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Where Do I Come From: Donald Yates

Monday, July 29, 2013

Where Do I Come From

Real People's DNA Stories 

Sizemore Indians and British Jews

By Donald N. Yates

As soon as EURO DNA was released last month I quickly studied my new list of European nationalities where I have significant ancestral lines according to DNA Consultants' new autosomal population analysis. I had come to know and accept, of course, the usual suspects, compiled from the 24 populations available from ENFSI (European Network of Forensic Science Institutes). But the new list represented 71 populations and far surpassed ENFSI or any other database in commercial use. It had, for instance, the first European comparisons for countries like Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and Iceland. So how would my familiar matches—Scotland, Ireland, England, Belgium and the rest—shake out in the new oracle?

Some of the top matches—above British Isles or Northern European ancestry—were Central European. Here were the top 20:

Rank European Population Matches
1 Slovakia – Saris (n=848)
2 Finland (n = 469)
3 Slovakia – Zemplin (n=558)
4 Netherlands  (n = 231)
5 Slovakia – Spis (n=296)
6 Romanian - Transylvanian - Szekler (n = 257)
7 Romanian - Transylvanian - Csango (n = 220)
8 Scotland/Dundee (n = 228)
9 Switzerland (n = 200)
10 England/Wales (n = 437)
11 Ireland (n = 300)
12 Italy (n =103)
13 Denmark  (n = 156)
14 Romanian (n=243)
15 Swedish (n = 311)
16 Serbian - Serbia / Vojvodina / Montenegro (n = 100)
17 Icelandic (n=151)
18 Estonia (n = 150)
19 Romanian - Transylvania/Banat (n = 219)
20 Norwegian (n=1000)

Slovakia? Romania? To be sure, I had always had a fascination with both countries. In my salad days I studied in Europe and traveled to Bratislava, where I fell in love at first sight with the chiseled blonde visage of a friend of my university classmate. And I had also been to Romania in the days of its Communist regime, when my long-haired travel companion and I were welcomed like long lost relatives or conquering pop heroes. 

Admittedly, the results of an autosomal ancestry test are cumulative and combinatory. While they do reflect all your ancestry, as no other test can, you are cautioned not to use the matches to try to pinpoint lines in your family genealogy. There is always a temptation to over-interpret. 

My European admixture results from AncestryByDNA had yielded a confirmatory result:  20% Southeast Europe. That struck me at the time as odd. Yet Hungarian was now one of my top metapopulation results, too. (Remember, Hungarian data did not figure into ENFSI because Hungary is not in the European Union.)

The Scottish (my grandmother was a McDonald) made sense, as did all the other matches from what I knew through years of paper genealogy research. But I was unaware of any strong Central European lines.

Sizemore Research:  Pitfalls of Genetic Genealogy
Then I recalled the Sizemores. My great-great-grandmother was a Sizemore, and they were multiply connected with my Coopers, my mother's maiden name. Could the Central European effect in my EURO result be from the Sizemores?

Much ink—or at least many keystrokes—has been expended on the Sizemore controversy. There are pitched battles on genealogy forums and edit wars in cyberspace. One armed camp has them down as Melungeons and admixed Cherokees with crypto-Jewish strains. Another holds it as an article of faith that the Sizemores were a lily-white old Virginia British family and the surname comes from something like Sigismund (think Goetterdaemmerung). Y chromosome DNA shows ambiguous conclusions:  you can visit the advertisement page sponsored by Family Tree DNA. 

Alan Lerwick, a Salt Lake City genealogist, upset the apple cart some years ago by linking America's Sizemores to Michael Sismore, buried in the Flemish cemetery of the Collegiate Church of St Katherine by the Tower in London in 1684. That was the same parish as my Coopers lived in. Then and now, it is the most Jewish section of London.

Sizemore is not a British surname before the sixteenth century. It was clear to me long ago that neither my Sizemores nor my Coopers were Mama Bear, Papa Bear families. Spurred by my EURO DNA test results, I dug into my subscription at Ancestry.com and learned that Michael Sismore was recorded as being born as Michael Seasmer in Ashwell, an important village in north Hertfordshire, November 1, 1620. His parents were Edward Seasmer and Betterissa (a form of Beatrice). New information! Alert the list moderators and surname project guardians!

Seasmer is undoubtedly the same as Zizmer, an old Central European Jewish surname adduced in multiple families in Israel, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, Russia, Moldavia and the United States. Edward and Michael are favored first-names in the U.S. branches. The Hebrew letters, which can be viewed on numerous burials in Israel, are  (in reverse order, right to left) RMZZ. Cooper is a similar Jewish surname, common in Russia and Lithuania and Israel as well as the British Isles and the U.S. In fact, my father's surname, Yates, is a Hebrew anagram common in the same countries, meaning "Righteous Convert."

Hertfordshire was an important center for British Jewry, mentioned in the works of Hyamson, Jacobs and others (see map above). A good hypothesis to explain the transformation of Michael's name from Seasmer to Sismore and thence to Sizemore is this. His grandfather, a Zizmer, came to England in the time of Elizabeth, perhaps via the Low Lands, possibly as a soldier or cloth merchant. This could account for Michael Sizemore's burial in the Flemish cemetery of St Katharine's by the Tower, usually reserved for foreigners. It also explains the predilection in descendants for such names as Ephraim, Michael, Edward, William, John, Richard, James, George, Hiram, Isaac, Samuel, Solomon and Henry. And why girls were named Lillie, Lydia, Louisa, Naomi, Pharaba, Rebecca, Sarah and Vitula. The last name (also found in my wife's grandmother's name) was a Jewish amulet name. It meant "old woman" in Latin and was given to a child to augur a long life. 

Zismer took the form of Cismar, Cismarik, Zhesmer, Zizmor, Ziesmer, Zausmer, Cismaru and Tzismaro—all amply attested in the records of European Jewry, including Jewish Gen's Holocaust Database, with the records of over two million victims and survivors of the Nazi genocide of World War II. I am proud of my Jewish heritage through my great-grandmother and through my half-blood Cherokee Indian mother Bessie Cooper Yates. 

Thank you for indulging me in this genealogical excursion into a family mystery. Like the restaurateur, I would be to blame if I didn't eat in my own establishment. I can confidently say that DNA Consultants' new EURO DNA is a smorgasbord of genetic delights for those jaded by the old-fashioned sex-linked testing. I thank our R&D team, in particular Professor Wendell Paulson, our head statistics consultant, along with all those who helped vet its amazing power, and I encourage you to try it today!


