covered most of the chapel walls, and survive (or not) in varying states of preservation. One of the best panels is this depiction of death at work. A feathered angel watches over a shrouded corpse in the bony soil, the message elaborated for the literate with stanzas about the penalties of sin and the transitory nature of earthly glories. Other scenes show the bloody murder of Becket, the Last Judgement (with people wearing no more than headdresses rising gratefully from their graves), St George slaying a winged dragon, and a many-headed beast who may be the Whore of Babylon.

The paintings have been known about since the early 19th century, and have acquired a long history of concealment, uncovering and antiquarian study and recording that carries its own interest, and informs conservation. The latter follows completion of work to the building that has ensured a stable atmosphere and moisture levels. The Trust is seeking further funding to unveil and conserve more of the paintings. Top photo Daily Mail.

Cultural terrorism

In the 9th century BC, the city then known as Kalhu was the capital of Assyria, and its temples and palaces, including colossal lamassu sculptures of human-headed, winged lions, have made it one of the most important ancient sites in Iraq.


But in early 2015 Islamic State used explosives and power tools to destroy the city’s once-great North-West Palace. This week reports confirmed that the Nimrud ziggurat—a stepped, pyramidal tower that is among the tallest surviving monuments from the ancient world—had been bulldozed into the Tigris riverbed.


Nearby, contemporary sites remain at risk: the Assyrian city of Nineveh remains in IS territory, and defensive earthworks dug by frontline Kurdish fighters may have compounded IS damage to Dur-Sharrukin, another one-time Assyrian capital. The Nimrud site will need to be cleared of explosives before archaeologists can assess what remains among the lone and level sands.

Exceptional Survival of Rare Anglo-Saxon Coffins

Archaeologists from MOLA have uncovered an important Anglo-Saxon cemetery in an excavation funded by Historic England in advance of a conservation, fishing lake and flood defence system at Wensum View in Norfolk. The waterlogged conditions of the river valley led to the remarkable preservation of burials that are extremely rare in the archaeological record, including plank-lined graves and tree-trunk coffins dating from the 7th-9th century AD.


The work has revealed evidence that this may have been the final resting place for a community of early Christians, including a timber structure thought to be a church or chapel, of which there are few examples from this period. The wooden grave markers, east-west alignment of the coffins and the evident lack of grave goods all support the Christian origins of the cemetery.


More than 500 graves found at Fountains Abbey

More than 500 graves of Cistercian monks and lay brothers have been discovered at Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, one of the largest monastic ruins in the country. The abbey, now a world heritage site, was founded in the early 12th century and continued until its closure in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries.




Ground-penetrating radar identified the graves which are in a “bunk bed” formation with up to four bodies each separated by stone partitions within the same grave. This method of burial supported their belief in corporeal resurrection; that is the whole body would be resurrected on judgement day.

For more on this story in the Guardian click  here