Mar 092015
 

I first came across the name of Alistair Moffat when I read his book Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, in which he suggests that his native Kelso may be the capital of the obscure Hen Ogledd kingdom of Calchfynydd, and there is much to recommend it. There is even a Chalkheugh Terrace. More intriguing is the mound and few remaining ruins of Roxburgh castle (which first appears in the written record in 1107 as ‘Marchidun’, which could be Old Welsh for something like ‘cavalry fort’), a natural defensive position close to the confluence of the rivers Tweed and Teviot, just outside the Looking across to Floorsmodern town.

Amazingly, no archaeological work has ever been undertaken on this site of national importance due to the fact that the Duke of Roxburghe, on whose estate the ruins lie, forbids digging. He may even set the dogs on anyone looking remotely like an archaeologist. The Duke’s palatial castle of Floors can be seen in the photograph across the Tweed from the old castle and burgh of Roxburgh / Marchidun, which often served early medieval Scotland as an informal ‘capital’. (Click to enlarge.) If I was that Nicola Sturgeon I’d be on the old dog and bone in no time, ‘Oi, Dukey, I’m sending some boys down to do a bit of digging – don’t get in the way!’ But perhaps that’s not her style.

About six or seven years ago the wife and I were on holiday in the Borders (I often take her with me) and we visited Floors Castle. A party of us was shown around by what I took to be a faithful family retainer, who gave us the rehearsed spiel, and eventually came to the bit about the then Earl of Roxburghe being elevated in 1707 to Duke of Roxburghe. I was too polite, and hungover, to start singing Parcel of Rogues but the significance of the date was not lost on me. Yet his descendant denies access to an important centre of post-Roman Britain; one that might even be connected to Arthur. Why would he do that?

I have digressed too long with Alistair Moffat’s book, with which I broadly agree, despite its flaws. If ‘Arthur’ existed, then I believe he would have come from the Roman-trained military elite of the land between Hadrian’s wall and the territory of the Picts, the frontier zone and ‘trip-wire’ to any incursion from the north. Regrettably, Alistair Moffat’s latest venture into the Welsh past is less commendable.

I’m referring now to Cymru DNA Wales, a series to be broadcast on S4C with its ‘findings’ already being reported in what passes for our national print media (Trinity Mirror). As the website puts it: “This is a project with an epic ambition – nothing less than the discovery of the ancestral genome of a nation.” So which respected scientific institution is carrying out this research? Well, actually, it’s The Moffat Partnership Ltd, set up in 1999 by the eponymous Alistair Moffat, whose background is in journalism and television. His company has already ‘investigated’ Scotland’s DNA, and Ireland’s DNA, even Yorkshire’s DNA! and now it’s our turn to get screwed researched.

For this is a crude, money-making exercise dressed up as ‘science’, DNAusing Welsh celebrities in order to get Dai and Delyth Public to part with £250 each (£200 using the vouncher off the website!) in the hope of discovering that they are descended from Owain Glyndŵr or Nest. The whole thing is, as we respectable geneticists are wont to say, a load of old bollocks, that abuses advances in understanding human makeup while also capitalising on the current fad for tracing one’s roots. But don’t believe me, read what Private Eye has to say in the panel on the right (click to enlarge).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking DNA research and what it can achieve. If it helps solve crime, then fine; if it can be used in anthropology and other fields, then all well and good; if it can unravel the reasons for certain medical conditions then, with reservations, I’ll support that too, but I draw the line at it being used as a high tech (and expensive) parlour game for the twenty-first century.

We have already been told that Gwaun Cae Gurwen’s own Gareth Edwards has DNA from central Europe and the Volga region; Dafydd Iwan is linked to Romano-Welsh aristocracy; Siân Lloyd is related to Tsar Nicholas II; while Bryn Terfel – who is, we are told, comfortable singing in German – has Rhineland roots. It’s only a matter of time before it is exclusively revealed that Jason Mohammad is descended from Penclawdd cockle-pickers. That’s what it’s all about; use celebs, and make sure that the ‘findings’ elicit the ‘Well fancy that!’ response that might persuade Dai and Delyth to cough up £500 become involved with this ground-breaking research..

