Monday, February 08, 2010

Roots of the British, 1000 BC – AD 1000

Historians, archaeologists, linguists, geneticists and IT experts at the University of Leicester are collaborating in new ways to provide a clearer picture of the population history of Britain.

There have been many different interpretations of the roots of the Welsh, Scots and English, and the legacies of peoples such as Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons and Vikings, who supposedly or certainly migrated here.

Combining data and expertise in a truly interdisciplinary collaboration promises to throw new light on these issues. Dr Jo Story, of the School of History, said: “To do this, the University of Leicester is exploiting its unique combination of a world-class Genetics Department studying the messages encoded in our genes, and Schools of History, English, Archaeology and Ancient History with international reputations for their research into the different legacy of texts, language and objects. We have built a collaborative group called ‘Roots of the British’ to bring these strands together.”

A new grant of £100,000, awarded by JISC as part of the 'Managing Research Data' Programme, will allow the development of a novel database, HALOGEN, to support the Roots of the British collaboration. David Carter and Mary Visser of IT Services prepared the successful grant application, and Jonathan Tedds will coordinate multi-disciplinary IT research expertise. Jonathan said: “The database will contain data on landscapes and artefacts, surnames and place-names, dialect and linguistic patterns, censuses, as well as genetic variation in the population. Combining such diverse data will present new challenges, which is why JISC is interested in funding these initiatives, and will also allow researchers to seek informative patterns about the past.”

At the same time a PhD student, Hayley Dunn, will begin her studies as part of the Roots of the British project. Normally, students spend their time in only one Department, but Hayley will be supervised both in the Department of Genetics (by Professor Mark Jobling) and in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History (by Dr Simon James). Dr James said: “We plan to combat the traditional separatism of different disciplines, in which experts from one field just cherry-pick ideas from another, by training a new generation of truly cross-disciplinary researchers for the future.”

Professor Jobling hopes that the new initiatives will lead to really new insights, for example: “Place-names in counties like Leicestershire show the massive influence the Vikings had on our culture, while in Warwickshire there are no Viking names. But can we see a difference in the proportions of ‘Viking’ genes in these places? Comparing different kinds of evidence for past Viking influence will help us understand how these key cultural changes in Britain’s past came about.”

Click here to go to the Roots of the British website