Zoltan commented on 13-Sep-2013 03:48 PM

About Seizmore. If it really relates to Zizmer, Cismar etc. then it is a pure Hungarian surename: Csizm√°r, with the meaning of boot maker (Csizma=boot from the old turkish word of cizme)
Please note that the refferred areas of Slovakia and Transylvania are former Hungarian territories, so the connection is clear and matches with your DNA.

I do not know when you wrote the article but Hungary is in the EU since 2005.

I hope I could help.

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True Story of King Arthur

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What if the real King Arthur was not the Christian hero we immediately think of but a pagan or Jew? Not a comedic King Arthur like the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail whose possible worst peril was to battle knights who say “Ni.” Or T.H. White’s delightful and imaginary medieval England in “The Once and Future King,” where Arthur as a boy was turned into various creatures like a hawk by Merlin, so that he could learn to fly. That is clearly fantasy. So is Sean Connery as an older Arthur in The First Knight whose adversary is the philosophical Richard Gere as Lancelot.

But what if we could cut and paste some of the Arthurian legend and his tales in Avalon in a history book? This is not beyond possibility. There are historians who have either made the case for resurrecting King Arthur or who have not altogether discounted the possibility of a historical King Arthur. According to the distinguished historian, Geoffrey Ashe, in his book, The Discovery of King Arthur, he was “lucky enough to find a way through, and press on to a fruitful outcome”…giv[ing] Arthur a firmer status in history…mak[ing] him more interesting-more like his legend- than appeared probable a few years ago.”  And he says there are reasons to believe King Arthur may have had descendants. Perhaps King Arthur is in your family tree. Who knows?

Of course, we know the story. According to a recent BBC article, “King Arthur Tales ‘Penned in Oxford Chapel’,” the cleric, Geoffrey of Monmouth, wrote of King Arthur, and Guinever at St. George’s chapel. However, since he was also the standard for history on British kings, might he have not based it on something he knew that was a fact? He is best known for his work History of the Kings of Britain.

And if there was a real King Arthur, who was he? Even among historians who think a King Arthur is plausible, they do not agree on who the candidate is.

Ashe contends that he was a British king, Riothamus, who was on the continent during the correct time period (469-470) and whose career follows closely to the life of the King Arthur we are familiar with. Indeed, he was the “only British King who led an army into Gaul,” and he “disappears after a fatal battle, without any recorded death” among other coincidences. He argues that Riothamus was a title as its original form would have meant “High King” (96-97).

But there are others with different ideas. Stephen Knight, in his review of the historiographer, N.J. Higham’s, book King Arthur: Myth Making and History says Higham remains unconvinced that we will ever know if there is a King Arthur, or that it is important, but calling him an “agnostic” is not entirely dismissive of a historical King Arthur. However, he is “dismissive of Riothamus” and thinks the next more likely candidate is the historical figure Ambrosius Aurelianus. Aurelianus, according to Princeton University’s webpage, “Ambrosius Aurelianus,” was a “war leader of the Romano-Britsh against the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century.” But Higham thinks the most likely candidate for King Arthur is Lucius Artorius Castos, a Roman military commander in the 2nd – 3rd century AD (L.A.Malcor in “The Heroic Age”). Unfortunately, Knight notes, although this is a well-researched book, he does not clarify the reasons for his choices.

As if there were not enough, what if one tosses in a bit of the Arabian Nights in the Arthurian legend? According to Donald Yates and Elizabeth Hirschman, in their upcoming book, The Earliest Jews and Muslims of England and Wales, Arthur might have Arabic and North- African roots:

The origin of the name Arthur has been endlessly debated. It is almost certainly not “Celtic,” neither from a P or Q dialect, and cannot be traced further back than post-Roman times. The center of gravity for its appearance is the sixth century. In 1998, archeological excavations at sixth-century Tintagel brought to light a find subsequently dubbed the Arthur Stone, mentioning the name Artognou, claimed to be cognate. Although the reading is questionable perhaps this inscription and milieu are on the right track.

Arthur’s name has become something of a grail quest for modern researchers. Other theories derive the name from Artorius (Roman or Messapic), Arnthur (Etruscan), Arcturus (the “bear star”) or *Arto-uiros in Brittonic (“bear man”).

Perhaps the Gordian knot of the difficulty can be cut if we consider that many of the names in early Welsh history have Arabic and North African roots.

And perhaps we can one day trace the ancestry of King Arthur for sure. Celtic? British? Cornish? English? North African? Roman? Sephardic Jewish? Pick one or more.

Photo:  King Arthur in an eighteenth-century illustration for a play by John Dryden shows him in antique Roman costume. Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum. 

North Africans in Early Britain [blog post]


jan Franz commented on 22-May-2013 07:56 PM

As a McArthur myself... I direct you to Clan Arthur's site. He is claimed as a Scot with quite a bit of interesting history!

Erica commented on 21-Jun-2013 11:30 AM

what is the sample type? Can I send it, or you have special collection sites??
Thank you,

Abigail Quart commented on 17-Sep-2013 09:00 AM

Arthur is Artur which means "strong child" in Sumerian cuneiform. Also, "womb."

If you want to go hunting, Galahad and Merlin are also generic designations from those good old days but Guinevere is Egyption, "Hentnefer" meaning "beautiful queen."

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Britain's First Jew Was a Woman

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And Her Name Was Pomponia Graecina

The following excerpt is taken from Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Donald N. Yates, The Early Jews and Muslims of England and Wales:  A Genetic and Genealogical History (forthcoming Summer 2013 from McFarland & Co. Publishers).

If Roman Britain had cities, and we know it did, there were Jews in them. In fact, we have a tantalizing record of what may be the first British Jew. Pomponia Graecina was the aristocratic wife of the conqueror of Britain, the commander Aulus Plautius, who defeated the sons of Cunobelinus (Shakespeare’s Cymbeline), seized the Celtic or Belgic capital of Camulodunum (Colchester) in Essex and secured the conquest of Britain for the emperor Claudius in 43 ce. Plautius became the first governor of the new colony. It is reasonable to think his wife lived with him during his governorship (43-47).

