The Celtic Myth

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DaRC
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The Celtic Myth

Postby DaRC » 29 Sep 2011, 13:36

I've just started the Stephen Oppenheimer book called "The Origins of the British" where, amongst other things, he challenges the myth of the Celtic Homeland being in Central Europe.
I was aware of challenges to the traditional view via Prof Barry Cunnliffe's work on the Atlantic Celts.

To precis' the current arguments amongst archaeologists, linguists and others in academic circles it seems there are 3 strands:

1) The traditional view - the Hallstat and La Tene people in central Europe around the Danube river created a culture and spoke a language that migrated across the rest of Europe during the later Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. It has been current in historical textbooks for about 150 years

2) The term Celt is invalid and incorrect and should not be used in academia and should be discouraged outside of academia.

3) The term Celt is valid but should be recognised that it relates to separate groupings:
a) one would a linguistic group which would contain the Atlantic Celts; people from Spain the Atlantic coast of France and into Cornwall, Wales, Highland Scotland and Ireland.
b) a second group that would link other Northern European tribes based across modern England, lowland Scotland, France, Low Countries (Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg), parts of Germany and at one time northern Italy.

The term Celt is a very emotive one - certainly anthropologists would still retain the term as a cultural identity that is common across the English speaking Diaspora and (given OBOD membership) beyond.

My question is how do the people here feel about this?
I would suggest that the traditional view is becoming increasingly untenable, at what point should modern Druids start to revise their own worldviews?
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby DJ Droood » 29 Sep 2011, 14:32

I would suggest that the traditional view is becoming increasingly untenable, at what point should modern Druids start to revise their own worldviews?
I would think that a modern Druid with integrity would be constantly updating their worldview to include new information and discard outdated concepts...The Celtic schlock-meisters are pretty good at tuggin' at the heart strings with their wistful tunes and river dances , though, so as long as it is working at the book stores and box-offices, I think the romantic views of "Celtic" will be with us for some time.

I think "Celtic" for most people (the hoi polloi, not druid enthusiasts) is probably more about recent history...the famines and clearances...history since about 'Braveheart' and onwards.....for those interested in Bronze Age migrations, I think compelling evidence will sway them....it won't make much difference if the cultural wave started on the Danube or the Boyne for most people.
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Jake » 30 Sep 2011, 03:21

Interesting stuff! I don't really understand all the evidence though. My limited understanding is that the theories of Oppenheimer et al that the origins of the "Celtic" people do not lie in the La Tene culture still very much represent a minority view.

Don't most scholars still hold to some variation of the "traditional" view? I mean not that "Celts" suddenly sprang into a full-fledged and unified existence around Lake Neuchatel and then migrated across Europe and conquered the British Isles and all that 19th century business, but some variation of a more nuanced and complicated notion that nevertheless places Hallstatt > La Tene at the core of "Celtic" ethnogenesis?

Of course archeologists and philologists don't work in a socio-political vacuum. Just as we can look back at the Celtic Revival period and identify the cultural and political circumstances that influenced the work of scholars at the time, we can and should do the same for contemporary scholarship. Personally, I can't help but wonder if there's a touch of British Exceptionalism in the work of some of the "Celticity can't have come from the Continent" crowd.

As for modern Druids revising their worldviews, when I see so many folks saying that Druids originated in Britain (apparently based on one quote from Julius Caesar which is open to different interpretations and would seemingly contradict some other stuff he said if taken to mean that Druidism actually originated in Britain rather than it simply being the strongest center of Druidic learning at the time), it looks like many modern Druids have already departed from the "traditional" view of the ancient origins of the Celts. But maybe the departure is a little premature? :shrug:
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Art » 30 Sep 2011, 03:31

I suppose a reasonable case can be made to establish that the "Celts" were invented by Edward Lhuyd in about 1707 through his examination of languages. The one thing we can be sure of is that no Iron Age Brit would have considered him or herself a Celt or even recognized that term.
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby treegod » 30 Sep 2011, 09:56

But "Celtic" is a cultural not ethnic definition, I think. Isn't it that "Celtic" is a term used by academics for archeological and linguistic purposes? In which case the "Celts" (their culture) did derive from Halstatt-La Tene and were adopted by peoples around Europe, including the British Isles.

