In a previous post, I wrote about how I got my Y-chromosome DNA tested to reveal details about my direct male ancestors. My main motivation was to support a long held belief that I had Viking ancestry and that the Rimmers had been resident in Lancashire for at least the past 1000 years. You can judge for yourself whether or not my case was convincing. What I hadn’t bargained on when I signed up for testing with Family Tree DNA was a story of paternal ancestral origins stretching back much further – around 75,000 years, to the Rift Valley in East Africa.
By analysing the Y-chromosome DNA from sample populations of males in various parts of the world, geneticists have concluded that all humans alive today are descended through their father’s direct male line to one man, a likely Rift Valley resident termed Y-chromosomal Adam. My Y-DNA test predicted my gene group, called a haplogroup, as I, and my division within that haplogroup, called a subclade, as I2b2. Each haplogroup can be thought of as the ancient tribe or ethnic group to which our ancestors belonged. When you know your haplogroup, you can guess roughly when and where your tribe migrated throughout its history.
This article attempts to shed some light on the likely origins of my direct male line, from deep in prehistory to modern times. For some of the sections on prehistory I have called on an excellently researched article by Robert Joseph Arvin, Jr called The First People. For information on the movement of I2b2 populations, I have sourced the thoughts of Hans de Beule and the contributors of DNA Forums. The following basic timeline traces the movement of my ancestors, the environments they lived in and the events they lived through.
60,000 – 50,000 years ago – Eurasian Adam and Neanderthal Relatives
Eurasian Adam was a direct descendant of Y-chromosomal Adam and is the most recent common ancestor of those of us males who are not of African descent. He lived at a time when the entire human species numbered about 10,000, but was proving successful. He probably lived in the Rift Valley due to its abundance of resources.
A few hundred of his descendants migrated out of Africa at a time when sea levels were low and the Red Sea was probably dry land. They eventually populated every major area of the world. As nomadic hunters they followed expanding grasslands in the Middle East, and encountered the Neanderthal species already settled there. A study, reported by the National Geographic in May 2010, found genetic evidence that these modern humans interbred with the Neanderthals. If you are not African, 1 to 4 percent of your genetic makeup will be Neanderthal, although not in your direct male or female ancestral line.
image source – plosbiology.org November 30, 2004
45,000 – 30,000 years ago – First Into Europe
Humankind still numbered only in the tens of thousands. Much of Earth’s water was frozen in massive ice sheets. Haplogroup IJ, split into two significant groups, Middle Eastern J and European I. As the Haplogroup I hunters moved further west into Europe, the swapped familiar grasslands for forests and high country. Of all the major haplogroups found today, I is considered the only core haplogroup to have originated in Europe.
28,000 – 20,000 years ago – Hunters and Artists
Haplogroup I split and dispersed north along the Danube, and south along the Mediterranean coast. Much of the north was under ice and the central areas were tundra. Vast herds of bison, reindeer, and mammoth were a target for hungry human hunters. Haplogroup I spread the Gravettian culture, symbolised by the stone Gravette point used for big-game hunting, and art carved in bone or ivory.
20,000 – 13,000 years ago – Refuge From The Ice
The last Ice Age made most of northern and central Europe uninhabitable. Haplogroup I retreated to refuge areas in Iberia and the Balkans where living conditions were more hospitable. Subclade I2 sought refuge in the Balkans, most likely in the Southern Carpathian Mountains, where it survived through the Last Glacial Maximum. As the climate moderated and the ice sheets receded, I2 came down from the mountains and settled along the Danube River basin. Eventually, a further subclade, I2b, made their way into Germany.