DNA Google

As someone quoted in the Private Eye piece says, “There is no genetic marker for nationality”. Which is true. If we look at central Europe, where populations have swirled and been displaced for centuries, we can find Magyars with the same genetic markers as Czechs; while the Prussians, those hate figures from an earlier era, held up as the embodiment of the Germans’ aggressive tendencies, were in reality Germanised Balts.

Another example, one I have used in the past, is that of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. They speak the same language and at one time were a single people, but over the centuries the adoption of different religions led to a widening gulf between them, to the point where they can quite happily butcher others sharing the same DNA. Or maybe this earlier, apparently homogenous and undivided group, didn’t share the same DNA.

So while it’s possible to identity the gene that gives red hair, going beyond that to say, ‘You are Welsh because of this gene’ is nonsense. Which is why it’s sad to see S4C mixed up in this, with so many vultures circling. As for the others, well, celeb trivia like this – when not attacking innocent bloggers (sob!) – is now the staple at Llais y Sais because it’s easier than having to deal with real news, or focus on anything happening outside of Cardiff.

Anyway, DNA testing is soooo yesterday. The coming thing is phrenology. So send me £5,000 and I will dispatch a team of my highly-trained technicians to take lots of measurements of your head and tell you everything about yourself. You want to be descended from Julius Caesar? We can arrange that! You want to be the rightful heir to the throne of the pharaohs? Leave it to us – we’ll even provide the paperwork in hieroglyphics! Of course, we’ll resist the temptation to tell you the most important thing about yourself – that you’re very, very gullible.

UPDATE 10:45: I am indebted to Terry Breverton for this link, proving that I am not the only one with serious reservations about this whole project.

FURTHER UPDATES: Here are a couple of links to other postings about Cymru DNA Wales I’ve been made aware of, both in Welsh. Here’s cymru fyw; and the Syndod blog.

UPDATE 12.06.2015: This piece appeared in Private Eye No 1394 June 12

PE Moffat

UPDATE 27.11.2015: In the first update I supplied a link to the Cruwys News blog, based in Devon, and written by Debbie Kennett. I can now link to another post by Ms Kennett following the transmission on S4C last Sunday of the latest ‘findings’. It’s worth reading because where my forte lies in sniffing out shysters, charlatans and scammers, Ms Kennett really does know about DNA.

  28 Responses to “‘Are You Welsh? I’ll Tell You For £250!’”

  1.  

    I think I’m descended from Don Quixote because I don’t like wind farms.

  2.  

    Strange how all this cod scientific nonsense fascinates the gullible natives and our media while any exposure of real history and its ( often malign) effects on where we are today is air brushed out of the line of sight. Bit like that other collection of arseholes who set about describing some complex ” history” of the Welsh/British which linked us to the “lost tribes” of Israel !! I thought only dotty little Englanders of the 19th/20th century obsessed about such crap.

    If people feel like blowing 250 quid then pass it to MacMillan Nurses, Marie Curie or some other deserving cause.

    Why don’t we just accept that the past is a mixed bundle of myth legend and a dash of history which manages to creep out from time to time. Our concern should be for the future, that we should be able to protect our native culture Including some daft myths ), language ( which will continue to evolve ) and national identity (the bit that the central Anglo Brit power cluster wishes to dilute and consign to its version of history)

  3.  

    Well done, Jac, on flagging up the nonsense here.

    Sorry, Dafis, it was not “only dotty little Englanders of the 19th/20th century obsessed about such crap.” The late 19th-century Celtic language scholar John Rhys (no “little Englander”) stated that “ … the (Celtic) Kymry were for some time indifferently called Cambria or Cumbria, the Welsh word on which they are based being, as now written, Cymru… and is there pronounced nearly as an Englishman would treat it if spelled Kumry or Kumri”. Rhys argued that both Celts and the Scythians came from an area south-east of the Black Sea, and migrated westward to the coast of Europe. He compared the Welsh autonym, Cymru, with the name of the Cimmerians, Kumri. He believed that the names Iberia for Spain, and Hibernia for Ireland were connected to a variation of “Hebrew” and that this was evidenced in philology. (adapted from Wikipedia)

    If you want a smile, you can take a look at: http://dailywales.net/2015/01/29/are-the-welsh-the-lost-ten-tribes-of-israel/

    •  

      I’m not entirely sure that John Rhys was wrong with the Scythian connection. For the emergence of the Celts as a distinct cultural group coincides or overlaps with the arrival of the Scythians. There are many similarities, not least the horse culture, which belongs to the steppe rather than to Europe. In fact, the Celts may even have been the Scythians re-branded.