As to the genetic make-up of the British isles, it's not referred to as "Celt" because Celt is a cultural term - not an ethnic one - used to define certain cultural similarities spread around Europe. I think the "Celtic Myth" is that it comprises an ethnic group.

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby DaRC » 30 Sep 2011, 12:15

think "Celtic" for most people (the hoi polloi, not druid enthusiasts) is probably more about recent history...the famines and clearances...history since about 'Braveheart' and onwards....
Hmmm but a lot of this is predicated upon a conception that the 'nasty' Anglo-Saxons had a huge migration and
committed effective genocide on the native Celtic Romano-British population. Oppenheimer is suggesting that the
Anglo-Saxon invasion was much more similar to the Norman invasion in that it was a a military elite who took
over and over a couple of centuries became indistinguishable from the native British population.

However what this theory does align with is the modern conception of the Celtic countries as a vibrant
culture independent to the one from the Danube.
Which I suppose feeds into the romantic "Schlock-meisters" view. I agree that the commerciality of Celtic-ness,
particularly within the New World, means the term won't be disappearing soon.

I've not heard the term
British Exceptionalism
before - mind you we are special ;-) but that's another joke...

In many ways Oppenheimer (and Cunliffe) are anti-British exceptionalism because it creates an Atlantic
culture from Spain upto Scotland. They would be a much more maritime focussed culture which has continued
up to the present day. Except that with current EU fishing rules Spanish trawlers are a lot less popular in
Cornish, Irish and Scottish harbours than they were when my mother was a young girl.

At the same time lowland Scotland and England become aligned with a Northern European culture - where successive
movements of people and culture have migrated westwards from the Bronze Age to the modern day. So that the
Belgic tribes, the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Prince of Orange and King George 1 all become waves of a
continual process.
But "Celtic" is a cultural not ethnic definition, I think. Isn't it that "Celtic" is a term used by academics for archeological and linguistic purposes?
The problem is that Celtic is all of these; a cultural, linguistic and ethnic definition.
Which might be why certain academics would rather remove the term Celt from academia as it's too confusing.
Oppenheimers argument is that the people of the Danube and across Northern Europe may not have been speaking a Celtic language.

Were the keltoi referred to by Greek authors part of a pan-european culture?
The recent archaeological, linguistic and ethnic evidence is starting to suggest there are problems with this viewpoint.

I suppose within academia things will move slowly but it seems to me that there will only be a few leading academics in a certain field, such as Cunliffe, and that the rest of academia will slowly catch up with them as they publish.
I think the "Celtic Myth" is that it comprises an ethnic group.
:grin: I dare you to shout that in a Welsh pub as they're singing Cwm Rhondda.... :duck:
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most sweet the sight of the sun;
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby DJ Droood » 30 Sep 2011, 14:06

think "Celtic" for most people (the hoi polloi, not druid enthusiasts) is probably more about recent history...the famines and clearances...history since about 'Braveheart' and onwards....
Hmmm but a lot of this is predicated upon a conception that the 'nasty' Anglo-Saxons had a huge migration and
committed effective genocide on the native Celtic Romano-British population. Oppenheimer is suggesting that the
Anglo-Saxon invasion was much more similar to the Norman invasion in that it was a a military elite who took
over and over a couple of centuries became indistinguishable from the native British population.
I agree that the genocide theory is probably bogus...I haven't read Oppenheimer, but books and articles I have read on the genetic distributions in the British Isles already pointed away from that theory.

I am talking about more "recent" events...my Mother's side, for instance, was booted off their land by nasty Anglo sheep farmers in the late 1700's...cultural genocide, or ethnic cleansing, to be sure....and I know my Gaelic-speaking Grandmother was familiar with the term Celtic and used it as an identifier for her people (and didn't approve of the "soft c" pronunciation of the Boston Celtics)...although being a Presbyterian and of the Mackay Clan were more important to her than any national identities.
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby AndyN » 30 Sep 2011, 15:26

As it happens I've just begun re-reading this book

Oppenheimer points out that the La Tene and Halsatt cultures were almost certainly not Celtic. The idea that they were is based he says on a misunderstanding of early texts. The Celtic homeland was around the Pyrenees near what classical authors thought - quite wrongly of course - was the source of the Danube. The misunderstanding regarding the La Ten and Halstatt cultures is that they were in the area of the real source of the Danube.

