The Powers of The Celts

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  June 29, 2006 — Leave a comment

So I was reading a story about the Viking Festival in Denmark (think Renaissance Festivals except with more Vikings and overt paganism) when I came across an odd claim that I had never heard before. It had to do with Celtic women (and Vikings of course).

“Eventually, the Vikings took Celtic wives and proceeded to convert from Paganism to Christianity. They settled into family lives, which motivated them to become farmers, and teachers of poetry, music and folklore.”

Yes, thanks to Celtic wives the bloody Vikings settled down and converted. They then finally learned about farmings, music, and poetry! I wonder why I had never heard the “Celtic wives” theory of Viking decline before? But perhaps I shouldn’t mock the civilizing power of the Celts, according to scientists at the University College London the Celts were better survivors than anyone had figured.

“A new genetic survey of Y chromosomes throughout the British Isles has revealed a very different story. The Celtic inhabitants of Britain were real survivors. Nowhere were they entirely replaced by the invaders and they survive in high proportions, often 50 percent or more, throughout the British Isles, according to a study by Dr. Cristian Capelli, Dr. David B. Goldstein and others at University College London. The study, being reported today in Current Biology, was based on comparing Y chromosomes sampled throughout the British Isles with the invaders’ Y chromosomes, as represented by the present-day descendants of the Danes, Vikings (in Norway) and Anglo-Saxons (in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany).”

But if you look closely at their findings, it isn’t so much that the “Celts” survived (“Celtic” being a linguistic/cultural term), as perhaps the original neolithic population of Britain, who were “reculturalized” by “Celtic” invaders/visitors (and hence became “Celtic” for all intents and purposes).

“In a study two years ago Dr. Goldstein and colleagues established that Y chromosomes of Celtic populations were almost identical with those of the Basques…they have long been regarded as likely remnants of the first modern humans to reach Europe some 30,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic…By this chain of reasoning, the Celtic-speaking men, since genetically very close to the Basques, must also be drawn from the original Paleolithic inhabitants of Europe, and probably represent the first modern human inhabitants of Britain who settled the islands some 10,000 years ago, Dr. Goldstein said. These original Britons must later have adopted from Europe both the Celtic culture, evidence of which appears from some 3,000 years ago, and the Celtic language, which is a branch of the Indo-European language family.”

So I would guess the take-home message is never underestimate the staying power of the Celts (and in the Vikings case, particularly the Celtic women).

Jason Pitzl-Waters