Ten years later, Pomponia Graecina was put on trial in Rome for a crime of character described as a “foreign superstition.” She was a member of the imperial Julio-Claudian family. The same charge was brought about the same time against Poppaea, the future wife of Nero. Poppaea was rumored to be privately a Jewish convert and to favor Jews.[i] Although many commentators and fiction writers believe Pomponia Graecina’s crime was the practice of Christianity, in the year 57 this would have been extremely unlikely. There were at that time very few Christians anywhere outside of Galilee. The apostles Peter and Paul were not yet dead. No Gospels had been set down in writing yet. In Rome Christians were a rarity far into the second century. They were so exotic even in the East that around 112 ce Pliny the Younger, then governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote the emperor Trajan for advice on how to identify and deal with them.[ii]

The Christian epigrapher Giovanni Battista de Rossi in 1879 associated Pomponia with family members buried in the catacombs of St. Callistus in the third century. She was gradually transformed into the apocryphal St. Lucina, even figuring in the historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, Quo Vadis. But a gap of over a hundred and fifty years seriously weakens de Rossi’s theory. Sand identifies Pomponia Graecina as a Jewish convert, not a Christian.[iii]  She survived her husband by twenty years and died about 83 ce.

            Christianity struggled for several centuries to differentiate and distance itself from Judaism. Many of Britain’s Jews around 300 were undoubtedly “semi-converts—people who formed broad peripheries around the Jewish community, took part in its ceremonies, attended the synagogues, but did not keep all the commandments.”[iv] After the legalization of Christianity by Constantine in 313, some Jews and “semi-Jews” presented themselves publicly as Christian, while thinking of themselves and their ancestors as still wholly Jewish. Sometimes families were divided in their allegiances. Timothy of the New Testament had a Jewish grandmother, Lois, and Jewish mother, Eunice, but a Greek father. When Timothy converted to Christianity in his native Anatolia, the apostle Paul performed a ceremony of circumcision on him (Acts 16:1-3). Most of Christianity’s early converts came from Jews. Paul made a habit of preaching in synagogues.

As the Christianization of the Roman Empire accelerated during the fourth century, circumcision was forbidden to males who were not born Jews, the practice of converting one’s slaves to Judaism or of owning Christian slaves was proscribed, Jewish women who were not born Jewish were barred from ritual baths and Jewish men of all persuasions were outlawed from marrying Christian women.[v] Endogamy—marrying cousins and other close relations—became ingrained among Jews attempting to hold themselves apart from Christians. All these developments tended to make secret Jews out of people who defiantly regarded themselves as Jewish and honored the commandments of Judaism to varying degrees, often without benefit of a rabbi, community, synagogue or Torah. It was not until the eleventh century that the Hebrew language was introduced to Europe, and its dissemination was spotty. Moreover, that Hebrew was no product of an autochthonous linguistic development, but the artificial creation of Jewish scholars.[vi] In the rift, which covered most of the Middle Ages, the vast majority of European Jews were totally ignorant of Hebrew and were probably also not acquainted with rabbinical Judaism as it took shape in Judea and Western Asia.

Christianity’s final triumph put an end to all proselytizing by Jews “and perhaps also prompted the desire to erase it from Jewish history.”[vii] In the centuries that followed, especially after the rise of Islam, rabbis and other keepers of the collective memory were pained by the apostasy of the Jewish people on such a continuingly large scale. They sought to deny what was obvious, considering anyone who gave up their Jewishness “dead.” “Zionist historiography . . . [turned] its back on any meaningful discussion of the issue,” writes Sand. “Abandoning the Jewish religion was generally interpreted by modern sensibilities as betraying the ‘nation,’ and was best forgotten.”[viii]

Photo:  A Roman crypto-Jewish family. Copyright The Trustees of the British Museum.

[i] Josephus, Ant. Iud. XX.viii.11, p. 423.

[ii] Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96-97.

[iii] Sand 171.

[iv] Ibid 171-72.

[v] Ibid 177.

[vi] “During the first millennium ce, Jewish believers in Europe knew no Hebrew or Aramaic” (ibid 208). It remained for the twentieth century to “revive” Hebrew as a living language.

[vii] Ibid 174.

[viii] Ibid 182.



Junk DNA? We Don't Think So

Monday, January 14, 2013

We are our DNA. It was not a surprise to find that our entire DNA is Functional (“Junk DNA Isn’t Junk, and That Isn’t Really News”). The surprise is in the discovery of what we can do with what we once thought was junk. According to that recent NPR article, “It is a massive control panel that regulates the activity of our genes.” Our genes “would not work” without it. So instead of being junk- they are critical and “control how cells, organs, and other tissues behave.” But we can also now read the markers and mutations on this “panel” and discover much more information than knowing it is just working efficiently for our body. This knowledge is considered a “major medical and scientific breakthrough” (Ibid.). We just have to read it well.

But first, what is DNA exactly? John Wilwol, in his recent NPR article, “A ‘Thumb’ on the Pulse of What Makes Us Human,” quotes Sam Kean, author of the book, The Violinist’s Thumb And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, As Written by Our Genetic Code, as saying that DNA is what makes us who we are. Wilwol further quotes Kean to help us understand what DNA is and how it differentiates from genes: “ ‘While DNA is a thing- a chemical that sticks to your fingers, he writes, genes are more conceptual in nature, …“‘like a story with DNA as the language the story is written in.”

So if DNA is a language how are we able to read it? All parts of our genetic code are now readable and meaningful. Marker locations (loci) are spread across one’s entire genome, not confined to one’s male (Y chromosome) or female (mitochondrial) DNA. (This is how sex-linked, haplotype tests that follow one line at a time are analyzed). Different mutations are handed down genetically – different according to the region where one’s ancestors lived.

Because of this new ability to read markers, consumers are now able to buy Autosomal DNA tests that provide a complete analysis of where all one’s ancestors’ ethno-geographic origins – reflecting the entire spectrum of all ancestral lines. Not just one line at a time as in haplotype testing. This is next generation ancestry DNA testing and the wave of the future. Anyone can take an Autosomal DNA test because it does not rely on X or Y chromosomes (women are unable to take the Male Y- linked test and must entice a male in her line, if one is available, to take this test). The future is now in many ways.

What else can you learn from Autosomal DNA testing? Anne Tergesen, in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal,” quotes Megan Molenyak, author of, Hey America, Your Roots Are Showing, as saying that this relatively new test deciphers the amount of DNA shared between those whose common ancestors lived within the last half-dozen or so generations. Tergersen explains it like this, “Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA can connect people whose common ancestors lived recently or hundreds of years ago. But to find out how closely you are related—and to locate relatives besides those on your direct maternal or paternal lines—you will need an autosomal DNA test.” (Of course, you would both need one to compare) and “in general, the more DNA two people share, the closer their connection”.

