Home > Archeology, Belgic Replacement Theory, Indo Europeans, Nordwestblock > The Celtic Origin Revised: the Atlantic View and the Nordwestblock Blues

The Celtic Origin Revised: the Atlantic View and the Nordwestblock Blues

Important shifts in the concept of Celtic origin are taking place. A new book edited by Profs. Cunliffe and Koch is due out in June and announced by Oxbow Books thus:

The Celtic from the West proposal was first presented in Barry Cunliffe’s Facing the Ocean (2001) and has subsequently found resonance amongst geneticists. It provoked controversy on the part of some linguists, though is significantly in accord with John Koch’s findings in Tartessian (2009). The present collection is intended to pursue the question further in order to determine whether this earlier and more westerly starting point might now be developed as a more robust foundation for Celtic studies.

This new approach turns the focus away from a Central European origin of Celts and instead advocate an Atlantic gravity. Also the time-line of Celtic spread is due for a thorough revision, now it becomes increasingly secure to consider the Celtic world to be firmly rooted in the Copper Age (Maritime Bell Beaker) and a result of shared development that culminated in the Late Bronze Age:

“Barry Cunliffe, 2001, 261-310, has proposed the origins of the Celtic languages should be sought in the maritime networks of the Atlantic Zone, which reached their peak of intensity in the Late Bronze Age and then fell off sharply at the Bronze-Iron Transition (IXth-VIIth centuries BC).” (Koch, 2009)

Also Koch (2009), when he identifies the Tartessian language of southern Spain as Celtic, agrees that the Celtic identity was already forged in the Atlantic Late Bronze Age, 13th-8th century BC.

That general conclusion could carry important implications for historians and archaeologists. It reinforces something we have known for some time, namely that the Celtic languages in the Iberian Peninsula—possibly unlike those of Gaul and Britain—cannot be explained as the result of the spread of the La Tène and Hallstatt archaeological cultures of the central European Iron Age. To find Celtic extensively used so far to the south-west at such an early date must also call into question the relevance of Hallstatt’s Late Bronze Age forerunner, the Urnfield cultures, in the Celticization of the Peninsula. (Koch, 2009)

Middle Bronze Age massgrave in Wassenaar. The crimes were most likely committed by Hilversum Culture neighbors, that make a fit for the people that introduced Atlantic (Celtic?) influences in the north.

Or earlier? There is no agreement yet about the Celtic identity of Tartassian, but an Indo-European language closely affiliated to Italic and Celtic would probably do just as fine in the recognition of an important Copper Age spread of Indo-European emanating from the Atlantic shores. Western continuity all the way back to Maritime Bell Beaker, that established the main fluvial routes in western Europe, suggests scholars are now returning to the idea first proposed in the 1970s that the Celts arrived in the British Isles with Bell Beaker. This steering away from a Celtic origin in Hallstatt and La Tene, even Urnfield, requires a reevaluation of the Celtic nature of the people involved within these cultural horizons. Adherence to the view that Celtic indeed spread along the Atlantic coast would explain the new scrutiny for a Celtic presence in the Low countries. From this viewpoint it would be strange indeed if Celts didn’t arrive at the coastal plains of this region, since the North Sea was certainly within Celtic reach.

The linguistic situation in the Low Countries in Roman and pre-Roman times is still far from clear. Obviously, a kind of P-Celtic not unlike Brythonic was held in high esteem, at least among the local elites, and it is likely the Romans sought to tune their local policy accordingly. Local rites and mythology correlate well with the Celtic world, and Ingvaeonic language features of Germanic languages along the North Sea suggest a Celtic substrate. However, accepted Celtic toponyms are rare and often associated with Roman military strongholds. Koch is among those that criticize the scientific climate in the Low Countries against clear cut answers on Celtic evidence:

This tendency can be illustrated by the practice of place-name studies in the Netherlands, where names are categorized as either Germanic, Roman, or pre-Roman. However, this last category is rarely specified. (Koch, CCHE, p1192)

However, his criticism is impeded by his own observation that since WW II the same restraints apply for Germanic evidence. He praises Toorians for being one of the few that “dares to say so” (ie. that Celts were omnipresent), but insinuates a lack of linguistic and Celtologic equipment among those that indeed perceived a pre-Germanic substratum and coined the name “Belgic” rather than to consider it Celtic. However, he did not question their equipment for making a link to Germanic, eg. concerning their observation of glottal stops and Latin transcription issues that may have distorted our interpretation. The political assessment of Koch to address a purported local lack of commitment to the Celtic versus Germanic controversy is probably how ‘outsiders’ see it: impatient to look into an archeological mirror, they conceive petty Low Countries historical matters as interfering with their demand for the kind of answers that would allow Low Countries to fit in smoothly on their own map. Still, place-name evidence remains controversial and contested in the Low Countries, and evidence that was never filed as Germanic does not imply Celtic by any means. Even Celticist Koch has to content himself with the current status quo: “the conclusion must be that in the Roman period Celtic and Germanic existed side by side“.

