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Evidence for Africans in Britain from the Bronze Age to the Medieval Period (caitlingreen.org)
46 points by diodorus on Aug 23, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

> Sites possessing isotopic evidence consistent with the presence of first-generation immigrants from North Africa are found in all periods looked at, although there is a clear peak in the Roman era.

That makes sense. North Africa was better integrated into the Roman Empire than Britain was, really, so it wouldn't be surprising to see a fair number of North African Roman citizens, socii, or provinciales in Britain on Roman business.

Similarly, the single Bronze-Iron age result they find is from the Isle of Thanet, which was a major trading post

(see: http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/04/thanet-tanit-and-the-pho... )

Tin trade. Tin was pretty rare and IIRC the fertile crescent and Egypt are thought to have imported it from Cornwall or Iran/India. Pithy quote: Strabo (Geography, 3.5.11) mentions the important ancient tin trade with the Kassiterides, the 'Tin Islands', which have often been credibly identified with either the Isles of Scilly or Cornwall, and goes on to state that 'in former times it was the Phoenicians alone', from Cadiz, 'who carried on this commerce'.(10)

I thought a significant portion of north africans are genetically arab.

It's actually not very clear what North Africans would have looked like prior to the early Muslim conquests of the 600s. The entire Mediterranean-North African-Middle Eastern region has been conquered and reconquered so many times that trying to pin down the population to an ethnic category is (even more) difficult.

You have to remember, lots of conquests occurred in the last 2000 years. Prior to Islam (circa 600 CE), Arabs didn't spread out much from Arabia. Turkey, Palestine, North Africa, Egypt, etc..., none of them were Arab prior to the conquests. Heck there weren't even Turks in Turkey (Turks come from central Asia).

Anyhow, North Africa consisted of Phoenicians (Semitic people, ethnically close to Assyrians who spread out along the north coast of Africa and elsewhere during Classical Antiquity), Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Africans.

Wow there is a lot misinformation around here. You mention Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, but you forget to mention the the indigenous population of North Africa, the Berbers. We're still here people we've been here since before the Phoenicians and Romans. Northwest africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) is to this day majority berber (amazigh). Romans occupied north Africa, Byzantines, Vandals, Arabs and Turks, and eventually the French, but there was not a population replacement. Recent genetic population studies of the Maghreb have proved this (try google). Romanization and then eventually Arabization was a cultural process. The majority population of North Africa is still Berber and about 40-50% continue to speak Berber.

These results are not a surprise as North African kingdoms were very well integrated into the Roman and Byzantine empires. The Romans used to call us the Numidians in the east (eastern Algeria) and the Mauri in the west (west of Algiers to Morocco). The word Moor is derived from Mauri.. The daughter of queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony was married to one of our kings (Juba). Also the oldest medieval skeleton recovered in the south of france is of berber stock, there was even a Roman emperor of North African origin (Septimius Severus).

Anyway, we didn't go anywhere, we're still here, but the way we identify has changed for some of us. Just as the Italians no longer call themselves Romans.

Literally the last word of my first post.

Or should I have listed the specific histories of every part of North Africa from pre-history until the Arab conquests?

And of course, Berber identity has changed throughout the years, after the Arab conquests and Islam spread, Berber and Arab identities mixed, and that gave rise to the current ethnic makeup of the region today.

You mean the part where it says "Africans?" That's not specific enough. Africa is vast and many different ethnicities and when people say Africans they instantly think of black africans. Egyptians are also africans, but you mentioned them. This region developed separately from sub-saharan africa because the sahara is a natural barrier which limited migration.

What is an African but someone from Africa?

Exactly, the same as an Egyptian.

It seems ridiculous to me that there is any surprise that people (of all hues) have always been migrating. It's literally what humans do (and animals for that matter), and have been doing since we first arrived on this planet. The level of admixture that we can now see is in ALL of our DNA makes it even more amazing that people are surprised by this.

Yes, that's what anthropologists often say. So you have quite some evidence backing you up... And many humans now are excited about exploring space, agitating over how few resources we allocate to it.

(That's another rant that many have; it's not like we suffer from too few resources. In fact, we overproduce many costly things. It's simply distribution that's fundamentally broken.)

>The degree to which pre-modern Britain included people of African origin within its population continues to be a topic of considerable interest


Also, aren't all people of African origin?

This is about evidence of people who themselves personally came from North Africa. Not people who's ancestors came from North Africa.

The evidence is found in the oxygen isotopes in their teeth from the water they drank in their early lives, so it's nothing to do with genetics or ancestry and is purely environmental.

Though I'm surprised the research didn't simply use present-day Britain DNA records?

With DNA there would be no way to know when the African ancestry was introduced. Bear in mind we've had extensive contact with Africa via the slave and sugar trades for about a dozen generations.

I think that's exactly what you can use dna evidence for. E.g. its used to identify when Neanderthal was added etc. Or is it because the introduction was continuous? Hm.

We don't know from the DNA evidence itself when we received Neanderthal DNA other than the fact we know roughly when main-line Neanderthals died out.

There's a huge difference between saying these modern British people have some tiny amount of African DNA and we don't know where it came from, and saying this person right here in this grave from this historical period grew up in Africa. They tell us very different things.

That's just wrong, far as I know. We can tell when DNA was introduced - but I don't know how that works. Anybody?

I can't reply to ema's post.