13,000 – 11,500 years ago – Living In Doggerland
Europe experienced a prolonged cold period lasting over a thousand years, known as the Younger Dryas. The Ice caps re-expanded over Scandinavia and sea levels fell again. This period was a severe setback for Haplogroup I; it is thought that only nine males emerged from the Younger Dryas with surviving male-line descendants today. The Haplogroup I subclades dispersed, displaying the distribution patterns that still persist in modern European populations. I2b went northwest, following the Danube and inhabited the northwest regions of the European continent, perhaps even the bed of what is now the North Sea. At that time it was a flat grassy plain stretching all the way from the southern Baltic to eastern England. It has been named Doggerland and was initially a tundra landscape then, as the climate warmed, an oak woodland – ideal hunting ground.
image source – nextnature.net/2009/04/mapping-a-lost-world
9,000 – 7,000 years ago – Doggerland Goes Under
The Doggerland communities settled around river and coastal areas. New archeological evidence from the bed of the North Sea shows they had surprising a technical ability, such as weaving cloth and carving boats. As the climate warmed, the ice sheets melted and sea levels rose. North Sea waters poured through the channel moat separating the British peninsula from the Continent. To survive the rising sea levels, the inhabitants of Doggerland would have had to migrate. To the west was Britain, which became a large coastal island. On the Continent, to the east lay the Danish islands and southern Norway; to the south lay the Netherlands and northern Germany. I2b2 people may have appeared at this time, just as the first European farmers were entering the Rhine Region and the Low Countries, fixing the I2b2 clans in the Upper Rhine region as they gradually absorbed into the farming way of life.
7,000 – 4,800 years ago – From Hunters to Farmers
This period saw a succession of cultures, such as the Ertebølle, Swifterbant and Beaker cultures which marked the Europeans’ transition from hunter-gatherer activities to animal husbandry and the cultivation of barley and wheat. The Beaker people in particular are characterised by their ceramics, single-family daubed houses and their animal husbandry of sheep, cattle, pigs and goats, but they also continued hunting and fishing. The culture is seen as non-Indo-European, therefore termed Old Europe (particularly associated with haplogroup I2b’s subclades).
4,800 – 3,800 years ago – Indo-European Invasion
This period saw the arrival of the Battle-Axe culture, as Indo-European people (characterised by Haplogroup R1a) based in central Europe began to travel both east and west. The Battle-Axe tribes fused very quickly with the Beaker People and spread rapidly to all corners of Europe. Wherever they went, their customs and language prevailed. Today the Indo-European family of languages stretches from the Hebrides in the west to the Indian subcontinet in the east, and includes the descendants of Latin, like French and Spanish, the Slavic languages of European Russia, the Celtic languages of Ireland and Wales, and the Germanic languages of Scandanavia, Germany, the Netherlands and England.
3,800 – 2,000 years ago – Bronze Age Ancestors Take DNA Test
Celts ruled throughout most of Bronze Age and early Iron Age Europe, but were eventually displaced by the Germanic tribes inhabiting this area. The Lichtenstein Cave is a Germanic Bronze Age archaeological site in Lower Saxony, Germany. Finds include the 3000 year old skeletal remains of 21 females and 19 males. Y-chromosome DNA tests were conducted on the skeletons: of the males, twelve showed haplotypes related to I2b2 (at least four lineages), two to R1a (one lineage) and one to R1b. The skeletons belonged to one family clan, spread over 4 to 5 generations, and the cave was used as a family burial chamber. I2b2 descendants of this family are still living in the same region today, showing that haplogroups can also remain in one place over millenia.
image source – sites.google.com/site/haplogroupil38 © Wild Life Art
1 – 450 AD – Battling the Romans
The Roman Empire had expanded to the Rhine and Danube rivers and incorporated many Celtic societies. The Germanic tribal homelands to the north and east emerged collectively in the records as ‘Magna Germania’. The people of this area were sometimes at war with the Romans, but also engaged in complex trade relations, military alliances, and cultural exchanges with them as well. The western Germanic tribes included Scandinavians, Frisians, Franks, Alamans, Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Swabians. Their pressure on the Roman frontiers gradually intensified and by the 5th century the Germanic tribes occupied the whole Western Roman Empire. Amongst these migrations, some Upper Rhine I2b2s moved to the British Isles on Celtic waves (leading to ties with Ireland and Scotland). Some Middle Elbe I2b2s moved to the British Isles early as Danish Swabians, while some Upper Rhine I2b2s entered the Low Countries as Franks.
