“Myths of British ancestry,” Stephen Oppenheimer’s controversial article on the genetic ancestry of the British, published in our October 2006 issue, is one of the most popular pieces we’ve ever published, to judge by our website stats. (It’s beaten by Alex Renton’s May 2005 article “Learning the Thai sex trade,” but it’s safe to attribute almost all that piece’s traffic to the fact that it appears top of the Google results list when you type in “Thai sex.”)
Oppenheimer’s article, which argued that most of the received wisdom on the ancestry of the British—from the claim that up until the 5th century, Britain was populated mainly by Celts to the argument that the English are largely descended from 5th-century Anglo-Saxon invaders who wiped out the indigenous Celts in an early example of ethnic cleansing—is bunkum. It was picked up widely by websites and blogs throughout the world, perhaps testament to the huge popularity of online genealogy.
Unsurprisingly, the article generated a vast amount of correspondence, only a tiny sliver of which we were able to publish on our letters spread. Now Stephen has kindly agreed to respond to some of the queries and comments raised by his piece. Click here to read.