Mary Beard and the BBC’s imaginary Roman Africans

Posted by Guessedworker on Sunday, 06 August 2017 16:17.

Serial liberal and Oxford classicist Prof Mary Beard has been bearded (again) by the Twitter mob, this time for talking up a black presence in Roman Britain:

Classicist Mary Beard’s has been forced to defend claims that Roman Britain was ethnically diverse, after she hit back at online ‘trolls’ who accused her of promoting “fake” history on Twitter.

The hugely popular don used the online social media site to voice her scholarly support for a BBC educational cartoon depicting a black Roman soldier and his family.

… But she immediately became the target for misogynistic abuse from members of the public, some of whom admitted having never read a single book on ancient history.
She was referred to as a “batty old broad pretending Romans were black”, “shrill”, “a pretentious know-nothing”, “f****** retarded”, and “a bum”.

Prof Beard eventually tweeted: “I fear I’m about to lose my usual courteous patience with those who sound off on Roman Britain without any info at all. so will shut up.”

Last week she used a post on the Times Literary Supplement to clarify her position, and explained: “I have been in something of a Twitter storm over the past few days, all because of an argument about the ethnic diversity of Roman Britain (sounds harmless enough you think, well…just see).

“I think, for example, that the BBC character was loosely based (with a bit of a chronological shift) on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a man from what is now Algeria, who became governor of Britain.

“One thing is for sure, the Roman empire — Britain included — was cultural and ethnically diverse, from the Syrians in Bath, to Quintus Lollius Urbicus, the Ethiopian who met Septimius Severus on Hadrian’s Wall and the wonderful couple from South Shields, Barates and Queenie (‘Regina’), he from Palmyra, she an Essex girl.

“There is no doubt about that. The trouble is that pinning this down in specific cases to precise ethnicities is much harder than many would like and it requires an array of historical and scientific techniques”.

Among those critical of Prof Beard, a world-renowned expert on ancient civilisations, was US-Lebanese economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He called an “intellectual wuss”, accused her of “bull*******” her 142,0000 Twitter followers, suggested she was a member of the “politically correct Gestapo”.

There was insufficient genetic evidence to support the claim that people from Africa had lived in Roman Britain in substantial numbers, Prof Taleb added.

He dismissed evidence to the contrary as “anecdotal”, and used his blog to denounce the BBC for “cherry-picking” its source material and of “applying quotas retroactively (I mean, really retroactively).

“Any dissent from the statistical errors made by the politically correct police is treated as apostasy. Effectively, scholarship is dead in the U.K,” he wrote.

“We find nothing beyond traces of sub-Saharan genes in areas where Roman legions were located (France, Gaul, and even Spain, where most of it came much later from the Arab trade). Show the picture to a French or Italian person and tell him “this is the typical…” and wait for the insults”.

Professor Taleb, a former trader and financial risk analyst, who said he had “no use” for Professor Beard, who has suffered repeated sexist abuse at the hands of online “trolls” over several years.

Support for the respected Cambridge University scholar came from the author J K Rowling, Labour MP Jess Phillips, singer Billy Bragg and fellow academics.

So how about a bit of support from the People of the British Isles’ project’s March 2015 newsletter, which constitutes an more authoritative source on the matter than a liberal Oxford prof.  Amazingly, it does not mention all that vibrant diversity which so grips Prof Beard’s imagination.

Fig 1

The population of the UK has a relatively simple history compared to the rest of Europe. Great Britain was first inhabited by modern humans after the last ice age, some 12,000 years ago, with the next major perturbation being the arrival of agriculture some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Even if agriculture came with some influx of people, the numbers were probably not large and by that time any genetic differences between the indigenous British populations and those at the origins of the farmers in the fertile-crescent would have been diluted out. The Roman occupation lasted from 43 – 410, followed soon after by the Saxons and related groups. The Vikings then came around 800-950, and finally there was the Norman invasion of 1066, after which there has been no further major invasion of Great Britain. Of all the migrations after the initial settlement, historical and archaeological evidence suggests that only the Saxon and Viking invasions are likely to have had a major impact on the genetics of the people of the British Isles.

