random notes: 07/30/13

from A Brief History of Great Britain (2010) [pages xiv-xvi]:

“Britain is marked by pronounced regional differences. The most basic division is that between highland areas and lowland areas. The ‘highland zone’ is defined by being over 200 meters (656 feet) above sea level. Highland zones are found in Wales, much of Scotland, northern England, and parts of southwestern England, although lowland pockets exist in highland territories. The British highland zone is not really mountainous, as the highest mountains reach the mode height of roughly 4000 feet (1,129 meters). There is a much higher proportion of highland land in Scotland than in England, and the difference between the highlands and the lowlands and their inhabitants plays a central role in Scottish history and culture.

The highlands are marked by a greater emphasis on pastoralism, as they have mostly chalky soil and are too wet and cold for successful agriculture. The highlands are also much less densely populated than the lowlands, as it requires much more land to support a human being through pastoralism than through agriculture. Lowland areas are usually more fertile. The most fertile lowlands are in the south and southeast of Britain, where there is rich, heavy soil more suited to agriculture. Lowlanders can engage in raising either grains or livestock, depending on circumstances. In the Middle Ages much of the lowlands was truned over to the highly profitable production of wool. Lowlanders tended to live in villages, highlanders in small hamlets or isolated farmsteads, or to be nomadic.

“Invasions of Britain had much less effect on the highlands than on the lowlands, which constituted the really valuable prize due to their greater agricultural productivity. Those regimes exercising power throughout Britain or the British Isles were usually based in lowland England, the only place capable of supporting tehm. The extension of power from the lowlands to the highlands was a difficult challenge due to the difficulty of the terrain. Mountainous Wales preserved its independence for centuries despite its poverty and its inability to unite politically. The only invaders to subdue Wales before the 13th century were the well-organized and disciplined Roman legions, and it took them years after the conquest of England. The less-organized Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans had a much harder time, and Wales was only permanently annexed to England in 1284.

“The greater poverty of the highlands meant that highlanders often raided lowlanders, creating hostility between the two. The highlands were also more culturally and linguistically conservative. Cultural innovations usually originated in the lowlands and spread to the highlands. The highlands were where the Celtic languages lasted the longest, as English and its offshoots, originally the language of Anglo-Saxon invaders, became the dominant tongue of the lowlands in the early Middle Ages. This cultural division further added to the hostility between highland and lowland peoples.”
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from The Environment of Early Man in the British Isles (1975) [pgs. 147-149]:

“The Highland Zone/Lowland Zone division

“It is from this time [late bronze/early iron age] onwards that the division of the British Isles into Highland and Lowland Zones becomes relevant. The division has been used by geographers to explain differences in settlement patterns, farming practices and the quality of material culture between the two zones, and Cyril Fox exploited it to a considerable extent in ‘The Personality of Britain’.

“In brief, the Highland Zone (Fig. 62) is that part of the British Isles which is made up of the most ancient group of rocks, those formed in the Paleozoic Era. They lie in the north and west and the division with the later Mesozoic and Tertiary rocks of the Lowland Zone falls roughly on a line from the mouth of the Tees to the mouth of the Exe. The Palaeozoic rocks are generally hard, forming mountainous regions, with continuous streches over 300 metres above sea level. Plains and vales are not extensive. There are steep slopes and crags making cultivation difficult or impossible, and soils are often thin, stony and impoverished. Rainfall is high and there is a strong correspondence between the chief moorland areas and mean annual rainfall.

“Lowland Britain, on the other hand, is made up of geologically younger rocks which are softer, and which have given rise to a series of low-lying, rolling hills and intervening extensive vales and plains. Slopes are gentle, crags few and almost all the land is available for tillage, pasture or settlement. Soils are generally fertile and there is little evidence of erosion. Rainfall is light and there is little waste ground.

