Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The term Briton may have the following meanings:
- in a historical context:
- in a modern context, a resident of the United Kingdom
- a person indigenous to Great Britain
The first Britons
Little is known of the first ancestors of the British but human habitation in Britain goes back more than 10,000 years. These first Britons were hunter-gatherers and crossed to Britain by the land bridge from mainland Europe during the end of the last Ice age. There are conflicting accounts as to the physical appearance of these first Britons and their influence in modern British culture is questionable, although river names such as Thames, Tamar, Severn, Tyne, etc., are attributed to the culture of these earliest ancestors of the British. One modern view is that the Britons of today accurately reflect the physical appearances of the Britons of the past in the areas in which they reside, such as tall and blonde in the south of England, tall and dark in Northumbria and southern Scotland, and short and dark in north Wales.
Modern genetic evidence indicates that in parts of remote Wales are those with the most similar genetic connection to the earliest inhabitants of Britain, and have a genetic connection to the Basque people. 3000 years ago, Britain was invaded by Celts who brought with them superior fighting skills and whose culture dominated the indigenous people. Ancient Kings of the Britons written by Nennius, Gildas, and Geoffrey of Monmouth helped make rich histories of these people. Over time, they became Celtic in culture, and it is in this time that the Picts became noted as a separate cultural entity in the north and east of what is now Scotland.
Britain was later conquered by other peoples, such as the Romans, the Irish Scots, various Germanic peoples (see Anglo-Saxons) and finally the Normans, each of which brought a definite cultural change in Great Britain that was markedly different from before.
Prior to the Second World War, it was believed that the Anglo-Saxons had driven the Britons into Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany and wiped out the remaining inhabitants. This romanticised view, popular with 'Celtic Nationalists', fails to take into consideration the complexities of a few thousand Germanic warriors against millions of, albeit disunited, Britons. While many of those that would have had the means to, such as the elite classes of Romano-British, would have fled from the Anglo-Saxon advance, the majority of the population, as with the Roman invasion, remained and became absorbed into the developing English culture. Over the course of several centuries, Germanic culture and influence dominated over most of what is now England and south eastern Scotland. It is also seldom commented upon but at the time of the Germanic advance into England, the Irish advance into Scotland was resulting in a similar situation, with Gaelic invaders causing many Britons in Scotland to move south into Cumbria and east to eastern Scotland, with the remainder becoming absorbed into the fledgling Scottish nation.
About 150 million people world-wide refer to their ethnic heritage as British or as having a strong British influence. The largest concentration of ethnic Britons living outside of the United Kingdom is in the United States where approximately 40 million people claim British heritage (less than 20% of the 2000 US population and down from 60% in 1900). There are also large concentrations of Britons in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
A Briton is also a commonly accepted word to represent a citizen of the United Kingdom, which includes both the indigenous majority and non-indigenous groups, for example, Africans, who are often referred to as Black Britons — see British, Alternate words for British.
The use of the word Briton in a modern context is a historically recent development. Prior to the Act of Union, nationalistic and cultural differences were such that few inhabitants of what is now the United Kingdom would identify themselves as 'Britons'.
See Linda Colley's 1992 book, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 for a treatment of the modern adoption of this term.
- BBC article on genetic evidence supporting a Welsh-Basque connection
- BBC article on genetic disparity between modern Welsh and English
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