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Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots
NY Times ^ | July 1, 2003 | NICHOLAS WADE

Posted on 07/01/2003 5:48:39 AM PDT by Pharmboy

In November 1897, in a field near the village of Coligny in eastern France, a local inhabitant unearthed two strange objects.

One was an imposing statue of Mars, the Roman god of war. The other was an ancient bronze tablet, 5 feet wide and 3.5 feet high. It bore numerals in Roman but the words were in Gaulish, the extinct version of Celtic spoken by the inhabitants of France before the Roman conquest in the first century B.C.

The tablet, now known as the Coligny calendar, turned out to record the Celtic system of measuring time, as well as being one of the most important sources of Gaulish words.

Two researchers, Dr. Peter Forster of the University of Cambridge in England and Dr. Alfred Toth of the University of Zurich, have now used the calendar and other Celtic inscriptions to reconstruct the history of Celtic and its position in the Indo-European family of languages.

They say that Celtic became a distinct language and entered the British Isles much earlier than supposed.

Though the Gauls were strong enough to sack Rome in 390 B.C., eventually the empire struck back. The Romans defeated the Celts, both in France and in Britain, so decisively that Latin and its successor languages displaced Celtic over much of its former territory. In the British Isles, Celtic speakers survived in two main groups: the Goidelic branch of Celtic, which includes Irish and Scots Gaelic, and the Brythonic branch, formed of Welsh and Breton, a Celtic tongue carried to Brittany in France by emigrants from Cornwall.

Because languages change so fast, historical linguists distrust language trees that go back more than a few thousand years. Dr. Forster, a geneticist, has developed a new method for relating a group of languages, basing it on the tree-drawing techniques used to trace the evolutionary relationships among genes. His method works on just a handful of words, a fortunate circumstance since only some 30 Gaulish words have known counterparts in all the other languages under study.

Dr. Forster and his linguist colleague Dr. Toth have used the method to draw up a tree relating the various branches of Celtic to one another and to other Indo-European languages like English, French, Spanish, Latin and Greek. In an article in today's issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they say that soon after the ancestral Indo-European language arrived in Europe it split into different branches leading to Celtic, Latin, Greek and English.

Within Celtic, their tree shows that Gaulish — the continental version of the language — separated from its Goidelic and Brythonic cousins, much as might be expected from the facts of geography.

The researchers' method even dates the fork points in their language tree, although the dates have a wide range of possibility. The initial splitting of Indo-European in Europe occurred around 8100 B.C., give or take 1,900 years, and the divergence between the continental and British versions of Gaelic took place in 3200 B.C., plus or minus 1,500 years, they calculate.

These dates are much earlier than previously estimated. "The traditional date of the Indo-European family has been 4000 BC for some time," Dr. Merritt Ruhlen of Stanford University said. Dr. Ruhlen said the new method "seems pretty reasonable" and should be useful in tracing back the earlier history of the Indo-European language.

Specialists have long debated which country was the homeland of the Indo-Europeans and whether their language was spread by conquest or because its speakers were the first farmers whose methods and tongue were adopted by other populations. The second theory, that of spread by agriculture, has been advocated by Dr. Colin Renfrew, a Cambridge archaeologist.

Dr. Forster, who works in Dr. Renfrew's institute, said in an interview that the suggested date 8100 B.C. for the arrival of Indo-European in Europe "does seem to vindicate Renfrew's archaeological idea that the Indo-European languages were spread by farmers."

Agriculture started to arrive in Europe from the Near East around 6000 B.C., much earlier than the traditional date proposed by linguists for the spread of Indo-European. This timing would fit with the lower end of Dr. Forster's range of dates.

Dr. Forster said that his estimated date of 3200 B.C. for the arrival of Celtic speakers in England and Ireland was also much earlier than the usual date, 600 B.C., posited on the basis of archaeological evidence.

Dr. Forster said his method of comparing groups of languages was unfamiliar to historical linguists, many of whom study how words in a single language have changed over time. Asked what linguists thought of his method he said: "To be honest, they don't understand it, most of them. They don't even know what I'm talking about."

The method has two parts. One is to draw a tree on the basis of carefully chosen words; the second is to date the splits in the tree by calibrating them with known historical events. This is similar to the way geneticists date their evolutionary trees by tying one or more branch points to known dates from the fossil record.

Dr. April McMahon, a linguist at the University of Sheffield in England, said that Dr. Forster's method "seems to me to be a good start" and that it was reasonable to base a language family tree on just a handful of well-chosen words. She had less confidence in the dating method, she said, because language changes in an irregular way based on social factors like the size of the speaker's group and its degree of contact with others.

Geneticists often assume that the rate of mutation will average out over time, so that if one or two branch points in a tree can be dated by fossil evidence, the timing of the other branch points can be inferred.