“But there are many topographical exceptions, in particular various lowland areas within the Highland Zone. Some of these are relatively small — the Vale of Glamorgan, the Hebridean machair and certain fertile river valleys such as Strath Tay. Others are of much greater extent, including the Central Scottish Lowlands, East Banff and Aberdeen, and the Orkney Islands. Ireland can be divided topographically into its own Highland and Lowland Zoens, and presents an anomaly in that approximately half the country is essentially lowland but situated in a high rainfall area….

“Indeed, the key distinction between the Highland and Lowland Zones is not so much elevation and topography as rainfall which is greatest in the west (Fig. 62) since this is the direction from which the main rain-bearing winds blow….

britain - lowland-highland zones

“[F]or a variety of economic and environmental reasons, the first millennium bc represents a period of significant change in the Highland Zone. Fields were abandoned and either reverted to pasture or waste ground, or became covered by peat. In low-lying areas communications became difficult because of mire formation or flooding. The importance of stone and Highland Zone metal deposits dwindled. And there was no great exploitation of timber for iron smelting as occurred in the Lowland Zone. Indeed, it is from the beginning of the Iron Age that the Highland Zone as a whole assumes the pastoral character which it has retained ever since.

“‘It is generally understood that…the remains of the monuments and material costructed or used throughout Britain reveal no noticeable differences in quality between the lowland and highland areas until well into the first millennium bc, but that thereafter a contrast developed between the two areas, comprising a falling-off of the material culture of the highland in comparison with that of the lowland — a contrast which has lasted to the present day.'”
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look! another line – the tees-exe line (the red one):

tees-exe line
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from The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (1989, 2006) [pgs. 18-19]:

“To draw attention to this fact [i.e. that much of the pre-roman british isles was a part of a broader european celtic culture] is not to say that there was political and social uniformity throughout the area. The existence of tribal groupings in both Britain and Ireland is an indication of political differences at the local level. The Romans, to whom we are indebted for Latin versions of tribal names in the absence of their original Celtic forms, distinguished over twenty tribes in Britain south of the Forth. In Ireland, where politcal aggregation had not gone as far as it had elsewhere, the number of tribes seems to have been much larger.

“One powerful cause of variety was geography, in particular the contrast between Highland and Lowland Zones. It was Sir Cyril Fox who argued in his book ‘The Personality of Britain’ (1932) that the Lowlands would usually be exposed to forces of change before the Highlands. The Highland/Lowland contrast certainly makes good sense when applied to Britain, where north and west form a distinctive geographical area, including a good deal of land over 400 metres above sea-level. Poorer soil and climatic conditions made agriculture more of a challenge in the Highland Zone than it was in the south and east. In a British Isles context, however, the Highland/Lowland contrast is not quite so clear. Ireland, which has been compared to a saucer in which the rim represents the hills and the flat base the central plain, is not, geologically speaking, a Highland Zone. There is no doubt, however, that the narrow seas between north-west Ireland and south-west Scotland linked rather than divided them. At this particular period, however, it may be seen as forming part of a ‘cultural Highland Zone’, cut off, for better or worse, from the influence of the rising military power of Rome.

“Geographical determinism should not be pressed too far, however. It can also be argued that, under certain conditions, the Irish Sea provided a channel of communication…. It also seems to have been the case during the fifth and sixth centuries AD when Christian communities on both sides of the Irish Sea retained their links with Christian Europe at a time when the eastern half of Britain was being overrun by Germanic settlers. The Irish presence in Scotland in the sixth century AD and in parts of Wales illustrates the same point….

