The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice

Posted on 9 October 2015

With its first episode aired on Tuesday evening, a new three-part documentary series from the BBC follows anthropologist Professor Alice Roberts and archaeologist Neil Oliver going in search of the Celts - one of the world's most mysterious ancient civilisations.

The first episode in the series looked at the origins of the Celts in the Alps of central Europe, and Professor John Koch, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Study (CAWCS), worked with the BBC, contributing to the programme.

Koch, presenter Professor Alice Roberts, and a BBC crew filmed for three days in south Portugal for a segment on Koch’s recent research on the ancient Tartessian inscriptions of the region. With a firm date for these monuments in the mid 7th century BC, they are now widely recognized as containing the earliest written Celtic yet discovered.

His research is part of a 3-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) entitled Atlantic Europe in the Metal Ages (AEMA): questions of shared language. The AEMA project, based at CAWCS and led by Koch, is presently looking closely at these monuments and other evidence supporting the new theory that the Celtic languages emerged in the Atlantic region as early as the Bronze Age.

This new approach challenges the traditional view of Celtic origins in west-central Europe during the Iron Age (about 800 BC).

Speaking about this new theory, Koch said:

“It is especially important in Wales, where a Celtic language remains widely used, that we take a lead in new ideas about when and where these languages emerged; it could be closer to here than we’ve been taught to believe.”

The BBC series coincides with a special exhibition at the British Museum - Celts: Art and Identity. As part of the exhibition a panel discussion, In search of the Celts: beyond art, language and genetics, will take place on the 16th October at 6.30pm in the BP Lecture Theatre at the Museum.

Chaired by his AEMA-project co-investigator Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe of Oxford, John Koch will join an interdisciplinary panel and discuss how the notion of Celticity has been applied to numerous fields including art, culture, archaeology and even genetics. They will examine the evidence from each field, and shine a light on the conflicting perspectives they often present.

Further information about the event, and how to book tickets can be found on the British Museum’s website

Following this, as part of the AEMA project, a one-day forum entitled Beaker People, Archaeogenetics & Celtic Originswill be held on Saturday the 31st of October at The Drwm, National Library of Wales. Further information about the event, including a programme for the day and how to register can be found on the project’s website -

The first episode of the BBC series The Celts: blood iron and sacrifice can be viewed again on iPlayer here

The second episode in the series airs on Tuesday the 13th October at 9.00pm on BBC 2.


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