When I was at school I was made to specialise fairly early, so I never learnt very much science. I always knew anyway that a lot of what I had learnt would probably be superseded by progress. I am not thinking of the invention of the wheel, by the way, but you get the point.
I went on to study economics. It was a well worn joke in those days, and doubtless even more worn by now, that every year they set the same exam questions: to keep us on our toes, they just changed the answers. I have to say that there is some truth in that. It is obvious that George Osborne learnt a different set of answers from those I was taught!
I did however think I was fairly safe with history. All right, there have always been lots of new theories. I remember having to learn the Old View and the New View about almost everything, so I could show the examiners I had really studied the subject. But facts are facts. Are they not? So I was really amazed recently to discover that some of the most well known facts about ourselves – the British – are being challenged.
I was taught that prehistoric Britain was subject to a series of invasions, coming in waves from the near continent. The Old Stone Age people were wiped out, or driven out to the extremities of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, by the New Stone Age people, who were in turn replaced by the Bronze Age People, also called the Iberians, who were of course replaced by the Celts, who brought in the Iron Age. Then the pattern was broken by the Romans who came, saw, conquered, and finally departed, leaving us with a lot of roads, buildings, laws and Latin words, without really colonising Britain. Then back to the previous model, as the Angles and Saxons invaded and wiped out the Celts who survived in the extreme North and West, like the remnants of their predecessors. Thus the Angles and Saxons merged into the English, explaining why there are different languages and cultures in these islands.
I can hardly express my shock and horror having just read “The Origins of the British” by Stephen Oppenheimer. It is heavy going in parts, but fascinating. He uses DNA studies as well as linguistics and archaeology. He also re-examines some ancient documents, including the works of Julius Caesar and Bede, and finds things others seem to have overlooked. His amazing but well argued and well supported conclusion s are, to simplify somewhat, as follows:
- After the Ice Age Britain was colonised by people coming from Spain and Portugal along the Atlantic Coast, settling on our West Coast and that of Ireland.
- Later waves came by a similar route, including the Celts at the start of the Neolithic period.
- Meanwhile, there were several waves of migrations from the Continent arriving up the East Coast and some along the South Coast. These were Germanic and especially Scandinavian.
- So the Angles and Saxons only added to an existing Germanic population that had been in what is now England from the Iron Age.
- There is no reason to believe in a series of genocides or acts of ethnic cleansing.
- There has been a lot of mixing of genes ever since so that most Britons today have a lot of Celtic genes even if they think they are totally English.
- And vice versa.
All my supposed certainties are in tatters. But it is good to know that the Welsh are not the survivors of an act of genocide committed by the English.
So you cannot be certain even about the past.
We all need to be ready to reevaluate from time to time almost everything we think we know.
This reinforces the point I made in a previous article about the need to review business practices which were once appropriate for their purposes, because the World changes so much.