To a point, but that wouldn't be useful in this sort of case. We're talking about people who lived 80 generations ago, many of them before the Saxon and Norman invasions that both flooded the English gene pool. I'm English with no 'known' African ancestry. But it's quite possible I have some African ancestry from 1800 years ago, but I might also have African ancestry from one ancestor in medival times, and perhapse an ancestor from the West Indies sugar plantation days. How would you ever tease that out? It would only add up to a few percent of DNA but would be all over the map. Many brits probably have ancestries all over the place like this. What about ancestors who were Berbers? They have largely Visigoth ancestry, but are from North Africa.

In any case, the idea that this specific evidence isn't of value 'because DNA' is just daft.

> They have largely Visigoth ancestry, but are from North Africa.

The berbers do not have "largely visigoth" ancestry. The berbers are descendents of Numidians and Mauri, and they have a north african origin and the majority of north africans (algeria, morocco, tunisia) regardless of language (arabic or berber) can be identified genetically by the "berber marker." Recent population studies prove the despite numerous military conquests of north west africa there was not a population replacement.


Interesting, thanks.

We inherit the genes of our parents not completely mixed but in large chunks. So someone who is first generation mixed race while have large continuous regions of their genome from one race or the other. If two such people have children they will have the same amount of genes from each race as their parents[1] but the continuous regions will be smaller. So from the average length of regions which we can attribute to different founder populations we can estimate how long ago the admixture happened.

[1] This is not completely true as we seldom inherit exactly 25% of our genome from any grandparent, but it is usually pretty close.

Ongoing arguments about representation. Some people want to maintain the lie that there were no black people in the UK before the Empire Windrush. Some people want to insist that fantasy novels of pseudo-medieval settings should not have black people in as it's not "realistic", which is also silly.

It should be noted that North African is generally not black and in fact genetic testing of remains of some individuals living in the region of Carthage at the height of its power show them to possess a European haplolyte that has since mostly disappeared, and survives predominantly on the Iberian peninsula.

> It should be noted that North African is generally not black

It's not as simple as that. Do a Google image search for 'Tuareg' and you'll find a number of faces that meet modern British (and American) conceptions of 'black'.

>It's not as simple as that. Do a Google image search for 'Tuareg' and you'll find a number of faces that meet modern British (and American) conceptions of 'black'.

I didn't put it in overly simplistic terms. I said it "is generally not black", not "it is not black" or "it is never black". I was referring to the majority, rather making a blanket characterization about all North Africans.

Considering the large slave trade that filled the harems etc with black female slaves, there should be quite a lot of black ancestry in the Arab world?


But the Tuaregs were isolated from that type of immigration?

Similarly, North Africans of the late/post-Roman period could actually be Vandals or Alans, ethnically. There's a huge amount of flux in populations in the ancient period.

I dunno. I don't feel slighted because no Europeans or middle easterners are represented in Chinese operas just because the silk road.

It's worth noting that 'blackness' is a kind of modern era invention -- the Romans were deep into north Africa, it was entirely integrated into the empire, more so than much of Europe, and in their texts the colour of Africans skin is not really even mentioned. They are just referred to as Africans, which means Romans who live in North Africa. That's it.

You're absolutely right, and that's another reason why this is considered important: race is a modern way of viewing the world. The Romans were colonialists, but their kind of supremacy was based on culture and civic behaviour rather than skin colour. You could become civis romanus, and be accepted.

Not to mention that along particular corridors, there was contact with sub-Saharan Africans. Especially down the Nile, but also via routes through the desert.

By the 1300s Arab slave traders had a concept of blackness, it's older than whiteness as far as I can tell but I'm no expert.

Ah, so that's why people find this so interesting. Thank you.

While ultimately all people are of African origin it is still interesting to see whether there were later migration waves out of Africa. (Or even back into Africa for that matter)

> Or even back into Africa for that matter

While not mainland Africa, Madagascar is an example of a migration back into Africa. It was settled by Austronesians from Borneo. Malagasy is an Austronesian language:




All people are of African origin on a very long timescale of over 50,000-300,000 years ago.

That there were Africans in a more modern Britain sooner (just 5000 years ago), is interesting for this reason and it begs the question as to where the population went to-

> it begs the question as to where the population went to

I'm guessing they married out.

I cannot find a reference, but I seem to remember learning that eighteenth century Covent Garden in London had a significant black population, possibly former slaves freed by and then recruited into the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Within a century, that population had gone, at least as a distinct, visible group: the original population were all male and had taken local wives.

Google delivers: "roughly 10,000 [black people] in London" in the late C18th.


>I cannot find a reference

Stop here.

Why? Someone might know what I'm talking about and provide the reference that eluded me; or, just as usefully, they might be able to demonstrate I'm speaking nonsense.

That's presuming these folks remained a distinct population, rather than assimilating.


Go back far enough and we'll find a common ancestor, and they probably came from Africa, and while confirming this is in itself interesting I think that people travelling and cross settling in our history is excepotion ally interesting.

Agreed - I'm certainly somebody who finds the history of the many waves of immigration to and emigration from the British Isles absolutely fascinating, particularly where these might overlap with the various origin myths for where peoples believed they originally came from.

[e.g. I've always wondered why I have epicanthic folds (which are fairly common in the part of Scotland I come from) even though my family has been in Scotland for many hundreds of years, although I think I've found a Finnish connection in the 17th century].

Check out some of the hate mail this person: http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com gets if this is surprising to you.

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