Saturday, October 28, 2006

Who's a Celt now? - 6

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,Part 4, Part 5

Everything that we thought we knew about Celtic culture is probably wrong.

But there is still language, right? If "Celtic" is not a genetic code, and it's not a spirituality, at least there are Celtic languages: Gaulish, Cornish, British-leading-to-Welsh, Irish and Scots Gaelic, right?

Yes, but who was speaking them? Maybe only a minority, not the whole population of the British Isles before the Roman invasion or, following that, before the Anglo-Saxon invasions. Maybe there was no "genocide."

Read this article by the British anthropologist Stephen Oppenheimer and prepare to have your preconceptions exploded.

Some excerpts:

The orthodox view of the origins of the Celts turns out to be an archaeological myth left over from the 19th century. Over the past 200 years, a myth has grown up of the Celts as a vast, culturally sophisticated but warlike people from central Europe, north of the Alps and the Danube, who invaded most of Europe, including the British Isles, during the iron age, around 300 BC.

. . . . The other myth I was taught at school, one which persists to this day, is that the English are almost all descended from 5th-century invaders, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, from the Danish peninsula, who wiped out the indigenous Celtic population of England.

. . . . But who were those Ancient Britons left in England to be slaughtered when the legions left? The idea that the Celts were eradicated—culturally, linguistically and genetically—by invading Angles and Saxons derives from the idea of a previously uniformly Celtic English landscape. But the presence in Roman England of some Celtic personal and place-names doesn't mean that all ancient Britons were Celts or Celtic-speaking.

There is so much more. I could end up excerpting the whole article. One more:

A picture thus emerges of the dark-ages invasions of England and northeastern Britain as less like replacements than minority elite additions, akin to earlier and larger Neolithic intrusions from the same places. There were battles for dominance between chieftains, all of Germanic origin, each invader sharing much culturally with their newly conquered indigenous subjects.

And they were cheeseheads.

A leading anthopology blogger comments favorably.

So, realistically, Americans who fancy themselves "Celts" should be heading for Elko, Nevada, for the big Basque festival

But wait, there is more!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great series - can I pinch it for the Pagan theologies wiki?

9:08 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Sure, but I have at least one more installment coming, as soon as I get the time to write it.

4:23 PM  
Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

Actually, "no replacement" and "anti-invasion" have been archaeological orthodoxy for 50 years now.

Inconveniently, the most recent genetic studies have fairly conclusively proven that the Anglo-Saxon period _did_ see a fairly complete turnover of populations, in the 50%-100% range as far as the Y-chromosome lineages are concerned. (University of London study, 2002).

This is fully in accordance with the linguistic evidence, and only a powerful politically-inspired academic orthodozy driven by a very strong will to believe could ever have held otherwise.

For some years now I've lived in anticipation of some graduate student "proving" that the first human beings in Britain weren't anything so uncouth and vulgar as immigrants, but instead indigenous reindeer symbolically transformed by a cult package.

4:13 PM  
Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

DNA studies provide a very good way of measuring actual migrations and they even allow you to differentiate between male and female immigrants.

They enable you to tell, for example, that about 75% of the male lineages in Iceland are from Norway (mostly western Norway), but only about 1/3 of female ones are. 2/3 of the female lineages are from the British Isles, mostly from the northern/western parts.

(In other words, Norwegian men and "Celtic" women.)

They also show that there's a close correlation between Norse place-names in the British Isles (that's specifically Norwegian, btw, not just "Viking") and Norse genes.

And DNA can also tell you (roughly)when two populations parted company -- by differential accumulation of mutations, which gives you an approximate 'clock'.

In the case of England, the DNA shows that the population of England proper is genetically very closely related to that of northwestern mainland Europe -- the area between the Rhine mouth and Jutland in southern Denmark.

The English are not, however, very closely related to the Welsh; Offa's Dyke is a sharp genetic breakpoint, despite movement back and forth over the last thousand years.

The time-depth is about 2500 years; that is, the English and Continental Germanic populations separated sometime after 500 BCE, and probably well after that. Between 0 CE and 1000 CE would be the range of maximum probability.

Which in turn means that sometime in that period, a migration occurred which eliminated most of the previous population -- or at least most of the males; they haven't done the mitochondrial analysis yet.

This accords perfectly with the linguistic evidence (Old English shows virtually no Celtic influence, and English place-names show very little), with the historical evidence (contemporary chronicles, the founding of Britanny, etc.) and with common sense. It's also the view which prevailed among archaeologists up to the 1950's.

What it violates is the consensus of recent archaeological theory, peddled by people like Colin Renfrew.

Just when they'd driven invasions from scholarly respectability, back they come, riding on a genetic analysis machine.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous S.M. Stirling said...

Oh, and on a linguistic note: all the Indo-European languages are no older than about 5000 years. That's when Proto-Indo-European was spoken.

The oldest examples of IE languages -- Sanskrit, Mitannian Indo-Aryan, Mycenaean Greek, archaic Latin, Ogham-Celtic -- are all very similar, similar enough that words and whole phrases are still mutually comprehensible. Roughly comparable to the Romance languages today, with French analogous to Hittite as an outlier.

Furthermore, linguistic evidence indicates that the differences in many unrecorded languages were fairly recent historically.

Eg., several words in Proto-Germanic were borrowed from an early form of Celtic -- words for things like "iron" and "chief". The technology means these loans were acquired after about 700 BCE.

These words undergo the First Germanic Sound-Shift, which means that the shift took place in the early Iron Age.

Which means that before about 1000 BCE, or 1500 BCE if you're being cautious, the proto-Celtic, proto-Germanic, and proto-Italic languages were still dialects within a single "late west Indo-European". And that was very similar to proto-Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian.

Before then, it would be inaccurate to speak of "Celts" or "Germans". They hadn't become distinct yet.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

Damnit, Sterling, have you not been paying attention for the last century and a half?

Germans are thuggish, patriarchal, violent, beer-drinkers.

Celts are sensitive, emotional, poetic, woman-honoring, nature-loving beer drinkers.

Stop confusing us with scholarship.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me sir. As a welshman I shall tell you that the modern term Cymru or even the latin Cambria, comes from an archaic welsh word Combroges, which translates Native brothers against the enemy. This relates to when the Anglo Saxon did push the Brythons (Celts is a bit vague as the Gaels travelled from Iberia and were "Hallstat" celts whereas the Brythons were more sophisticated and travelled to Gaul who were the "La Tene" Celts) across to today's Wales. More evidence is that of the Brave Williams Wallis - He was not Scottish or Irish, but a Welshman - Wallis coming from the old Germanic - Gwallis. And I'm only 16 years of age. I fear that you are wrong. the Brythonic celts, for the least did occupy all of Britain.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


If you have a quarrel, it is with Stephen Oppenheimer. You should take it up with him.


9:35 AM  

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