But there are even more things on the horizon with Autosomal DNA for the future. Personalized Medicine. According to a recent Smithsonian article, “Fetal Genome Sequenced Without Help From Daddy,” “A fetus’ entire genome can now be sequenced” from the mother alone with a “99.8% accuracy.” How is that possible? It was just “last month clinicians announced that they could sequence a fetus’ entire genome by taking samples from the pregnant mother’s blood and that of the father to be” (“Fetal Genome”). Now they have a “more difficult, but more complete method [that] uses DNA from the pregnant woman and the fetus to map out every last letter of the fetal genome…with the advantage that it can pick up mutations that a fetus has but its parents do not” (Ibid.).  Rob Stein quotes Dr. Alan Guttmacher, director of the National Institute for the Child Health and Human Development in a recent NPR article, “Genome Sequencing For Babies Brings Knowledge and Conflicts,” as saying, “Instead of screening for currently something like 30 conditions, it would allow you to screen for hundreds if not thousands, [of conditions] at birth.  He goes on to say that, “One could imagine a day where knowing someone’s entire genome sequence at birth, you could really begin to think about structuring health care, their dietary choices, their exercise choices…early in life, in a way that would have an impact on truly lifelong health.” Stein says that this gene sequencing could “spot babies that are prone to conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart attacks or cancer” and that we may soon be “sequencing all babies when they’re born.”  It could be a wonderful tool. But we are not there yet.

According to Rob Stein in another recent NPR article, “Perfection is Skin Deep: Everyone has Flawed Genes,” Scientists have determined we are all more flawed than they thought. “Researchers discovered that normal, healthy people are walking around with a surprisingly large number of mutations in their genes.” Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England and his colleagues analyzed the DNA of 179 people from several countries who volunteered their genetic information to the 1,000 Genomes Project.


In a published paper in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers reported that though none of the people whose DNA was studied were sick, the average person has about 400 minor flaws and one or two that could contribute to disease. Tyler-Smith says, “It’s a bit surprising that people should be walking around apparently healthy yet we’re seeing known disease-causing mutations in their genomes,” he says. “But the answer was that these tended to be for mild and very often late-onset conditions. Things like heart disease, an increased risk of disease or developing cancer. On its website, the American Diabetes Association highlights the interaction of genetic and environmental factors: “You inherit a predisposition to the disease then something in your environment triggers it. Genes alone are not enough.”


So the problem is not so much with the analytical tool but rather the possibility of over- interpretation. Again, we just have to read it well, with the same critical eye for what is written in us as that which is written by us. And who knows what else we will soon be able to discover from reading our DNA?


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North Africans in Early Britain

Sunday, May 06, 2012
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An Excursion into Arthurian Legend

We have had previous blog posts on North African genetics in Britain, for instance "When Wales Was Jewish." The present post zeros in on Tintagel, the fabled home of King Arthur and Mark of Cornwall. It is inspired by the mention of Gormund, the Irish "King of the Africans" in Welsh bardic literature, who was, we submit, a Vandal of the fifth or sixth century.

In British myth and historical tradition, not only Ireland but also Cornwall is the stronghold of “Africans.” Mark, the king of Cornwall in Arthurian legend and jealous husband of Isoud or Isolt of Ireland, is portrayed in the Tristan romances as dark-complexioned, rich and of fiery southern temperament. Mark or Marcus is a favored name among Jews, particularly English Jews in memory perhaps of the soldier in Roman Britain who was proclaimed emperor by the army there sometime in 406, in the last death rattle of imperial rule. His sister is Elizabeth, and his royal residence is fixed in Tintagel on the north coast of the Cornish peninsula facing Ireland. This site’s chief fame in medieval literature was as the castle of King Mark in the immensely popular cycle devoted to Cornwall.

A series of excavations began in Tintagel in 1933, uncovering a forgotten chapter in southwest Britain’s prehistory. According to O. J. Padel, “the area of Tintagel headland teems with fragments of pottery of a type manufactured in the Mediterranean area (mainly in North Africa and Asia Minor); these fragments are dated between the mid fifth century and the late sixth).” This researcher at the department of Welsh history at University College of Wales, Aberstwyth, goes on to say:

The importance of Tintagel as a find-site for this pottery cannot be overemphasized. Since being identified there, it has been found to occur at other sites within Dark-Age western Britain and Ireland, including other sites in Cornwall and Devon, Cadbury-south-west Ireland, and as far north as the Scottish Highlands . . . . Being imported from so far away, this pottery represents expensive, luxury, goods.”[i]

Arthur's Name Arabic?

The origin of the name Arthur has been endlessly debated.[ii] It is almost certainly not “Celtic,” neither from a P or Q dialect, and cannot be traced further back than post-Roman times. The center of gravity for its appearance is the sixth century. In 1998, archeological excavations at sixth-century Tintagel brought to light a find subsequently dubbed the Arthur Stone, mentioning the name Artognou, claimed to be cognate. Although the reading is questionable perhaps this inscription and milieu are on the right track.

Arthur’s name has become something of a grail quest for modern researchers. Other theories derive the name from Artorius (Roman or Messapic), Arnthur (Etruscan), Arcturus (the “bear star”) or *Arto-uiros in Brittonic (“bear man”).

Perhaps the Gordian knot of the difficulty can be cut if we consider that many of the names in early Welsh history have Arabic and North African roots. Camlann, for instance, the site of Arthur’s final deadly battle with the usurper Mordred, has resisted all efforts to etymologize or locate it. This unidentified place in England has a name that is supposed to mean Crooked Glenn.[iii] We suspect it may be a corruption of the common Arabic place-name Khamilah, “area of dense trees, low or depressed area with good pasturage.”[iv] Camelot, the fabled capital city of the Round Table, appears to be little more than the plural of the same term.

Arthur’s father is Uthr Pendragon, the epithet following his name meaning Chief, or Head, of the Warriors, or Dragons.[v] Now Arthur’s son is Amr, a pre-Islamic tribal name that is meaningless in any Brythonic language. Ar- is a common prefix in Arabic and North African naming conventions, meaning “the.” Ar-Rumi, for example, the name of an early Arab poet means “the Greek.” Ar-Rahman is “the Most Gracious,” Ar-Rabi, “the Master, and Ar-Rashid “the Right-Minded.”[vi] Many of these are traditional names of God’s servants in pre-Islamic religion. If we take Arthur’s name as Semitic or Arabic or Kufic Arabic it may be a corruption of his father’s name: Ar-Uthr. As to what Uthr might have meant originally, however, we will not venture an opinion here.

True Etymology of Tintagel

The word Tintagel is difficult to etymologize in Cornish. A better theory than Padel’s hypothetical “Cornish *din, ‘fort’ (variant *tin), plus *tagell, ‘constriction’:  ‘the fort of the narrow neck’” (231) might be one based on the Semitic elements Thina “bend of headland” plus Ghayl “place with water,” a description which suits the natural topography (Tintagel Castle, aerial view, above). [vii]

Now how about Excalibur, Avalon and Morgan la Fay?  Watch this space . . . . 