Another contrast between the Highland and Lowland Zones was almost certainly demographic. No firm statistical evidence exists but several strong indicators suggest that there was a considerable increase of population in the Lowlands from the fifth century onwards, well before the Belgic invasions. A good deal of internal colonisation seems to have taken place during this period….”
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from The Culture of the English People: Iron Age to the Industrial Revolution (1994) [pgs. 5-7]:

“Some fifty years ago Sir Cyril Fox published one of the most seminal books in the history of British archaeology and culture, ‘The Personality of Britain’. In it he distinguished two parts of these islands, a ‘highland’ zone and a ‘lowland’ zone, with a boundary between them which ran from County Durham to Lyme Bay on the south coast (Fig. 1.1). This line separated a predominantly hilly region of Paleozoic rocks from a gentler region of Secondary and later rocks. These two regions, he argued, corresponded with two differing modes of cultural evolution. Simply expressed, his argument was that the bearers of outside cultural influences reached the Highland Zone often by sea and almost always in small numbers. Their impact was never sufficient to blanket or submerge the indigenous cultures. Instead they became assimilated. Elements of older cultures are today not only present, but conspicuously so in Highland Britain. Lowland Britain, by contrast, lay at the receiving end of a long series of invasions, from those who walked across the landbridge which once existed with Europe to the more recent invasions of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Each wave was powerful enough to impress its own culture, and thus to mask or to destroy pre-existing cultures. Fox commented on the relative ease with which new civilizations are established in the Lowland Zone, repressing without necessarily obliterating those which had prevailed before. ‘There is [thus] greater unity of culture in the Lowland Zone, but greater continuity in the Highland Zone.’

“The Fox model has not been without its critics. Some, including the present writer, would interpose a third zone covering the basically claylands of the English Midlands, between the Highland and the Lowland, with its own distinctive cultural history. But, however modified, the Fox model has been of incalculable imortance to a cultural history of these islands. It gives a rational explanation for a phenomenon which will recur in the pages of this book, namely the persistence of early cultural traits in the Celtic west and north, and the greater degree of cultural traits in the Celtic west and north, and the greater degree of cultural homogeneity in the lowlands of the south and east.”

england - lowland-midland-highland zones
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previously: this one’s for g.w. and the flatlanders vs. the mountain people

(note: comments do not require an email. lemur alert!)

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47 Comments

  1. @jayman – “…readers might want to see my latest post….”

    they absolutely should! (^_^)

    btw, a lot of those cavaliers seem to have come from the “intermediate zone” on the last map above, no? down south, obviously.

    Reply

  2. awesome

    ““Geographical determinism should not be pressed too far”

    Unless you can find a mechanism for it.

    Reply

  3. @hbd chick:

    btw, a lot of those cavaliers seem to have come from the “intermediate zone” on the last map above, no? down south, obviously.

    Indeed, it does look that way. Coincidence? Or connection?

    Reply

  4. Interesting.

    There is a similar difference between in the Northern Chinese loess plains and the great hill country of Southern China. (I Explained with a bit more detail here a few months ago..)

    Reply

  5. Cornwall is seperated from the rest of the British Isles by the River Exe. That river gradually created an Island scenario for Cornwall as only 10’s of miles is connected to the rest of the UK. I think that river is the reason that part of the UK is so different. Also, Cornwall during the time of Anglo-Saxon dominance in Britain was known as West Wales and was more culturally similar to wales than its neighbour, Wessex.

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  6. I thought the south of Wales was a lowland zone considering that its only major european styled industrial cities and agricultural zones are all there. Also it was the first and only part of Wales for over a century to be conquered and occupied by the Normans/English and the only part of Wales to be really “Europeanised” by those same peoples, so those things distinguish it from the rest of that country.

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  7. Simply expressed, his argument was that the bearers of outside cultural influences reached the Highland Zone often by sea and almost always in small numbers. Their impact was never sufficient to blanket or submerge the indigenous cultures. Instead they became assimilated. Elements of older cultures are today not only present, but conspicuously so in Highland Britain.

    I’d like to hear more about these conspicuous elements.

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  8. Ignore: “That river gradually created an Island scenario for Cornwall as only 10’s of miles is connected to the rest of the UK”

    Read this: Only a small corridor a few miles wide north of the River Exe connects Cornwall to the rest of the UK so Cornwall is like/almost an Island.

