Yorkshireman found to share DNA with African tribes
Credit: Thisislondon.co.uk first published 27.01.07
JOHN REVIS has always considered himself a true Yorkshireman who was proud of his ancestry.
But he has been forced to confront an entirely different heritage - after scientists uncovered that he has exactly the same DNA imprint as a tribe of African warriors. Scientists last week announced the discovery of the first proof that slaves brought to Britain by the Romans left behind a distinct genetic heritage.
This strand was revealed to exist among just seven men with a particular surname hailing from the North of England. However, the academics refused to disclose the identities of any of those men included in the study.
Now The Mail on Sunday has discovered that all of those with the African lineage have the surname Revis.
Last night, John, 75, a retired surveyor living in Leicester, said: "I started looking into my family history and traced my ancestors back to the mid-1700s.
"One line went to the States and became very successful while my immediate line stayed in the North of England and were mostly bakers. There was nothing to suggest that I was African."
John responded to a newspaper advert by Leicester University asking for people who have traced their ancestry to give DNA samples for a study on world populations. He said: "The scientists took some of my DNA away for analysis and then one day they called me up and were very excited. They said I had a Y-chromosome that was extremely rare. I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that I was so culturally unique. But I am not going to start eating couscous and riding a camel."
John is attempting to take the discovery in his stride. He added: "It was a shock to find out that, because I was so blond and blueeyed when I was younger, people thought I was Nordic or German.
"But the researchers said that if my DNA were examined then people would assume they were looking at a North African man. "I suspect there must have been some big Berber tribesman who came to Britain with the Romans and spread his seed all over Yorkshire."
John is married with three children and six grandchildren. The news shocked his friends at Brookfield Bowls Club in Leicester.
He added: "It is a very white establishment which can be a little awkward in a multiracial place such as Leicester.
"At least now they can say they have got one more ethnic-minority member but I doubt anyone would be able to pick me out. His wife Marlene was also taken aback."
She said: "I can hardly believe it. John has always seemed very English to me. He likes his roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on a Sunday. He has never asked me to cook anything unusual. My friends think our news is hilarious.
"The closest John ever came to the traditional Berber life was when he went camping with the Scouts. I don't think we've been in a tent since we got married.' Scientists from Leicester University made the finding during research sponsored by The Wellcome Trust. They were examining the relationship between the male, or Y, chromosome and surnames.
Like surnames, the Y-chromosome is passed from father to son, virtually unchanged through generations. Professor Mark Jobling said: "We found John was in the A1 group of Y-chromosomes, which is very rare and highly west African-specific.
"This study has shown what it means to be British is complicated and always has been. Human migration history is very complex, particularly for an island nation such as ours. This study further debunks the idea that there are simple and distinct populations or races."
Over time, the Y-chromosome accumulates small changes in DNA sequence, allowing scientists to study the relationships between different male lineages. The surname Revis is believed to derive from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. Berber comes from the Latin word for Barbarian.
Fellow researcher Turi King said: "Our findings represent the first genetic evidence of Africans among 'indigenous' British people." She added that Africans were first recorded in northern England 1,800 years ago, brought by the Romans to help defend Hadrian's Wall.
Ms King said: "The slave trade was responsible for the influx of Africans in the 16th and 17th Centuries. By the last third of the 18th Century there were 10,000 black people in Britain. Previous studies of British genetic diversity had found no evidence of African
Y chromosome lineages."