The differences between the two linguistic groups, Celtic and Germanic, are significant and difficult to reconcile within one small geographical context, and still the linguistic record in the Low Countries seems to point in both directions. We should be wary against impatient solutions that try to bypass this bipolar situation.

Finds traditionally considered “from the east” and labelled “Celtic” start in the Netherlands at about 825 BC. Now the Atlantic proposal rather predicates Celtic diffusion between the 13th-8th centuries BC we can’t even be sure those eastern influences represent ethnical Celts at all. If we follow the logic of Cunliffe and Koch, implying an early Northsea diffusion of the Celtic element, these allegedly Celtic finds could even involve any other foreign element, whose ethnic and historic imprint so far couldn’t be conceived.

The Middle Bronze Age Hilversum Culture is the only potential Atlantic intrusion that, in the vein of Cunliffe, could vie as "Celtic".

Cunliffe-style Celtic North Sea diffusion could have been as old as the Hilversum Culture. Indeed, this culture achieved a deep penetration and makes a much better case for a Celtic buildup in the Low Countries.

Halfway through the Early Bronze Age the practice of cremation and the burial of the remains in Hilversum urns under barrows surrounded by ditches and banks was introduced in the southern part of the Netherlands (especially North Brabant). This clearly indicates close connections with the urn burial traditions of south England (esp. the Wessex biconical urns). The development is now generally interpreted as an evolution, based on regular and intensive contacts, continuing those of Beaker times, and no longer as an indication of the arrival of British immigrants. (L.P. Louwe Kooijmans, 1993)

The culture achieved a strong foothold in the west (Holland, Utrecht) and the south (Brabant and connected Belgian territories), but never succeeded to replace a native element that (also) inherited from the Barbed Wire horizon in the north and, especially, northeast.

This northern Dutch group represents the westernmost manifestation of a tradition that was common all over the North German Plain and the southern part of Scandinavia.
In the late part of the Early Bronze Age and the Middle Bronze Age there was therefore a marked difference in burial practices between the northern and southern parts of the Netherlands.(L.P. Louwe Kooijmans, 1993)

Possibly Hilversum Culture was a culmination of Atlantic interchange dating back to 3rd millennium Maritime Beaker times, but the first attestation of this culture north across the Rhine estuary was a mass grave in Wassenaar, near The Hague. Twelve individuals were slayed and hastily buried, including young children and women.

The use of particular burial rules and the personal attention paid to the dead suggest that they were buried by captive or escaped kinsmen.
Very important and most interesting is the aforementioned small flint arrowhead that was found between the ribs of No 10. Its position suggested that it had been shot into the body.
The arrowhead did not resemble any of the fairly large number of arrowheads found in Bell Beaker graves in the Netherlands (Lanting/Van der Waals 1976). Barbed Wire Beaker graves have yielded hardly any grave goods and no arrowheads whatsoever (Lanting 1973) However, a fairly characteristic, rather sophisticated type of arrowhead with recurved barbs has been found in domestic assemblages. Close parallels have been found in an early Hilversum Culture pit fill at Vogelenzang near Haarlem […], which are to be dated around 3400 BP
This evidence soundly dates the grave to c. 3400 BP, 1700 cal. BC, around the transition from the Early to the Middle Bronze Age.(L.P. Louwe Kooijmans, 1993)

Far from being evidence of Atlantic “convergence”, this rather attests post-Beaker divergence. Only the Hilversum culture attests a certain degree of Atlantic convergence. Instead, apparent northern expansion happened at the onset of the Middle Bronze Age and may have been less peaceful than expected, and also less enduring in most places.

The evidence of the Wassenaar grave fits in with Bronze Age burial traditions as far as the extended postures and the custom of inhumation are concerned, although the two were not to become common until a few centuries later.

This pattern of returning native features also emerges in other northern sites:

The practice of cremation was introduced in the northern part of the Netherlands (Drenthe) at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. It remained the common form of burial throughout the first half of that period (MBA-A) and was replaced by inhumation of fully stretched corpses (preserved äs silhouettes) in proper coffins in the second half of the Middle Bronze Age (MBA-B)

Despite the differences both cultural complexes north and south also influenced each other:

There were, however, also similarities between the two areas: in both areas barrows were erected on heavily podzolized soils using sods cut from those soils, in both areas these barrows were surrounded by circles of postholes during the Middle Bronze Age and were used for later secondary burials […] Moreover, stretched inhumation was occasionally practiced in the south while cremation started to be introduced in the north.