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  9. @jayman – “Coincidence? Or connection?”

    remains to be seen! one possible connection might be that perhaps manorialism (true manorialism based upon agriculture and not some form of pastoralism) didn’t occur in these intermediate zones and, so, the push for outbreeding wasn’t as strong as in the southeast of the country? dunno. need to check that.

    (btw – after reading woodard, i really hate the cavaliers! i know woodard prolly put a pc spin on the cavaliers, painting them in a particularly dark light — but still. what a bunch of *ssh*les! =/ )

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  10. @t. greer – “There is a similar difference between in the Northern Chinese loess plains and the great hill country of Southern China. (I Explained with a bit more detail here a few months ago..)”

    ah ha! thanks. i’ve had the general impression for a while now that historically there’s been more cousin/close marriage in southern china than in the north. that makes sense, now, given what you say about the geography of the country (and in light of this).

    Reply

  11. By lowland zone i define that as the following: geographically, culturally, historically and economically.

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  12. Great post. I think this really serves as a kind of prequel to your series of posts on mating patterns in England after the church’s cousin marriage ban. Brings together several things discussed here in the comments section recently. The issue of differences in terrain and topography, and the effect on land use patterns, settlement patterns, mating patterns and even the evolution of character traits and cultural practices within populations in Britain can never be understated.

    Much is made of the so-called “North-South Divide” here in Britain today.

    See:-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North%E2%80%93South_divide_in_the_United_Kingdom

    Political commentators on the left talk about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s policies as being one of the main causes. But as one can deduce from your excellent post, the origins of Britain’s north-south divide go considerably further back in time than the 1980s..

    Reply

  13. The most interesting thing I came across recently has to do with the Irish. Supposedly, they are genetically related to the Basque, an thnic group I’ve been fascinated with for a while. Those genetics are most concentrated in Western Ireland, from where they appaently spread throughout Ireland and then over to Scotland and Wales.

    From what I gather, the Basque/Irish aren’t technically Celtic. There are genetic differences from the larger Celtic population, although they adopted some of the Celtic culture or else for another reason share some culture with the Celts.

    This post got me thinking about th origin of culture. What originally creates a culture may be separate from what hanges a culture over time and which maintains it as distinct. We don’t know much about the Basque and Irish cultures in prehistory when they first forming. So, we can’t know if they sought out these isolated and protected areas beause of their culture (family/social structure if you prefer) or if being forced into these areas changed who they were as a people.

    It is the scenario of the chicken or the egg. I suspect it is both, but I’ve always been a both/and kinda guy.

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  14. With my obsession over the US Midlands of Quaker influence, I can’t help but be intensely curious about the British Midlands where the Quakers were concentrated. All that I know is there were Norse and Viking settlements there. Beyond that, I find myself lost in the mystery of my own ignorance. Does anyone else here know more about the Brirish Midlands or could direct me to a good resource on the topic?

    Reply

  15. @ Benjamin : “The most interesting thing I came across recently has to do with the Irish. Supposedly, they are genetically related to the Basque, an ethnic group I’ve been fascinated with for a while. Those genetics are most concentrated in Western Ireland, from where they apparently spread throughout Ireland and then over to Scotland and Wales..”

    I can’t point to the relevant markers for y-dna or mtdna, but the HLA haplotype A*29:02—B*44:03-C*16:01-DRB1*07:01-DQ1*02:01 spreads from Basque country northwards to Ireland and Western Britain, probably in neolithic period [haplotype is in strong linkage disequilibrium]:

    link

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  16. @axum – “Cornwall is seperated from the rest of the British Isles by the River Exe. That river gradually created an Island scenario for Cornwall as only 10′s of miles is connected to the rest of the UK.”

    ah ha! i didn’t realize that. thanks!

    also, cornwall is rather “mountainous” (or hilly, at least), isn’t it? that probably means both 1) that the agricultural system was rather pastoral-based, so manorialism probably didn’t really take hold in cornwall — at least not manorialism as was found in se england and on the continent, and 2) that the mating patterns were probably, and probably remained, pretty close, comparatively speaking.

