Sunday, March 23, 2008

DNA, the Celts, and Roman Britain

I have started reading Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British, which I referenced earlier in my series of "Who's a Celt Now?" posts.

From a genetic analysis -- his main tool -- buttressed by linguistic studies and ancient written sources, he appears to be making these points:

  • The people of Ireland, Wales, western Scotland, western England, and the Atlantic coast of France came north from Iberia and southwestern France after the ice melted. These people spoke Celtic languages.
  • Conversely, they did not come from central Europe and are not connected to the so-called Hallstatt and La Tene cultures.
  • After the ice melted, eastern England did receive settlers from the Continent--but remember that back then, people could walk from what is now France to England, until the sea levels rose.
  • During the 400 years of Roman colonization, many (or most) inhabitants of the province of Britannia were probably speaking a Germanic language (related to Dutch or Frisian), not a Celtic language. If true, that is the biggest revelation for me.
  • The subsequent Anglo-Saxon invasion was not a genocidal "wipe-out," but was more like the Norman Conquest of 1066. One ruling class replaced another, but life for Jane and Joe Commoner went on as before.

I will post again after finishing the book.

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OpenID dop4 said...

The problem I see with this is that the ice melted mostly between 9000bce and 7500bce. But, if we agree that Celtic languages are part of the Indo_european family of languages - they didn't reach Western Europe until after 5000 year ago (3000 bce.)

Where do the pre-Celtic settlers of the British Isles (ie Picts) fit into this?

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

Dr. Oppenheimer would say that your dates are off. One big population re-expansion in Western Europe started around 9000 BCE, it's true, but the Neolithic expansion is more around 7000 BCE, and that, he suggests, involved speakers of IE languages. See the graph on p. 139.

According to Bede, writing in the 8th century, Pictish was an indigenous language, but apparently non-Celtic. It's still a bit of a mystery.

St. Columba, a Gaelic speaker, had to use an interpreter to speak to the Picts he was trying to convert.

6:20 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Interesting book, by all accounts.

The English Channel became impassable on foot about 6000 bce, apparently.

That's why I personally am living in the year 8008 AIS (Ab Insula Separata).

5:33 AM  

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