I wonder what Cunliffe and Koch already figured out about the natives of the North Sea region, since genetic evidence suggests a complicated history. Elsewhere along the Atlantic belt, a Celtic identity in the Late Bronze Age correlates well with a genetic signature still dominated by Y-chromosomes marked by mutation R1b-P312, but this approach fails in the Low Countries. For sure not even the Hilversum Culture could replace all Middle Bronze Age native communities, being part of the contemporary Elp Culture that kept its most important stronghold just to the northeast. I count on Cunliffe to have noticed this problem of Middle Bronze Age continuity in the (Ingvaeonic) northwest of continental Europe that remained virtually unaffected by Atlantic expansions in the Late Bronze Age. If Hilversum Culture was too early for a Celtic identity then how much of its geographic reach could emerge as Celtic in historic times?
However, if Celtic expansion to the Low Countries should be traced back to Atlantic influences in the Bronze Age, then the issue of local cohabitation should be addressed as well. The Celtic blueprint conceived in coastal languages of later periods (Frisian!) might have provided a complicated mixture to start with, part of which probably only nominally Celtic.

Genetic evidence points at an abundance of YDNA R1b-P312 markers for the Celtic/Atlantic hemisphere, though unfortunately this didn’t get the picture straight north of the Rhine. Different degrees of marker differentiation into subclades might point at special circumstances in the Netherlands. At first sight ‘Celtic’ intrusions from the Isles would suggest a profusion of typical British YDNA markers like R1b-L21, but so far such results are far from convincing. The region is littered with R1b-U106 instead, a marker that typically runs high among Germanic Anglosaxons and low among Celts. This R1b-U106 marker clearly diverged from the combined Atlantic “Celtic” association under investigation, that heavily leans on the very prolific R1b-P312 sisterclade as a genetic marker. The vast majority of current YDNA results in the Low Countries simply doesn’t reveal the derived Celtic affiliation we are looking for. At most the ancestral association between P312 and U106 would rather indicate a separate native or ‘Belgae’ element having an ancestral relation with Celts. We can’t rule out that some P-Celtic strongholds survived up to Roman times, eg. at the coastal regions in the west. If so, where did the genetic evidence go?

Recent YDNA investigation in Belgium and the southern Netherlands revealed much more of the Celt’s potential P312 marker. Unlike the British situation, where P312’s L21-subclade dominates, this P312 population opposite the Channel doesn’t feature a predominantly single subclade grouping: up to date only the U152 mutation of the P312 subclade has a clear reading, moreover frequently associated with an additional L2 mutation, that narrows the scope of origin even more and apparently to the Upper Rhine rather than ‘Atlantic’ Britain. Not unlike U106, U152 could thus be excluded as ‘the universal Atlantic marker’ that accompanied the Celts at their purported arrival in the coastal marches.

One possible explanation for the ‘undifferentiated’ (or untested) P312 portion left may be that Celts already arrived in the neighborhood long before the differentiation of P312 in the main current subclades even occurred. Assumed that local domination of each known subclade of P312 essentially reflects younger events, than the initial spread of (undifferentiated) P312* and its current distribution simply shouldn’t reflect the emerging ‘Celtic’ subdivisions. The early age of the Hilversum Culture is in agreement with this results, but there is more in it than a possible (much) earlier onset of Celtic influence. Beware, there still may be some undiscovered mutations that reveal even more substructure downstream P312, even in the Low Countries. But how could P312 differentiate into predominantly L21 subclades on the Isles, and apparently into other prevalent subclades (or low diversity features such as Iberia) almost anywhere else in Western and Central Europe, but not in the Netherlands? And what does it mean, if this observation would indeed be correct?

Recent YDNA results in the Low Countries reveal substantial portions of potentially Celtic/Atlantic "undifferentiated" P312, but native U106 took the lead. 56% of all R1b in both West- and East-Flanders (WVL / OVL) is U106, compared to 44% in Brabant, and 36% in Limburg. P312* (in blue) shows an opposite gradient: 43% in Limburg, 35% in Brabant, 31% in East-Flanders and 26% in West-Flanders.

The predominant survival of highly diverse P312 may simply indicate the lack of successful young subclades. Was their development of subclades effectively suppressed by other, non-celtic elements that took the lead? Departing from the abundant availability of currently undetermined P312, the purportedly Celtic element that entered the Low Countries can’t be denied to have been numerous, but apparently their domination was short-lived. The subsequent leading groups inherited from another, probably more local element characterized by the R1b-U106 sister mutation of R1b-P312.