    @axum – “Also, Cornwall during the time of Anglo-Saxon dominance in Britain was known as West Wales and was more culturally similar to wales than its neighbour, Wessex.”

    ah! i didn’t know that, either. thanks! (^_^)

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  17. @chris – “But as one can deduce from your excellent post, the origins of Britain’s north-south divide go considerably further back in time than the 1980s.”

    oh, yeah — absolutely!

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  18. @benjamin – “Does anyone else here know more about the Brirish Midlands or could direct me to a good resource on the topic?”

    i’m very curious about the quakers, too, but i don’t know much about the history of the english midlands either (drat!). i think barry levy might be our man, though:

    Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valley
    – “Notable Settlements of Radical Domesticity: Northwest British Quakers in Rural Pennsylvania, 1681-1780” in Settlements in the Americas: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
    The Origins and Legacy of the Pennsylvania Quakers

    and how about this for some (presumably) wild reading (not by levy, btw)!:

    The Quaker Community on Barbados: Challenging the Culture of the Planter Class

    Reply

  19. t. greer

    “There is a similar difference between in the Northern Chinese loess plains and the great hill country of Southern China.”

    That’s the thing. If it’s correct that the Catholic Church’s cousin ban reshaped sociobiology (in proportion to how strongly it was applied) then the basic mechanism underlying that – closeness of marriage – ought to be relevant throughout human history wherever some factor, physical or cultural, effected closeness of marriage with one of the most common dividing lines being between upland and lowland (which is usually another way of saying relatively marginal, relatively low pop. density land vs relatively fertile, relatively high pop. density land).

    If that basic mechanism is correct then examples of that relationship should pop up all over the place.

    .

    IHTG
    “I’d like to hear more about these conspicuous elements.”

    I don’t know what he is referring to but the most obvious examples are the surviving Celtic languages.

    Reply

  20. @HDBchick-

    Clans have always been much much stronger in South China than the North. Worth noting too that clan lineages were first recorded and codified in the Song Dynasty, when, for the first time in Chinese history, the dynasty did not extend North of the Huai.

    But more on this when I post my critique of Unz’s China model.

    Reply

  21. Greying Wanderer:

    But the Celtic languages are native. The text mentions “conspicuous elements” that are remnants of assimulated invasive cultures.

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  22. @IHTG

    I could be wrong but what i think he is saying is the lowlands were/are dominated by the *last* invasive tide that washed over them while the highlands have elements of *all* previous invasive tides. Although to be honest from the way it is written i’m not entirely sure.

    Reply

  23. Soils and the viability of various types of agriculture must have been significant in the spread of agricutural improvements. Some types of agriculture would just not pay in certain areas. Historically the Highlands were poor, but not very sparsely inhabited up untill the 19th century. The fact that the Highland MacDonalds had Somerled’s Norwegian male line Y chomosome, and until Norway’s King Haakon was defeated at the Battle of Largs (Ayrshire) in 1263, Clan MacDonald always supported Norway indicates the ancestry of British regions is not insignificant.

    The South East had different soil to the Scottish Highlands but there was another difference in that it was colonised by Danes , not Norwegians . And IMO there is a BIG difference between those two peoples, even if they are lumped together as Scandinavians.

    I think it would be useful if ‘outbreeding’ was defined. Is it prohibition of marriage between first and second cousins, or any degree of relationship.

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  24. In small static communities that everybody used to live in propinquity would lead attraction and to cousin marriage. It seems to me that there would be more third cousins than first, so third cousin marriage may have been far more common than first cousin marraige (unless there was an actual tradition for marriage of first cousins being the perfect match).

