The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons:
Decoding the Ancestry of the English

Jean Manco

Thames and Hudson 2018
A book review by Danny Yee © 2020
Manco begins with Beowulf and Bede, touches on genetics, and then gives an introduction to the ancient Germans based on literary sources and archaeology. She then jumps back to the start of "a long and winding road", beginning with the mammoth hunters but looking in some detail at Proto-Indo-European and the Yamnaya, trade in amber and tin and other long-distance networks in the Bronze Age, and the La Tène and Jastorf and other cultures and the likely origins of Proto-Germanic. This is the background to the "wandering of the peoples" and the end of the Roman Empire in the west, Romano-British culture, and the first Anglo-Saxon arrivals in Britain.

"Origins" and "Ancestry" notwithstanding, a good third of The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons: Decoding the Ancestry of the English is taken up by a broad overview of Anglo-Saxon England, touching on the conversion to Christianity and the choice of Roman rather than Irish rites, architecture and literature, the response to the Vikings, and the development of kingship and a unified kingdom. There's also twenty pages on the post-1066 history of the English language and on the "rediscovery" of the Anglo-Saxons.

Manco draws on information from genetics in Origins but, though she occasionally lapses into details here, that is never the dominant focus. This is perhaps the most novel material, but also that which will date fastest. A good feel for Anglo-Saxon artefacts is given by sixteen pages of colour plates; plentiful black and white illustrations supplement these and also cover artefacts from the earlier history. There's also a nice selection of maps.

Origins is a bit of a ramble, but would make a good introduction to the Anglo-Saxons for someone interested in their place in the much deeper history of Europe.

May 2020

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%T The Origins of the Anglo-Saxons
%S Decoding the Ancestry of the English
%A Manco, Jean
%I Thames and Hudson
%D 2018
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9780500295434
%P 240pp