The billion SNPs of Alba?

By Razib Khan | April 18, 2012 7:33 am

A man of astonishing multitudes?

Daniel MacArthur points me to one of the funniest historical genetic popular write-ups I’ve seen in years. Study reveals ‘extraordinary’ DNA of people in Scotland:

Researchers believe that Scotland’s location could be a factor in the “astonishing and unique” origins of people from the country.

In a statement, Dr Wilson and Mr Moffat said: “Perhaps geography, Scotland’s place at the farthest north-western end of the European peninsula, is the reason for great diversity.

“For many thousands of years, migrants could move no further west. Scotland was the end of many journeys.”

I am aware that modern Scotland does emerge from a rather patchwork ethno-cultural background. That is, it is the fusion of Gaels (the Scots), Picts, the Norse, the Strathclyde Britons, and of course the German speaking Anglo-Saxon populations migrating up from Northumbria. But the “astonishing and unique” genetic heritage of the Scots seems as plausible as the culinary delights of haggis. From what I recall genetic diversity drops off as you go north and west in Europe because the effective population drops (less gene flow with surrounding populations because there are fewer surrounding populations). Rather than gene flow in, like the British Isles as a whole it seems that there is likely to be a whole lot of Scot in the rest of the world due to the migrations of its Diaspora.

Tuareg, related to a few Scots

Look, I understand that nations want to do deep and thorough genetic surveys of their own population. The British government isn’t going to fund the survey of the population of Madagascar, for example. But some of these rationales are just weird. I trust the Scots not to make stuff up out of whole cloth, but shadings are pretty transparent to anyone who sees the science. If you sample a larger population, yes, you will discover many rare haplogroups! That’s the nature of such sampling. Reminds me of the Indian nationalist spin put on the paper Reconstructing Indian population history. The very American researchers who were recruited to debunk the “Aryan invasion theory” are now presenting abstracts at conferences which report major admixture in South Asia within the past 5,000 years.

Here’s a conjecture: in a “steam-punk” world where genomics was present in the Victorian era, the Scots would be bragging about their high levels of homozygosity! But that’s not the world we live in, so the press releases have to fit a particular template. So, for example, historical human genetics stories have to emphasize diversity and breadth of insight, when quite often there’s no there there.

Image credit: Garrando and Daniel MacArthur

MORE ABOUT: Scotland
  • Naughtius Maximus

    Here is another claim they make:

    Today the first 500 people who took part in the project will attend a presentation at the Royal Society of Edinburgh where they will be presented with their results. Among them will be people whose ancestors were the Maeatae, a lost tribe whose historic homelands were around Stirling and who fought Roman legions in 208 AD. The tribe was mentioned in historical sources until the 8th century, after which it vanished into the mists of time.

    For Mr Moffat, the author of The Scots: A Genetic Journey, the results have been fascinating. He said: “When the great Roman emperor Septimius Severus invaded Scotland with the largest army ever seen north of the Tweed, 40,000 legionaries and auxiliaries and a supporting fleet, he fought the Maeatae. They were mentioned by Roman historians as a fierce people and much later, noted by Adomnan, the biographer of St Columba.

    From here

    Does that seem to be jumping to conclusions, and maybe in a way trying to over simplify a complicated subject by trying to associate haplogroups with specific groups?

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    The bit about Fred Macauley ancestor been an Irish slave who somehow had it off with his Viking master’s wife (NPE) is absolutely riduclous. It completey ignores the fact that foriegn names were used in “Middle Irish period” (900-1200) by people who were as much Gael’s as someone called Niall, Brian, Maolcolm or Mac Beatha. In this case MacAuley = MAC AMHLAOIBH

    AMHLAOIBH = Olaf as borrowed into Middle Irish. Their argument is akin to saying that someone called McShane (Mac Sheáin — son of Seán — branch of O’Neill’s of Ulster) is really french as Seán is the Jean borrowed into Middle-Irish.

    Two good examples of popular firstnames that had connections to Vikings are of course Maghnais (McManus) and Lachlann (Mac Lachlainn). These were names that came into fashion, they don’t imply that the people carrying them were Viking in origin.

  • TJR

    Surely there is only one SNP in Scotland?

  • Ed

    I’m guessing this is out of date too then?

  • gcochran

    “a whole lot of Scot in the rest of the world”

    We’d all be better off if there was more.

  • Jake

    Just one point on the “Aryan Invasion Theory”: The question is not if Aryans started admixing with the populations of the subcontinent around that time, but whether they did so in an aggressive, domination-aimed wave. That the Aryans came from outside India and began procreating with the already-present groups has not been doubted by any serious scholars for some time now. So the distinction you make in the article is not really much of a distinction.

  • Razib Khan

    That the Aryans came from outside India and began procreating with the already-present groups has not been doubted by any serious scholars for some time now. So the distinction you make in the article is not really much of a distinction.

    yes it is. because i’m not talking about scholars.

  • Headbutter of the Gods

    Do you think if they study the Scots enough they will locate a gene for moaning?

  • Charlie

    #8, No! Nor, should they survey the rest of the island south of the border, do I belive they will find a gene for smuggness!

  • Ed


    Are Welsh genetic outliers like Sardinians or Basques? Are they really the indigenous people of Britain?

  • Razib Khan

    #10, probably not. but we’ll see i guess.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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