    It’s completely unclear what is meant by ‘outbreeding’ unless the prohibited degree of relationship is specified. It is true of just about any multigeneration lasting communty that they practiced ‘cousin’ marriage to a certain extent if 4th cousin marriage is included.

    Where the prohibition on cousin marraige was strongest, and where the church, state, local manorial lords were most opposed to inbreeding, what did that actually mean. for the average degree of relationship between husband and wife; do we know ? I think that ‘outbreeding’ needs to be defined.

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  25. @sean – “Glasgow ranked UK’s most violent area. Not the Highlands or the Borders.”

    sure. but the highlands were rather emptied out during the … clearances … weren’t they? i’m sure that pop. density affects violence levels — the more people around to thrash, the more likely people will get thrashed. and who lives in glasgow today? did any highlanders happen to move there? how about the (clannish) native irish? rangers vs. celtic fans? hmmm….

    also, remember that the scots did start to outbreed after the reformation — incest actually became a hanging offense (that’s quite a deterrent) — so, if my theory’s at all correct, the highland scots have experienced several hundred years of outbreeding now (the lowland scots probably longer — stay tuned for my series of posts on the scots).

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  26. Huh, if that’s the case, then perhaps a few hundred years of outbreeding might do wonders for groups like the Albanians. I really get the feeling that the Celts are far more “settled” now in their homelands than the Scots-Irish communities in the states, much less their own history up to the 1600s.

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  27. hbd chick, Yea verily you had had defined your terms, and then had to point out that you had a placed a prominent link to it which I didn’t bother to look at. Sorry. I have read that now. 1st and second cuz is inbreeding .

    (Thinking out loud again: I wonder about the original situation before any prohibition of consanguineous marriage. Unless we are talking about a society that preferentially practiced marriage of first cousins, a system which may have to be enforced by parents on their children, the marriage of third cousins through free choice attraction per propinquity may have been the most common form of consanguinity. I believe there was a study in Iceland that found the marriage of third cousins had the greatest reproductive fitness of all marriages.)

    Getting back on topic. An aspect of the geography of Britain that might be taken into account is the ease of communication with with other countries The southeast was in position to be a dynamic centre of gravity for society in England (and ultimately Britain), because of its propinquity to the continent. If Britain had been 80 degrees round about, a Highland ‘south east’ might still have been been a key area.

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  28. @sean – “I believe there was a study in Iceland that found the marriage of third cousins had the greatest reproductive fitness of all marriages.”

    yes, but note that that is AFTER — MUCH after — christianity was introduced (more likely after the norwegians started running the place and began [i’m guessing] enforcing the cousin marriage ban).

    @sean – “If Britain had been 80 degrees round about, a Highland ‘south east’ might still have been been a key area.”

    maybe, but i doubt it. not if the highlanders didn’t change their marriage patterns anyway.

    remember that pre-christianity, the anglo-saxons in england were feuding and paying wergeld and all that clannish stuff despite being adjacent to the continent. it wasn’t until (again) after they adopted christianity and began to outbreed which (i think) resulted in the disappearance of the anglo-saxon kindreds did southern england become an economically dynamic place. same story for populations on the continent.

    also, if being neighbors to economically dynamic places was the answer, then why are the balkans so messed up? what about the eastern europeans? etc., etc.

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  29. I don’t think a long run of consanguinity in the marriages of a society would alter the biological optimum mate relatedness not being first or second cousins. It’s a fair assumption that left to themselves people would be subconsciously a liittle less keen on mating with their first or second cousins. Even if a potenial mate was not known to be a cousin they would tend to be subliminally assessed as just a bit too similar in looks smell ect. It could well be a 100% deal breaker for some like a prospective mate with a striking lack of facial symmetry. A cousin marriage ban may have fitted in or been a reflection of a natural propensity to avoid marrying first and second cousins, and disapprove of those who did .

