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Science

The Irish Not of Celtic Origin? 109

schwit1 writes: The discovery of a burial site in Ireland has thrown into doubt all theories concerning the Celtic origins of the Irish. "'The DNA evidence based on those bones completely upends the traditional view,' said Barry Cunliffe, an emeritus professor of archaeology at Oxford who has written books on the origins of the people of Ireland. DNA research indicates that the three skeletons found behind McCuaig's are the ancestors of the modern Irish and they predate the Celts and their purported arrival by 1,000 years or more. The genetic roots of today's Irish, in other words, existed in Ireland before the Celts arrived." The article is quite detailed, and outlines the overall scientific problem of the Celts: [namely that it] is now quite unclear who they were, where they came from, and where they went. In related news: Scientists have found new evidence of a human presence in Ireland as far back as 12,500 years ago.
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The Irish Not of Celtic Origin?

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  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @09:51AM (#51752559)
    From TFS:

    DNA research indicates that the three skeletons found behind McCuaig's are...

    Anyone else read this description and think it sounds like some sort of "mob hit" or something? "Yeah, those three skeletons we found over there behind Jim's house...."

    Actually, now that I clicked on the link to see TFA, I see that McCuaig's is a pub. Now I'm guessing the remnants of a prehistoric barfight....

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Are the leg bones hollow ?

      • by Chas ( 5144 )

        No, but they found an intact liver, thrice normal size and completely turned to stone. And they think it happened before death.

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      And that's why the pub's owner at first called the police and not the palaeontologists.
  • Kiss me... (Score:4, Funny)

    by OakDragon ( 885217 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @09:54AM (#51752589) Journal
    ... I brutally displaced the Irish!
  • The simple truth (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @10:14AM (#51752759) Journal

    Humans are mutts.

    • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @12:04PM (#51753907)

      Humans are mutts.

      Agreed.

      And the problem seems to me here to be more one of terminology. Once you clear that up, this finding isn't surprising at all.

      It's also wrapped up in the so-called "etymological fallacy," where we assume a word must mean the same think as the root it might have come from thousands of years ago. But meanings change over time. And so do cultures.

      The word "Celtic" comes from words used by Greeks and Romans to describe a group of people who inhabited central Europe and France. When you look at these ancient texts by Greeks and Romans, they use completely different terms to describe the inhabitants of the British Isles. The earliest Greek terms refer to the Pretannikai nesoi ("Pretannic Isles"), which is the root of our word "Britannic." Roman sources often differentiate between "Celts" and "Britons."

      Most of the people who were the original "Celts" in Roman and Greek terminology still inhabit various parts of central Europe and France. But they don't call themselves "Celtic."

      Instead, at some point the term floated westward. Some of this may have been actual migration of Celtic peoples, but undoubtedly some of it was simply a linguistic process of progressively referring to the people outside of the "civilized world" as "Celtic." The "Celts" and the "Gauls" were originally the people outside of Roman territory to the North and West, but once those regions were assimilated (with the native populations), it makes sense that the "new Celts" would become those "barbarians" outside of the Roman regions.

      Fast-forward quite a few centuries, and you have modern narratives of Irish and Celtic history being created, along with an impulse to create a separate identity from the English (and their associations first with Romans then with French). So, whoever is living in these parts of the British Isles come to identify as "Celtic," not because they actually know they are descended from the original "Celtic people." Even Wikipedia clearly understood this long before this new find supposedly upended all previous theories: there are separate articles for the original Celtic people [wikipedia.org] vs. the modern "Celtic" idea [wikipedia.org]. The latter article clearly notes: "The concept of modern Celtic identity evolved during the course of the 19th-century...."

      Yes, there have been many who have tried to posit connections between the ancient Celtic peoples of continental Europe and ancestors of modern Irish, etc. But those theories often had little evidence associated with them. Even linguists often debate how much the so-called insular Celtic languages [wikipedia.org] are related to the actual languages used by the "Celtic peoples" on the continent that the Greeks and Romans actually called "Celtic." (The "insular Celtic languages" are the only ones still spoken today, and the evidence from the morphology of extinct Continental ones is pretty scant, so it's hard to judge the detailed relationships. Also, it should be noted that if there were any migrations at all of actual Celtic continental peoples to the British Isles during historical times, any commonalities could be due to such contact, even if there was a pre-existing culture and language already in Ireland.)