450 – 793 AD – Anglo-Saxon Invasion
The people of the northern coastlands – Angles, Saxons and Jutes – began to make settlements on Roman territory in Britain. Larger numbers of Angles and Saxons began to arrive and the migration of Germanic groups over the next century laid the foundations of a number of kingdoms in Britain. Modern Danish and German I2b2 samples are connected to northern England and it is probable that some I2b2 moved from the Elbe region to the north, mingled with north German and Danish populations and crossed the North Sea as Angles or Jutes in 4th to 7th centuries. This was a period of large and complex migrations on the Continent and it has greatly complicated the DNA picture.
image source – bbc.co.uk – © 2010 BBC
793 – 1066 AD – Viking Invasion
Viking raids on England started in 793AD. Gradually the Vikings settled and merged with the local populations in northern and eastern counties which became The Danelaw, or Scandinavian England. York (Jorvik) became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of York which extended over modern Yorkshire. Viking raids on Ireland began in 795AD. The Vikings eventually established major settlements at Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick. Dublin became the capital of the Viking Kingdom of Dublin, whose influence extended across the Irish Sea into modern Lancashire. Periodically the Irish managed to expel the Vikings leading to Scandinavian immigration into north-west England. Substantial colonies of Scandinavians were established along the Fylde and the coastal areas south of the Ribble. Scandinavians also settled in Cumbria and the Ribble Valley, the Ribble already being part of the established Viking trade route between Dublin and York. The Anglo-Scandinavian communities in Lancashire may be reflected in modern connections between Danish and German I2b2 samples with northern English and Irish ones, meaning that I2b2 people mingled with north German and Danish populations and migrated to England as Vikings.
1066 – 1086 – Norman Invasion
The Norman Conquest began with the invasion of England by William the Conqueror and he quickly secured control of the south. Society in northern England remained Anglo-Scandinavian and resistance continued. A series of campaigns brutally surpressed them. The Normans burnt whole villages and slaughtered the inhabitants. Much of the land was laid waste and depopulated. Anglo-Scandinavian leaders were replaced with Normans. Unlike the Vikings, the Normans did not settle in the north but only occupied the upper ranks of society. This allowed an Anglo-Scandinavian culture to survive beneath Norman rule. However, the Domesday Book, the record of a great survey of all land and livestock in England and Wales, shows that the Norman takeover of England was complete.
The district of Otegrimele (the place of Ote Grimr’s sandbank), located on the west Lancashire coast, is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Later it became North Meols and was eventually absorbed by the new town of Southport in the 19th century. The Domesday Book states that there were 50 huts in Otegrimele, housing a population of 200. The population was scattered thinly across the region but was concentrated at the north-east end of Otegrimele (present day Crossens), where there was fertile agricultual land and plentiful fish supplies from the River Ribble Estuary. A primitive church was built there and gave the emerging village its name of Churchtown (the church was called St Cuthbert’s and is still Churchtown’s main landmark today).
image source – Norstead Viking Church from littlervadventures.spaces.live.com
The area is now home to the world’s highest concentration of families with the surname Rimmer, so it must be their point of origin in Lancashire. I am confident in the link between my haplogroup and my surname origins, but I am also fairly sure that not all Rimmers are of I2b2 male descent – only time will tell as more Rimmers have their Y-DNA tested.
One Thousand Years in Lancashire
The historical period that my I2b2 Rimmers lived through since their likely co-founding of Otegrimele is well documented, even though Lancashire was far enough away from London to be a relatively isolated part of the realm. Like most human lives, they probably experienced long periods of boredom and drudgery, punctuated by short periods of rapid change, high drama and even sheer terror.
