Reclaiming Our History: The Myth of Celtic Purity in Ireland

The Story of Ireland: A History of the Irish People

BBC

Film Review

This is the first (of five) episodes in the BBC documentary series on the history of Ireland, which provides a comprehensive history of the use of (English and Scottish) settler colonialism to subdue the indigenous population. This model which would be copied in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and by Israel in the displacement of the indigenous Palestinian population.

Part 1, covering the period 8000 BC to 1100 AD, dispels the myth of Celtic purity in Ireland.

It describes the first human settlers arriving in Ireland immediately after the last Ice Age. They would begin farming around 4,000 BC, and there is clear evidence of trading with the Baltic region and Iberian peninsula from 2,500 BC on. Contrary to more recent mythology, ancient Irish inhabitants weren’t genetically distinct from Celtic settlers in Britain or northern France.

During the Roman occupation of Britain (55 BC to 383 AD), the early Irish exported cattle and leather products to British elites.

Following the departure of the Roman legions in 383 AD, Irish raids on the west coast of Britain increased. Britons were captured as slaves to fuel Ireland’s thriving slave trade. St Patrick, who is credited with bringing Catholicism to Ireland, was a Welshman initially brought to Ireland as a slave.

Ireland’s feuding tribal kings welcomed the advent of Christian monasteries to help them consolidate their power. The monks developed a written alphabet for the Celtic language, and Irish monasteries became a global center of learning as literacy declined on the European continent.

Over the 8th, 9th and 10th century, Ireland was hit by a series of Viking raids and invasions. The latter, who had trade routes extending as far as the Baltic Sea and Constantinople, established the city of Dublin as Europe’s largest slave market.

By the 11th century, the Vikings had thoroughly integrated into Celtic society through intermarriage and conversion to Catholicism.

What Causes Civilization to Collapse?

collapse

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Jared Diamond

Penguin Books (2005)

Book Review

This book was very different from what I expected. I anticipated an account of the environmental mismanagement that caused the collapse of prehistoric civilizations such as Easter Island. Collapse is actually a detailed historical analysis of a wide spectrum of both failed and successful societies. In addition to Easter Island, Diamond also covers the vanished Anazazi civilization in New Mexico, the Mayan civilization, the Viking settlements of Iceland (which persists to the present day), Greenland and Vineland (present day Newfoundland and New Brunswick), pre-1853 Japan, the New Guinea highlands and modern day Rwanda and Australia (the modern society he describes at highest risk for collapse).

Diamond’s thesis is that the ability of any society to meet the survival needs of its members depends on certain basic preconditions. He maintains historical forest management is the most critical – deforestation features in every historical collapse he mentions. Forests are not only essential to provide fuel for cooking, heating and refining metal, but loss of forest cover leads to soil erosion and destruction of topsoil, as well as decreased rainfall and fresh water shortages.

In some societies Diamond analyzes, collapse was the direct result of environmental mismanagement. In others, the odds of survival were extremely low to begin with, due to low rainfall, a cold or windy latitude or poor soils. In many cases, a political factor such as war, lack of external supports (eg trade), overpopulation and/or a greedy ruling elite diverting resources to luxuries were important contributing factors.

The section I found most interesting concerns the New Guinea highlanders, who (prior to the arrival of Europeans) maintained an environmentally sustainable civilization via bottom up direct democracy for over 46,000 years.

Chasing the Super-Y Chromosome

adam's curseAdam’s Curse: A Future Without Men

by Bryan Sykes

Book Review

Adam’s Curse is a book about the Y chromosome, which carries the genes determining the sex of mammals. The title is misleading. There’s only a brief discussion in the final chapter regarding the instability of the Y chromosome (due to mutations), which Sykes predicts will lead to its eventual distinction in 5,000 generations (125,000 years). Most of the book concerns the history and evolutionary function of sex differentiation, the use of the Y chromosome and maternal DNA (carried on the mitochondria*) to trace historic migrations, the phenomenon of “group selection” (whereby individuals are genetically programmed to sacrifice themselves for their species) and the genetic basis of patriarchy and homosexuality.

Because neither maternal DNA nor the Y chromosome undergo recombination** at the time of cell division, both remain highly stable over thousands of generations. This feature been invaluable in tracing the prehistoric migration of Neanderthals, Polynesians, Vikings, Native Americans, Australian aborigines and other population groups. Sykes subscribes to the “selfish gene” theory, which asserts that most of human behavior is directed towards the survival of our unique genetic material, ie our genes drive behavior that favors their survival.

The study of thousands of Y chromosomes reveals that “super-Y” chromosomes occur much more frequently than others. In most cases they’re derived from testosterone-driven warriors (eg Vikings and Mongol warriors like Genghis Khan) who used their aptitude for violence, ruthlessness and wealth acquisition to spread their Y chromosome to a disproportionate number of women.

According to Sykes this “crazed ambition of the Y chromosome” to “multiply without limit” leads to endless wars, land annexation and enslavement of women. As he points out in his introduction, it’s quite rare for women to commitment violent crimes, become tyrants or start wars. He also has grave concerns that this unholy alliance between “super Y chromosomes” and an unchecked drive for wealth and power is leading to imminent planetary destruction.

A British financial analyst recently made the observation that the global economy would still be intact if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters. Recent studies show women make better financial traders because they’re more risk adverse.

The chapter I found most interesting concerns the genetic origin of sexual reproduction, ie the exchange of genetic material during reproduction, and male and female sexual identity. I was particularly fascinated to learn that organelles like chloroplasts (plants only) and mitochondria were originally bacteria, with their own DNA, that were captured by larger cells. This modification enabled the larger cells to produce much more energy, which allowed them to specialize and become multi-celled organisms.

My second favorite chapter concerns research into the genetic basis of homosexuality. Geneticists have identified an SRY gene on the Y chromosome that switches on testosterone production when the embryo is six weeks of age. Embryos exposed to testosterone develop male sexual organs. Those that aren’t are automatically programmed to become female.

There’s also a brain structure called the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BST) which determines a child’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Testosterone exposure during embryonic development causes it to be larger. It’s much smaller in women, homosexuals and transsexuals. Especially after the birth of one or more sons, women develop antibodies to the H-Y antigen on the Y chromosome. These antibodies, in turn, act to lower fetal testosterone levels, resulting in a smaller BST.


*A mitochondria is an organelle found in large numbers in each cell responsible for respiration and energy production.
**DNA recombination involves the exchange of genetic material between different chromosomes or between different regions on the same chromosomes.