In considering the contribution of human migration to changing culture, it is very important not to confuse the influence of a small elite group, such as the Normans, who may have a huge impact on culture and language but little impact on the genetics of the masses, from larger scale migrations, such as those of the Anglo-Saxons and Norse Vikings. History and archaeology focus on the elite groups, whereas genetics looks at the constitution of the whole of the population, including the peasants on the land who, after agriculture, were the main mass of the population until comparatively recently.

Fig 2

Data from a study of multiple sclerosis on 6,209 individuals from 10 different European countries were used to assess the extent to which these European countries might have contributed to the genetic composition of the British genetic clusters. These data were first analysed into genetic clusters using FineSTRUCTURE, just as for the British samples, though the sourcing of the European samples was much more coarse-grained that that done by PoBI. Most European countries were well separated into different genetic groups by this analysis, with some showing significant internal genetic heterogeneity, analogous to that found in the UK. A complex statistical procedure was then used to estimate how the British clusters could be expressed as mixtures of the European groups. Counting Norway as a single source, only 9 of the 51 European groups identified by the FineSTRUCTURE analysis contributed significantly to the British clusters.

A summary of the results of this analysis is shown in Figure 3. Each pie chart represents one of the 17 British clusters and the relative contributions of the different European groups to that cluster are proportional to the sizes of the sectors in the pie chart, with the colour of the sector indicating its source.

Fig 3

The dark blue Norwegian contribution stands out clearly in the Orkney samples, as expected, but represents only about a 25% Norse Viking admixture. This shows that the Norse Vikings certainly did not wipe out the resident Pictish population and replace it, but rather intermarried significantly with it. There are also clear Norwegian contributions to all the Scottish and Northern Ireland samples, less to Northern England, even less to Wales and very small contributions elsewhere.

The three Welsh clusters are the most distinctive and completely lack contributions from North and North West Germany (EU3 pink) and Northern France (EU17 red). They have the largest contributions from West Germany (EU6 medium green) and North West France (EU14 dark green). This configuration strongly suggests that the Welsh may be closest to the original settlers who came to Britain after the end of the ice age. While there is no clear ‘Celtic Fringe’, as is so often assumed, there is evidence of ancient British DNA in common with other British populations, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but less in Cornwall, or Devon, in contrast to what might have been expected.

The small differences between South and North Pembrokeshire, especially the slightly larger contributions from Belgium (EU11 yellow) and Denmark (EU18 dark red) (matching Danish place names in South Pembrokeshire) are consistent with the suggestion that this group may represent the area that is sometimes called “Little England Beyond Wales”. This is because the farmers settled there by Henry II probably mostly came from that part of Europe.

The most obvious contribution representing the Anglo-Saxons is EU3 (pink) from North and North West Germany. That is consistent with the lack of evidence for Anglo-Saxon incursions into Wales. Denmark (EU18 dark red) is another clear candidate for an Anglo-Saxon contribution. Based on these two contributions, the best estimates for the proportion of presumed Anglo-Saxon ancestry in the large eastern, central and southern England cluster (red squares) are a maximum of 40% and could be as little as 10%. This is strong evidence against an Anglo-Saxon wipe-out of the resident ancient British population, but clearly indicates extensive admixture between the incoming invaders and the indigenous people. The difference between Devon and Cornwall is most probably due to the greater Saxon influence in Devon, this being consistent with the slightly greater contributions of EU3 (pink) and EU18(dark red) to the makeup of the Devon cluster as compared to that in Cornwall.

The homogeneity of the east, central and southern British cluster (red squares) with no obvious differences in the Danish contribution (EU18 dark red) between them and the more northern English populations, strongly suggests that the Danish Vikings, in spite of their major influence through the “Danelaw’ and many place names of Danish origin, contributed little of their DNA to the English population.

There is evidence for only a very small Spanish contribution to the PoBI samples, in contrast to what has been claimed by some authors.

The most intriguing European contribution is that from Northern France, (EU17 red). This clearly post- dates the original settlers since it is entirely absent from the Welsh samples. It is, however, widespread elsewhere, even right through the north of England and Scotland to Orkney. It is also especially prevalent in Cornwall and Devon. These results suggest a previously not described substantial migration across the channel after the original post-ice-age settlers but before Roman times. DNA from these migrants spread across England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, but had little, if any, impact on Wales.



Comments:


1

Posted by Guessedworker on Mon, 07 Aug 2017 14:55 | #

A fun thread on this very subject at the Speccie today:

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/08/how-alt-right-was-roman-britain/



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