Following the upheaval of the Conquest, they probably spent the medieval period working the land under feudal conditions for the benefit of a landed aristocracy of Norman descent.
image source – wagscreen.wordpress.com/the-luttrell-psalter-film/locations
They will have lived through the horror of the bubonic plague, or the Black Death in the 14th century, which killed an estimated 1.5 million people out of a population of 4 million in England, including half of the Lancashire population. Of those that caught it, few recovered. Almost all died within three days. They will have witnessed the terrible impact that the Black Death had on the society that survived it. Fields going unploughed, harvests left to rot, animals dying untended, whole towns and villages facing starvation.
They will have lived through Henry VIII’s break with Rome in the 16th century and will have clung on stubbornly to the ‘Old Faith’ of Catholicism, making the Reformation in Lancashire a slow and reluctant process. They will have suffered from the religious penal laws introduced to compel Catholics to attend Church of England services and fine them if they did not comply.
They will have survived the English Civil War in the 17th century which saw religious divides between Royalist Catholics and Parliamentarian Protestants come to a head. Civil war battles, sieges and skirmishes took place in every corner of Lancashire and its towns often changed hands several times during the conflict, with brutal reprisals often taken against the unfortunate inhabitants.
They saw Lancashire’s gradual progression from a predominately rural county into one of industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. In my family’s case, their occupations changed forever within one generation from farming to iron founding. They left the countryside behind and they lived their lives in the new, large, urbanised, industrial towns like Blackburn, where they settled from 1859 onwards. They took leisure trips by steam railway to newly developed coastal resorts such as Blackpool and Southport (their by now long forgotten point of origin).
In a wave of patriotism they rushed to the colours in the First World War and returned disillusioned to a post war slump of diminishing overseas trade, outdated technology and rapidly decaying inner cities. By the 1930s this slump had become a protracted depression from which it took half a century to emerge (I’m sure this is why Grandad Rimmer was a lifelong socialist). During the Second World War they were on the frontline in their own homes as all Lancashire’s major industrial centres suffered bombing, including Blackburn (although it escaped serious damage).
They shook their heads at the substantial remodelling of Lancashire towns like Blackburn as a result of post war planning schemes, which saw much loved 18th and 19th century town centre buildings cleared and replaced with contemporary structures, together with urban clearance programmes and the construction of large council estates and high rise flats (which proved so unpopular that many have since been demolished).
images source – blackburnnowandthen.co.uk
My own parents’ generation has seen the character of towns like Blackburn change massively within their own lifetime, as post war immigration from the Indian subcontinent and later from Eastern Europe has surely had as great an impact as any of the historical migration patterns recorded so far. The town’s population of over 100,000 has the highest percentage of Muslims (around 25%) in the United Kingdom outside of London.
To the Ribble Valley
I have a great affection for Blackburn, but have decided that my future lies in the nearby Ribble Valley, in it’s ‘capital’ of Clitheroe, where I have a house and where the kids went to school. The Ribble Valley is statistically the wealthiest enclave in Lancashire, so I don’t really have the money to fit in – but the area’s natural unspoilt beauty, lower crime rates and the friendliness of Clitheroe’s local community of 15,000 make any premium worth paying. Clitheroe has not made Blackburn’s mistake of ‘regenerating’ its heritage (which includes a Norman castle and keep) and the tourists flock there as a result.
pictures by Ribble Valley photographer John Toms
Get Your DNA Tested!
The rate at which new discoveries in historical migration patterns are being made is very swift and naming conventions shift accordingly. The International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) probably provides the most succinct summary of the major Y-DNA haplogroups in existence on the planet today. Mapping historical population migrations can never be an exact science, we are talking about people after all and they have a habit of not conforming to rigid boxes; global travel and migration in the last few centuries has mixed up the global Y-DNA picture irrevocably. However, the more people have their DNA tested, the clearer the picture will become. If this 60,000 year potted I2b2 family history has whetted your appetite for uncovering your own origins, please consider a test.