The People who came out of the Darkness.
Gerhard Herm, The Celts
Herm makes the Celts seem mystical. He even raises the possibility they came from Atlantis, which he places in the Baltic.
In places as diverse as Spain and Hungary, people still think of themselves as Celts.
National Geographic May, 1977
Most, however, believe the Celts evolved from the cultures that preceeded them, and as National Geographic indicated; "they are still among us".
Before we consider, where the Celts came from, let's consider who they were.
Celtic confederation more aptly describes this distinct people who shared the same polytheistical beliefs, spoke a common language, and were linked by culture and traditions. They differed in complexion and features, were not of the same race, but knew themselves to be Celts, and whom the ancient historians identified as Celts. They remain to this day ... a self defined people.
Today, speakers of Celtic languages reside along the Atlantic edge of Europe in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Brittany, Cornwall, and northwest Spain. Through emigration, their descendants have multiplied throughout the New World. According to the 2000 Census, over 42,000,000 Americans claim to be of Irish, Scot or Scot-Irish descent.
Unknown to most, including those of Celtic heritage, in circa 250BCE (Before the Current Era), the Celts ruled a swath of Europe from the North Sea to Central Turkey. They governed the British Isles, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, southern Germany, northern Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. Their lack of a written language precluded a central government, leading to their civilization's demise at the hands of the Romans and Germanic tribes.
Why do we care?
Today, there's a great interest in everything Celtic ... art, music ... and most of all heritage. I recently googled the word Celtic and received 45,100,000 hits. People are fascinated with learning more about their identity, particularly one that had been buried first by the Romans and later by the emergence of Christianity. This interest, which longed to be reawakened, had been stirred by the 18th Century European Romantic movement and energized by the archaeological findings at Hallstatt and La T�ne, which we will discuss below.
Although, I cannot speak the language, nor do I follow their religious tenets or customs; I consider myself a Celt. My grandparents emigrated to America from Ireland. Furthermore, chromosome Y DNA results catergorized me as being in the R1b Haplogroup.
According to dna.ancestry.com:
My paternal ancient ancestry Haplogroup R1b arrived in Europe from western Asia 35,000-40,000 years ago. ... R1b remains by far the most common Haplogroup in Spain, Portugal, France, UK and Ireland. This culture is one of the first within Europe to leave cave art in places like Lascaus, France. Their stone tools were more refined than previous periods.
dna.ancestry.com further noted:
"R1b3 has its origins about 11,800 years ago. Within the British Isles, a genetic pattern called Atlantic Modal Hallotype (AMH) features greatly among the Irish and Welsh. Some researchers consider this haplotype to be representative of the early Celtic migrations. Many believe this group crossed over from Africa and arrived in the British Isles from Iberia (Spain) rather than the steppes.
Although there are many Haplotypes, I favor the sub-groupings by Doctor David Faux because his catagory for "Irish" matches my DNA exactly. Below, I've provided a link to his website.
Why does all this matter?
Identity is the driving force. Who are we? Where did we come from?
When one compares different types of DNA, one concludes that neither the Romans nor the Germans made a lasting genetic impact on the areas that were originally Celtic. Similar to yesterday's rain, they came, and they went. This genetic peculiarity occurrs even in Italy. According to the Italy DNA project, the R1b haplogroup is prevelant in Cisalpine Gaul with it's high Celtic concentration but significantly lacking in southern Italy. Bryan Sykes from Oxford and Daniel Bradley from Trinity College both agree it's difficult to radically change the makeup of a population once established.
In a June 2007 article in Prospect, Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford makes the case that our ancestors may have been Basques who are not Celts nor speak a Celtic language. When one studies the southern extent of the last ice sheet, one can easily imagine the Basques being isolated for centuries from the remainder of the R1 Y-Chromosome people, who retreated south and who make up the basic stock of the Celtic fringe population. From what I've read, Oppenheimer is willing to share his raw data but not his methodology for segmenting the R1B Haplogroup into 14 subsets.
What have we learned from all this?
The use of DNA to trace the origin of specific peoples is still in its infancy and needs a consistent methodology for data gathering and interpertation before the results can be universally accepted.
If the R1b3 grouping represents the Celts, they had to have been close ancestrial relatives to the R1b Haplogroup who were the indigenous peoples of Western Europe. Many authorities are in agreement that Spain and not other parts of Europe were the homeland of a large segment of the British Isles. This coincides with the Irish legends regarding the sons of King Milesius. But it doesn't answer the nagging question of an Indo-European language.