Schrijver made a case for Celtic substrate influences, ultimately linked to the Neolithic advance. Especially the Celts of NW Europe were affected, and they in turn passed some of their linguistic features over to the Ingvaeonic hemisphere, that includes the West-Germanic coastal regions of the Northsea: West Flanders, Holland, Frisia, England, and to a lesser extend also more inland continental regions. Exaggerated Ingvaeonic use of verbs like to come, to become and to do all seem to compensate for ancestral Celtic restrictions. Still, linguists such as Gysselink and Van Durme identified ancestral linguistic features in the Low Countries that are impossible to derive from Celtic, hence dubbed ‘Nordwestblock’ or ‘Belgic’. For instance, the Celto-Italian languages miss the glottal stop, probably an important PIE feature, and their IE vocabulary is remarkable distinct. Nordwestblock linguistic features, on the other hand, definitely included the glottal stop, like Germanic. This adds up to the scenario that Celts were immigrants that remained in close contact to surviving native elements. How did this mixture look like, and how “Celtic” their identity could remain?

Caesar was the first to tell us more about the Belgae, a brave powerful confederation of tribes in the north of Gallia, that was clearly distinct from neighboring tribes. The precise ethnic identity of the Belgae, as well as their language, is still a mystery. Caesar suggested their tribal affiliations were predominantly Germanic, at least historically:

[…] that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung, from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions; and that they were the only people who, in the memory of our fathers, when all Gaul was overrun, had prevented the Teutones and the Cimbri from entering their territories (Ceasar, D.B.G., 2.4.2)

Still, a lot of reasons were perceived to link Belgae to the Celts, not least of all because the Romans assigned their territory to Gaul. Their status of “having crossed the Rhine at an early stage” thus was readily argued to be part of a premeditated design to claim their “Gaulish” lands. However, bolstered by the Celtic names that prevailed among the Belgae, archeologists could readily reconcile this trans-Rhine origin according to Caesar with a Celtic identity anyway, because this happened to coincide perfectly with their ideas of an alleged Central European Hallstatt/La Tene origin. Caesar should thus be all wrong, instead the Belgae were proposed to be Celtic refugees being pushed over the Rhine by increasing Germanic pressures and expansion, rather than being of Germanic stock themselves. Indeed, unlike the Germanic people described by Tacitus, the Belgae were participants of the La Tène culture and their personal and tribal names were often Celtic. Caesar already distinguished the “Germani cisrhenani” among them: Germanic tribes that according to Caesar crossed the Rhine much earlier. Note that about 150 years later the surviving representatives of Ceasars “Germani cisrhenani” were not mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus anymore. Instead this writer claims the Tungri were among the first Germani to cross the Rhine. For really being the first the Tungri should have been the contemporaries of the Eburones, what would be irreconcilable to Caesar’s account – unless Tacitus employed a very different definition of the Germanic identity than Ceasar. Modern interpretation holds them to have crossed the rivers later, to occupy the abandoned wastelands of the Eburones (Germani cisrhenani), once these people were claimed exterminated by Caesar – again contradicted by his own account:

The name Germany, on the other hand, they say is modern and newly introduced, from the fact that the tribes which first crossed the Rhine and drove out the Gauls, and are now called Tungrians, were then called Germans.

Caesar didn’t mention the Tungrians at all, but Tacitus didn’t mention the Germani cisrhenani mentioned by Ceasar. This potential anachronism may be solved by recognizing Tacitus’ contemporary ideas about the Germanic ethnicity as very different from ours. The rebel Eburones may have been only culturally exterminated, to the effect that their impoverished descendents continued their survival at the same deplorable cultural level as elsewhere in the war-ridden Roman borderlands, thus now legitimally referred at by Tacitus as ‘Germanic.’

It has all appearance the “Germani” received their Latin name for being the brothers (~ L. germanus) of people that dwelled on the conquered hither, or Roman side of the Rhine. This sets them apart as the brothers of the Belgic “intruders”, thus being next of kin to the perceived “aliens” in Gaulish territory that the Caesar claimed for the Romans in his war against the Celtic “foe”. What was the truth behind the Roman assertion that Belgae were not indigenous? Unlike the Aquitani, that harbored another non-Celtic population, the Belgae were not subordinate in any way to the fiefs of Celtica. Neither they were directly involved in the historic Gallic sack of Rome at 390 BC and thus didn’t make a credible natural enemy of Rome. Wouldn’t Caesars claims on territories so far to the north be legally void if the Belgae were held native to this part of Gaul? And if they were native, what gave the Romans the credence that possibly they weren’t? Maybe the Belgic expansive past had something to do with it, like with the Sequani, or with the Suessiones from the neighbourhood of Soissons, possibly an even more important Belgic tribe:

