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January 16, 2021, 07:13:22 AM
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  Who is a Celt?
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Author Topic: Who is a Celt?  (Read 306 times)
Weimar Amerika
SlamDunk
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« on: January 12, 2021, 05:04:42 PM »

I've been doing a reading about pre-Roman Gaul and I came across a controversy I didn't know existed. The actual definition of Celt seems to be pretty fluid among historians, and there isn't a single standard that is accepted by even a majority of those studying the Celtic people. So I thought I'd bring the question to y'all. Who is a Celt? Were the Gauls Celts? The Galatians? The Britons?
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afleitch
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« Reply #1 on: January 12, 2021, 05:36:24 PM »

A Victorian dead end.

Genetically, Celts have a specific subset of haplogroup R1b most common in the fringes of Western Europe that cover areas where the Celtic languages are now found, but also heavily concentrated in Spain, France and most of the British Isles.
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RINO Tom
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« Reply #2 on: January 12, 2021, 05:38:07 PM »

While it could be broadly or narrowly interpreted, Celts are pretty clearly the descendants of speakers of the proto-Celtic languages, who were themselves descended from proto-Indo Europeans (and possibly proto-Italo-Celtic people in between).  If we are talking about genetics/admixture/whatever, there were obviously certain areas where Celts displaced the original Neolithic populations a lot more (e.g., places with high frequencies of R1b-L21), and places where a smaller group of Celts imposed their language on the existing Neolithic population and sort of "Celticized" people who weren't previously culturally Celtic (e.g., areas like Galatia, where haplogroups from previous populations remained in the majority).  Usually, historians simply consider a people who speak a certain language to be of that cultural group, not caring much about admixture.  If we get too caught up in the latter, we wind up distinguishing between "Greeks" and "Pelasgians," which just gets too messy.

No historian worth his or her salt would say the Gauls weren't clearly Celts.  I have seen maps where "Gauls" is labeled over modern-day France and "Britons" is over the British Isles, while simply "Celts" is over areas of Central Europe.  I think this is simply due to the notoriety and historical relevance of the previous two Celtic peoples.  It would be like labeling "Germanic Peoples" over Germany in a map of Fourth Century Europe, while labeling "Norse" over Scandinavia.  Both are Germanic peoples, but the "Norse" had separated themselves somewhat culturally by that time, and the name "Norse" became quite relevant during the Viking Age and rings a lot of bells with modern people.  More or less, the Gauls were famous enough for their wars against Rome that they got their own label ... but "Gauls" are definitely "Celts," as are "Britons."

When it comes to modern peoples, one has to rely almost exclusively on language or at least cultural traditions.  For example, many Frenchmen would carry DNA disproportionately more similar to the Ancient Gauls than the Ancient Romans, but the French are still considered a Romance (Latin/Italic) people due to their language and their culture, with only Brittany retaining a true Celtic heritage.  Additionally, while actual Celtic languages are in the minority in much of Ireland, Wales and Scotland, those countries are still largely considered "Celtic" due to a combination of self-identification and cultural affinity for Celtic traditions.
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Cath
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« Reply #3 on: January 12, 2021, 06:45:24 PM »

@ The above: haven't parts of modern-day Austria and even the Balkand been identified as having been Celtic at some point? And if so, is that the result of a nebulous definition, of migration over time?
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RINO Tom
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« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2021, 08:33:29 PM »

@ The above: haven't parts of modern-day Austria and even the Balkand been identified as having been Celtic at some point? And if so, is that the result of a nebulous definition, of migration over time?

I believe most experts think the Proto-Celts broke away into their own separate group (possibly/probably a split with the Italics who went south) in an area around modern day Austria, making that a sort of “Celtic homeland.”  I believe there has been a sort of “Celtic revival” in Austria in modern times that looks to celebrate this, being born in the decades after World War II as fewer and fewer Austrians identify as ethically German, and therefore Germanic.  I think I saw on Wikipedia once that around 80% of Austrians simply identified as “Germans” before WWII, while around 7% or something do today.  Obviously, the nation of Austria would trace its roots, for all intents and purposes, to Germanic founders and Germanic culture, though I think some Austrian (and Bavarian) traditions have always had a Celtic influence in some places?  Not sure.

I’m not an expert on this, either, but I think it’s harder to look for “Celtic DNA” (to the extent such a thing exists) in that region because it was much easier to identify other haplogroups (like R1b-L21) specifically with the movement of Celtic populations, explaining why it’s concentrated in Ireland, Britain and Northwest France, but it’s a lot harder to distinguish the makeup of Austria and determine how many of the original Celtic inhabitants were displaced/mixed with Germanic migrants.  Then, of course, there are large chunks of Europe who aren’t mainly descended from ANY Indo European groups, having a lot more admixture from Neolithic Farmers, and Austria is significantly closer to where that gets to be more of the case than even Central Germany.  Lot of Slavic admixture, too.
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Weimar Amerika
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« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2021, 09:45:49 PM »

@ The above: haven't parts of modern-day Austria and even the Balkand been identified as having been Celtic at some point? And if so, is that the result of a nebulous definition, of migration over time?
Yes, in the last few centuries BC the Alps were inhabited by various Celtic peoples. Illyria (what is now Croatia, Bosnia and bits of Serbia) was inhabited by various Celtic groups like the Boii and Volcae at least into the third century BC.

