Norse trace

Jennifer Raff has an article in the Guardian, discussing why there’s no genetic sign of black African ancestry ( from Roman times) in contemporary British DNA. Well, the simple explanation is very few such people ever came to Britain. She mentions the case of the Norse Colony on Newfoundland at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, which also doesn’t seem to have left any genetic trace.

In the Newfie case, I’m fairly sure why there’s no genetic trace, having read the Greenland Saga. The Norse colony ( which was small) only lasted for a couple of years: the Skraelings turned hostile & the Norse apparently fought among themselves [Freydis]. Moreover, even if the Norse did manage to get it on with the local Amerindians [the Beothuk], the Beothuks’ extinction around 1830 makes genetic transmission to the present day most unlikely.

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35 Responses to Norse trace

  1. Perhaps there is a particular form of African Ancestry which leaves no genetic trace but which can be detected by modern cartoons?

    • gcochran9 says:

      Blacks in early New England had higher mortality than whites. Pneumonia, i think. Could have been the case for a black guy that somehow ended up in Northern Europe.

      • BucardoReal says:

        It seems that the subject is based on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a Roman who came from Algeria who supposedly was governor of Roman Britania. Considering the people living in North Africa, Quintus’ representation as a sub-Saharan is misleading. I would venture to say that the ancient peoples of North Africa were even a little whiter than they are today, because the Arab invasion had not yet occurred and the Berber peoples were clearer (ie modern Libyans, Kabyles, Rifians). Considering that he was of Berber origin, but could have been a Roman settler. It would be like saying that Zinedine Zidane is not only Berber, but Sub-Saharan, a complete madness. He is of North African origin (Argeria), I think specifically Kabyl but his skin is even clearer than that of Hollande!

  2. dearieme says:

    The trick of using “African” of a North African but using it to imply in the reader’s mind a Subsaharan African is commonplace; it’s an everyday lie.

  3. Bob says:

    What do you make of the craniometric data that suggests a subsaharan African presence? Do you suppose the burial grounds are not very representative, or that it just didn’t make much of an impact with the collapse of Roman Britain and the Empire?

    Leach et al. (2009) provide evidence for intense foreign settlement. At one burial ground near Roman York, craniometric analysis revealed that 66% of the individuals clustered most closely with Europeans, 23% with sub-Saharan Africans, and 11% with Egyptians. At another, the proportions were 53% European, 32% sub-Saharan, and 15% Egyptian (Leach et al., 2009).

    In a subsequent article, Leach et al. (2010) focus on one burial: a young woman 18 to 23 years old who had been buried between 350 and 400 AD. The authors dubbed her the ‘Lady of York’ because of her stone coffin and its rich array of grave goods, apparently a sign of high status. Nonetheless, her skull showed little or no affinity to any European population, the closest match being a sample of African-American women. Various facial indices showed a mix of sub-Saharan African and European traits, suggesting a person of mixed parentage or perhaps a North African. An African origin is also suggested by the presence of elephant ivory among the grave goods.

    • gcochran9 says:

      DNA would be nice. I don’t think that sub-Saharan African skulls and North African skulls were particularly close, back in the day. Closer now, with an increase in SSA admixture.

      Let me say this: If DNA were available , it wouldn’t surprise me if none of these skeletons turned out to sub-Saharan. There was no part of the Roman Empire that was significantly black, although it did border on Nubia.

      More generally, people have had trouble finding any genetic trace of the Roman Empire at all. I don’t think there’s a noticeable trace today [ in Italy] of most of the various immigrant communities that once existed in Rome.

      Probably almost all of the of people moving around the empire lived in towns and cities, which were demographic sinks – increasingly so. In the Western empire most of those urban areas were sustained by politics rather than commerce: with the fall of the western Empire, they withered away.

      • gcochran9 says:

        One other thing: when a certain idea is trendy, there are always some ‘researchers’ that will find something that supports it. People lie.

      • Bob says:

        Is craniometry not very reliable for racial classification? Or do you suppose the results were fudged, which would be pretty significant since the purported proportions are fairly high? I figured the population just declined because of the demographic sink and left with the decline and collapse of the empire, assuming such results weren’t completely fabricated.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Done right, it’s reliable. Do I think the results were fudged? I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me.

          • Halvorson says:

            They were absolutely fudged, generated using a program that anthropologists have repeatedly rejected.

            • gcochran9 says:

              talk abut crappy ! ” The program correctly classified more than 70 per cent of the test specimens in some analyses. But the analyses in question were the ones in which not only were 56 variables employed but also the test specimen’s source population was included in the reference sample. In all the other analyses, less than 40 per cent of the test specimens were classified correctly. ”

              I’m surprised they didn’t claim that dinosaurs stalked Roman Britain.

              • dearieme says:

                Dinosaurs stalking Roman Britain? ‘Course they didn’t; Hadrian’s Wall was a success. It kept the buggers out.

    • BucardoReal says:

      Bob I wonder about the number of individuals analyzed by Leach. Certainly there are differences easy to identify in the skulls of different continental races, but the differences diminish as we reduce the area of study, personally, I believed that it was quite difficult to separate the Egyptian skull from a European skull since both are Caucasian.
      ”[…] her skull showed little or no affinity to any European population, the closest match being a sample of African-American women.” -I doubt that the skull of an African American woman bears little resemblance to a European skull, but I’m not an expert.
      ”Various facial indices showed a mix of sub-Saharan African and European traits, suggesting a person of mixed parentage or perhaps a North African. -North Africans are Caucasians, not a kind of mix between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans, I do not believe that an African-American skull can be confused with the skull of a Libyan, since the skull of a Libyan is essentially the same as that of a Swiss. And the finding of elephant ivory is a poor indication of anything.

