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Bryan Sykes (born 9 September, 1947) is Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxfordmarker and a Fellow of Wolfson Collegemarker.

Sykes published the first report on retrieving DNA from ancient bone (Nature, 1989). Sykes has been involved in a number of high-profile cases dealing with ancient DNA, including those of Ötzi the Iceman and Cheddar Man, and others concerning people claiming to be members of the Romanovs—the Russianmarker royal family. His work also suggested a Florida accountant by the name of Tom Robinson was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, a claim that was subsequently disputed.

Sykes is best known outside the community of geneticists for his bestselling books on the investigation of human history and prehistory through studies of mitochondrial DNA. He is also the founder of Oxford Ancestors, a genealogical DNA testing firm.

Blood of the Isles

In his 2006 book Blood of the Isles (published in the United States and Canada as Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland), Sykes examines British genetic "clans". He presents evidence from mitochondrial DNA, inherited by both sexes from their mothers, and the Y chromosome, inherited by men from their fathers, for the following points:

  • The genetic makeup of Britain and Ireland is overwhelmingly what it has been since the Neolithic period, and to a very considerable extent since the Mesolithic period, especially in the female line.

  • The contribution of the Celts of continental Europe to the genetic makeup of Britain and Ireland was minimal.

  • The Picts were not a separate people: the genetic makeup of the formerly Pictish areas of Scotland shows no significant differences from the general profile of the rest of Britain.

  • The Anglo-Saxons made a substantial contribution to the genetic makeup of England, but in Sykes's opinion it was under 20 percent of the total, even in southern England.

  • The Vikings (Danes and Norwegians) also made a substantial contribution, which is concentrated in central, northern, and eastern England - the territories of the ancient Danelawmarker. There is a very heavy Viking contribution in the Orkneymarker and Shetland Islandsmarker, in the vicinity of 40 percent. Women as well as men contributed substantially in all these areas, showing that the Vikings engaged in large-scale settlement.

  • The Norman contribution was extremely small, on the order of 2 percent.

  • In spite of all these later contributions, the genetic makeup of the British Isles remains overwhelmingly what it was in the Neolithic: a mixture of the first Mesolithic inhabitants with Neolithic settlers who came by sea from Iberiamarker and ultimately from the eastern Mediterranean.

  • There is a difference between the genetic histories of men and women in Britain and Ireland . The matrilineages show a mixture of original Mesolithic inhabitants and later Neolithic arrivals from Iberia, whereas the patrilineages are much more strongly correlated with Iberia. This suggests (though Sykes does not emphasize this point) replacement of much of the original male population by new arrivals with a more powerful social organization.

  • There is evidence for a "Genghis Khan effect", whereby some male lineages in ancient times were much more successful than others in leaving large numbers of descendants.

Some quotations from the book follow. (Note that Sykes uses the terms "Celts" and "Picts" to designate the pre-Roman inhabitants of the Isles who spoke Celtic and does not mean the people known as Celts in central Europe.)

Japanese clans

Sykes is currently using the same methods he used in The Seven Daughters of Eve to identify the nine "clan mothers" of Japanesemarker ancestry, "all different from the seven European equivalents."

Books by Bryan Sykes


  1. Japanese women seek their ancestral roots in Oxford by Tessa Holland, 25 June 2006, reprinted from Crisscross News

See also

External links

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