Lets take a walk through the Ages:
Barry Cunliffe in The Celtic World provided maps of Western Europe showing the begining and expansion of the various cultures. His maps brought to mind words by Ella Wheeler,"One ship sails East and another West. By the self same winds that blow." Ideas and innovations like the ships of the sea moved in both directions. This philosophy hopefully will enable us to remove the prevailing eastward-only bias and pinpoint the origin of the Celts.
Palaeolithic Age - 40,000BCE to 13,000BCE (early Stone Age)
This is the period the H1b Haplogroup left Africa, wandered through the Middle East, crossed the Great Hungarian plain and entered Central Europe from whence they dispenced to Ireland, Britain and Spain. Probably retreated south during the Last Ice Age and advanced north once again.
Thirty-thousand years ago, these people were painting on cave walls in France and Spain, carving a porous limestone statuette of Mother Earth in Austria and making a ceramic bear's head in Czechoslovakia. Later in the period they used needles made from bone in France and played pipes made from bone in the Pyrenees.
Mesolithic Period - 13,000-6,000BCE (middle Stone Age)
During this period agriculture cultures emerge in Asia.
Earliest evidence of man's presence in Ireland.
Neolithic Period - 6,000-3,000BCE (late Stone Age)
There are some who hypothesize and others who refute that a great flood in the fertile Black Sea basin drove hordes toward Europe.
It's possible the Proto-Celtic language split off from it's Indo-European base during this period. Honey bees were domesticated, and the initial wave of a people known as Kurgans began to migrate away from the Pontic-Caspian steppes. A second wave may have brought agriculture to Europe.
The population along the Atlantic fringe remained relatively stable during this period and relatively peaceful for the passage-graves and megaliths (discussed in Celtic Calendars) to have been built, making it the European center for religious beliefs and the study of astromony. The Jewish calendar started during this era and the Egyptians were mummifying their dead.
Bell Beaker Culture - 2,800 - 1,900BCE
Bell Beaker Culture - 2,800 - 1,900BCE
This distinct culture named for their drinking vessel, which when inverted resembled a bell. Millstones and spinning whorls indicate they were sedentary people.
Because of their preponderance in Spain, many believe this culture had its roots there. Cunliffe refers to them as a mobile group, but, I'd classify this culture as being passed along by traders. It was situated along the Atlantic coastline and in the British Isles. There were a few exceptions, one being the Hartz Mountains in central Germany, which in circa 2,500BCE was the trading center of Northern Europe.
A new gene mutation enabling Europeans to become laxtose tolerant was rapidly spreading.
Burial plots termed longbarrows were appearing in Britain.
Corded Ware or Battle-Axe People - 2300BCE
Corded Ware or Battle-Axe People - 2300BCE
This immigration from the steppes between the Caucaus and Carpathian mountains brought the first European speakers to central Europe. They were recognized by their socketed battle-axe heads of stone and the use of cord decorations on their drinking vessels which may have been used for mead and beer.
Bronze Age (2,300-1,200)
Although the use of Bronze was initially developed in southern Iberia circa 4,000BCE, it wasn't until the Unetice Culture that it spread to the rest of Europe.
Unetice Culture 2,300 - 1,600BCE
Unetice Culture 2,300 - 1,600BCE
This culture appears to be a fushion of the Beakers and the Battle-Axe immigrants. If my theory holds up, indigenous people already settled during the Neolithic period began using beaker vessels. This makes the Battle-axe People the first new wave of migrating people, who not only brought their language and new weapons but also domesticated horses.
Many believe a Celtic language was then spreading over a wide area with the Celts reaching England and Ireland during this era. Undoubtably the early formation of the Celts began during this era.
The use of bronze, was now taking hold in Czechasolvokia, southern and central Germany and western Poland. As noted earlier, central Germany was the trading route for Europe north of the Alps.
Advancement in weapontry and personal adornments became prevelant. Triangular daggers led to daggers with metal hilts, flanged axes, halbreds solid bracelets and pins with perforated spherical heads.
Although copper knives were still in use. They were found with the "Sky-Disk of Nebra", the oldest portable cosmological representation of the Moon's phases. An indication that knowledge of astronomy had been passed west to east, and the skill to alloy tin and copper to produce bronze occurred near the same time. The tin mines of Cornwall played a major role in trading.
Kniting and dyeing were common place during this time.
Tumulus Culture - 1,600-1,200BCE
Tumulus Culture - 1,600-1,200BCE
Burial mounds called Tumulus were prevelant in the area previously occupied by the Unetice Era.
About the begining of this period, the major stones marking Stonehenge's final stage were raised.