The Galatians and the Serdi went even farther east, settling in Anatolia and Thrace respectively. But the extent to which the Serdi, Boii, and Volcae can be considered "Celtic" is up to debate. The literate peoples they encountered seemed to imply that they were at the least.
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SecularGlobalist
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« Reply #6 on: January 12, 2021, 09:59:47 PM »

Basically, anyone who was non-Roman, and lived to the slight Northwest of the Italian peninsula. 
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Statilius the Epicurean
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« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2021, 10:24:56 PM »
« Edited: January 12, 2021, 10:41:53 PM by Statilius the Epicurean »

I believe most experts think the Proto-Celts broke away into their own separate group (possibly/probably a split with the Italics who went south) in an area around modern day Austria, making that a sort of “Celtic homeland.”  

That was a 19th century hypothesis linking the ethnogenesis of the Celtic language with the Hallstatt culture but it has pretty much been decisively refuted as relying on misreadings of Greco-Roman authors and tenuous identifications between archaeological and linguistic evidence. We don't really know where the Celtic Urheimat was, but somewhere in France (centrally-located for our attested spread of Celtic languages, fits with what later Roman authors say) or northern Italy (where our earliest inscriptions are and closest to its nearest linguistic neighbour, Italic) are reasonable.

As for genetics, the last major replacement wave in western Europe, that of the bronze metallurgists from the Ukrainian steppe carrying the aforementioned R1b, happened somewhere around a thousand years before the expansion of the Celtic language (maybe). Possibly it can be identified with proto-Indo-European, but even this shouldn't be taken too far because for example modern Basque men have R1b at 87.1%, and they obviously don't speak an Indo-European language. The relationship between genetics, language and material culture in prehistorical societies is waaaaaaay too complicated and obscure for anyone to have figured out a model of how they interfaced.
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RINO Tom
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« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2021, 12:49:07 PM »

^ Obviously, we need to be careful to not oversimplify or anything, and there are exceptions and stuff.  There was indeed R1b in Europe before Indo European invasions/migrations, and it is my understanding that we can really only identify certain haplogroups somewhat confidently with specific cultures if it is a certain subclade.  For example, I already mentioned R1b-L21 for Celtic peoples migrating to the British Isles and Ireland, and I believe we can also be very confident that R1b-U106 is a clear marker of Western Germanic tribes.

Another thing is that haplogroups only trace an original male ancestor.  A plurality of Finnish men still carry haplogroups generally associated with Proto-Uralic peoples, but autosomal studies show that Finns, on average, have very high levels of Indo European admixture.  After all, if Uralic Bob marries a Germanic woman thousands of years ago in Finland, and their son marries a Germanic woman and this process continues for ten generations, Bob's contribution to his male ancestor will be less than 1%.

However, it is also my understanding that we can really only classify "admixture" confidently into broader categories, colloquially...

- Hunter Gatherers who were in Europe for over 8,000 years
- Neolithic Farmers who came to Europe from Anatolia shortly after
- "Indo Europeans" who invaded Europe and spread their languages, eventually involving to the majority of cultures in Europe today (with exceptions like Basque or Uralic peoples)

I remember seeing one time that the largest admixture for the first category is around the Baltics and Finland, the second is highest in Sardinia and Basque Country and the third is generally higher in Northern Europe.  As you mentioned, it gets complicated because Basque Peoples pretty clearly have some of the highest levels of Neolithic Farmer DNA, but they also have some of the highest rates of R1b.  I think experts are still learning. Tongue

I love this stuff, though, haha.
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Weimar Amerika
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« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2021, 04:20:33 PM »

^ Obviously, we need to be careful to not oversimplify or anything, and there are exceptions and stuff.  There was indeed R1b in Europe before Indo European invasions/migrations, and it is my understanding that we can really only identify certain haplogroups somewhat confidently with specific cultures if it is a certain subclade.  For example, I already mentioned R1b-L21 for Celtic peoples migrating to the British Isles and Ireland, and I believe we can also be very confident that R1b-U106 is a clear marker of Western Germanic tribes.

Another thing is that haplogroups only trace an original male ancestor.  A plurality of Finnish men still carry haplogroups generally associated with Proto-Uralic peoples, but autosomal studies show that Finns, on average, have very high levels of Indo European admixture.  After all, if Uralic Bob marries a Germanic woman thousands of years ago in Finland, and their son marries a Germanic woman and this process continues for ten generations, Bob's contribution to his male ancestor will be less than 1%.