      Anyhow, there's lots to all of this -- but the point is that there are at least three different meanings to the word "Celtic": (1) the actual group of people the Romans and Greeks referred to in Continental Europe, whom the Romans and Greeks viewed as distinct from the Britons, (2) the modern "Celtic" languages, which mostly seem more related to each other (and confined to the islands) than to other extinct ancient languages, and (3) the modern concept of "Celtic" culture, which tends to be associated with Ireland and neighboring regions.

      Anyone who knows anything about ancient history realiz

      • Next you'll tell me the Romans weren't conquered by long black haired brooding types smoking cloves pondering the meaning of it all while bards sing in low guttural tones. How else can you explain the fall of the Roman Empire? ;^)

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        Since you seem to know a lot about it and I just finished reading Caesar's "Conquest of Gaul", I'm curious where all these "Celts" came from.

        It seems that a lot of the problems the Romans had in Gaul, whether during Caesar's campaign or in the Cimbrian wars involved mass migrations of peoples from Germanic areas. These people seem like they were displaced from somewhere and their movement through fairly well settled areas set off lots of conflict.

        I think Caesar himself implied that the Veneti had a lot of

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        That's what the words have meant for a couple hundred years now

        There's a mode of language usage you're not taking in account. People often choose their terminology precisely because of the voodoo freight it imports into the mind of the undiscriminating listener. Break the mystic bond between mystic Celtic tradition and the modern understanding of Celtic culture, for many the word loses its essential appeal.

        While there is a narrow modern sense of Celtic culture minus the mystic Celtic varnish, I don't think

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      This is the big thing.

      A lot of people are getting excited about genetic lineages these days, chiefly because we just recently got to where we can do them, and are thus finding out all sorts of interesting new things.

      However, could you figure out someone is an "American" via genetics? If someone comes along 500 years from now, hits a graveyard, and discovers that most of the inhabitants genetic material came from West Africa, or from Eastern Europe, would it be reasonable for them to extrapolate that Amer

  • by AntronArgaiv ( 4043705 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @10:20AM (#51752839)

    That the oldest Irishman should be found buried behind a pub.

    Happy (belated) St. Paddy's Day, sir!

  • Come now! ANYONE who has ever read the Táin knows that the Tuatha Dé Danann defeated the Fir Bolg for control of the island! :D SDLeary
    • I agree with it not being surprising. Irish lore ends up a lot like LOTR lore where "first" is really "first except for the people here in he age before we got here" and iterate on that theme for a while.
      • by Sique ( 173459 )
        You got it in reverse. LotR closely follows the tradition of Irish (and even more that of Welsh) lore.
        • Except for the fact that the tradition itself involves ignoring inconvenient facts from the past.
        • by epine ( 68316 )

          "First nations" amounts to "last preliterates".

          Once you record the names of the people you raped, pillaged, and kicked in the nuts (not necessarily unlike a taste of the victim's own unrecorded medicine applied to the penultimate preliterates) innocence is immortalized.

          As cynical as that sounds, I'm actually in favour of breaking the chain by having some conqueror in the long chain voluntarily choose to make amends. There are no innocents. Until some transgressor makes their repentance not depend upon the

    • Doesn't this indicate that the Fir Bolg weren't wiped out and that their descendants are alive and well in modern Ireland?

      • Doesn't this indicate that the Fir Bolg weren't wiped out and that their descendants are alive and well in modern Ireland?

        That's pretty much the only hypothesis that makes any damn sense.

        Celtic languages are Indo-European languages. Starting in 4000 BCE or so the Indo-Europeans conquered a huge swathe of the world, including Bangladesh, Ireland, and Sweden. If the various conquering Indo-European tribes had a policy of extermination one would expect it to be a wee bit harder to tell those groups apart.

