Sunday 2 February 2014

Any Old Iron Age?

Longstanding Welsh-speakers built this - without the 30% Latin of course...

I've been listening to the radio...

In the anglo-centric history of these isles it is conventional to accept that the "Celts" (nobody knows what that means) moved from central Europe in the late Iron Age and inhabited Britain at some time before the Romans turned up. I learnt this vaguely in childhood although I confess I gave up history (like I did geography) aged 12 in order to learn Greek (see my last post - Greek is hard).

But actually there is precisely zero evidence for this. It probably stems from the (anglo-centric) assumption that waves of civilisation came in periodically from the east. But actually there is no reason to think that there was an earlier version of Anglo-Saxon invasion by our Celtic ancestors.

On the contrary evidence is now coming in that I was oddly right to concentrate on Greeks in understanding the origin of the Welsh and their language.

Greek historian Herodotus (see my take on him here) referred to a Celtic community in southern Spain at Tartessos which Radio 4's "Making History" (link here) this week suggests may offer evidence that in fact - we were here all the time!

Careful, now, we sort of knew about this evidence, but what makes me think it is significant is that the pre-eminent Celtic historian of our time (and no Welshman) Barry Cunliffe agrees that this is convincing.

If this were about the English people it would be huge news - people care a lot about where they came from - but this bit of history is buried in the depths of the BBC's website.

So the new evidence suggests that we were here all along - back into the Bronze Age - developing our language and trade along the western seaboard of Europe. But actually it makes sense because it is consistent with - much later - communication and trade into the Dark Ages.

I was taught by eminent scholars (in my fields of Greek, Latin, and ancient philosophy) that the obvious explanation is the most likely one. Doesn't that apply in history too? I will report back on whether serious historian Hafal Chair Elin Jones will back this up...