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the Term "Celt"

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« on: February 18, 2007, 11:44:20 pm »

Celts in Britain and Ireland



The indigenous populations of Britain and Ireland today may be primarily descended from the ancient peoples that have long inhabited these lands, before the coming of Celtic and later Germanic peoples, language and culture. As to the original culture and language, little is known but remnants may remain in the naming of some geographical features, such as the rivers Clyde, Tamar and Thames whose etymology is unclear but may certainly derive from a pre-Celtic substrate. By the Roman period, however, most of the inhabitants of the isles of Ireland and Britain (the ancient Britons) were speaking Goidelic or Brythonic languages, close counterparts to Gallic 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. 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.



Celtic dagger found in Britain.Later research indicated that the culture had developed gradually and continuously. In Ireland little archaeological evidence was found for large intrusive groups of Celtic immigrants, suggesting to historians such as Colin Renfrew that the native late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed European Celtic influences and language. The very few continental La Tène culture style objects which had been found in Ireland could have been imports, the possessions of a few rich immigrants, or the result of selectively absorbing cultural influences from outside elites, further supporting this theory of cultural exchange rather than migration.

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 BCE, although with a significant overlay of selectively-adopted elements of La Tène culture. There is numismatic and other evidence 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 taken to an extreme, popularised 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. The existence of Celtic language elsewhere in Europe, however, and the dating of the Proto-Celtic culture and language to the Bronze Age, makes the most extreme claims of continuity impossible.

More recently a number of genetic studies have also supported this model of culture and language being absorbed by native populations. The study by Cristian Capelli, David Goldstein and others at University College, London showed that genes associated with Gaelic names in Ireland and Scotland are also common in certain parts of Wales and are similar to the genes of the Basque people, who speak a non-Indo-European language. This similarity supported earlier findings in suggesting a largely pre-Celtic genetic ancestry, possibly 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, in a manner similar to how Irish possibly spread over the west of Scotland. 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.[7]

For obvious reasons the question of whether or not England originated with a Genocide against the indigenous, culturally Celtic, population is highly controversial and has clear political overtones - particularly with the contemporary emergence of strong Nationalist movements in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall and the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland.

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