    • by Langalf ( 557561 )
      I am thinking the Tuatha Dé Danann (Aos Sí) ARE the ancient Irish, and the legends were more based on fact than people realize.
    • by tnk1 ( 899206 )

      And the Milesians defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann.

      I mean really, did anyone actually think the Celts were the first people on Ireland? The stories of the Irish themselves suggest that there was someone who was there first.

  • by RivenAleem ( 1590553 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @10:34AM (#51752995)

    We've been invaded so many times: The Celts, The Normans, The British. Every time loads of them settled here and ended up "Becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves" as the saying goes. So who got here first, and why are people so determined to invade us?

  • by ichthus ( 72442 )
    Well, duh. The Celts weren't known for living under trees, hoarding gold and granting wishes to their would-be captors.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The most interesting thing about this discovery is how it puts the concept of "natives", not just in Ireland, but around the world into question.

    There are significant political and social consequences relating to this, obviously.

    In North America, many so-called "natives" (despite many having a majority-European or even a majority-African ancestry) receive preferential treatment and financial support from governments and other organizations.

    Yet the more we learn about the Clovis culture [wikipedia.org] and the Beothuk cultu [wikipedia.org]

    • by 0a100b ( 456593 )

      [...] Their claim to the land starts to look tenuous, or at least no stronger than that of any other later-wave migrants to North America.

      Following your logic illegal immigration (to the US) should not be illegal; these migrants are just part of newer wave whose claim to the land is at least as strong as all waves that came before. Including the one that brought so many Europeans and Africans.

    • by SpeZek ( 970136 )

      They get special treatment and financial support because they were, quite recently, the victims of terrible human rights violations; and in some cases, still are. Those violations have a trickle-down effect. The current generation, even if not victimized directly, is still disadvantaged by their ancestry.

      Further, on the one hand, you suggest that our standards of decency are wrong-minded (that we should not provide support to these people) but on the other subtly judge their ancestors by those same standard

  • Nonsense (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @10:57AM (#51753251)

    The discovery of a burial site in Ireland has thrown into doubt all theories concerning the Celtic origins of the Irish

    The Celts, according most thinking on the subject, originated in Central Europe or there abouts some time in the bronze age, something like 1200BC. The earliest evidence of humans in Ireland, according to the BBC article quoted in the OP says:

    Since the 1970s, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Ireland has been the hunter-gatherer settlement of Mount Sandel on the banks of the River Bann, County Derry, which dates to 8,000 years ago.

    - we now have evidence of humans even earlier than that. So, it was already obvious that the Irish are not likely to be descended purely from the Celtic tribes that immigrated to the island later. Not unless they completely eradicated the previous inhabitants; in any case, this new discovery changes nothing about the ancestry of the Irish.

    • Yup. There's a genealogy site with an interactive map which moves through time describing the movements and influence of people genetically. It suggested that the earliest known genes in the British Isles where of basque or Iberian descent. That the Romans and celts although culturally significant, had relatively little effect on the gene pool. It wasn't till the Engels and Vikings invasions that had much effect on the east.

    • by serbanp ( 139486 )

      I know that it's unfashionable to read the fine article, but this one explains why the discovery is relevant.

      The summary: these 3 people are DNA-related to today's Irish, while the older ones were related to Mediterranean people.

    • by Muros ( 1167213 )

      The Celts, according most thinking on the subject, originated in Central Europe or there abouts some time in the bronze age, something like 1200BC. The earliest evidence of humans in Ireland, according to the BBC article quoted in the OP says:

      Since the 1970s, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Ireland has been the hunter-gatherer settlement of Mount Sandel on the banks of the River Bann, County Derry, which dates to 8,000 years ago.

      Actually, just today in the news that has been pushed back to 12500 years ago. [bbc.com] But this article is about remains from ~4000 years ago.

      • Actually, just today in the news that has been pushed back to 12500 years ago. But this article is about remains from ~4000 years ago.

        Well, yes, you are correct. What I was commenting on was the OP itself, not the articles. Once again a /. submitter managed to ignore the facts in the two articles they were referring to, but also tried to put a sensational spin on something that had a whiff of racial supremacy over it: "Pure Celts" - apart from the random choice of epithet, this is little more than a parallel to Germans being "Pure Aryans" and so on. The Irish are good people - and certainly loads better than this sort of attitudes.