O. J. Padel, “Some South-western Sites with Arthurian Associations,” in The Arthur of the Welsh, ed. Rachel Bromwich, A. O. H. Jarman and Brynley F. Roberts (Cardiff:  U of Wales P, 1991) 229-30.


See Toby D. Griffen, “Arthur’s Name,” Celtic Studies Association of North America, April 8, 1993, Athens, Georgia, available at http://www.fanad.net/csana94.pdf.


Calise 268.


Groom 141.


Sims-Williams 54. Calise 259.


See, for instance, Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary, trans. B. Mac Guckin de Slane, IV (Paris:  Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, 1871). The prefix ar also appears in toponyms, e.g. ar-Ramla, ar-Rusafa and ar-Roha (=Edessa). It would be a worthwhile exercise to determine how many English and Welsh place-names have derivations still denoted by their beginning in Ar-; we would start with perhaps Arun (an alternative name for the Isle of Man) and Arundel in the south of England.

[vii] See Nigel Groom, A Dictionary of Arabic Topography and Placenames (Beirut:  Liban, 1983) 94, 291.


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The Sins of Science

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Science, it seems, has been "the new religion" for a long time. And by the same token, it has always had its apostates and heretics, even its unremarkable and quotidian sinners. In an article titled "Disgrace," Charles Gross, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, reviews the whole subject of contemporary and historical scientific misconduct (The Nation, Jan. 9/16, 2012, pp. 25-32). He finds nothing new in the shocking case of Harvard's Marc Hauser, who was exposed two years ago for scientific misconduct, in of all fields, the biological basis of morality and genetic inheritance of doing evil.

Hauser apparently was guilty of the very venial sin of fudging facts. The three ways to do that, all frowned upon, are by fabrication (making data up), falsification (altering or selecting data, cherry picking) and sheer plagiarism (which all but entering Freshmen understand).

In 1830, computer science pioneer Charles Babbage published a book in which he distinguished "several species of impositions that have been practised in science...hoaxing, forging, trimming, and cooking."

Gross classifies the Piltdown man as an example of hoaxing. This fossil combining parts of an ape and human skull was discovered in 1911 and not discredited until the 1950s. Most hoaxes are intended to poke fun at the public's credulousness, but the Piltdown hoax was undertaken by well-meaning British imperialists who hoped their construction would fill an awkward gap in the record. Like God, if the missing link did not exist, we should have to invent one. Pip pip for the Royal Society!

Babbage believed that forging was uncommon. Rarely are results completely counterfeited and pulled out of thin air.

"Trimming" is probably a form of scientific misconduct that few scientists confess to their most exacting monitors such as the National Science Foundation but rather quietly cover up in bland hypocrisy. It consists of "eliminating outliers to make results look more accurate, while keeping the average the same." Who has not committed that little white sin? Let him who is without self-assurance cast the first chad.

"Cooking," on the other hand, the purposive selection and distortion of data, might be a real concern for all of us.

Gross goes on to inspect the career of Harvard's "war crimes professor" Richard Herrnstein, who became a co-author after his death of the book The Bell Curve about racial differences in intelligence. It is not a very pretty kettle of fish.

Charles Darwin essentially stole the idea of natural selection from Alfred Russel Wallace, the father of biogeography, did he not, and if he didn't, certainly failed to credit some of his predecessors in his rush to fame and self-glorification.

In genetics, we are reminded that the saintly Gregor Mendel probably falsified the suspiciously exact 1:3 ratio he "observed" in comparing pure dominant with hybrid peas (p. 26).

Alarmingly, we learn that "the modal scientific miscreant is a bright and ambitious young man at an elite institution," just the sort of role model worshiped by the popular press.

Maybe our society should be examining a few of science's feet of clay rather than pompously setting more laurels on the heads of its exalted heroes.


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When Wales Was Jewish

Monday, April 02, 2012

Short answer: pre-Roman times.

As is well known, Haplogroup E1b1b1 accounts for approximately 18% to 20% of Ashkenazi and 8.6% to 30% of Sephardic Y-chromosomes. This North African type appears to be one of the major founding lineages of the Jewish population.[i]

In Britain, this quintessential Jewish type (together with J, another telltale sign of Middle Eastern roots) is absent or negligible in many towns and regions but reported in elevated frequencies in Wales (Llanidloes 7%, Llangefni 5%), the Midlands (Southwell, Nottinghamshire 12%, Uttoxeter 8%), Faversham in Kent (9%), Dorchester in the West Country with historic harbors (7%), Midhurst in West Sussex commanding ancient sea-ports (5%)  and the Channel Islands, always an important crossroads of influences (5%).[ii] Bryan Sykes’ survey of paternal clans in England and Wales confirms significant traces of the E haplogroup which he dubs Eshu in southern England (4.9%) and Wales (3.1%).[iii] It reaches its highest point in Britain in Abergele, Wales (nearly 40%), an anomaly that has been attributed to Roman soldiers of Balkan origin but may have alternative and more complex explanations.

See our blog post "Right Church, Wrong Pew," arguing that the footprint of E in Britain is attributable to North African influence, not the descendants of Roman legionnaires from the Balkans.

In 2011, Llangefni  and Wrexham in North Wales became the focus of a call for local men to provide samples of their unusual DNA. A team of scientists lead by Andy Grierson and Robert Johnston from the University of Sheffield hoped to link the migration of men from the Mediterranean to the copper mined at Parys Mountain on Anglesey and on the Great Orme promontory nearby. A preliminary analysis of 500 participants showed 30% of the men carried E1b1b, compared to 1% of men elsewhere in the United Kingdom.[iv]

Significantly, Welsh tradition associates the Iron Age hilltop town on Conwy Mountain known as Castell Caer Seion with a settlement of ancient Jews. This site overlooks Conwy Bay on the north coast of Wales and lies on the ancient road between Prestatyn in Denbighshire and Bangor in Gwynedd opposite Angelsey.  In the Black Book of Caermarthen, the Welsh national bard Taliesin casually remarks in the persona of the battling hero,

When I return from Caer Seon,

From contending with Jews,

I will come to the city of Lleu and Gwidion.[v]

Lleu and Gwidion are the names of two other legendary figures; they are believed to be historical and to have lived in the early centuries of the Common Era or anterior to it.

It is hard to avoid the thought that the hilly area to the west of the town of Conwy, in North Wales was once inhabited by Jews.