Urnfield People - 1,200-700BC
It was during this era that the Celts began to emerge as a dominate people. Their dead were cremated then buried in flat cemeteries, a method not followed on the Russian steppes. Celtic art, which will be discussed separately, began to take its distinctive form.
Celtic tribes crossed the Pyrenees in several waves. It's noteworthy that tall of stature Europeans with high noses, reddish-blond hair, and overbites traveled to the Takla Makan Desert in China. The desert air mummified their remains. Some suffered a sacrifical death.
This is most likely the period that the Druidic influence spread across northern Europe from the British Isles.
Early Iron Age ... Hallstat Era - 1,000-500BCE
Although a softer metal than bronze, wrought iron became the metal of choice, most probably because it's ore was wide spread. It was during this period that Celts came into their own, certified to by the findings at Hallstatt, Austria ... a salt mining community.
-The Celtic language spread to Britain and Iberia.
-Rye and oats were grown in addition to wheat and barley.
-Cattle and horses were bred to improve their development.
-Settlements with fortified walls (later called oppida by the Romans) were situated in high easily defensible positions. Many became the sites of leading European cities including London, Paris, Milan and Budapest.
-Division of labor evolved, wheelwrights, metalsmiths etc came into their own, a sure sign of civilization.
-evidence of horses with bridle fittings increased.
-Farmers used iron axes to clear dense forest land and iron-clad plows to cultivate the soil.
-Celtic art continued to be enhanced.
-An 8th century boundary marker, incised with Etruscan characters and a Celtic warrior, was uncovered in Italy.
-Austrian Celts buried iron swords with their dead.
Late Iron Age ... La T�ne Period - 500-50BCE
Coinciding with the Golden Age of Greece, the archaelogical findings, at La T�ne in Switzerland on the banks of Lake Neuch�tel, confirmed an affluent Celtic civilization had emerged. If not there, then the finding of the Princess of Vix (France) wearing an arc of gold, buried in a wood lined grave with a funerary wagon, and 280-gallon bronze Greek vase surely made the point.
The impact of trading was evident, but the intricate spirals and artistic interlace were singularly Celtic. These symbols decorated fine bronze vessels, helmets, shields and neck torques.
Steel made it's appearance as either a coating for wrought iron or produced as pure steel during a controlled carburization process. This and other Celtic inovations will be discussed in a separate website.
La T�ne Celts perhaps pressured by Northern Germanic hordes began to migrate south across the Alps and east along the Danhue. These migrations will be covered under Celtic warriors. Although written as a novel, The Celtic Invasion of Rome covers in historical detail the first encounter between the Celts and the Romans. This battle so unnerved the Romans that their powerful war machine was concieved during this time.
What have we learned about the Celtic origin from this brief recap of Europe's birth.
Borrowing a word from Henri Hubert, the Celts "crystalized" during the late stages of the Unetice Culture circa 1,500BCE and flourished for the next 1,450 years. All of the elements were in place in central Europe to support this theory:
2) Bronze weapons soon replaced by iron and steel
3) Celtic styilized art emerging
4) Horses with bridles and chariots
5) Astromony (Sky-Disk of Nebra)
6) Religion - The Druidic presence has been attested to by historians. Schools for Druids and bards had also been observed.
7) Full fledged trading with Mediterranean societies.
Everything from the Unetice period forth involved fine tuning, rather than radical change.
Where did their origin occur?
Some believe the Celts emerged on the Baltic and were driven south by Germans. Again, we come up against the nagging concern over language. Hubert proposes that the Germans were an non-Indo-European people who were taught the Indo-European language by the Celts. He states specifically, "...for long ages the Celts were schoolmasters of the Germanic people. They were brothers in speech by adoption, whereas Celtic and Italic were two languages born of a parent tongue." Others agree that the Germans were initially a subject people of the Celts. If this be the case, it means the Celts were long established before being pressured by the Germans.
Some may pick a single location, such as Heuneberg which may have been the settlement Herodotus called Pyrene. Similiar to Troy, Heuneberg near Riedlingen, Wurttemberg, Germany had 14 successive occupation phases since the 6th century BCE.
I'd choose a triangular shaped region with the Hartz Mountains at the apex and the Danhue at the base, the Rhine on the left and the Elbe on the right. This seems the logical location where the people, ideas, language, innovations, technology, religion et al from the East meshed with those flowing from the West. As Kipling reminds us:
Links with other sites:Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great judgement seat,
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
Dr. David Faux
Italy DNA Project For a fresh look at an ancient people, click on any of the below cells to find fasinating information about the ancient Celts; supported by research of other authors in both book form and on the internet. Where appropriate these sources are identified.