Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

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
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 181-192 next last
To: Myrddin

Thought this might interest you. You and I exchanged posts about an item that is in this article.
41 posted on 07/01/2003 7:05:32 AM PDT by CaptRon
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy
English is not a major language family. But I believe Greek, Latin, and Celtic are considered major language families. It's just awkward to make English a fourth "example".

You're right. It's probably just another example of a NYT reporter condescending to American readers.
42 posted on 07/01/2003 7:07:17 AM PDT by irish_links
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy
It is a staggering mistake to say that English is one of 4 early offshoots from the ancestral Indo-European language.

Neither the article nor your quoted phrase say this, either.

43 posted on 07/01/2003 7:08:03 AM PDT by Doctor Stochastic (Vegetabilisch = chaotisch is der Charakter der Modernen. - Friedrich Schlegel)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
44 posted on 07/01/2003 7:16:04 AM PDT by LiteKeeper
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Amelia
Genealogy ping.
45 posted on 07/01/2003 7:19:06 AM PDT by Scenic Sounds (Summertime!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
The salt water flooding of the previously fresh water Black Sea in 5,600BC caused the proto-Celtics living there to migrate up the river valleys all over Europe, bringing farming and their language with them.
46 posted on 07/01/2003 7:26:09 AM PDT by blam
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: wideawake
And we defeated Mexico, but we are going to end up speaking mexican for sure!!
47 posted on 07/01/2003 7:29:33 AM PDT by unread
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
"does seem to vindicate Renfrew's archaeological idea that the Indo-European languages were spread by farmers."

The value of farmers' daughters...just talking about them spread language.

A tour of really old Europe would be a time tripper's dream.

Think of the skiing with all those newly melting glaciers. Picnics in newly flowered glens...hunting big and dangerous game for campfire feasts and jerky...bathing in snowmelt...urine tanned skins for clothing and bedding...being guests of honor with new maiden brides (small petite to say the least) at every village - if one were not murdered or killed in jealous challenges by fearfully superstitious people.

For selective breeding opportunities, at least I'm 186cm tall at 110Kg., 150cm at the shoulder, and with my all my teeth, but no tattoos. Yes, I'd carry a rifle with brass, primer, American know how & Gore-Tex gear and Mg fire starters, spices, my glasses, and rock hammer, blade and saw. In deep prehistory, modern man needs his accrutrements. {8^)

The D-2 steel, fire stick, black powder, and fire rendered liquid metal sorcerer, father of giants for those tiny maidens not killed by childbirth. The death rate of beautiful young children would have me long for the bitching about high priced, modern medicine and those rich doctors and drug companies. Who would not be king...

That human life progressed at all from melt to melt to "global warming" is a miracle.

It makes me long to visit earlier inter-glacial and full glacial periods before our trace of pre-history could begin. To visit humans of 1,000 to 25,000 generations ago would be as awesome as dangerous. Would there be blonds and redheads? Available? Central governments promoting sodomy? Plastic? Unlikely because plastic has never been found, surely lasting thousands of human generations. Was agriculture "remembered" 8,000 years ago from survivors of those deep, now dark days - too often frozen out and killed off during climate change survival migrations as tribe after tribe fought their way into occupied unfrozen lands such as those still contested by cousin Jews and Arabs?

48 posted on 07/01/2003 7:33:10 AM PDT by SevenDaysInMay (Federal judges and justices serve for periods of good behavior, not life. Article III sec. 1)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
He is certainly a cunning linguist.
49 posted on 07/01/2003 7:37:54 AM PDT by 2nd Bn, 11th Mar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
>>>But serially, you do nmention Montreal; that is one real example. <<<

I knew if I tried I might get one right.

Actually, if you look closely, you will see that English is being replaced in your post with another, yet to be determined, language. (I know whereof I speak, it happens to me all the time--must be a bug somewhere in the server.)
50 posted on 07/01/2003 7:40:45 AM PDT by MalcolmS (Do Not Remove This Tagline Under Penalty Of Law!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 22 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
51 posted on 07/01/2003 7:40:50 AM PDT by A_perfect_lady (Let them, like, eat cake, or whatever.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: muawiyah
The library at Ebla, which provided us with our first historic (and non-Biblical) references to King David also provided us with messages from Celtic kings in the near Middle East to each other and to the folks at Ebla. They were written in a Celtic language Do you have a source/link for this?
52 posted on 07/01/2003 8:02:17 AM PDT by epluribus_2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 38 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
"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."

Other geneticists challenge this, and the concept of a gradual evolution of one species into another has been displaced in many circles by another conept that states evolution occurs suddenly by large jumps instead of slowly over a long period of time as formerly believed. If this is true, dating based on an average rate of genetic change is invalid (i.e. the "African Eve" theory.)

53 posted on 07/01/2003 8:07:51 AM PDT by ZULU
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wideawake
"Likewise, the Gauls maintained their language for centuries after Caesar's conquest, but lost it after they successfully conquered back territory."

When did the Celts ever conque territory back from the Romans? Rome fell to invading Germainc barbarians,not to Celtic invasions.

54 posted on 07/01/2003 8:09:47 AM PDT by ZULU
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: epluribus_2
I have a book published shortly after the initial forays into that library (of clay tablets), but I guess it doesn't exist without a URL, eh?!

Just do a search for "EBLA".

55 posted on 07/01/2003 8:13:04 AM PDT by muawiyah
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 52 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy
Good catch. "English" should read "Germanic", also they left out the Balto-Slavic Lingustic subfamily, ,more distantly related to the other four, but still an Indo-European language, like the Iranian languages, Sanskrit and it modern descedants Hindi, etc, ancient Hittite and the Anatolic Language related to it, Armenian, and Tocharian, an extinct language spoken in Central Asia by a long dead people who looked European.
56 posted on 07/01/2003 8:13:53 AM PDT by ZULU
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Flurry
The ancient Celts didn't play with baseballs. They collected human heads - of their enemies of course, and decorated their temples and gates with them. Our custom of Halloween pumpkins comes from that tradition.
57 posted on 07/01/2003 8:15:34 AM PDT by ZULU
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

Gallic tribes participated in the Swabian invasions of Roman territory in the 300s.
58 posted on 07/01/2003 8:17:04 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 54 | View Replies]

Pumpkins? I still use skulls.
59 posted on 07/01/2003 8:17:21 AM PDT by Conspiracy Guy (Read Buddy's, (the labrador retriever), new book about the Clintons, "Living Hell")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 57 | View Replies]

Quite civilized Germans living within the Roman Empire attempted mightily to resucitate the place. Even such reputed barbarians as Alaric came from inside the Empire as did the followers who ended up stranded in North Africa. (See Visigoths).

You have to keep separate in your mind the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the Fall of Rome (in the West) and the Dark Ages. They each had an impact on all or part of the Empire, but each had it's own impetus.

Barbara Tuchman (the famous historian) noted that the mere fact something was reported amplifies its apparant importance a thousand times. People often overlook this phenomenon and incorrectly assume that the Roman Empire fell to barbarians sometime during the Dark Ages since Rome, barbarians and Dark Ages were reported. Actually Rome did not fall until the 1400s when the city of Byzantium and it's environs were seized by the Turks (who were, by that time, quite civilized themselves, or things would have been much, much worse).

60 posted on 07/01/2003 8:20:26 AM PDT by muawiyah
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 54 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 181-192 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson