Book of the year nominee sheds new light on origin of Celts

Posted on 26 January 2012

From left: Dafydd Johnston (CAWCS), Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe (Oxford), Prof. John T Koch (CAWCS), Dr David Parsons (CAWCS), Professor Stephen Oppenheimer (Oxford), Professor Raimund Karl (Bangor), Dr Graham Isaac (NUI Galway), Ellen Royrvik (Oxford)

A pioneering new book which sheds light on the origin of Celts has been nominated for the Current Archaeology Awards 2012 Book of the Year category.

Celtic from the West, co-edited by Professor John T Koch of the University of Wales and Sir Barry Cunliffe of Oxford University, explores the novel idea that the Celts originated in the Atlantic Zone during the Bronze Age.

This book is approached from various perspectives from which archaeology, genetics and philology are employed to lend weight to this theory.

It was long thought that Celtic-speaking peoples first appeared in west-central Europe in the fifth or sixth century BC, but this daring volume argues a radically different case.

In a move sure to inspire lively debate, Professor Koch and Sir Cunliffe argue that Celts and the Celtic language in fact arose among Bronze Age traders with Eastern Mediterranean contacts and spread from Iberia to Orkney as a commercial lingua franca.

The book also aims to bring to an English-language readership some of the rapidly unfolding and too often neglected evidence of the pre-Roman peoples and languages of the western Iberian Peninsula.

Speaking of the nomination, Professor Koch said:

“When hearing that Celtic From the West had been nominated, I was very surprised.

“I’m not an archaeologist, though I did the subject as an undergraduate and have retained an interest and tried to keep up.

“There has always been an important archaeological strand in the research projects I have led at CAWCS since beginning here in 1998.  

“The nomination is a boost for the Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone (ABrAZo) Project, because it’s right in our core areas.”

Celtic from the West was a concept developed from a multidisciplinary conference held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth in December 2008.

As well as the 11 chapters, the book includes 45 distribution maps and a further 80 illustrations, which were prepared by Dr Martin Crampin of the University of Wales.

Both the book and the conference mark the launch of a multi-year research initiative undertaken by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS): Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone (ABrAZo).

Professor John Koch is a Senior Fellow and Project Leader of the Ancient Britain and Atlantic Zone Project at CAWCS.

Sir Barry Cunliffe CBE is Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University’s School of Archaeology.

You can vote for Celtic from the West in this year’s Current Archeology Awards Book of the Year competition by clicking on the following link: - voting will be open until Friday 17 February, and the winners for all categories will be announced on the 2nd and 3rd of March at the University of London’s Senate House.


Notes to Editors:


(Archaeology) Barry Cunliffe; Raimund Karl; Amílcar Guerra; (Genetics) Brian McEvoy & Daniel Bradley; Stephen Oppenheimer; Ellen Rrvik; (Language & Literature) Graham Isaac; David Parsons; John T. Koch; Philip Freeman; Dagmar S. Wodtko. 384p, 83 b/w illus, 39 colour & b/w maps (Oxbow Books and Celtic Studies Publications 2010)

Review excerpt by Colin Renfrew – 2011 Macdonald Institute for Archealogical Research

“Overall this is a refreshing volume, which exposes the weakness of some earlier assumptions, and opens the way to a re-assessment of important aspects of the prehistory of western Europe. It may have wider implications also for Indo-European linguistics, as the contribution of Isaac perhaps revealingly indicates. It is possible that the Celtic languages developed earlier than has hitherto been realised, as the recent study by Gray and Atkinson (2003) undoubtedly suggests. I predict that the molecular genetic evidence, when the data from ancient DNA are added to the material reviewed here, will also offer some new insights. The book is handsomely produced, with excellent maps and illustrations prepared by Martin Crampin. It illustrates clearly how linguistic evidence can have a direct impact upon archaeological thinking — and perhaps also how the archaeological evidence might influence historical linguistics.”





For more information on the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies please go to:

For press and media information, please contact Tom Barrett, Communications Officer, University of Wales:

The order in the photo from the left: Dafydd, Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe (Oxford, my co-editor on Celtic from the West), me, Dr David Parsons (CAWCS), Professor Stephen Oppenheimer (Oxford), Professor Raimund Karl (Bangor), Dr Graham Isaac (NUI Galway), Ellen Royrvik (Oxford), Professor Daniel Bradley (trinity College Dublin).



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