The population of Britain in its physical types, its numbers, and its distribution

The population of Britain in its physical types, its numbers, and its distribution is greatly affected by the position of Britain. Britain is an island but is not 'a world by itself' or 'a land estranged', it is a part of Europe, a part of 'one world'. In differing degrees this has always been so.

Position as an off-shore island of Europe gave to Britain in the first place its varied stocks, and isolation on the outer fringe of the then known world gave time to absorb the many elements. There is considerable variety of physical types within Britain today but the ancestral stocks from which the British spring were, with a few exceptions, island colonizers before the Norman Conquest, and many, perhaps most, before the Roman Conquest.

Mediterranean groups bringing agriculture arrived in the early part of the third millennium B.C., colonizing along the southern and western coasts of Britain, probably mingling with more northerly groups already established who were as yet mere collectors of the fruits of the field, hunters and fishers. The descendants of these first agriculturalists with small bones, dark hair and eyes still form a noticeable element in the population of Britain, and particularly so in Cornwall and Wales. Soon to follow came from Spain through France the Beaker folk with their herds, and then from western Alpine lands the Celtic groups with their light ploughs. By the first century A.D. cultivated fields and grazing-grounds around villages and farms had replaced the wild on great stretches of the lighter soils in the lowland east, and on the coastal lands and in the lower valleys of the highland west.

The Romans must have found if not a polyglot people, groups of varied cultures. During the centuries of Roman rule if the highlands remained not unwitting but largely unheeding of Roman fashions, the lowlands with Romano-British towns, villas and farms became, for the first time perhaps, culturally and administratively one, sharing if somewhat remotely in the civilization of the Mediterranean world.

The Anglo-Saxons called in to help the Romans to maintain order in this distant frontier province, staying to conquer, then to colonize were certainly not beginning life anew in a virgin land. How great the break with the past is debatable. The survival of Celtic speech -of Gaelic and Welsh until the present day, of Cornish until the nineteenth century -- is ample proof of the continuity of culture from the pre-Roman period in the west of the island. In this highland zone, some of the villages and farms and the fields and pastures around them may have been in continuous use for near four thousand years. On the other hand in this hard environment colonization proceeded slowly, reclamation continued late, and thus some of the most recently established farms, villages and towns are here too. It is in southern and eastern lowland Britain that the Anglo-Saxon imprint is dominant, but upon how many villages and towns it is but an overstamp cannot now be determined. New men with new ideas and new tools, equipped as they were with a more effective plough, may well have preferred new sites, but in many places they may have settled down in older villages gradually changing the look of them and even their names.

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