That the Suessiones […] possessed a very extensive and fertile country; that among them, even in our own memory, Divitiacus, the most powerful man of all Gaul, had been king; who had held the government of a great part of these regions, as well as of Britain (Ceasar, D.B.G., 2.4)

Remarkable that Caesar could relate the veracity of this history to his people’s “own memory”. This doesn’t exactly imply an exception, and utter ignorance of all other previous whereabouts of the Belgae. The Roman picture of Celts being the original inhabitants thus deserves closer scrutiny. From Cunliffe and Koch we already know that the Celts may have spread along the Atlantic coasts. Their foothold in the northern region does not exclude a mixed population and a strong native element. Indeed, the Belgae, non-Celtic element could have originated in the neighbourhood, beyond the memory of anybody. We should assess their cultural, linguistic and ethnic position to make a comparison with the only other potential natives of the wider region we know of: the Germanic tribes.

Caesar was inclined to assign the Belgae a Germanic origin or identity, but apparently Tacitus narrowed down the criteria substantially. Even though he idealizes the physique “purity” of those he considered truly Germanic, he focused on cultural arguments to set the Germanic world apart, albeit ignoring linguistic evidence. Obviously, in their Celtic association the Belgae didn’t meet his “ideal” of cultural backwardness, at least in his time, long before the ultimate Roman withdrawal that preluded the abysmal cultural decline known as the Migration Period. Belgae claims to any Germanic identity were reduced to an ideal: “The Treverians and Nervians aspire passionately to the reputation of being descended from the Germans“.

The modern Germanic denomination is defined by language and can’t be equated to the Roman definition. Due to the Celtic influence and their cultural achievements it may have been impossible for them to appreciate the ethnic ties between Belgae and Germanic. Until today Tacitus’ approach is influential and archeologists still tend to distinguish ethnicity by a purported ability to tell a metal coin apart from a cow. But all the contrary, the traditional denomination of the Germani may involve just a subset of a single people on both sides of the Rhine.

While Ceasar reckons the Belgae essentially as Germani that adapted to the Gallic way of life, Tacitus obviously disagreed when he wrote in Germania:

“The Germans themselves I should regard as aboriginal, and not mixed at all with other races through immigration or intercourse.”

“For my own part, I agree with those who think that the tribes of Germany are free from all taint of intermarriages with foreign nations, and that they appear as a distinct, unmixed race, like none but themselves.”

Tacitus’ picture of the Germani clearly owes much to the tradition of ‘hard primitivism’ (Rives). His Germania was a political document to contrast Roman decadence with the values of the “noble savage”. The purported “purity” of race and behaviour, however, was contradicted by their strife and tribal heterogeneity. Archeology doesn’t confirm Tacitus’ presentation of a homogeneous Germanic people, nor does YDNA markers reveal genetic unity: YDNA haplogroup R1b-U106, once considered a “Germanic marker”, turned out to be dominant only in some regions of NW Europe (Low Countries, NW France, England): the subclade runs low in Scandinavia, and only measure intermediate frequencies in Germany. At low frequencies U106 could be considered widespread and applicable to almost all Germanic speaking areas, but the highest frequency zone almost exclusively fits the historic Belgae whereabouts, almost as if especially there to defy the would-be Germanic homogeneity that is commonly upheld.

Closer scrutiny reveals even Tacitus being ambiguous on the fabled Germanic homogeneous unity. The following line, when he expressed his serious concerns about the Germanic power, says it all:
“May the Gods continue and perpetuate amongst these nations, if not any love for us, yet by all means this – their animosity and hatred towards each other: since whilst the destiny of the Empire thus urges it, fortune cannot more signally befriend us, than in sowing strife amongst our foes.”

The processes towards heterogeneity are likely to have affected both Celts and the native element. Ingvaeonic features may point at a gradual language shift from Celtic to Frisian, but from a Nordwestblock perspective there might have been an intermediate stage. It could be argued that Frisian didn’t draw directly from a Celtic substratum, but instead from a heavily Celtified native element that inherited from a linguistic group more closely related to Germanic. Nordwestblock languages are described to feature an abundance of suffices already lost in Germanic, that instead follow the Celtic use of compound words. Phonetic conservatism and features like “nn” gemination, a typical doubling of consonants in toponyms often identified as ‘Nordwestblock,’ are proposed to point at tendencies that refer to a linguistic situation dating before the Celtification of Belgium and Northern Gaul. To a lesser extend West and Central Gaul may be included, even up to the Garonne. More striking are similarities in Germanic, where gemination accompanied the weakening of the glottal.