    •  

      Bill Ch …. you missed my remark ….” Bit like that other collection of arseholes who set about describing some complex ” history” of the Welsh/British which linked us to the “lost tribes” of Israel !! ….. before I went on to denigrate our neighbours ancestors of 19/20th C ! It was that article to which you refer that I relate to specifically because it seemed to gather much of the speculations that had gone before. That there is some vague “evidence” that we came off the steppes or some points east is fine, but let’s not turn it into a “precise” declaration because we are never likely to be able to deliver the evidence. Or do we have some hang up about descending from Noah ? Frankly our troubles began with arrival of Saxons &co, and got worse when the Normans popped over to claim an English throne, then realised there was more scope to the dear old island.

  4.  

    I’ll change your star sign whenever Russell Grant delivers bad news. £60 per week by standing order or £40 in used bank notes.
    Some years ago, in the early days of word processors, I received a letter offering me the chance to own a framed Declaration of Family Name together with the Family Heraldic Shield. One of my neighbours, Mr Chan, got a similar letter. I wondered whether Mr Chan’s heraldic shield showed a Wok Rampant.

  5.  

    I was pleased to see your blog post and that we came to same conclusions quite independently.

    You might also find this story on BBC Wales of interest: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cymrufyw/31708205

    •  

      S4C has done itself no favours by getting mixed up with Moffat. The trouble with programs like this is that they pose the question – ‘Is this kosher science or entertainment?’ Like so many others, this series tries to be both, and fails.

      It’s not even what it advertises itself as, a programme unravelling the DNA of the Welsh because it concentrates on a few celebrities (to pull in the viewers) and those prepared to pay £250, who might not even be Welsh. In fact, attracting those £250-a-head punters is the whole purpose of the series. Therefore Moffat should be honest about his intentions, which can be summed up, ‘Send me £250 and I’ll tell you something interesting about yourself’.

      Put like that, this whole exercise sounds a bit like ‘cross my palm with silver’ reverse fortune telling. But why did S4C and the others have to get involved? Another sad chapter in the decline of the Welsh media. I wonder what percentage they’re getting from every £250 Moffat pulls in.

      •  

        It’s not even entertainment because the stories being told are so silly. I suspect you’re right that S4C will get a commission on the sale of each kit. Unfortunately the BBC and the media in England and Scotland have been similarly fooled over the last couple of years. We ended up setting up a whole website at UCL to debunk all the ludicrous claims: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mace-lab/genetic-ancestry

  6.  

    Just a wee point of info. The original Prussians were Balts not Slavs, confusing the two would be a bit like calling the Irish Germans. Nice folk the Balts, they seem rather keen on choirs so clearly have a few Cymric genes 😉

  7.  

    Great post. More on this here too (in Welsh): https://syndod.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/dna-cymru-s4c/

    •  

      It looks like I’m a bit late arriving at this story. Thing is, I don’t watch much television and it was the name Alistair Moffat – the writer – that got me interested when I read it in Private Eye. Got to go out for the day, so will read your blog when I get home.

  8.  

    Thank you for your blog Jac.
    You can read more on Moffat’s genetic gibberish here:
    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/mace-lab/debunking
    and especially here:
    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/mace-lab/genetic-ancestry
    and here:
    http://www.ucl.ac.uk/mace-lab/genetic-ancestry/Correspondence/britainsDNA

    •  

      Like Jac, I first saw this story in Private Eye. The links you have given make depressing reading. This could rebound very badly on S4C if the story gains traction and a lot of people think that they have made themselves look ridiculous for having shelled out £250.

  9.  

    Had a quick scan of that Masons book you dug up ( and mentioned in your Twit list on the RH side ) There’s some seriously dodgy people in there – known “influencers”, as well as a mix of rogues, fraudsters and known benders/ shirtlifters etc. Good to know how the daisy chain links up in the darker corners of Sth Wales. The glue that binds power and corruption together, or is it the oil that enables serious self enrichment !!!.