  • Hmmm ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @10:59AM (#51753261) Homepage

    the ancestors of the modern Irish and they predate the Celts and their purported arrival by 1,000 years or more

    You know, the more we learn about antiquity, I think the more we thought we knew about where humans showed up and when is completely bullshit.

    Humans have been around a lot longer, doing a lot more settling and other aspects of civilization than people have believed. The narrative that more modern humans were the first in all of these places has always struck me as absurd.

    So much of history is written by people who assumed they were the first at everything, and a large amount of that is utterly wrong.

    Ever since they found a submerged Indian city [wikipedia.org] from like 7000BC or so I've thought it fairly obvious there's far more to human history than people realize.

    Humans have been around a very long time. We might not ever piece it all together, but stuff like this is pretty cool.

    • Right.

      Gobekli Tepe in Turkey has redefined our understanding of early human "civilization". [wikipedia.org]
      Were talking about a massive undertaking that would have involved hundreds if not thousands of workers.

      And this was all done BEFORE agriculture...
      • And this was all done BEFORE agriculture...

        Me, I figure any civilization making elaborate stone pillars? They didn't do that before agriculture. They did it much much later. Or at least much later than some form of dealing with food which allowed them to store and preserve and feed larger amounts of people over longer time frames.

        My personal guess is agriculture in some form is FAR older than people realize, and you can't get to the level of sophistication shown by that link you gave without having solve

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          I too think human civilizations have been around a lot longer, and were far more widespread and more advanced than is commonly believed. I look at the carvings and think -- they're already to not only the concept of art, but to sophisticated abstract art with complex expression... and they have the leisure to do it, which means tools and infrastructure (agriculture and communication at the very least). This is a mature culture, not some proto-pre-civilization still working out the notion of tool-using.

  • by Sir_Eptishous ( 873977 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @11:00AM (#51753275) Homepage
    First off, do read "How the Irish Saved Civilization"
    Great book.

    Along similar lines of who the original humans in Eire were, is the mystery of the Etruscans, who settled in what is now Tuscany in Italy.
    Genetic tests indicate they're only similar the current residents of Sardinia, who haven't been as intermingled with wave after wave of migrations, etc that Italy was.

    Etruscan cattle DNA are similar to cattle DNA from ancient Anatolia(Turkey).
    The Etruscan language, architecture and culture were dissimilar from those around them like the Greeks and Celts.
    The Romans incorporated much from them, but the Etruscans remain a mystery...
  • "The genetic roots of today's Irish, in other words, existed in Ireland before the Celts arrived."

    So does that make them the original hipsters?
  • The Celts were a northern European tribe (France, Germany). The British Isles people were Picts and Saxons. I've always wondered how the Irish claimed to be Celtic. Never made any sense to me. It's nice to be vindicated.

    • by LQ ( 188043 )
      I don't think you read the article.One of the arguments is that the Celts spread out from Ireland and not the other way around.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Recent DNA work from 15 years old has shown that pretty much the British Isles are one people.
    And that there was little infusion of DNA from Europe, and what was diffused, ie Norman, Saxon etc... is highly geographical. IE they didn't intermarry much or move much. Stykes wrote THE book on it.
    Celtic or Celt is a style of ironworking from Central Europe.
    A linguist noticed (around 1700 something) that there were shared patterns/sounds in the various forms of Gaelic spoken in Europe and Ireland and Wales and S

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Tuesday March 22, 2016 @11:57AM (#51753817)

    The summary is kind of bad, but probably only because the beginning of TFA itself is so horrible.

    What they've found is that there's DNA in some 4000 year old remains that highly correlates with modern people in the modern "Celtic" area (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), vs. the rest of Europe. The interesting thing about this is that the current guesstimate of the emergence of proto-Celtic from proto-Indo-European is only about 3000 years ago.

    What this could reasonably mean:

    1. The current guesstimate is wrong, and they actually split more than 4000 years ago. As an addendum, the Halstatt culture may not be the one and only indication of the proto-celts.
    2. Celtic culture spread to the British Isles by cultural diffusion, not by the replacement of actual peoples. At least where those particular genes are concerned.