    There would be more third cousins and they would be less likely to be raised together than first cousins, hence no Westermarck effect. By my way of thinking first cousin marriage would always be rare unless it was enforced by parents and societal traditions. A ban is to be taken as evidence that it was common or traditional throughout a socety, as opposed to a practice among noble families trying to consolidate their holdings? That remains uncertain I think; those trying to get something banned may exaggerate how common it is.

    Would a highland south east been invaded and colonised by Anglo saxon Danes? The ethnic composition of the South east and it’s proximity to Holland Denmark ect are difficult to separate. But a highland south east might have been different. The only part of the Balkans that was not conquered by Turks was the highlands (Montenegro).

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  30. @sean – “By my way of thinking first cousin marriage would always be rare unless it was enforced by parents and societal traditions.”

    well, you’re free to think that, of course, but unfortunately your idea is in direct conflict with the anthropological/historical evidence. an awful lot of peoples marry close cousins regularly — those that don’t (egs. some europeans, the semai, the bushmen?) appear to be a minority on the planet.

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  31. It is not clear to me if you think first cousin marriage may be ideal from a biological point of view. I think it has been established that the reproductive fitness of first and second cousin marriage is lower An Association Between the Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples. First and second cousins would be more likely to share mutations and histocompatibility complex genes. See Consanguineous Marriage and Human Evolution

    Such marriages in Iceland in that era would be personal choice from people who could marry as they wished, so they found each other attractive and were presumably a pretty good test. In a society where children are constrained by parental and societal expectations there would be a very restricted group to choose from. I don’t see any reason to think first cousin marriages would come out better in data from Pakistan than data from Iceland. Quite the opposite.

    Genes in common equivalent to being third or fourth cousins is the biological optimum for mating with . Yes, Pakistanis ect are ” awful lot of peoples [who] marry close cousins regularly”, I don’t think they ‘choose’ to marry cousins in the way that someone in 19th century Iceland did. .

    The reproductive fitness of the parents whose child marries a cousin may be better in some way. But I’m talking about the actual reproductive fitness of the ones getting married. And if RF was worse when marrying a first cousin they might be sociallised into accepting a duty to marry a first cousin, but they would not want them subliminally in the way that the Icelanders who married first cousins must have.

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  32. @sean – “It is not clear to me if you think first cousin marriage may be ideal from a biological point of view.”

    clearly long-term, sustained first cousin marriage is not a good idea (see: all the genetic disorders saudi arabia and other arab nations). infrequent first cousin marriages are probably not much of a problem. and, like you say, the study from iceland showed that third- and fourth-cousin marriages seem to be ideal from a reproductive point-of-view — but remember that third- and fourth-cousins are NOT all the same in every population. third- and fourth-cousins in a population that has been inbreeding over the long-term will be more closely related to one another than third- and fourth-cousins in a population that has been outbreeding over the long-term.

    in any case, none of that is really relevant to the meta-discussion on this blog. it really only matters if people in different populations have, in fact, been inbreeding or outbreeding over the long-term, via whatever incentives or disincentives.

    @sean – “Such marriages in Iceland in that era would be personal choice….”

    is that something that you actually KNOW, sean, or is this another one of your (very often baseless) opinions? give me a link to a source backing up your claim.

    recall, for instance, that first cousin marriages were banned in another scandinavian country — sweden — until 1844 (after which time first cousin marriages in sweden increased). it could very well be that similar laws were in place in other scandinavian nations. i, myself, do not know what the situation was in nineteenth century iceland.

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  33. @Sean and HBD chick
    I think Glasgow being the most violent city in the UK might have to do with Scots having a greater tendency to addiction than English people. I don’t know if is related to inbreeding. Inbred people from the Middle East don’t seem particularly prone to addiction. But people from the northern-most fringes of Europe do.

    People descended directly from hunter/gatherers seem to have a very high rate of addiction (natives in Canada and Australia, for example). Maybe farmers, who were able to produce significant amounts of alcohol, evolved some protection against addiction. The far northern Europeans have been exposed to agriculture and alcohol for a lot longer than natives in Canada, but not for as long as people further south in Europe.