Dr. Forster says he assumes that the rate of language change can also be averaged over time. But Dr. McMahon says she thinks that historical time, being much shorter than evolutionary time, is less friendly to averaging and that linguists should not even try, at least yet, to put dates on language trees.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Miscellaneous; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: alfredtoth; anthropology; archaeoastronomy; archaeology; celtic; celts; coligny; colignycalendar; epigraphyandlanguage; europe; france; french; gallic; gaulish; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; helixmakemineadouble; history; indoeuropean; indoeuropeans; irish; language; megaliths; peterforster; romanempire; switzerland; unitedkingdom; uofcambridge; uofzurich
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To: Rytwyng

I'm working on a novel's material involving 3-5 field researchers arguing with beer et al. over every side of every theory of these "out-of-Caucuses" migrations as the ice receded and drought rearranged tribes' lands and migrations.

Herodotus's People Eaters beyond the Blackrobes supplies my story's peoples northeast of the Sythians. I follow the "plaids" west from "China". The constant invasions churned the genetic pool as well as killing off countless tribes. I am using the Kurds some of whom look as Dutch as anyone in the Neatherlands.

I link tribe raiders with todays' sex slave trade; IMO, the market for very young blonds has always been as good as it is in today's islam heartland.
141 posted on 02/16/2004 2:05:19 PM PST by SevenDaysInMay (Federal judges and justices serve for periods of good behavior, not life. Article III sec. 1)
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To: Cronos
July 2003? The Aztec game had the small hoop vertical rather than a large hoop horizontal and why are you reading such old posts? ; )

142 posted on 02/16/2004 2:44:53 PM PST by Conspiracy Guy (Ronald Reagan is the most influential public figure in my life. George W. Bush, take notes.)
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To: SevenDaysInMay
Have you been following the Y-chromosome and mtDNA studies?
143 posted on 02/16/2004 2:52:35 PM PST by Rytwyng
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To: Rytwyng
This has turned into quite a good thread. Took long enough...
144 posted on 02/16/2004 3:21:23 PM PST by Pharmboy (History's greatest agent for freedom: The US Armed Forces)
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To: Cronos
Linguists in the past have divided the Indo-European family of languages into two large sub-groups: the Centum Languages and the Satem Languages. These names come from the words used for "hundred" in each group, but the similarities are supposed based on many other factors as well.

The Italic, Germanic, Gallic, and Greek Languages, as well as Tocharian A and B are believed to be Centum languages, while the Balto-Slavic and Iranian Languages and Sanskrit are Satem Languages.

Some earlier Indo-European Languages like Hittie, don't fall into either group. Or so I was told in my College Classical Greek classes.
145 posted on 02/16/2004 8:34:23 PM PST by ZULU (GOD BLESS SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY!!!)
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To: Cronos
"you're combining 400 years in one sentence. "

So? Charlemagne wasn't really French. He was a Frank. The Franks were Germanic tribesmen who invaded Roamn Gaul.

"THe early German barbarians wanted the riches of the Roman lands and conquered them."

I think that is an oversimplification. Some of the Germanic barbarians like the Visigoths, were trying to get protection within the Empire. Both the Visigoths and Ostrogoths as well as other Germanic tribes were hardly strangers to the benefits of Roman civilzation and culture. Suer, wealth was part of it, but there were other factors which impressed them about Roman society.

"They then realised that this was a superior culture they captured (like hte Romans capturing Greece said 'Captive Greece encaptivated Rome', but even more so) and became completely Roman."

I don't think the Barbarians were fools, nor were they ignorant of Roman culture even before they invaded the Empire. The "invasion" of Roame by the Barbarians was a lengthy process and was started by the Roamn practise of incoporating barbarians into their military estrablishment, first as auxiliaries, later as legionnaires and foederati.

The Roamns did not view their borders the same way that modern states view theirs. The Roman border was a line between Roman culture and non-Roamn culture, not a line limiting Roamn influence and power. The Romans formed alliances with tribes beyond their borders and Roman trde goods and merchants and ideas crossed into barbarian territory. The Romans were able to project their influence beyond their borders.

I think even referring to a barbarian "capture" of Roamn or the "Fall" of Rome is msileading. The barbarians gradually infiltrated Roman soceity and the Roman state. The Roman state gradully eroded and collapsed from within. The later major barbarian incursions were more like the actions of scavengers than predators.

"Rome did not become Germanicized as the Germans had nothign culturally to offer Rome."

Are you SURE Rome was not Germanicized? The trappings of Roamn government may have persisted for a time, but the reality of Germanic social realtionships gradually replaced them. The idea of a citizen owing allegience to a state wa gradully replaced by a Germanic concept of a warrior class owing allegience to a powerfiul warlord. The Latin Languages and peoples are the products of intermingling of Germanic and Roman origins.

"The Germans became Romanized whether within or without hte Empire."