      • Bob says:

        The claims about the Egyptian or North African findings are not so much the issue here as the claims regarding subsaharan Africans, which are curiously high and distinguished from the Egyptians and North Africans.

    • dearieme says:

      “An African origin is also suggested by the presence of elephant ivory”: what a strange little non sequitur.

  4. IC says:

    Urban sink with asymmetric gene flow from rural replacement.

  5. syonredux says:

    Some silly bits in the article:

    “While most of the isotopic evidence locates these individuals’ birthplaces to North Africa, there are also written accounts of people from further south, as Dr. Nicholls notes:

    “The internet discussion was particularly prompted by the appearance of a black Roman soldier in the detachment building Hadrian’s Wall, but in fact there is an ancient account of precisely this – the emperor Septimius Severus (himself in fact an African, from Libya)”

    Of course, Libya is in North Africa, and here’s WIKIPEDIA’s account of his ancestry:

    “Born on 11 April 145 at Leptis Magna (in present-day Libya) as the son of Publius Septimius Geta and Fulvia Pia,[1] Septimius Severus came from a wealthy and distinguished family of equestrian rank. He had Italian Roman ancestry on his mother’s side and descended from Punic – and perhaps also Libyan – forebears on his father’s side.”

    And here’s his bust:

    Looks pretty Euripoid to me….

    ” was inspecting his troops on the Wall when one of the garrison’s well-known jokers, an ‘Ethiopian’, offered him a garland.

    Severus was startled by the apparent omen, associating the soldier’s black colour as a portent of his own imminent death, but no-one seems to have been particularly surprised at the presence of an ‘Ethiopian’ (that is, a black African) at the northern edge of the Roman empire (Hist. Aug. Severus 22).””

    The anecdote comes from the Augustan History, not exactly the most reliable source…..

    “In fact, Beard suggests that the image in the BBC cartoon was loosely based on another historical figure, the Algerian Quintus Lollius Urbicus.”

    Which is in North Africa…..

    ” Her point, made patiently again and again, is that we don’t know the exact shade of his skin, or whether it was accurately reflected in the cartoon – that it was most likely an artistic choice designed to make the point to children that there were “vast disparities in Roman Britain in ethnicity and culture”, and that seeing such a person “would be unsurprising in an urban context.” ”

    And the “artistic choice” involved depicting him as a Sub-Saharan African…..Despite the fact that he was from North Africa…..

  6. Anonymous says:

    Here is a chapter from Hinrich Rinks’s Tales and Tradititions of the Eskimo, 1875 about meeting the Norse whom they called Kavdlunait:

  7. Anonymous says:

    Here is a chapter from Hinrich Rink’s Tales and Tradititions of the Eskimo, 1875 , which is about their meeting with the Norse whom they called Kavdlunaits:

    • teageegeepea says:

      Since the section on the Greenland Norse is titled “They may not have left numerous (or any) descendants in the population”, noting that the Norse weren’t there before being driven off would be compatible with her point that “there was no admixture (mating) taking place between Norse and indigenous populations, or perhaps that it was on such a small scale that traces were erased over time”. This does, however, leave out the possibility of large-scale admixture with a tribe who, as Greg mentioned, were wiped out later.

  8. Jim says:

    L’Anse aux Meadows is located at the most extreme northern point of Newfoundland. I would guess that most of the Amerindian population of Newfoundland probably lived on the south coast of Newfoundland and anyway probably numbered only a few thousand people. Norse living at L’Anse aux Meadows probably hardly ever saw any Amerindians.

    I lived in Newfoundland for a while as a child and once you go very far from the Southern Coast you see more moose than people. I never was anywhere close to L’Anse aux Meadows (the existence of the Norse settlement was unknown then) but the island was almost totally empty way south of L’Anse aux Meadows.

    • dearieme says:

      In the medieval warm period, and before the invasion of Old World diseases, perhaps Newfoundland was better populated. Perhaps.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “Norse living at L’Anse aux Meadows probably hardly ever saw any Amerindians. ” Sure they did: traded with them, fought with them. Skraelings. “Thorvald drew out the arrow, and exclaimed: ‘There is fat around my paunch; we have hit upon a fruitful country, and yet we are not like to get much profit of it.’ “

      • Jim says:

        According to Wikipedia there is no evidence of Amerindians living in the area at the time of the Norse settlement although there is evidence of Dorset people having lived there 200 years before.

        • gcochran9 says:

          There’s every reason to believe the sagas. At least to the extent that the Norse had trouble with the Injuns. If not, the Norse would have stayed: Newfoundland isn’t perfect but it’s a hell of a lot better then Greenland.

          • Jim says:

            I think there was trade in walrus ivory from Greenland to Europe via Iceland. L’Anse aux Meadows was probably dependent on external sources for stuff like clothes and metal implements. Maybe they didn’t have the resources there to trade for what they needed.

            I do believe that the Norse had conflicts with Amerindians but not necessarily at all times and places. It’s not clear that there were any Amerindians living close to L’Anse aux Meadows at that time.

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