Ground-breaking research sheds light on true origin of Celtic languages

Posted on 13 June 2011

Speakers of the ‘Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone’ project

The ‘Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone’ project, based at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth, held its third annual forum at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff on Saturday 4 June.

An audience of over a hundred heard experts presenting cutting-edge research in the fields of archaeology, genetics and linguistics. Project leader Professor John Koch began by setting out the implications of his ground-breaking work on the Tartessian inscriptions of the south-west Iberian Peninsula, dating back as far as the 8th century BC, which he argues to be the earliest attested Celtic language.

This evidence suggests that the Celtic languages evolved, not in central Europe as traditionally thought, but in the west along the Atlantic façade. Connectivity in that region during the Bronze Age and Neolithic was explored by archaeologists Stuart Needham, Catriona Gibson and Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, emphasising the importance of seaways and metalworking technologies in the spread of shared cultural traditions and language(s).

The potential contribution of genetics to the study of historic populations was considered by Professor Sir Walter Bodmer of Oxford University, leader of the People of the British Isles Project, and Professor Mark Jobling of Leicester University. Dating genetic diversity is still problematic, but it is anticipated that developments in the use of ancient DNA will provide evidence of population movements within the region in question.

Interdisciplinary approaches are essential to move research forward in this field, and it was clear from the discussion at the end of the day that the project is drawing together collaborations which are beginning to produce exciting synergies.

Papers from the project’s first forum were published in Celtic from the West, edited by Barry Cunliffe and John Koch (Oxbow, 2010), and papers from last year’s forum held at Oxford are due to be published later this year. For John Koch’s work on the Iberian Peninsula inscriptions see his volume Tartessian 2, just published by CAWCS.


For more information about the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS):
For press and media information regarding the University of Wales, please contact Tom Barrett, Communications Officer, University of Wales:


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