Oppenheimer also argues persuasively that Mesolithic and Neolithic gene flows can explain the presence of genes on both sides of the English Channel and North Sea so that there is no reason to suppose that these genes arrived as a result of later mass invasions.

He also discusses theories that the Celtic languages may have arrived in Britain and western Europe during the Neolithic or Bronze Age. There is after all no genetic evidence of any mass Celtic invasion of Britain at all.

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby DaRC » 30 Sep 2011, 16:11

I am talking about more "recent" events...my Mother's side, for instance, was booted off their land by nasty Anglo sheep farmers in the late 1700's...
The Enclosures act affected the whole Great Britain - it was more of a class warfare (aristocratic landlords vs tenant farmers) where landlords wanted to get maximum wealth from their land at the expense of the people living there. It did cause major upheaval and hardship across the Union.

In the highlands it was exacerbated by the support for the Jacobite uprisings which as with any war the losers well ermm... lose. So they were booted off by Scottish landlords, not Anglo ones, but most likely Scottish landlords who supported the Hanoverians.

Edit - I'm related to the MacKay's by marriage (i.e. my wife but she thinks of herself as Yorkshire but her dad is Lancs) my great-grandmother was a Macnaire but I'm English :blink:
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby DJ Droood » 30 Sep 2011, 17:28

Edit - I'm related to the MacKay's by marriage (i.e. my wife but she thinks of herself as Yorkshire but her dad is Lancs) my great-grandmother was a Macnaire but I'm English :blink:
we all have a little Mackay in us :wink:

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Jake » 01 Oct 2011, 05:45

The fact that the old notion that a more or less unified "Celtic" people emerged in the Hallstatt region and spread themselves over Western Europe and Britain, conquering, displacing and wiping out previous inhabitants was demolished long before Oppenheimer set pen to paper regarding the Celts, doesn't mean that Oppenheimer's particular hypotheses must be accepted though. Mass invasions of people are not required for languages, religions and aspects of material culture to "invade" a given territory. A powerful ruling minority can accomplish that (see Peru) and so can a dominant trading relationship or some other less dramatic and more gradual set of interactions.

I also don't think that Oppenheimer's ideas about Celtic origins should be entirely conflated with Cunliffe's as the latter does state that the La Tene people spoke a Celtic language, doesn't he? It may be important to bear in mind as well that Oppenheimer is not a linguist and apparently ticks some people off when he tries to use linguistic evidence for his theories (and also apparently just ticks some people off in general ... here's a fun piece from Peter Beresford Ellis: http://www.irishdemocrat.co.uk/features ... on-anyway/).

Andy, surely the identification of (at least some of) the La Tene culture(s) as what we now call "Celtic" is based on more than that one puzzling quote from Herodotus? What about the seemingly unbroken line of material and burial culture between La Tene and the Gauls? What about the Lepontic and Gaulish inscriptions, the earliest written examples of a unquestionably "Celtic" language, made during the La Tene period?
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Me too! But mine are McCoys - dubious Scots-Irish gallowglass cousins of yours probably. :grin:
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Dathi » 01 Oct 2011, 08:27

Greetings,

Interesting paper related to this topic here: http://chicago.academia.edu/MichaelDiet ... 2_1_._2006_

OBOD even gets a mention as the "concepts" of Celticism, Celtitude and Celticity are set out.

CFN,

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Jake » 02 Oct 2011, 01:26

Celtitude is my new favorite word!

American Celtitude:

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8-)

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby treegod » 02 Oct 2011, 09:42

I think the "Celtic Myth" is that it comprises an ethnic group.
:grin: I dare you to shout that in a Welsh pub as they're singing Cwm Rhondda.... :duck:
:duck: :duck: :duck:

Maybe "Welsh" or "Britons" (pre-Anglosaxon) are, I won't argue with that :grin:

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Welsh Mythology » 03 Mar 2013, 02:22

Academia always has a hard time when it makes assumptions. We cant even interpret the actual evidence fully never mind make definite statements about it and what it means. Regardless of what we think we know and what we know we don't know, there are groups of people that consider their ancestry and language to be Celtic, and they are alive and well and doing things in the World like using these forums. I think it should be up to them to either validate or invalidate what they call themselves. As far as the Disney version, we can always do with more compost.