[i] A. Nebel et al, "The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East", American Journal of Human Genetics69.5(2001) 1095–1112. [ii] C. Capelli et al, “A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles,”  Current Biology 13 (2003) 979–984. [iii] Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings and Celts (Norton:  2007) 206, 290. [iv] “’Extraordinary’ Genetic Make-up of North-east Wales Men,” BBC News North East Wales, article retrieved Jan. 2012 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-east-wales-14173910. On Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog there is speculation about whether the main sub-clade involved is Balkan or North African E; posts and comments retrieved Jan. 2012 at http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2011/07/eastern-mediterranean-marker-in.html. [v] William F. Skene, The Four Ancient Books of Wales (Edinburgh, 1868, republished 2007 by Forgotten Books) 206.

Stephen Blevins commented on 03-Apr-2012 05:02 AM

My DNA is E1b1b1, my most distant ancestor is William Blevins (Longhunter) from the area you mentioned. My autosomal DNA places my ancestors in the orkney islands of Scotland. I'm convinced that a tribe of Jews migrated from Israel to north to Scandinavia
or Denmark and may have been apart of the invasion by Vikings to Scotland before they were found in Wales as Poweys in the Northern Mountains. Blevins comes from Blethyn meaning little wolf or (Hero) look up Ap Blethyn of Gwynedd.

Belvins Descendant commented on 12-Apr-2012 02:05 PM

I was always told the Blevins came from Wales, but in checking this story out I was unable to verify it, nor could I find any substantiation of the etymology from Bleddyn ("son of wolf"). There is not a single Blevins in the Welsh census records, although
the name is found sparsely in Cheshire, Lancashire and other northern English counties. "Formby, Wales" is actually Formby in Merseyside in Lancashaire. The -dd- element in the Welsh name Bleddyn cannot be twisted into a -v-. So go figure.

Paul commented on 28-Apr-2012 08:46 PM

My mother is a descendant of Henry Cook I of Devon. His ascendants were among the first settlers of Massachusetts and Connecticut. A great Uncle, Lemuel Cook, was the oldest surviving Revolutionary War veteran when he died at 106 years of age. We recently
had my mother's autosomal dna analyzed and found strong population matches from the Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, etc.) - which was very unexpected. There was also prominent representation form Spain and Portugal - not so unexpected. In my own
18 marker test, I had one Jewish III marker, though I can't say from whom. There is no known Judaism on either side. Sounds like your article might be describing the early Cooks. Interesting...

katarina cadieux commented on 13-Dec-2013 07:36 PM

well the language of the Welsh(Cymri)alone is very Hebraic.
here are some examples: Anudon(welsh)/ Aen Adon(hebrew)(without God)
Yni all sy-dda(welsh) / Ani El Saddai(hebrew)(I am almighty God)
Llai iachu yngwyddd achau ni(welsh) / Loa yichei neged acheinu(hebrew) ("Let him not live before our brethren")
An annos(welsh)/ ain ones(hebrew)(None did compel)
the amazing to me is how similar the words look and sound, the english is the meaning for both welsh and hebrew, their meaning are the same.
the welsh are a very ancient people even their name for themselves in their language has Crimea roots which many hebrew tribes migrated to.

Dafydd Gwilym W. Gates commented on 17-Feb-2014 11:58 AM

Katarina Cadieux 13 Dec 2013 wrote some examples to show how Welsh had parralels in Hebrew. I'm a first language Welsh speaker and couldn't make sense of the Welsh examples, I'm afraid, It wasn't Welsh.
So sorry, Dafydd

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Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Americans have learned in elementary school that their country was founded by a group of brave, white, largely British Christians. Modern reinterpretations recognize the contributions of African and indigenous Americans, but the basic premise has persisted. This groundbreaking study fundamentally challenges the traditional national storyline by postulating that many of the initial colonists were actually of Sephardic Jewish and Muslim Moorish ancestry. Supporting references include historical writings, ship manifests, wills, land grants, DNA test results, genealogies, and settler lists that provide for the first time the Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, and Jewish origins of more than 5,000 surnames, the majority widely assumed to be British. By documenting the widespread presence of Jews and Muslims in prominent economic, political, financial and social positions in all of the original colonies, this innovative work offers a fresh perspective on the early American experience.

Seven years in the making, Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America was published by McFarland Publishers on February 21. It is a followup to the same authors' When Scotland Was Jewish (2007). A third study on crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims in English and Welsh history under way will complete a series begun by Hirschman and Yates ten years ago.

Read a notice from Rutgers News service from October 2010.

Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America   A Genealogical History by Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman and Donald N. Yates  
An Index to Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America   Lookup tool for Hirschman and Yates' book Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America  
Reader's Review
Nothing Short of Amazing

A few years ago, I retired from a career as a police detective. Sadly, in retirement, I became a junkie. Yes, I freely admit I've been a genealogy junkie for a number of years now. Recently, my insatiable habit has been fed by a newly discovered connection, that of the books authored by two stalwart researchers Elizabeth Hirschman and Donald Panther-Yates. First, there was When Scotland was Jewish. And now, I've just finished my first read through of their latest endeavor, Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America.

As a person addicted to family history, I know I share a frustration with like minded souls in that I've not had the time or means to run down every lead or theory that I'd developed while gazing at family trees, naming patterns, ports of emigration, and maps of migration. Suddenly, I've found two fellow travelers, Hirschman and Yates, who have not only done light years worth of investigation for me, they have actually validated many of the theories I'd developed on my own.

When Scotland was Jewish was an eye opening sojourn through the lands of many of my European forefathers. Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America, on the other hand, has brought it all closer to home. It is nothing short of amazing.

I completed my first read through in two sittings and found so many families I recognized from my own amateurish sifting, including: Van Cortland, Van Resselaer, Abrahamsen, Coffin (Cohen), Giles, Gardner, Van Sandt, Ash, Moore, Yeamans, Davis, Swan, and Vann. The list is almost endless. If you are like me, an obsessed archaeologist, rooting around in your past, Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America is your book. I can only hope the next offering of these two authors is as enlightening!

--George Collord Mount Shasta, California


George Collord commented on 11-Mar-2012 11:46 PM

I just finished my first reading of Jews and Muslims..I really liked the book but hungered for much more. I was curious as to why George Mason's portrait was in the book but no real explanation as to why (he's my wife's ancestor. Will there be a more in
depth examination of some of the early colonists in the the third book? I'd love to see the Rathbone, Coffin and Gardner families of New England examined. In addtion, I'd love to see an examination of "The Family" in South Carolina (Moores, Davis, Ash, Swann
et al) Thanks for the great read!

