AHRC grant awarded to CAWCS for joint research project on the Celtic languages

Posted on 25 March 2013
CELTS Cawcs Stela

The warrior Stela with Tartessian inscription “Abóboda I” from near Almdovar, Portugal, Early Iron Age (750-400 BC)

The University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) has been awarded a research grant of £689,167, over three years, from The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The research grant will support a 3-year research project taking place at CAWCS, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, King’s College London, Bangor University, and the National Library of Wales, on the archaeological background of the emergence of the Celtic languages in Western Europe.

Speaking about receiving the grant, Professor Dafydd Johnston, Director of CAWCS, said:

“The funding will enable us to make a substantial contribution to the understanding of the cultural heritage of Wales and the other Celtic countries. There is fierce competition for Research Council funding, and the Centre’s success in gaining a grant of this magnitude demonstrates its strong international reputation and outstanding track-record in running collaborative research projects.”

Many still believe that 'the Celts' spread from Iron Age central Europe (c. 750–100 BC) bringing Hallstatt and LaTène material culture and Celtic speech with them; so earlier eras further west are non-Celtic by definition. A previous AHRC-funded project at CAWCS, Culture and Celtic speech, showed the inadequacy of this theory for explaining the evidence in the westernmost areas. For the Iberian Peninsula in particular, the traditional model of Celtic origins simply does not work. It is known that there was more than one Celtic language in pre-Roman Iberia, but it remains an enigma as to how and when they got there.

Cunliffe's work on maritime networks and Koch's on Atlantic Europe's first written language, Tartessian, led to a shared conclusion: Celtic probably evolved from Indo-European in Atlantic Europe during the Bronze Age. For experts in various fields and the public in various countries to draw an informed conclusion about this new theory, archaeological and linguistic evidence must be drawn together and made accessible. Entitled Atlantic Europe in the Metal Ages (AEMA): questions of shared language, the projectwill produce major new resources available in print and on line for the earliest language evidence in Western Europe and its background in later prehistory.  

Led by Principal Investigator (Project Leader) Professor John T. Koch at CAWCS, with Co-Investigators Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe (University of Oxford), Professor Raimund Karl (Bangor University), and Paul Vetch (King’s College London), this project will bring together, and make available and comparable, rapidly expanding archaeological and linguistic evidence from Wales, the UK, and the other countries of Europe’s Atlantic façade.

As well as an interactive website displaying the archaeological and linguistic information on scalable maps, the project will produce new overviews of the Copper and Bronze Age in Iberia and Ireland and a series of multi-authored multidisciplinary books. A Welsh overview, Hen Fyd Iwerydd, will be launched at the National Eisteddfod. 

Project leader John Koch said of the Project:

“Prehistorians and historical linguists have a responsibility to Wales and the other Celtic countries, especially to people who speak and learn Welsh and the other Celtic languages. They want to know how, where, and when these languages emerged—what the experts know and don’t know. What are the viable models and the evidence favouring them? Otherwise, we are supporting cultural heritage with an yesterday's theory.”

Sir Barry Cunliffe, Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said of the collaborative project:

"The grant will help us to make real progress in understanding our Celtic heritage with linguists and archaeologists working closely together in a way never before possible—it’s a wonderful opportunity to make significant advances in knowledge."

The Department of Digital Humanities at King's College London, led by Co-Investigator Paul Vetch, will be responsible for creating the digital platform for the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) database and project website.

The National Library of Wales involvement with the project will be to host and maintain the project website, continuing at least three years beyond the completion of research under the AHRC grant in 2016.

The work will be further advertised by a programme of public day conferences.

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For interviews and media information, please contact the University of Wales Communications Team via communications@wales.ac.uk or 029 20 375057. For general information and frequently asked questions regarding the University, please visit www.wales.ac.uk

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