Glottalization is found in five out of the ten surviving branches of Indo-European, viz. Indic, Iranian, Armenian, Baltic, and Germanic. (Kortlandt, 1993)

This feature tends to correlate the Nordwestblock substratum geographically to the group of languages in the North European Plain rather than the Atlantic, thus to the archeological horizon that also includes the northern Dutch group, referred to by Louwe Kooijmans.

The emerging Atlantic view and the potential exclusion of the Celtic origin from the North European Plain is screaming for a new assessment that relates Celtic and Germanic from the perspective of a western contact zone. The Germanic vocabulary might owe more from the west than previously conceived. Visualized by some examples, the Cornish/Welsh word lann or llan occurs frequently in place-names. Originally meaning “land”, it gradually came to mean “churchyard” and then “church” and “parish”. But how strong this original meaning ‘land’ can be confirmed to be embedded in the Celtic language? It could have been a Belgic loan, closely related or equal to Germanic “land”. In the Atlantic view the reverse might be true.

The Dutch river mouth mentioned by Pliny the Elder was called Helinium in accusitivus, what would probably indicate a Latin river name Helinius, consistent with the Latin ending -us that generally applies to rivers. Normally, -ius instead of simply -us would imply a derivation of a region called Helinus. In Frisia numerous toponyms feature the hel element, what Clerinx translates into “low lands, marsh” and subsequently connects to Brythonic “marsh” or “estuary”. Other Celtic etymologies have been proposed, like “salt” – probably inspired by now obsolete ideas that involve a Hallstatt origin of Celtic. The Friso-Brythonic etymology does a much better job in addressing reminiscent Celtic features in Frisian, or the Ingvaeonic hemisphere as a whole. The implication would be that the -lin suffix might as well have been Germanic, distorted by Latin transcription issues. This intertwining of ancestral Celtic heritage and west Germanic loans and culture could be extended to the puzzling etymology of local goddess Nehalennia (also transcribed as Neihalennia), that now from a mixed local heritage easily translates to water-ghost (nikker ~IE *neig, to wash) of a region called Halennia – not unlike the latinized form Helinus deduced above. Since the description of the region delimited by Pliny between Helinium ac Flevum neatly corresponds to the historic region of Holland, I wonder if this is mere coincidence or that Holland indeed represent the ultimate indication of a lost Celtic heritage. This mixture could be symptomatic for the almost intangible potpourri that is might be implicated by the Nordwestblock or “Belgae” denomination. This may have been nothing but emerging West Germanic from a shared heritage.

Worse, it might be impossible at all to draw the line between the northern proto-languages of Germanic and Nordwestblock. The Proto-Germanic period is where Grimm’s Law took effect and evolved into Germanic , having time-range 700-100 B.C. generally considered to be the best shot in the dark. The length of this period resembles the High German consonant shift, globally dated 3rd to 5th until 9th century AD, thus having taken 400-600 years to complete. This very recent 100 BC date boundary for Germanic is remarkable and may reveals a huge insecurity about the Germanic origin and expansion. Much more recent split dates between groups make the assumptions involved in the Germanic genesis even more tenuous. IMO, if that 100 BC date boundary is based on the first indications of post proto-Germanic Germanic, then those first Germanic attestations may as well represent the first onset for the spread of this sound shift. Germanic sciences are traditionally hampered by an overkill of migrational mischief, and most of the ideas are 18th-20th century debris. Taken the fragmentary information of frontier tribes in consideration, the Proto-Germanic period could as well have lasted between 100BC – 500AD, or 300 BC-100 AD, and thus in an alternative grouping equally well have included conservative Nordwestblock/Belgae dialects, depending on the degree of Celtic integration already achieved in (pre-)Roman times.

If we take Cunliffe and Koch seriously, the Celtic influence along the North Sea was a lot older than conventional wisdom that stems from migrational La Tène or Hallstatt theories and the Roman interpretation: Late Bronze Age at least, in a Bronze Age Atlantic context. In the Low Countries such an unequivocal Atlantic period is very likely to be of an even older date. Some Celts might have lingered in the swamps for a longer period, but increasing continental contacts from the North German Plain and returning native styles seriously challenge the survival of an unequivocal Celtic ethnicity up to Roman times. The change from Celtic to Germanic, and especially the Ingvaeonic part, could have been much more gradual. A Celtic world strongly suggests the feasibility of an adjacent non-Celtic world, and the Low Countries is where both worlds met. It would be silly to suggest a unified Celtic world that existed since Bronze Age, but deny any consistency of a non-Celtic world in the North German Plains that was attested largely contemporaneous. A shared development at the contact zone for over at least 1000 years opens up the possibility of thorough Celtic influences on Germanic vocabularity and linguistic features in the north that ultimately were be no means confined to the Ingvaeonic hemisphere.


