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Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland    by Bryan Sykes Amazon.com order for
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts
by Bryan Sykes
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Bryan Sykes, author of The Seven Daughters of Eve and Adam's Curse, and professor of human genetics at Oxford university, has spent many years studying genes, chromosomes, and DNA; specializing in collecting data from all over the world and tracing ancestral lineages back thousands of years. He was one of the instrumental geneticists in tracing all Europeans back to seven ancestral women. From this, Sykes now takes on the challenge of determining the ancestry of the British Isles. How much Saxon, Viking, and Celtic DNA is left in a modern day Englishman? Saxons, Vikings, and Celts is a bold and ambitious book that reveals the astounding results of Sykes' ten years of study of more than 10,000 volunteers.

Do not be daunted by the pages of DNA statistics - Sykes goes out of his way to break everything down and explain it in a detailed but simple way; he even warns the reader before the 'part with all the numbers.' Apart from being a book about DNA and the genetics of the British Isles, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts is also an amazing source for history. The first chapter sets the scene with a summary of Sykes' career and research. Chapter two is an excellent summary of British history: from the end of Roman rule to the present day; Sykes has an innate ability to explain in a way that makes the connections obvious. The next few chapters are spent explaining his process for collecting genetic data throughout the British Isles - first with blood samples from schools and blood banks, and then with plastic brushes that are scraped on the inside of the cheek to get skin samples - a method better received by people donating samples. Sykes then covers the history of immigration of Celts, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans.

The last five pages of the book are what the reader has spent the last two hundred and fifty pages reading to get to; here Sykes correlates all the data and explains the results, which are astonishing to say the least. They essentially boil down to this: the genetic makeup of the British Isles mainly consists of the Britons and Celts who have lived there for thousands of years, while the invading Saxon, Viking, and Norman people form but a minor percentage of the total. What does this all mean? Sadly, Sykes doesn't offer explanations leaving the reader to form their own conclusions. Were the invading peoples relatively small in number? Did they not actually settle in as large groups as has been believed? While Saxons, Vikings, and Celts may not answer every question, the facts that it brings to light - based on DNA evidence - are worthy of contemplation. Sykes has even started his own company, Oxford Ancestors, where one can send a sample to have DNA traced to those who lived, walked, and breathed thousands of years ago.

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