Myth making is an art, and an art aspects of Celtic culture once practiced with great skill. Celticism is the result of many thousands of years of pragmatism when it comes to communal identities, archetypes and stereotypes. That pragmatism still has a place, especially here in these forums I would think. Personally, and I believe many of my fellow Celts would agree, asking if the trem Celtic no longer serves is like asking if the term American no longer serves, or the term European. Regardless of its fact based validity in the very distant past, it's resonance today is quite clear, and strong.
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Diviacus » 23 Mar 2013, 14:33

Don't most scholars still hold to some variation of the "traditional" view? I mean not that "Celts" suddenly sprang into a full-fledged and unified existence around Lake Neuchatel and then migrated across Europe and conquered the British Isles and all that 19th century business, but some variation of a more nuanced and complicated notion that nevertheless places Hallstatt > La Tene at the core of "Celtic" ethnogenesis?
It's no longer the case. Herefater quotes of some present historians (there are many more who share their views):

Sabine RIECKHOFF (2006):
It is astounding to see that the J.Dechelette hypothesis remains to the present day the main base of all maps, on which the Celts expand in all the directions from a so-called original land.

Stephen OPPENHEIMER (2010):
The current orthodox view of the origin of the Celts is one of the remaining myths left over from the 19th century.

Daniele VITALI (2006):
The migrationist models that have been in use to solve the Celts presence in Iberia have been abandoned.

John COLIS (2003):
So why did the Celts have to arrive sometime in the Iron Age? Part of this was due to the concept of the so-called Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, and in 1986 I brought together examples in my paper “Adieu La Tene” and “Adieu Hallstatt” showing how at various times and places the archaeological record had been grossly misinterpreted to fit the preconceived interpretation.

Barry CUNLIFFE (2010):
A traditional belief, still widely held, is that the Celts originated somewhere in western central Europe, to the north of the Alps, and from there, in a succession of movements over many centuries, spread westwards into Iberia, Britain, ….The time is now right for a new model of “Celtic origins” to be offered.

Pierre Yves MILCENT (2006):
The latenian core and the hypothesis of a cultural or ethnic centrifuge model have never existed, if not in the mind of many searchers since the 19th century.

Venceslas KRUTA (2006):
The initial core of the Celts was up to the present day identified as the Hallstatt culture. We must fundamentally change our ideas on the origin and expansion of the Celts.

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby bolgios » 28 Mar 2013, 15:38

It's amazing how many 'archaeologists' spend their lives writing pseudo-philosophical articles, and staring at their own belly buttons.

:idea:

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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Mannan » 10 May 2014, 20:12

Am I allowed to post links to my own website? Here goes...
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Alwin » 11 May 2014, 08:46

The term Celt is a very emotive one - certainly anthropologists would still retain the term as a cultural identity that is common across the English speaking Diaspora and (given OBOD membership) beyond.

My question is how do the people here feel about this?
I would suggest that the traditional view is becoming increasingly untenable, at what point should modern Druids start to revise their own worldviews?
Interesting that even if I live here in the ancient celtic heartland, according to the classic view (La Tène and the Lake Neuchâtel are located in western Switzerland), nobody here refers to his "celtic" roots! We identify more with the Gallic tribe Helvetii from where the Latin name of Switzerland derives: "Confoederatio Helvetica". That's why our country code or internet top-level domain is "CH". (not to be confused with China! -> CN)
But from my point of view the Roman culture and especially the Christianisation have a much stronger influence here nowadays than the ancient Celts.
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Re: The Celtic Myth

Postby Mannan » 11 May 2014, 09:55

It's amazing how many 'archaeologists' spend their lives writing pseudo-philosophical articles, and staring at their own belly buttons.

:idea:
Archaeological theories are not far off philosophical theories in their reliance upon chains of reasoned ideas, the main difference being that an archaeologist starts off with a stain in the earth and some soggy wood and ends up with religion, whereas a philosopher starts with the question 'who am I?' and eventually comes to the same conclusion... :grin:


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