  • B. Cunliffe – Iron Age communities in Britain: an account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest, 2005, link
  • J.T. Koch – A Case for Tartessian as a Celtic Language, 2009, link
  • J.T. Koch – Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia, Volumes 1-5, 2006, link
  • P. Schrijver – Keltisch en de buren: 9000 jaar taalcontact,2007, link or try translate
  • H.Clerinx – Kelten en de Lage Landen, 2005 ISBN: 90-5826-324, p.78, 82
  • S. James – Exploring the World of the Celts, 1993, ISBN-13:978-0-500-27998-4, p.103,141,146
  • L P Louwe Kooijmans – An Early/Middle Bronze Age multiple burial at Wassenaar, the Netherlands, 1993, link
  • J.E. Bogaers – Over de naam van de godin Nehalennia, 1972, link
  • F. Kortlandt – General Linguistics and Indo-European Reconstruction,1993, link
  • Julius Caesar – The Gallic Wars (D.B.G.), link
  • Tacitus Germania – Translated with Introduction and Commentary by J.B. Rives, 1999, link. Try online translation here.
  • DNA-project oud hertogdom Brabant, 2009, link
  • Larmuseau et al. – Micro-geographic distribution of Y-chromosomal variation in the central-western European region Brabant, 2010

Further reading:

  • Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literature, edited by Barry Cunliffe and John T. Koch (June 2010), announced
  • M. Counihan – An Etruscan Solution to a Celtic Problem, 2009, link
  1. Gioiello Tognoni
    April 19, 2010 at 17:50

    The explication of Celt and Umbrian p- from kw- as due to Etruskan influence isn’t convincing. This is a linguistic change diffused all over the world and happened many times also from Latin to Neolatin languages (Rum. limba from Latin “lingua” presupposes the parallel b from gw-, the same in Sardinian “limba”. Rum. apa from “aqua”, Sardinian “abba” etc.) The problem could be put in a different way as an influence of substratum if we presuppose that there was a Rhaetic-Etruskan substratum in Europe and that Rhaetic-Etruskan was a relict of an ancient phase of the Indoeuropean, those R1b1* which from the Rhaetian-Etruskan fatherland peopled all Europe and Mediterranean shores after the Younger Dryas, like I think is going to be demonstrated at genetic level. See the last postings on http://www.worldfamilies.net by me and Argiedude.
    If really Etruskan “puplu” presupposes the IE *kwekwlo- the link from Rhaetian-Etruskans and Indo-Europeans should be dated to many thousands of years ago and not in historic times.

    • April 21, 2010 at 08:11

      A peculiarity of the Celtic languages is that, in some of them, a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) labiovelar consonant, conventionally written as kw, developed into a qu or hard c (k) sound. The latter development can also be observed in Greek compared to Mycenean and in Osco-Umbrian compared to Latino-Falascan. In your view this would require an enormous range of a single substratum population somehow related to Etruscan. Wouldn’t superstratum influences be more feasible? Especially now the Atlantic view on Celtic people wouldn’t strictly require the Central European population and cultural impulses like Hallstatt to be Celtic anymore.

      • Gioiello Tognoni
        April 21, 2010 at 10:47

        Rokus, I have said that this mutation is diffused all over the world as a development of a labiovelar, but if we want to think to the European field, it wouldn’t be difficult to find a Pelasgian substratum in Greece. I know that many linguists don’t link Pelasgian with Etruskan, but it isn’d said that Etruskan comes from Aegean Sea, given its links with Rhaetian, and it isn’t the remnant of a most large substratum linked with the Ancient Italian Refugium. Beyond linguistics we should have present Genetics, what I have said about the Italian origin of hg.R, at least from R1b1* to R-L51* (see the Argiedude’s map on http://www.worldfamilies.net). The links of Etruskan with Indo-European are deep and “poplu” from *kwekwlo-, if it is reliable, could be one.

  2. a/o Prof. dr. P.C.H. Schrijver
    April 19, 2010 at 19:00

    De gezichtspunten van John Koch baseren zich sterk op twee premissen die beide buitengewoon problematisch zijn:
    (1) dat Tartessisch Keltisch is; hierover is het laatste woord nog niet gezegd, maar de eerste geluiden die ik opvang stemmen overeen met mijn opvatting dat Koch dat zeker niet heeft aangetoond;
    (2) dat er een heldere relatie bestaat tussen archeologisch culturen, de verbreiding van genetische markers en taalfamilies; een naief gezichtspunt, zie Patrick Sims-Williams, Genetics, linguistics and prehistory: thinking big and thinking straight. Antiquity 72 (1998) 505-27.