    What it doesn't say:

    1. The Irish are not Celtic. Not only doesn't it say this, its a patently absurd. Linguistically this is as much a settled fact as exists, and no archeology work is going to change that. We may not be sure where proto-Celtic originated (we weren't even before this), we may not be sure exactly when, but the evidence for the group's existence is unaffected.
    2. Celtic is not Indo-European. Again, laughable. Its relation to Indo-European is so linguistically sound, that from a layman's perspective it can be taken as fact.

    What this find does is add fuel to the already raging fire over exactly what archeological cultures were Celtic, and where and when it originated. That was already going before this though.

    • The Irish are not Celtic. Not only doesn't it say this, its a patently absurd. Linguistically this is as much a settled fact as exists, and no archeology work is going to change that.

      Well, the problem with your assertion is that it amounts to a tautology. The modern concept of "Celtic" is fundamentally bound up the language classification schemes developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, around the time that things like Irish nationalism brought together people who wanted to unite under a shared identity, which tended to be associated with the words "Celtic" and/or "Gaelic."

      The problem with the modern concept of "Celtic" is that it tends to presume a common culture that extended acro

      • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

        Well, the problem with your assertion is that it amounts to a tautology.

        Its not my assertion; its right there in the summary for this article. The fact that they are arguing against what "amounts to a tautology" is exactly my point.

        As for the claim that two peoples sharing a common language at some point may not mean they ever shared a common culture ... I'm really hard-pressed to imagine how that could possibly happen. Languages develop from other languages within a coherent culture. To assert otherwise would be to claim that somehow two completely independent people managed

  • ...and of course, where did we find the ancient forefathers of Ireland?

    Outside a bar.

    Just sayin'.

  • The Irish Book of Invasions is a medieval manuscript that collects and bowdlerizes tales and poems by earlier Irish writers, which were themselves based on pre-christian oral traditions of unknown age.

    It says Ireland was taken six times by six groups of people: the people of Cessair, the people of Partholon, the people of Nemed, the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha De Danann, and the Milesian Celts.

    All these groups were heavily mythologized by the ancient Irish, and the later retro-fitting of Christian trappings makes

  • they couldn't get the Haplogroup any tighter? yeash....
    DF13? DF63? CTS6919?

    something new?

    I'm L513 which is supposedly a few thousand years younger than those bones.... it'd just be nice if they had a complete sequence on these guys....
  • No, not about Homer Simpson.

    The classicist joke goes "The Iliad" and the "Odyssey" were not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name.

    The joke is, if you don't get it, is that we know absolutely nothing about the originator(s) of those poems, except that they are traditionally credited to someone called "Homer", who has no other historic existence. By definition whoever wrote those poems is "Homer".

    After reading the TFA, the claim that the Irish are not really Celtic has the same self-referentia

  • This is old news for anyone that knows anything about the mythology/pseudo history of the Irish. Every Irishman that knows their own lore knows that the island was previously inhabited before the Celts came (by many peoples). This is sensationalist buggered garbage. BTW, there is probably some Etruscan DNA to be found among Italians. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
  • What do you mean Celtic? At the time of the Roman Empire the Celts lived throughout the Danube valley. They migrated then to Spain, and the sons of Mil came over the sea to Ireland. (That's always sounded strange to me, but that's what's reported.) There they met the current inhabitants and fought them in bloody battles, after which they divided the country, The part above ground went to the sons of Mil and the part underground went to the Tuatha de Danaan (i.e., the people under the hills). Nodbody talks a

  • My guess is as good as any.

  • I really expected better from someone who studies ethnicity and related DNA. Let's look at some of the examples: Hungarian look like other people from central Europe. Finns look like other people from North Europe. But Ugro-finn people from their native land (Siberia) are actually Mongoloid. Turcic people in Asia are also Mongoloid, but Turks in Turkey look pretty much European. Conclusion: when Hungarians/Turks arrived to Europe, it was actually relatively small number of people* that somehow conquered loc

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