Uncovering the Past: Irish Ancestry, Queen Nefertiti, Honey Locust Tree and more!

Cara Schulz —  March 22, 2016 — 5 Comments

As some Pagans and Heathens attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Ireland was inhabited earlier than thought…
A knee bone from a brown bear had been sitting in the National Museum of Ireland since the 1920s. What archaeologists didn’t know was that this bone would prove Ireland was inhabited in the Palaeolithic era. The bone has cut marks on it indicative of butchering and was originally found in the Alice and Gwendoline Cave in County Clare. Archaeologists date the bone to 12,500 BCE. Until this find, the oldest known human evidence in Ireland was set at 8000 BCE.

County Clare, Ireland [Photo Credit: Christine Matthews / Wikimedia]

County Clare, Ireland [Photo Credit: Christine Matthews / Wikimedia]

…but the Irish aren’t Celtic?
Ten years ago a pub owner in Antrium, Northern Ireland found the remains of three humans buried behind his property. The remains turned out to be a burial dating back to 2000 BCE, which makes them hundreds of years older than the oldest artifacts generally considered to be Celtic. DNA evidence from these bones revealed another fact. These are the ancestors of modern Irish people, and they are not Celtic.

Traditional theory has held that the Celts, who came from the continental European countries of Switzerland, Austria and Germany, invaded Ireland between 1000 BCE and 500 BCE. These Celtic invaders were thought to be the ancestors of modern Irish.

Instead, the genetic roots of today’s Irish existed in Ireland long before the Celts arrived. In fact, it may be that the Irish exported their culture to central Europe, where the Celts lived, rather than the other way around. It also appears Ireland was tied more to Spain and Portugal, through their DNA, culture, language, and religion, than to Central Europe.

In addition to changing how scholars view Celtic and Irish cultures, this new finding may change how modern Pagans view themselves,  their ancestors,  and their religion.

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

More Evidence Found in Search for Queen Nefertiti
In July of last year, UK archaeologist Nicholas Reeves theorized that there is another tomb hidden behind the walls of Tut’s burial chamber. His theory was greeted with skepticism, but after closer study of the tomb, Egyptian officials invited Reeves and Hirokatsu Watanabe, a Japanese radar specialist, to perform a radar scan of the west and north walls of Tut’s tomb. Initial results showed promise that there was another chamber behind the north wall.

Now the final results of the scans are in: not only is there a hidden chamber, there are what appears to be metallic and organic objects in the chamber.

So what, or who, is behind the wall? Some Egyptologists say it could be Queen Nefertiti. The tomb and Tut’s grave goods and funerary mask appear to have been made for a woman. Not only was Nefertiti probably Tut’s step-mother, the orientation of the tomb was laid out for a Queen, and the Queen who recently predeceased Tut was Nefertiti.

Finding Nefertiti could answer many questions about a turbulent time in Egyptian history and religion. Was Nefertiti not only a Queen, but a Pharaoh? And did she continue a monotheistic form of religion or revert back to polytheism?

Cherokee Farm Sacred Honey Locust Tree
Biologists now believe the Cherokee were “farming” honey locust trees centuries earlier than any form of agriculture was thought to exist in the United States.

Biologist Robert Warren says, “While I was doing field work in Southern Appalachia, I noticed that whenever I saw a honey locust, I could throw a rock and hit a Cherokee archaeological site. I knew that, in the late Pleistocene era, the main source of dispersal for honey locusts was megafauna such as mastodons. But mastodons disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. You’d expect plant species that relied strictly on extinct megafauna for seed dispersal would only exist in small, remnant populations.”

The Cherokee had a strong motivation to plant and care for honey locust trees. Not only were they a source of sugar and wood for weapons, the tree has religious value. One myth tells of the God Thunder and his son Lightening. Thunder heard a boy was looking for him and was claiming to be his son. Thunder had the boy brought to him and asked him to sit on a blanket under a honey locust tree. When the boy wasn’t hurt by the long honey locust thorns under the blanket, Thunder knew the boy was his son Lightening.

[Photo Credit: Kevmin / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Kevmin / Wikimedia]

All Dogs Go To Heaven (in Siberia)
The remains of dogs have been found in an ancient cemetery at Lake Baikal, Siberia. The dogs were buried between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago and were buried in a similar manner as the humans they were buried alongside. Some of the dogs were buried with decorative collars and had other grave goods, such as spoons. The significance of this find is that the people of this time thought the dogs had souls and would join their owners in the afterlife.

Cara Schulz

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Cara Schulz is a journalist and author living in Minnesota with her husband and cat. She has previously written for PAGAN+politics, PNC-Minnesota, and Patheos. Her work has appeared in several books by Bibliotheca Alexandrina and she's the author of Martinis & Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping and (Almost) Foolproof Mead Making. She loves red wine, camping, and has no tattoos.
  • Chas S. Clifton

    Re. the Irish, I think it is common among archaeologists to think that the area was resettled after the ice receded by people who walked from the more ice-free Iberian peninsula. Sea levels were lower, so they could travel easily from what is today France to England to Ireland.

    Now who came later? That is still worth investigating.

  • Folcwald

    Celtic is not a genetic marker. It is a linguistic and cultural identity. Unless someone has decided that Irish is no longer a Celtic language (which would be as unbelievable a scientific discovery as the discovery that human beings are not mammals but fungus) the Irish are still Celtic.

  • Jules Morrison

    I recall reading this is the same story as in the British mainland. The people thought to be pre-celtic inhabitants swept away by celtic invaders were shown to be in fact, the ancestors of the modern population. It seems that the change over was more about a very catchy culture, than an invasion.

    • AndrasArthen

      Another possibility is that, rather than being “pre-Celtic,” the earlier inhabitants may have been “proto-Celtic,” and much more closely related to the “invaders” than previously considered, which might result in a more or less continued stream of inhabitants having a very similar genetic makeup. The designation of “Celtic” is a relatively modern and fairly arbitrary one. Today, it is primarily defined linguistically (as is the term “proto-Celtic”), but in the distant past that distinction may have been moot: we don’t really know what language(s) those ancient people spoke. Genetic mapping may have a great deal more to say on this subject in the next decade.

  • Franklin_Evans

    Asking, not asserting or opining:

    In the reading I’ve done, the Celts we know in modern times can trace back in all three ways — language, culture, genetics — to Asia Minor. The red hair marker, for example, was introduced from them. My heritage is Jewish Diaspora and Balkan Slavic, I have two red-haired siblings (my motivation for looking into all this). So, too, were the bagpipes, which they “acquired” from interactions and trade with North African cultures (where the instrument is thought to originate) while in Asia Minor, also a motivation because of my close participation in and passion for Balkan music and dance. The bagpipes are ubiquitous (in varying forms) throughout the European continent, and correlate to the Celtic migration through it. Anyone interested in such trivia may read up on the Balkan form of it called the gajda.

    Then, of course, is their name, said to originally be the Greek keltoi.

    These are trivial points for most, I would expect; they interest me for very personal reasons. Was my reading accurate, or is there a more accurate and reliable set of sources to which I should be looking?