    •  

      In earlier posts I pointed out the overlap between Freemasons, Welsh Livery Guild, Frontiersmen and other vaguely sinister outfits that would be investigated for uniforms and other offences if they weren’t BritNat. The level of corruption and undemocratic influence in Wales would shame most Third World countries. But then, Wales will soon be a Third World country.

      •  

        Yes, I flicked back through that info a few days ago. Caused a chuckle when you saw who these Frontiersmen were ! Hardly in any shape to spend more than 1/2 an hour out on the Elenydd, especially being pursued by a native hunter out looking for a spot of sport .

        The serious side is that these bastards are self seeking, willing tools of the Anglo Brit power establishment and enjoy their relationship even though their little bit of occassional power is handed down to them from their masters ( or should that have a big M ? )

  10.  

    Appears to me you are a little frightened of discovering DNA because it will prove the English aren’t the separate race you always dreamed they were? what’s more it could ultimately prove that area’s of England aren’t Saxon at all with swathes of the rural west and north being actually more “Welsh” than Wales.

    •  

      Now don’t be a provactive silly-billy. DNA does not determine nationality, my example of Serbs, Croatians and Bosnian Muslims proves that. The English are different to the Welsh because, until fairly recently, we spoke different languages and could be said to have distinct cultural and other mores.

      That does not invalidate your suggestion that areas of western England and Cornwall, plus large parts of the north west above industrial Lancashire retained more of their Welsh past. The evidence for this is the Cornish language hanging on into the eighteenth century, Devon valleys being called combes (from cwm) and Cumbrian shepherds counting sheep in Old Welsh.

      But even if Cumbria and Devon are more ‘Welsh’ than other parts of England, what really matters is how the people living there view themselves. And I’m sure that 99% of them regard themselves as English. Which should tell you that national identity has nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with self-identification. Look at pictures from 30 or 40 years ago and you’ll see England football and rugby fans waving union flags – what flag do they wave now?

      This is the biggest change I’ve seen in my lifetime. Not the Scots and the Welsh re-discovering their identities, but increasing numbers of English, influenced by immigration and the rise of Celtic nationalisms, rejecting Britishness and declaring themselves to be English. This could yet be the biggest threat to the Union.

      •  

        That identification was a hard fought battle against the establishment. Prior to the late 1960s it was considered ‘disrespectful’ not to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ and flutter Union Jacks. It took the booing of the British (English) anthem and on-field demonstrations to change things. Here is a video of the turning point in 1968, when Y Ddraig Goch and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was placed in prominence thanks to the collective will of the people. A video Sam Warburton might wish to watch.

        I remember being physically removed from school for not standing to ‘God Save the Queen’ during assembly, and being arrested by South Wales Police for mooning at the Queen during the 1977 coronation tour. This kind of action resulted in the 2012 Olympic torch visit to Rhondda, where entourage officials hurriedly removed Union Jacks and them being replaced with Y Ddraig Goch in order not ‘to cause a scene’. I don’t need my arse DNA tested for providence.

        •  

          I think you’ve just proved Jac’s point. Btw, does the UK and/or England actually have an official national anthem? Are you implying that Wales was not incorporated into the realm of the UK monarchs? If so I’d be interested in your reasoning (no, really!)

          •  

            When I sing with respect and friendship of my English friends, the English anthem, at Rugby (League) games, I ask what were those ‘feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountain green”? Were those English feet Celtic? Saxon? Viking? I fail to see why my genetic barcode should be defined as political residue in the context of the Union, whether I speak Brythonic or Teutic in it’s various modern forms. The bloods of my recorded ancestors were spilt both for and against the crown, and like Alistair Moffat, 99% of my DNA is baboon. I, however, don’t sing like one at Ibrox.

            •  

              Your video clip was very moving, I’d no idea national feeling was so strong at that time in Wales. It reminded me of events in the Baltic states as the USSR was beginning to fall apart, when suddenly they realised the rules had changed and the began to openly sing their banned national songs as a way of asserting their separate identities and putting up two fingers to the Russians. So here’s my problem. If the Welsh feel so strongly that they’re not British/English, why the **** are they still voting Labour? Events around the Scottish referendum should have made it perfectly plain what the “Red Tories” stand for.