However, it is also my understanding that we can really only classify "admixture" confidently into broader categories, colloquially...

- Hunter Gatherers who were in Europe for over 8,000 years
- Neolithic Farmers who came to Europe from Anatolia shortly after
- "Indo Europeans" who invaded Europe and spread their languages, eventually involving to the majority of cultures in Europe today (with exceptions like Basque or Uralic peoples)

I remember seeing one time that the largest admixture for the first category is around the Baltics and Finland, the second is highest in Sardinia and Basque Country and the third is generally higher in Northern Europe.  As you mentioned, it gets complicated because Basque Peoples pretty clearly have some of the highest levels of Neolithic Farmer DNA, but they also have some of the highest rates of R1b.  I think experts are still learning. Tongue

I love this stuff, though, haha.
Yeah applying haplogroups to historical cultural groups can get hairy. Still fascinating stuff.
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Statilius the Epicurean
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« Reply #10 on: January 13, 2021, 05:49:08 PM »
« Edited: January 13, 2021, 05:52:45 PM by Statilius the Epicurean »

For example, I already mentioned R1b-L21 for Celtic peoples migrating to the British Isles and Ireland

Like I said, this genetic marker colonised the British Isles (Ireland is part of btw) more than 1,000 years before we have any evidence of a Celtic language existing. There is no reason to link the two. People have tried in a lately fashionable theory that the Beaker people were proto-Celts but it relies on comparing different sets of linguistic, genetic and archaeological data that are thousands of years apart from each other and suffers all sorts of problems.

I don't think there's any reason to expect paleogenetics to have anything to do with Celtic ethnic identity as we understand it today or previously in the historical era. R1b-L21 is just evidence of Bronze Age trade and migration patterns for societies that have been lost to prehistory.
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Filuwaúrdjan
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« Reply #11 on: January 13, 2021, 06:38:10 PM »
« Edited: January 13, 2021, 09:20:03 PM by Filuwaúrdjan »

It's all a little bit messy. Essentially the 19th century thesis about a broadly homogeneous set of Celtic Peoples that had a common material culture and language and which were related by blood and easily distinguishable from (say) Germanic or Iberian peoples has been discredited, but (and this is important) so has the revisionist view that argued that the concept was a pure creation of 19th century Romantic Nationalists and that the term should be withdrawn from use. There does appear to have been a broad cultural and linguistic zone in the North West of Europe where languages that we would classify as 'Celtic' were spoken*, it is clearly the case that there was if not a common material culture then at least a continuum, and there is plenty of evidence of sociological and political commonalities: to simplify things rather grossly, we're talking of highly organised societies with strong social stratification, significant towns and even cities, a large nobility and an authoritarian political culture revolving around kinship. We also have to reckon with the fact that Classical writers were quite certain that such a thing existed. We might as well use the word 'Celtic' to describe all this, as its a perfectly fine term and no other will really do.

Where it does become all rather messy again, though, is that not all of these features were necessarily shared by all of the peoples in the zone in question. In particular, the exact boundary between 'Celtic'/'Gaulish' and 'Germanic' peoples was extremely unclear: the famous example is that of the Cimbri and the Teutones, but you also have the case of the Marcomanni (residents of what later became part of Bohemia) who were variously described first as one and then the other. Greatly complicating the matter is the fact that Roman writers tended to make the distinction based on politics and wealth rather than on the cultural factors that have mattered more in modern times: if the people in question were organised in an authoritarian manner and were wealthy, then they were 'Gauls', if they were more 'democratic' and materially poor, then they were 'Germans'. But it is probably better to come to terms with the ambiguity than to wrestle with it. Writing about a later period (his beloved Early Middle Ages), J.R.R. Tolkien argued that 'Celtic', 'Germanic' and 'Romance' culture, ancestry, polities and influences were (and are) so thoroughly mixed across the North West of Europe that to even try to make firm connections between 'race' and culture, to draw fixed and sure lines on a map, is to engage in what amounts to scholarly malpractice.

*Though it needs to be noted that the differences between 'P' and 'Q' 'Celtic' are beyond vast and that shoehorning the latter into this cultural zone - except as an example of quite how far into unlikely territories its influence spread - probably is an example of questionable 19th century Romantic enthusiasm. So when talking of 'Celtic' in this sense, we're talking near-exclusively of 'P' Celtic, even if a lot of this does appear to have applied also to societies that spoke 'Q' Celtic languages...
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Filuwaúrdjan
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« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2021, 06:41:43 PM »

The relationship between genetics, language and material culture in prehistorical societies is waaaaaaay too complicated and obscure for anyone to have figured out a model of how they interfaced.

Exactly so, yes.
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