    Met vriendelijke groet,
    Peter Schrijver

    • April 21, 2010 at 08:32

      Wel vraag ik mij af of Tartessisch absoluut noodzakelijk een Keltische taal moet zijn om aan te tonen dat de Atlantische hemisfeer een belangrijk centrum was voor een groep nauw verwante talen. Dit Atlantische netwerk is namelijk veel ouder. Koch, 2009:

      Barry Cunliffe, 2001, 261-310, has proposed the origins of the Celtic languages should be sought in the maritime networks of the Atlantic Zone, which reached their peak of intensity in the Late Bronze Age and then fell off sharply at the Bronze-Iron Transition (IXth-VIIth centuries BC).

      Het (Maritieme) Klokbekergebied waarin de “Atlantisch Keltische” Late Bronstijd verankerd is, omvatte bv. ook Italië. Het Tartessisch zou dus wel degelijk belangrijk bewijsmateriaal kunnen zijn voor de Kelto-Italische verspreiding en ontwikkeling – als inderdaad aangetoond kan worden dat het een verwante taal is uit diezelfde Kelto-Italische groep.

      Genetisch bewijsmateriaal heeft inderdaad veel problemen. Die kunnen het gevolg zijn van een onjuiste interpretatie, of onjuiste verwachtingen. Het interessante is dat in het geval van deze Atlantische invalshoek er sprake is van één van die zeldzame gevallen dat het genetische bewijs in overeenstemming is met wat verwacht kan worden. Dat is bijvoorbeeld heel anders voor de Germaanse wereld, waar nauwelijks enige correlatie is tussen West en Noord.

  3. Gioiello Tognoni
    April 21, 2010 at 16:21

    Rokus01 :A peculiarity of the Celtic languages is that, in some of them, a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) labiovelar consonant, conventionally written as kw, developed into a qu or hard c (k) sound. The latter development can also be observed in Greek compared to Mycenean and in Osco-Umbrian compared to Latino-Falascan. In your view this would require an enormous range of a single substratum population somehow related to Etruscan. Wouldn’t superstratum influences be more feasible? Especially now the Atlantic view on Celtic people wouldn’t strictly require the Central European population and cultural impulses like Hallstatt to be Celtic anymore.

    I have written many times in the past, when other fora were opened to me and not the only refugium of Worldfamilies, that it was clear that Hiberian celt had its origin not in central Europe but from the Italo-celtic of Italy and the most ancient Celt language is probably the “Stele di Novilara” (Italy). Then it isn’t necessary to think the Etruskan substratum in Spain but in Italy where it certainly was. Also by a Genetic point of view Spain isn’t at the origin of anything, lacking all the most ancient R-haplogroups that Italy has and having the most recent ones, from R-P312 to the indigenous R-M153 and M167. If I have understood the language of Schrijver, he puts two obstacles (hurdles) to your thinking.

    • April 21, 2010 at 17:00

      The problems Schrijver conceive are 1. the veracity of Tartessian as a Celtic language (in my opinion a Beaker origin almost 2 millenia earlier would only require Celto-Italic affiliation to bolster the Atlantic view) 2. the credibility of genetic results.

      Remember the book is not published yet and notwithstanding the reputation of Cunliffe, this book promises to strike the scientific world by lightning. I asked around, and there is a lot of high profile skepticism. I mean, this will not be World War III, but almost.

      I don’t have an opinion about the precise Italic involvement. Italy was obviously part of the Beaker network, and Italic languages are strongly related to Celtic languages. The main Celto-Italic marker seem to be P312+. I agree L51* might have a peak in northern Italy/Western Alps, but the origin of P312 rather relates to P310*, just downstream of the L51 mutation. I gather currently the P310* peak is measured in Belgium.

      • Gioiello Tognoni
        April 21, 2010 at 18:46

        I have always thought that R-L51*, gone out of Italy with the previous haplogroups, has developed out of Italy, mostly in the place nearest to Italy: the Rhine Valley and Central Europe. After of course they reached Belgium and Central-North Europe. The fact that we haven’t in Italy (or very few) R-L21 demonstrates that this subclades was born far from Italy and that the immigration from North,in spite of the Voelkerwanderungen, was very scarce.

  4. Sam
    February 13, 2012 at 07:01


    How does Z196 or any of its subclades fall into this?

    • February 13, 2012 at 15:31

      IMO this Atlantic period of the Celtic formative stage postdated the initial spread op Z196. There are some real oldies north of the Rhine, but based on the current resolution these are impossible to explain exclusively by Atlantic integration cq. push to the north. At the moment I am working on a link or two between the Paris Basin and Harz underpinning a pre-Atlantic Beaker stage that possibly apply to Z196.

  5. Ruth A. Cotto
  6. June 4, 2015 at 14:46

    Great article thanks

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