Precisely. But I think there was also a Germanization of Roman territory. I don't think the Germans were culturally or socially destitute.

"Modern Western civilisation is nearly exclusively Roman with Christian morals."

To a degree. But I think that the Renaissance with its rebirth of interest in Rome and Greece is responsible for a lot of that. I don't think feudalism was a Roman concept.

146 posted on 02/16/2004 8:51:16 PM PST by ZULU (GOD BLESS SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY!!!)
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To: Cronos
I remember reading somewhere that there are words in Anglo-Saxon, which came into modern English from Latin words the Anglo-Saxons picked up before invading England. Other Latin words came from Norman French.

Some words in Latin, or properly the Italic Languages of which Latin is the best known, were similar due to having arisen from a common ancestral word. I think the term is "cognate". Others were adopted into Germanic languages as above. You can't look at modern German. You have to look at say, Anglo-Saxon or Gothic or Old Norse for a better picture of these cognate words. All languages change over time. Your observations about Polish, a Slavic Language, and Germanic/Italic/Celtic are correct. The latter trhee are closer "cousins" to each other than eithre is to a Slavic Language, but they all presumably arose from the same ancestor - Indo-European and so you can find cognate words in Celtic and Sanskrit.

I guess its sort of like looking at a tree. Indo-European was the base. It split into two main branches - the Centum Languages and the Satem Languages, with some odd branches like Hittite growing out at the base.

The Centum branch split into a Proto-Germanic branch, a proto-Celtic Branch, a proto-Greek branch and a proto-Italic branch. With time, this split further. But unlike a tree, each branch also picked up words from other branches it came into contact with. kind of confusing and interesting at the same time.
147 posted on 02/16/2004 9:01:44 PM PST by ZULU (GOD BLESS SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY!!!)
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To: Cronos
Some people now theorize it may have been northern Anatolia or even where the Black Sea now rests.
They keep trying to locate an Indo-European homeland by looking at words for trees and animals which are common in all the languages and then looking at the ranges these plants and animals occupy in common.
148 posted on 02/16/2004 9:03:44 PM PST by ZULU (GOD BLESS SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY!!!)
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To: Cronos
I have heard of this but don't believe it myself. Personally, I can usually tell an Irishman or Scotsman from a Scandinavian without too much trouble, although there is overlap.

Germans come from the Latin word Germani which mean "brothers".

If you read Caesar's Gallic Wars, you will note Caesar's observation that the Gauls were different and distinct from the Germans. I think archeological evidence seems to indicate that the Celtic People were more civilized, that they lived in settled towns like the Roamsn themselves did. That they had a high culture and were skilled bronzesmiths and metalworkers and had fixed farmlands.

The Germans of Caesar's time on the other hand appear to have been more of a pastoral-hunting people with more limited skills.

Does this translate into something genetic? I don't know. Germanic Langauges are sufficiently distinct from Celtic Langauges to be accorded the same individuality as the Italic or Greek or Balto-Slavic recognition. And langauge differences may or may not reflect actual racial affinities. Ditto cultural ones.

At any rate, as far as the Roamsn were concerned, they appeared to have regarded them a distinct people and they were there and we were not.

This is REALLY an OLD post. How and why did you pick it up??
149 posted on 02/16/2004 9:11:54 PM PST by ZULU (GOD BLESS SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY!!!)
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Linguists in the past have divided the Indo-European family of languages into two large sub-groups: the Centum Languages and the Satem Languages. These names come from the words used for "hundred" in each group, but the similarities are supposed based on many other factors as well.

Thanks! I've read about the Centem and Satem bits before. So, maybe the geographical issues are correct -- viz. the Slavic languages did break off from the Irani-Indic languages later than German.
But, I speak French, German and know Latin and Sanskrit and a bit of Polish (serious history buff) and it does seem to me like German and Sanskrit have more in common with each other than Polish. Of course I haven't studied Polish or other Slavic languages in depth, so can't really be sure.
150 posted on 02/17/2004 12:12:25 AM PST by Cronos (W2K4!)
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To a degree. But I think that the Renaissance with its rebirth of interest in Rome and Greece is responsible for a lot of that. I don't think feudalism was a Roman concept.

I was wrong. You are correct. The middle Ages would seem to be a Germanic period with a development towards the Roman influenced world of today.

The German-Celts did have allegiances first to tribe and then to sept then clan etc. as seen in the overKings of Ireland and England (even though one was Celtic and the other Saxon). You're also correct that the idea of a nation state disintegrated after the fall of Rome replaced by clans, tribal affiliations etc. all leading up to the super-clan you might call it, of Christendom. Must have been something -- until the 7th century all of western Eurasia and North Africa and large chunks of the middle east were Christendom.
151 posted on 02/17/2004 12:17:41 AM PST by Cronos (W2K4!)
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At any rate, as far as the Roamsn were concerned, they appeared to have regarded them a distinct people and they were there and we were not.

