Western Morning News
Monday, June 18, 2012
The difference between Cornwall and Devon might boil down to something more fundamental than the crimp of a pasty, according to an intriguing new study of DNA.
Scientists have found that native Cornish people can lay claim to be genetically different from their counterparts across the Tamar.
The study, by researchers at Oxford University, has seen a genetic map of the British isles drawn up after the analysis of DNA variations in thousands of people living in rural areas.
It has been found that the Welsh can claim to be the most ancient of Britons and, along with the Cornish, are the most genetically distinct of all the groups on mainland Britain.
Colin Murley, a campaigner for Cornish independence said it was interesting news.
“Cornwall has always been different and has always been treated differently throughout history,” said Mr Murley, who runs the website www.savecornwall.org.
“What we have here is now proof that the Cornish are different.
“This is a very competent study which confirms our position,” said Mr Murley, who was formally a prominent member of the Cornish Stannary Parliament, the recently re-activated ancient governing body for the county’s tin mining community.
Peter Donnelly, professor of statistical science at Oxford University and director of the Wellcome Trust centre for human genetics, said the results were clear.
“The people of Wales and Cornwall are different from the rest of southern and central England.”
In the study, Professor Donnelly and his colleagues analysed the differences at 500,000 points in the DNA of 2,000 people.
Only people living in rural areas were included and all had to have had all four grandparents born in the same area.
The researchers also compared the genetic profiles of British populations with those of European groups, to get an idea of where the ancestors of modern Britons hailed from.
Professor Donnelly said there did however remain some uncertainty about why the Cornish and Welsh have retained such a distinct profile, similar to that found in the peoples of Ireland and France.
One possibility, he said, was that they are “relic” populations, tracing their ancestry back to the tribes that first moved into Europe and Britain as the ice receded.
Another theory is that the western parts of Britain were populated by migrants from the Atlantic coasts of France and Spain.
Although the study will make for interesting reading and possibly prompt some celebrations in Cornwall and Wales, the areas do not harbour the most genetically distinctive of all British people tested.
According to Professor Donnelly that claim is with the people of the Orkney Islands whose genes show them to be Scandinavian in origin, not surprising, given that the islands were controlled by the Vikings from AD875 to 1472.