Friday, 3 April 2009

Who Were The Celts: Insular Celts

Large portion of the indigenous populations of Britain and Ireland today may be partially descended from the ancient peoples that have long inhabited these lands, before the coming of Celtic and later Germanic peoples, language and culture. Little is known of their original culture and language, but remnants of the latter may remain in the names of some geographical features, such as the rivers Clyde, Tamar and Thames, whose etymology is unclear but possibly derive from a pre-Celtic substrate (Gelling). By the Roman period, however, most of the inhabitants of the isles of Ireland and Britain were speaking Goidelic or Brythonic languages, close counterparts to the Celtic languages spoken on the European mainland.
Historians explained this as the result of successive invasions from the European continent by diverse Celtic-speaking peoples over the course of several centuries, though this is now generally seen as only the elite. The Book of Leinster, written in the twelfth century, but drawing on a much earlier Irish oral tradition, states that the first Celts to arrive in Ireland were from Iberia. In 1946 the Celtic scholar T. F. O'Rahilly published his extremely influential model of the early history of Ireland which postulated four separate waves of Celtic invaders. It is still not known what languages were spoken by the peoples of Ireland and Britain before the arrival of the Celts.

Tribes of Wales at the time of the Roman invasion.

Exact boundaries are conjectural.Later research indicated that the culture may have developed gradually and continuously between the Celts and the indigenous people of Britain or Spain. Similarly in Ireland little archaeological evidence was found for large intrusive groups of Celtic immigrants, suggesting to archaeologists such as Colin Renfrew that the native late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed European Celtic influences and language.
Julius Caesar wrote of people in Britain who came from Belgium (the Belgae), but archaeological evidence which was interpreted in the 1930s as confirming this was contradicted by later interpretations. The archaeological evidence is of substantial cultural continuity through the first millennium BC, although with a significant overlay of selectively-adopted elements of La Tène culture. There are claims of continental-style states appearing in southern England close to the end of the period, possibly reflecting in part immigration by élites from various Gallic states such as those of the Belgae. However, this immigration would be far too late to account for the origins of Insular Celtic languages. In the 1970s the continuity model was popularized by Colin Burgess in his book The Age of Stonehenge which theorised that Celtic culture in Great Britain "emerged" rather than resulted from invasion and that the Celts were not invading aliens, but the descendants of the people of Stonehenge.
Celtic Sword and dagger found in Britain.

Genetic studies have supported the prevalence of native populations, ruling out any model of post-Bronze Age cultural and language intrusion that ignore a very high degree of genetic absorpsion. A study by Christian Capelli, David Goldstein and others at University College, London showed that genetic markers associated with Gaelic names in Ireland and Scotland are also common in certain parts of Wales and England (in most cases, The Southeast of England with the lowest counts of these markers) are similar to the genetic markers of the Basque people, who speak a non-Indo-European language. This similarity supported earlier findings in suggesting a large pre-Celtic genetic ancestry, likely going back to the Paleolithic. They suggest that Celtic culture and the Celtic language may have been imported to Britain by cultural contact, not mass invasions around 600 BC.
Some recent studies have suggested that, contrary to long-standing beliefs, the Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons) did not wipe out the Romano-British of England but rather, over the course of six centuries, conquered the native Brythonic people of what is now England and south-east Scotland and imposed their culture and language upon them, much as the Gaels may have spread over Northern Britain. This view is supported by the Celtic, or at least non-Germanic, names of some prominent early members of a number of "Anglo-Saxon" dynasties, such as Cerdic of Wessex and Penda of Mercia. The Pennines remained a stronghold for Brythonic culture in England, the Cumbric language survived until the 12th Century, whereas in isolated areas of East Anglia, a Brythonic language was only recorded as late as the Saxon period. Parts of the Brythonic culture still survives in the form of the Northumbrian smallpipes and Wrestling (Lancashire and Cumbrian wrestling). Still, others maintain that the picture is mixed and that in some places the indigenous population was indeed wiped out while in others it was assimilated. According to this school of thought the populations of Yorkshire, East Anglia, Northumberland and the Orkney and Shetland Islands are those populations with the fewest traces of ancient (Celtic) British continuation, probably because these are eastern areas which were exposed to invasion from the East by Angles, Saxons and Vikings.
The Celtic invasion of the British Isles is difficult to document genetically. Two published books - The Blood of the Isles by Bryan Sykes and The Origins of the British: a Genetic Detective Story by Stephen Oppenheimer - are based upon recent genetic studies, and show that the vast majority of Britons have ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula, as a result of a series of migrations that took place during the Mesolithic and, to a lesser extent, the Neolithic eras.
Sykes sees little genetic evidence relating to people from the heartland of the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures. On the paternal side he finds that the "Oisin" (R1b) clan is in the majority which has strong affinities to Iberia, with no evidence of a large scale arrival from Central Europe. He considers that the genetic structure of Britain and Ireland is "Celtic, if by that we mean descent from people who were here before the Romans and who spoke a Celtic language." But this language was the result of diffusion rather than migration, and the vast majority of the inhabitants of the British Isles, whether they consider themselves to be "Anglo Saxon", "Celt" or otherwise, are descended from the original Mesolithic hunger-gatherers who migrated north from Iberia approximately 13,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.
Evidence for Celts in England can be found in place names, such as those including the Old English element, 'wealh', meaning 'foreigner' or 'stranger'. A smattering of villages around the Fenland town of Wisbech hint at this. West Walton, Walsoken, and the Walpoles indicate the continued presence of an indigenous population, and Wisbech, King's Lynn and Chatteris retain proto-Celtic topographical elements. Villages which exhibit Tydd in their name, eg Tydd St. Giles may obtain that element from the Brythonic word for "small holding". Compare the Welsh "tyddyn". Saxon Etheldreda's 'Liber Eliensis' documents the Fenland tribe of the Girvii (Gywre), who are cited elsewhere as being an independent people with dark hair and their own (Brythonic?) language. It is entirely possible that the Girvii were formed in part by migrating Britons, displaced by Saxon settlers after the legions left the Isles.
Under Caesar the Romans conquered Celtic Gaul, and from Claudius onward the Roman empire absorbed parts of Britain. Roman local government of these regions closely mirrored pre-Roman 'tribal' boundaries, and archaeological finds suggest native involvement in local government. Latin was the official language of these regions after the conquests.
The native peoples under Roman rule became Romanized and keen to adopt Roman ways. Celtic art had already incorporated classical influences, and surviving Gallo-Roman pieces interpret classical subjects or keep faith with old traditions despite a Roman overlay.
The Roman occupation of Gaul, and to a lesser extent of Britain, led to Roman-Celtic syncretism. In the case of the continental Celts, this eventually resulted in a language shift to Vulgar Latin, while the Insular Celts retained their language. However, the Celts were master horsemen, which so impressed the Romans that they adopted Epona, the Celtic horse goddess, into their pantheon. During and after the fall of the Roman Empire many parts of France threw out their Roman administrators.

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