January 8, 2011

Bryan Sykes
Linton Rd
Oxford OX2 6UD, United Kingdom
01865 274 100

Dear Bryan Sykes:

The last part of this letter will be the most unexpected message you ever get.  However before I get to the melancholy, not to say gruesome, point where your interest places you squarely in the middle, I digress because your book is so much fun.

I dearly loved Saxons, Vikings and Celts, Bryan Sykes W. W. Norton and Co. New York 2006.  It is sort of Silmarillion with real data.  The form is just what I like.  Give me the facts to stew over and then put them together.  Genetics, history, legends, archeology, magical landscapes, all woven into a rich tapestry, it is irresistible. 

I used to think that all Europe had been Rh negative but that people had been driven to the coast by population pressure from the east.  When people said that the Scots were related to Basques because of the shared Rh negative factor I would say with exasperation that the Rh negative allele was older so there was not reason to think people who shared it were related.  I now have to eat my words.  Which allele is older can now be known by counting accumulated mutations, which is a far better method than pondering the map.  You make a very strong case for the Rh negative people moving up the Atlantic Seaboard.  Indeed you understate your case.  Megalithic structures are found on Malta and there is even a stone circle in the Sudan.  I think it would be a good bet that they pitched in to help work on the great pyramids at some point.  The clincher is that the Sudan has a triflingly higher incidence of Rh negative than surrounding areas.  In the other direction megaliths can be found as far as the Faeroe Islands and there is a small blip in Rh negative incidence around Bergen.  This diaspora was a mighty accomplishment indeed, and I must now renounce my prior belief that the great monuments were built by the aboriginal Britons. 

You give two possibilities for the origin of the Mesolithic aborigines.  They may have been there when the English Channel opened, so they would have been aborigines indeed, surviving in a small enclave, maybe only a single village, through the Younger Dryas.  Or they may have moved in later.  I would not go to the wall on this one, but I rather think they weathered the cold snap north of the channel.  That is because they evidently equilibrated at some point so that the mitochondrial DNA shows much the same pattern throughout the Isles.  A small population might have done this more easily than a large disparate population wandering throughout the landscape. Still, survival of such a village would have been against the odds. 

The Mesolithics lacked the Celtic package of horses, iron, tribal structure,  chieftains, warriors, Indo-European language and pantheon of gods because none of these had yet been tamed, discovered, invented, or worshiped yet.  The Atlantis people – I like that idea for a name – also lacked the package when they arrived.  I accept the Rh negative scenario.  But what would the people have looked like?  Britain seems to me to have two extremes of type, strapping, cheerful redheads and compact, very private brunettes.  I suspect one of those first two groups looked one way and the other the other way.  I don’t know which and doubt anyone could.

Before proceeding, I have a disclaimer and a couple issues. 

The disclaimer is that I do not identify with anybody any more than with anybody else.  I have at my elbow a three page genealogy put together by my brother that traces our Y chromosome.  Most of it is legend, but the documentation actually has only three gaps, each a plausible link, and there are stories.  The actual connections are otherwise intact.  As you can guess it goes all the way back to Adam.  Now there I say is a cure for anything like pride in ancient roots.  Descended from Adam.  Big fat deal.  Of course such a late Adam is myth, but it still means I cannot look at another human without at least thinking cousin.  The spoor runs through the Carolingians, and I understand the skull of Dagobert the second is around.  I suppose it is only a matter of time before somebody analyses his Y chromosome, compares it with mine and lays most of the myth to rest. 

Up the mitochondrial line I come to the same attitude through the other end of the food chain.  Although my mother, like my father, had ancestors who spoke many languages the mitochondrion is in all likelihood Scotch Irish.  We recon we hark back to the community that lived around the North Channel.  As you point out water was a better road than land before the train and the car.  The thing about the Scotch Irish is we never bought the whole package.  We don’t adore authority.  We don’t identify as a coherent group.  Write a book Saxon, Viking, Atlantis and Scotch Irish and you will not sell many.  “Pict” isn’t even in my spelling checker.  Your typical Scotch Irish will have more affection for the English, who slaughtered us without provocation, the Scots, who slaughtered us without provocation, the Romans, who slaughtered us without provocation and the Indians, who slaughtered us although this time provoked, than for the Scotch Irish.

Indeed the name is being lost.  It is now Scots Irish.  That’s because the Scots don’t want to be called Scotch and the Scotch Irish don’t care.  The Scots call the English something like “Sassenach.”  It interprets as lowlander but it must mean Scotch Irish.  It’s the worst insult they can come up with.  That does not bother the Scotch Irish in the least. 

I once was chatting with a man who said he was, or had been, an Irish terrorist.  I told him I was reminded of a joke.  The story is that the Irish were hungry and somebody introduced the potato.  For a long time the Irish did well, but then weeds got into the potatoes.  The Irish couldn’t hoe fast enough to keep up so they sent a message to Scotland, “We implore you now in our hour of need.  We call upon ancient friendship.  You must help us.  We are frantic.  Send us 100,000 of your best hoers at once.”  Unfortunately the message got garbled.  Hence the Scotch Irish.