              As for Jerusalem, it is a very moving piece that unties the English and has a message of positive social change, not imperialistic at all like say Rule Britannia. Unfortunately the question that Blake posed, “Did those feet (Christ’s) in ancient time (first century AD) walk upon England’s mountains green?” has a clear answer, “NO!” because England would not exist for another four or five hundred years. Pity that, but then we’re in the realm of mythology not factual history.

              •  

                With this question of why the Welsh persist in voting Labour you are becoming boringly and annoyingly repetitive. I have answered you more than once, so why can’t you be told?

                Did you mean to write “unties the English”?

                •  

                  No! Clearly some sort of Freudian slip 🙂

                  I ask the question because it’s the one thing about Wales that I can’t understand. In some ways your nationalism is more passionate, and at times more violent even, that anything seen in Scotland, added to which your assembly is less secure and less powerful. Yet on the whole you vote for the London-centric status quo. Something just doesn’t add up. In particular Plaid now has the chance, along with the SNP, to actually help move things on in Westminster. You boo GSTQ and sometimes blow yourselves up, but don’t use your votes to change things when you have the chance. Moreover if you don’t act soon, then Scotland will have gone and you’ll no longer have an ally, you’ll be left to face the English alone.

                  •  

                    One reason I wanted a Yes vote in Scotland, one reason I was there, is because Scottish independence will focus Welsh minds as nothing else can. The realisation that voting Labour might never ‘save us’ from almost permanent Conservative government could achieve more than Plaid Cymru ever has. Though I would not be oblivious to the irony that this epiphany would come about at a time when there is virtually no difference between Conservatives and Labour. Proving that today, voting habits in Wales – especially for Labour voters – is all about perception and folk-memory.

                    Which may go some way to explaining the differing attitudes to the Labour Party in Scotland and Wales. Scottish politics has always been influenced by religion and the ‘Irish Question’, made obvious with the Celtic – Rangers divide. I can recall in my lifetime Conservative candidates in Scotland being described, on ballot papers, as ‘Unionist’ candidates, not Conservative. To further confuse the picture there were, in post-war elections, National Liberal & Conservative candidates, who won seats. Pre-War, there were no Conservative candidates, they were all ‘Unionist’. In the election of 1945 Labour won 37 seats, Unionists 24, National Liberal & Conservative 3, Independent Labour Party 3, Liberal Party 0.

                    The National Liberals are of course the ideological descendants of those Liberals who split with Gladstone over Irish Home Rule in 1886 and soon merged with the Conservative and Unionist Party in England and in Wales, leaving the Liberal Party to regroup and fight on. In Scotland this did not happen until much later due to the interplay between Scotland and Northern Ireland and the influence of the latter on the politics of the former. Which resulted in many working class Scots voting Unionist / Conservative out of attitudes to the Six Counties. While on the other side, the bedrock of Labour support was the Catholic population of west central Scotland – which in relation to Ireland was nationalist and republican! The recent sea-change in Scottish politics is due in large part to the SNP cracking that former Labour heartland, so that now independence is favoured by people from all parts of the country, all strata of society, and all religions.

                    In Wales, the picture was straightforward, always Us and THEM. The Labour Party replaced the Liberals as the major party supported by the Welsh roughly a century ago, but THEM/strong> remained the same – the Conservatives. Due to distortions of history and carefully-nurtured misconceptions many Welsh today do not see the Tories as simply an opposition party, they view them as a national enemy, likely to descend on communities like Tonypandy and Coedpoeth and start eating Welsh babies again, as we all know they used to do in that past just beyond memory.

                    Just believe what I say. Many Welsh regard the Tories with a deep, visceral and irrational hatred that you will not find elsewhere on this island; an outlook that Labour, for obvious reasons, encourages.

  11.  

    Just in case you’ve not seen it the first of four programmes in the new DNA Cymru series was broadcast on Sunday 22nd November. The concerns have still not been addressed. See my blog post here: http://cruwys.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/my-review-of-dna-cymru-part-2.html

Ok, you’ve read what I think, now what do you have to say?