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Mass migration and apartheid in Anglo-Saxon Britain

There are many unanswered questions surrounding the arrival of Germanic Anglo-Saxon people into Britain in the 5th century. The most notable of these is 'what happened to the native people?' - were they absorbed or did they relocate as a result of this migration event? Geneticists have attempted to answer this using modern DNA data, with estimates of between 25% and 100% contribution of Anglo-Saxon DNA to the modern male English gene pool. This approach is problematic, partly because other migrations of different people into Britain have occurred since. The best way to determine how many Anglo-Saxons migrated to Britain is to look directly at the genetics of the contemporary British population.

the Anglo-Saxon Early Period (5th to early 7th century AD), two types of male burials have been identified: 'tall with weapons' and 'short without weapons'. It has been suggested that this difference reflected tall Anglo-Saxons and short Romano-British people. This research project will target ancient DNA from 18 skeletons from the Apple Down cemetery, West Sussex, held by The Novium.

This cemetery contained 121 inhumation burials, with a very obvious division between two different burial practices:

1. At the centre, burials of children and mature adults oriented east-west, containing grave goods.

2. At the edges, burials without grave goods, with north-south orientation.

Although this organisation indicates social separation between two groups, we cannot assume this also reflects an ethnic division at Apple Down by using the bones and grave goods alone. However, the clear division within this cemetery indicates that Apple Down is a perfect site to test the hypothesis that there were two non-interbreeding populations present in England at this time.

Dr. Ceiridwen J. Edwards
Research Laboratory for Archaeology
University of Oxford

In collaboration with:
Professor Mark Pollard (University of Oxford)
Professor Helena Hamerow (University of Oxford)
Professor Dan Bradley (Trinity College Dublin)
Dr. Duncan Sayer (University of Central Lancashire)