True. I suppose the Romans saw both initially as northern barbarians, with the ones closer to them more civilised (due, the Romans no doubt said to themselves, the civilising influence of Rome). After all, Caesar, in his commentaries talks about his armies destroying the Helvetians (who came from what is now modern day Switzerland), but not thoroughly -- he was worried that the even more barbaric Germans would come down from the north and occupy helvetian land if it was unoccupied (rather the devil you know than the devil you don't, eh?).

However, we do tend to see things in the nation-state view we have in modern times (the Charlemagne not being French bit) -- There was no France until after the English were kicked out in the 15th century (which incidently, by ensuring the English kings had no escape in France created the nation state of England as well). Most other states were also created in the late Middle ages like Poland, but the real concept of a nation-lingustic-ethnic-state didn't come about until the last century. And now we're moving back to being multi-ethnic entities.
152 posted on 02/17/2004 12:38:39 AM PST by Cronos (W2K4!)
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To: Cronos
However, most of those multi-ethnic states were in the Eurasian Caucasian-dominated region. does anyone know of any multi-ethnic states in the Far east or Africa or the Americas? My knowledge of far eatern Eurasian history is sketchy and of pre-15th century sub-saharan Africa is nil.
153 posted on 02/17/2004 12:40:44 AM PST by Cronos (W2K4!)
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To: Cronos
I guess you have to be familiar with arcane rules of philology and lingusitics to really understand this stuff.

I'm not.

You have an impressive linguistic command. I can on;ly read and write English and Latin and a little classical Greek. I remember little of my school-year German and Spanish, having never had the opportunity to use them while growing up.
154 posted on 02/17/2004 4:14:24 AM PST by ZULU (GOD BLESS SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY!!!)
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To: stainlessbanner


155 posted on 09/29/2004 10:12:48 PM PDT by Murtyo
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Just posting the updated contact information. This was already in the catalog. And, it's one of those two-and-a-half sheets to the wind topics...
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest
-- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)

156 posted on 12/01/2004 10:05:54 PM PST by SunkenCiv ("All I have seen teaches me trust the Creator for all I have not seen." -- Emerson)
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To: wideawake

What about the Albanian? Also one of the surviving branches of the IE.

157 posted on 12/01/2004 10:12:38 PM PST by RightWhale (Destroy the dark; restore the light)
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To: Pharmboy
Hmmm . . . I have a couple of degrees in linguistics and have had several classes in historical linguistics. I even addressed the possibility of improved reconstruction methods in my Masters thesis. So, just based on what I've read, lectures I've attended, and research I've conducted, I have a couple of serious doubts.

First, the 8100 BC date seems way out of line. Most Indo-Europeanists agree that the Indo-European diaspora began 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. To suggest that a proto-Celtic appeared some 10,000 years ago is stretching things beyond the bounds of credibility. I don't know of any archeological data that would back up such a claim.

Second, basing such a conjecture on a mere 30 words is extremely doubtful. In linguistics, we have something called the Swadesh List (named after Maurice Swadesh, a linguist who first came up with the idea). The Swadesh List is a listing of either 100 or 200 of the most commonly used words in a language. The usefulness of a Swadesh List to a historical linguist is this list of words will have a greater retention time in a language than other, less used words will. Even if these 30 words were absolutely the most common words used in ancient Celtic -- extremely doubtful -- the total number of them is so small that there is a significant chance that loss due to language change would have reduced any sample to the level of background noise in only a few millenia. And given the almost certainty that these 30 words were simply those that were available due to archeological discovery, it once again stretches the bounds of credibility beyond the breaking point.

Dr MacMahon sounded like she was being polite and non-confrontational. When stating that it was reasonable to base a language family tree on a few well chosen words, she was most likely referring to the Swadesh list. Not 30 words that were unearthed by chance.

It bears pointing out that Merrit Ruhlen is not a mainstream historical linguist. Known as one of the "Long Rangers" for his claims of being able to reconstruct protoforms back into the very distant past, his views on language reconstruction vary starkly from almost all other historical linguists.

It is likely -- virtually certain -- that Drs. Foster and Toth's research will be shredded to pieces in the process of peer review.

158 posted on 12/01/2004 10:57:37 PM PST by Cooltouch
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To: Cooltouch

Thanks for your perspective...I shall ping you another time to similar threads.

159 posted on 12/02/2004 2:35:01 AM PST by Pharmboy ( can still hear the old media sobbing.)
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To: RightWhale
That's a good example. There are also languages like Basque (with no known relatives) and Lithuanian (some say the closest language to original IE, given that it has far closer phonetic similarities with Sanskrit than it does with German or Russian).

Both are spoken by peoples that rarely ever had political autonomy.

160 posted on 12/02/2004 5:56:16 AM PST by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
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