Donald Yates commented on 12-Mar-2012 01:57 AM

For reasons unknown to me or Elizabeth Hirschman, the portrait we had of George Mason made the edit but not the context. I can look in previous drafts for information on him if you like. Thanks for your positive comments!

George Collord commented on 12-Mar-2012 12:41 PM

Thanks for the quick response. As a distant relative (Massey, Cooper, and Ashley) I found your book so hard to put down that I ended up with a back ache from sitting and reading all day and night! Looking forward to your next work. BTW, for those who've
read this book and your Scotland effort, one read won't do it. Run through if you must, then slow down, start over and look at all you've missed the first time.

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Right Pew, Wrong Church

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Do You Have the DNA of Roman-British-Thracian Soldiers in Your Male Line?
Probably Not.

A member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) wrote an article online five years ago. Now a substantial number of listers on the discussion board DNA-Genealogy-L believe their male lines may go back to a Balkan legionnaire in Roman Britain. This theory has been enshrined in popular belief, thanks to ISOGG members, who contribute most of the material on Y chromosome DNA to Wikipedia articles.

Read our review from an appendix on Jewish DNA hot spots in England and Wales in our book-in-progress, New Jerusalem:  The Story of Britain's Earliest Jews and Muslims.

Steven Bird in “Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin,” is, as the title makes clear, most interested in proving a Roman Balkan origin for the haplotype he investigates, now known as Elblbla, the most common type of the haplogroup Elblb (formerly denominated E3b) in Europe. The structure and subclades of this very ancient North African Caucasian lineage have only recently been resolved and overhauled, and the ink is not yet quite dry. But the data used by Bird with the sometimes confused or outdated nomenclature of older reports can still provide valuable clues for our purposes, although one must proceed with caution in making too many differentiations in the tangled branches of the E tree. We must bear in mind that the target haplotype E1b1b1a2 (also called E-V13) represents 85% of the parent haplogroup E1b1b (also denoted as the E-M78 clade) and keep simple E before us without being distracted.

            Bird’s study appeared in one of the first publications of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, an online journal of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), founded in 2005 by DNA project administrators of the commercial DNA testing company Family Tree DNA based in Houston, Texas, “who share the common vision of the promotion and education of genetic genealogy.” It is an ambitious work with a very small goal. It uses arguments not only from genetics and statistics but also archeology, geography, history, anthropology and linguistics, often involving such fine points as the epigraphy of a Spanish soldier’s diploma from the British Museum issued in 103 CE and the detailed movements of Thracian cohors II and VII in the Roman army. Where angels fear to thread. Bird’s theory about the origins of Elblb have been enshrined in popular belief. We do not wish to appear ungrateful but there are problems.

            Bird’s first mistake occurs in his review of the literature. He misreads Stephen Oppenheimer and represents the author of The Origins of the British as having British E “originating from the Balkan peninsula (26).” If we open Oppenheimer’s book to the page cited (207) we see a map illustrating “Near Eastern [British English for American English ‘Middle Eastern’] Neolithic male migrations via the Mediterranean of E3b [i.e. E1b1b] and J.” The vector standing for the migration of these types launches forth from the Peloponnese in Greece at the cropped lower right corner, obviously intending to suggest origins from that general direction, not “the Balkan peninsula.”  There is no mention of Balkan DNA in Oppenheimer except as part of the bigger picture. The archeological sites Bird adduces as evidence for E settlements in the Bronze Age are not necessarily associated “directly” or solely or chiefly with “proto-Thracian culture,” whatever that term may mean. Nova Zagora in Bulgaria is a Stone Age multi-site. Ezero Culture occupied most of Bulgaria and extended far north into the Danube region of Romania. Yunatsite, Dubene-Sarovka and the other “proto-Thracian culture” examples Bird mentions date to before the Thracians or even the Greeks. They cannot tell us anything about haplogroup E. If anything, all these sites vindicate Oppenheimer’s theory of the demic spread of Middle Eastern (read Anatolian) agriculture, which Bird calls “flawed fundamentally” (27). The center for the diffusion of E in the Balkans is not in Bulgaria or Thrace but northwestern Greece, Albania and Kosovo. The Balkan Peninsula does not have to be the only place from which Bird can manage to derive E and get it to Britain in time to become part of the historical record. It is also strong throughout Greece, Cyprus, the Greek parts of southern Italy, North Africa and even parts of Spain. In fact, its presence in many of those locations is acknowledged to be “due to a founder effect, i.e. the migration of a small group of settlers carrying mostly this lineage (but also a small amount of other North-East African lineages, notably E-M123 and T.” (See http://www.eupedia.com/europe/Haplogroup_E1b1b_Y-DNA.shtml.)

            Despite these failings relating to statement of thesis and validity of arguments, Bird’s work is based on useful data. Three population surveys with frequencies for E in Britain were available to him, the data sets of Capelli, Weale and Sykes. Notwithstanding the nomenclature confusion, only the Sykes data set has true shortcomings, as the Oxford Genetic Atlas Project at the time contained only forty E haplotypes, too small for a valid sample. There are problems comparing them, as Bird realizes, but trends and general conclusions are certainly possible. Before attempting to analyze the haplogroup E variation in Britain, though, we must address the matter of time depth.

            We have no quarrel with geneticists’ and genetic genealogists’ methods of gauging coalescence times. Thus, Bird reiterates that the “time to most recent common ancestor” or TMRCA of Cruciani and others led to the “important finding . . . that E-V13 [read 85% of E] and J-M12 [read J] had essentially identical population coalescence times (27).” E and J are companion types that expanded from their Middle Eastern homelands together in the same fashion and probably reinforced each other in multiple phases of gene flow. But who is to say in any specific case of a haplotype that it arrived in Britain 4,000 years ago (TMRCA) or at any subsequent time, including the time when our grandfathers lived. The TMRCA sets a haplotype’s time of origin but not its place of origin, except by inference. We hypothesize that from a host of other factors, chiefly present-day clusters, genetic distance between types and high concentration of haplotype diversity.  Using TMRCA, Bird argues that a specific form of E “could not have arrived in Britain during the Neolithic era (6.5-5.5 kya) if it had not yet expanded from the southern Balkans (27).” We prefer to believe that it came to the British Isles at several critical times, first in Neolithic times but later with the Phoenicians, Jews, Egyptians, Iberians and related peoples.    