    Regarding people from the Highlands moving to Glasgow–I know my great grandparents relocated their family from Caithness to Glasgow sometime in the 1890’s.

    Regarding Norwegian influence in the Highlands, a lot of the place names in Caithness are Norse. It was a Norwegian colony of sorts until 1266, according to Wikipedia.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caithness

    Two of my grandparents are from Caithness, and according to 23andMe 1.1% Scandinavian. I have no known Scandinavian ancestors and have traced my family tree back to early 1800’s.

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  34. @sean – “It is not clear to me if you think first cousin marriage may be ideal from a biological point of view.”

    In earlier times the defects of first cousin marriage may have been countered by high mortality. When looking into Irish Travellers a little while ago i watched a documentary on one guy who’d had ten children in all of which only two survived. IIRC it 4-5 had dies young and 2-3 died later in road accidents. Early marriage with very high fertility and very high mortality may be a recurring feature of close marriage as a way of dealing with the defects. I’d imagine populations like that have a lot of miscarraiges also.

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  35. I linked to ‘An Association Between the Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples’ which is a study of a 1800 – 1965 period that talks about first cousins ‘The first interval of kinship represents all couples related at the level of second cousins or closer’.

    edit: yeah, that’s great, sean. but that article doesn’t back up your statement:

    “Such marriages in Iceland in that era would be personal choice from people who could marry as they wished, so they found each other attractive and were presumably a pretty good test.”

    where is the link to support that statement? – h.chick /edit

    I think there were first cousin marriages in Iceland in the earlier part of the period they studied, even if they were few and required dispensation as in Sweden pre 1844. By my way of thinking in the latter part of the period there must have been, such marriages unless the researchers were studying a data set on something that did not exist.

    edit: obviously there were some first cousin marriages in iceland during the time. we know that. but were they, as you said, a “personal choice from people who could marry as they wished”? or is this just another one of your assumptions? THAT is what i want to know. – h.chick /edit

    Modern group selection theory revolves around countervailing levels of selection. Individual reproductive fitness verses extended family RF gives the more individualistically oriented a genetic interest for opposing consanguinity.

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  36. OK I don’t have a reference for first cousin marriages in iceland being more concensual than in Pakistan. But I think it is the most reasonable inference, and I’m not aware of any reference or evidence that suggests the opposite could be true. Would you say it is unreasonable to think that first cousin marriages in Iceland during the relative period are more consensual than in Pakistan where they are 70@ the middle east or Turkey?

    Theoretically a genetic propensity for finding first cousins attractive could be bred into people over many generations. The intensity of first cousin marriage in Pakistan has declined of late. There are fewer of the “chooay” or “mice” – people with a genetic defect which causes an abnormally small skull and is related to intensive cousin marriage . See Here. So even in Pakistan, where it has been VASTLY more common than in iceland post 1800 the evidence for a genetic propensity for finding first cousins attractive being a decisive factor in such marriages is weak. I’m sugesting that individual reproductive fitness conflicts with extended family reprodictive fitness at the level of relatedness that repeated first cousin marraige produces (eg Pakistan). So when the cultural restaints imposed by the extended family are loosened in the modern world. the indiduals are reluctant.

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  37. The heavily forested areas on Fox’s map were largely uninhabited in Roman times. Following the end of the Empire, the Germanics on the East Coast (as per Oppenheimer – Also, the original Diocese of Lincoln probably defines the zone) invented/swiftly copied the horsecollar to pull heavy ploughs and took over the Midlands. This is where the core open field system took hold, with some backwash into East Anglia and modern Lincolnshire. The woods of East Anglia and Southern England were on light infertile soils which quickly lost moisture and not of interest. Migrating populations would of course mix more thoroughly. However, it is also the case that the crop yields in the manorial system were not so great.

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