Wednesday, July 27, 2005

No Celts in Ancient Britain

The Tribes of BritainTribes of Britain
The Isle of Albion was invaded throughout its history by Saxons, Romans, Vikings, and finally, the Normans, who conquered and ruled the land. In modern history the British welcomed Jewish and Protestant refugees from Europe. Yet, amazingly, the genetic makeup of today's white Britons is much the same as their prehistoric ancestors, a few thousand Ice Age hunters.

Author, archaeologist David Miles, believes that about 80 percent of the genetic characteristics of most white Britons have passed down from their progenitors of 12,000 years ago. The ancient hunter-gatherers arrived at what is now Britain immediately after the Ice Age. They were tribal nomads who followed herds of reindeer and wild horses northward to Britain. As the climate warmed and sea levels rose, the Isle of Albion became cut off and isolated from mainland Europe.

This same race of Ice Age hunter-gatherers settled also in the part of northwest Europe which is now the Netherlands, Germany, and France. Because of random genetic mutations, those populations are now different from the British population. Red hair, a mutation that probably occurred 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, is the most visible British genetic marker. It was noted when the Romans arrived 2,000 years ago. Today, studies show that there is more red hair in Scotland and Wales than anywhere else in the world.

One area of Miles' book is certainly destined to foment debate. Writing that there are no historical references to Celts in ancient Britain, he explains; "In the 18th and 19th centuries, as Ireland, Wales, and Scotland started to assert national identity, they began to talk about themselves as Celts", a group of tribes living in ancient Gaul, which is now France. Their language shared the same roots as those of the British tribes and that heritage was more palatable to those eschewing British customs and rule.

No Celts in ancient Britain? Now that is a new twist. David Miles did acknowledged that the techniques used to explore genetic ancestry are still in their infancy and that much more study will be need to more fully understand British origins. However, I found more at the BBC history site. "The Peoples of Britain" by Dr. Simon James explains:
"However, there is one thing that the Romans, modern archaeologists and the Iron Age islanders themselves would all agree on: they were not Celts. This was an invention of the 18th century; the name was not used earlier. The idea came from the discovery around 1700 that the non-English island tongues relate to that of the ancient continental Gauls, who really were called Celts. This ancient continental ethnic label was applied to the wider family of languages. But 'Celtic' was soon extended to describe insular monuments, art, culture and peoples, ancient and modern: island 'Celtic' identity was born, like Britishness, in the 18th century."

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