            Bird cherry-picks the data to support his Roman Balkan or what might be called Diocletian thesis, but data are data; these are amenable not only to bearing out the general storyline we present but also to supporting, within the same historical context, the existence of certain hot spots for Jewish and Middle Eastern DNA in England and Wales.  We agree somewhat with Bird the Welsh cluster for E is “underestimated by an arbitrary division by Sykes into two geographic regions (‘Wales’ and ‘Northern England’) . . . [creating] an impression of a large number of ‘Eshu’ haplotypes located throughout Northern England, when in fact the Northern English cluster is linked to Welsh cluster geographically (29).” Only, we would see in that Northern English cluster the remains of the historical Welsh Old North (chapters 1 and 7). We would not necessarily see in the Wales-to-Nottingham cluster the fading footprints of “the Ordovices, the Deceangi, the Cornovii, the Brigantes and the Coritani tribes (30),” about whom little is known in any event, but a belt of pre-existing Mediterranean culture reinforced by Roman occupation and somewhat resistant to Anglo-Saxon and Viking intrusions. Another shrinking pocket of the old British culture is shown in the elevated frequencies for both E and J in Strathclyde and Cumbria, part of the Welsh Old North.

            Bird has an informative map of Britain illustrating E1b1b distribution according to the Kringing method (34). In this we can trace all the major pockets of Mediterranean and Jewish DNA. Leaving aside Scotland, and aside from the Midlands pocket already mentioned, our eye is drawn to North Wales (along with a clear wall of high incidence surrounding it as though beating back the forces of history on all sides), Dorset, London and East Anglia. It cannot be coincidence that these are the very regions where we have diagnosed the presence of Jews and picked up their trail through the chapters of our book.

            As a final note, a 2005 paper by Robert Tarín provides phylogenetic analyses of E1b1b haplotypes that cast serious doubt on Bird’s assertions and confirm our reading of the evidence. Tarín used 290 individual Y chromosome results to characterize “a separate cluster of mostly Iberian haplotypes which seem to represent a North African entry into Iberia distinct from the E3b [E1b1b] in Europe that may have arisen from Neolithic or other migratory events.” He wrote that “it is unknown whether this finding reflects relatively recent gene flow from the Islamic rule of Spain or an older influx possibly from the Phoenicians”—the same quandary about time frame and coalescence we see above. Utilizing the Y Chromosome Haplotype Reference Database (YHRD), Tarín found levels of the Iberian E haplotype as high as 61% in one Tunisian population (Zriba, near ancient Carthage), while Andalusian Arabs and Tunisian Berbers both showed frequencies of about 7%. We believe this Iberian haplotype is a small, but important Jewish lineage that expanded from Tunisia to the Iberian Peninsula with the Berbers who aided Arab armies in conquering Spain. Interestingly, it accompanied Spanish Jews to Mexico and other places in the diaspora following the events of 1492.  Its distribution in Britain should reveal an implantation originally under the Phoenicians reinforced by periodic migrations of North African and Spanish or French Jews throughout the medieval and early modern periods of British history.

Steven C. Bird, “Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin,” Journal of Genetic Genealogy 3.2 (2007) 26-46.

Robert L. Tarín, “An Iberian Sub-Cluster Is Revealed in a Phylogenetic Tree Analysis of the Y-chromosome E3b [E1b1b] Haplogroup,” published online Nov. 2005 and retrieved Jan. 2012 at http://garyfelix.tripod.com/E3bsubcluster.pdf.

Map shows location of Devon, one possible hotspot for British male haplogroup E. 


Paul commented on 28-Apr-2012 08:14 PM

This is fascinating. I wonder if I can count myself among these descendents. Though Bird may have been debunked, my Mother's autosomal analyses (as well as my own) included a very prominent representation from the Balkans, especially Croatia, Bosnia and
Macedonia. Her mother was French-Canadian, and we have paper-trailed those unmistakably French surnames in Quebec back to the early 1700's. However, her father was a descendent of Henry Cook I of Devon. Iberian representation we saw in the analyses were not
unexpected given the known history of the British Isles, but the Balkan representation sure was.

Brian Colquhoun commented on 01-Mar-2013 06:20 PM

I just assumed the V13 moved from Northern Africa to the Middle East (ancient Israel included) and thence to the Balkans (including Thrace, Moesia, Macedonia)and Greece. Certainly, a Roman connection in transport to Britain seems intuitive, but as more and more data becomes available, I'm sure the story will sort itself out.

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British Bones Push Back Date for "First Anatomically Modern Human" in Northwestern Europe

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Missing Link from Kent's Cavern in Devonshire

A prehistoric maxilla (upper jawbone) fragment was discovered in the cavern during a 1927 excavation by the Torquay Natural History Society, and named Kents Cavern 4. The specimen is on display at the Torquay Museum.

Although previous radiocarbon dating suggested the bone was about 35,000 years old, a new study in Nature redates it securely to 44.2-41.5 kyr. The article by Tom Higham et al., "The Earliest Evidence for Anatomically Modern Humans in Northwestern Europe," also claims that on the basis of dental comparisons it is "human" rather than "Neanderthal."

The Kent's Cavern fragment "therefore represents the oldest known anatomically modern human fossil in northwestern Europe, fills a key gap between the earliest dated Aurignacian remains and the earliest human skeletal remains, and demonstrates the wide and rapid dispersal of early modern humans across Europe more than 40 kyr ago."

A related article in the same issue of Nature is "Early Dispersal of Modern Humans in Europe and Implications for Neanderthal Behavior," by Stefano Benazzi et al. It attempts to place the so-called Cavallo fossil from southern Italy in a timeframe of about 44,000 years ago, thus suggesting a "rapid dispersal of modern humans across the continent before the Aurignacian and the disappearance of Neanderthals."

Neither study considers that the evidence they are examining may be the result of hybridization between "humans" and "Neanderthals." Like most geneticists the authors have rigid categories and do not consider that our definitions of species and sub-species and transitions in technocomplexes and traits are in flux as new discoveries are made.

One man's Mede may be another man's Persian, and we note that the "fossil race" is not devoid of scientific jingoism pitting one country's news-making finds against another's. So far England seems to be winning.

However, the British still have to live down Piltdown Man, a fraud of biblical proportions that fooled the world for almost half a century until the 1950s. The Piltdown hoax is perhaps the most famous paleontological hoax ever. It has been prominent for two reasons: the attention paid to the issue of human evolution, and the length of time that elapsed from its discovery to its full exposure as a forgery combining the lower jawbone of an orangutan with the skull of a fully developed modern human.

The editors sum up the two new studies by writing, "The reanalysis of findings from two archaeological sites calls for a reassessment of when modern humans settled in Europe, and of Neanderthal cultural achievements." We wish that the paleontological community would think more out of the box and reassess how, when and where "humans" and "Neanderthals" interbred. 

Location of Kent's Caverns in Devon.


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