Well the terrorist got very upset.  It turned out that this was a hate joke they told each other.  The fact that I genuinely thought it was funny put him off stride.  That’s right, Scotch Irish like Irish better then we like Scotch Irish, the usual slaughter notwithstanding.  So up the maternal line I do not identify with anybody either. 

You mentioned that there was a legend that the Picts were a remnant of an ancient people, and you were careful to debunk the myth.  But you did drop the fact that the few remaining plausible Mesolithic Y chromosomes are right in the middle of the place the Picts were last seen leads me to the opposite conclusion.  Indeed St. Columbo, who Christianized Britain, came from Northern Ireland and he was a Pict.  So although the legend of Cuchullain is a Celtic story I think of the lad as a Pict.  The Cullen hills are in Scotland, which fits.  And his style was to go it alone.  That, alas, is what I have been doing with regards to the promised final part of this letter.  I should mention that the Scotch Irish do not particularly identify family any more than tribe.  The men just do what the women tell us to.  There may be matrilineal societies in the world, but the Scotch Irish are matriarchal. 

Now that you know more about me than anybody would ever want to know about anybody, we arrive at the first issue.  Obviously the Celtic package came to the Isles.  Iron and horses would easily be adopted.  Warfare and gods would seem less attractive as an import but are plausible.  But why would a language be replaced?  It had to be learned.  Absent internet instruction or continental boarding schools, it had to be learned from Indo-Europeans living in Britain.  That implies Iron Age Celts even though they vanished without a visible trace.  Certainly there are stories of Celts arriving.  I suspect they did arrive, dominated the Isles and then something bad happened to them. 

The other issue is the near disappearance of any Y chromosomes from the Mesolithic people.  You mention a few in Pictland, and I wonder whether you might find a few among American Scotch Irish.  I confess the disappearance has me baffled.  You point out the Genghis effect, whereby if one male is more successful in spreading his Y chromosome other males lose out.  This accounts for the diminished variability of the Y chromosome of the Mesolithics.  It could account for their loss of actual numbers, too, and that may be all there is to it.  But there is another factor on the ground that I am unable to fit in.

From a medical standpoint the genetics of the Rh factor is not so very complicated.  One may have one Rh positive allele, two or none.  The Rh positive allele is dominant so everybody is Rh positive unless homozygous for an Rh negative form.  If, as it so happens in Scotland, the frequency of the alleles is about equal, then about a quarter of the women are Rh negative phenotypes.  Of them about a quarter of them will marry men who are homozygous Rh positive.  There ensues the Rh incompatibility scenario.  The first baby is fine but if modern medicine is lacking the fetus sensitizes the woman to the Rh positive antigen.  Her body then destroys red blood cells in each subsequent fetus who is Rh positive, which is all of them since the man is homozygous. 

The pathophysiology is such that later fetuses become anemic, go into congestive heart failure and get dropsy.  Eventually the fetus is so bloated it cannot fit through the birth canal and dies and later the mother dies under conditions other than odor of sanctity.  (Mind you this is the fun part; I get to the gruesome stuff in a bit.) 

This leaves a widower with a child.  Since the community has been sympathetic, he is fairly well off.  He easily finds another wife and the process may repeat.  In a manner it is like the Genghis effect.  Some other man loses out. 

I once wrote a screenplay about this.  You can find it at nobabies.net under “screenplay” starting March 4, 2009.  There is some more modern information that is not included I would be more than happy to explain.

I know the getting stuck in the birth canal can happen.  I have a friend it happened to.  She barely escaped with her life.  She is still interested in the condition and would dearly like to know anything about where the Rh negative allele came from.  If you happen to know which is older, positive or negative, please do let me know. 

Anyway, with something like 6% of a population being eliminated each generation in a non-random fashion, there has to be an impact on the demographics and on the gene pool.  Just what that effect is, and whether it might have something to do with the decline in the Mesolithic Y chromosomes is currently beyond me. 

Now for the bad stuff.

Throughout human existence almost everybody married cousins until very recently.  We know it worked because we are here.  People no longer marry cousins.  The birth rate has collapsed in the rich world.  Something is very wrong. 

It turns out that as you look at marriages between people who are more and more distant cousins, fertility falls.  This is outbreeding depression.  We all know about inbreeding depression but few guess what a short distance it is between the two.  For more information and references, go to nobabies.net and check the web log for what I put up last Christmas Eve.  Of course I am at your disposal for further explanation. 

The upshot is that any unstructured population that approaches 1,000 adults is inherently unstable.  It will collapse and may go extinct.  I suspect that this is what happened to the Iron Age Celts.  All it requires is that they were clannish (they invented it) and did not mate non Iron Age Celts.  They were honorable and did not have extramarital affairs.  They were prosperous and mobile, horses.  And they numbered more than 1,000.  That is a prescription for extinction. 

The effect sets in too fast to be genetic.  It is probably epigenetic. 

So this is a factor that profoundly influences any conclusions you may draw from gene frequencies.  Some day everybody will know it. 

But for now, like Cuchullain, I fight alone to spread the warning.  The difference is that Cuchullain was not always defeated. 

Please let me know what you think. 


M. Linton Herbert MD

Ps.  I shall put this on my nobabies.net web log as I have done with other letters to experts and any other relevant information I have dredged up. 

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