Saturday, 23 January 2016

Beer Guzzlers or Absinthe Sippers?

I just watched another of Julian Richards’s TV documentaries on the history of Britain. Tonight’s episode considered how the encroachment of Anglo-Saxon settlement during the 5th and 6th centuries functioned.

Now, I’ve been following this story since I was knee high to an ornamental belt buckle because the whole Anglo-Saxon thing fascinates the hell out of me, and so I know that there’s a great deal of uncertainty on the matter. In fact, we simply don’t know whether it was a process of armed and murderous invasion, or a gentler process of migration and assimilation. A major thrust of historical and archaeological study over the years has been an attempt to estimate how many of the Germanic invaders/settlers came to Britain during that period, and two principal sources have been used:

1. The archaeological record.

2. Genetic testing of the current population of England.

Guess what: the two methods have produced diametrically opposite evidence. According to the archaeological record, the number was very small. According to the genetic evidence, it was huge. So we still don’t know. Oh, well…

Richards did, however, come up with two reasonably reliable conclusions:

1. Early Anglo-Saxon men must have been a right load of wusses (I’m paraphrasing, you understand) because they chose to be buried with grooming sets – combs, razors etc.

2. Some were certainly warriors, though, because one guy was buried with his horse and a dirty great sword that a limp wrist would have had difficulty wielding.

But as Julian remarked with regard to the latter macho type: ‘His legacy lies not so much in his prowess as a warrior, but in his genes.’ Given the evidence so far presented, I was tempted to wonder whether he meant ‘jeans.’

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