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Thread: Myth busting - the origins of the Irish

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    Myth busting - the origins of the Irish

    Even today you can still read posts on forums where people keep thinking the Irish R1b is pre-farming or down to some Iberian invasions. So for those who dont know a lot about this I will give a summary. It pretty in line with the findings in Mallory's recent 'Origins of the Irish' book which all those who are interested in truth rather than Myth about the Irish should read.

    1. The earliest Irish arrived c. 8000BC according to the earliest dates. They possessed a narrow blade type flint traditions and a tradition of rather substantial round houses. The only close parallel at the right date are from Britain. The earliest date for this culture so far found is dated from some hazlenuts at a camp found at Cramond in south-east Scotland. The best surviving houses of this culture have been found at Mount Sandel in the extreme north of Ireland and another on the Northumbrian coast in the extreme north-east of England. It is probably that their ancestral areas are partly now under the north sea. It is likely that they had some very distant link to the SW refugia but they had left it some 7000 years earlier and probably arrived in Britain via the dry north sea and crossed to Ireland from the narrow crossing that existed c. 8000BC around the Isle of Man and Scotland.


    2. The first Irish farmers to settle permanently have recently been accurately dated to c. 3750BC. This also was almost certainly down to groups from the stretch of coast from the Rhine to NW France by the short crossings to southern Britain and they only made it to Ireland a couple of centuries later after a slow spread across Britain. The house, burial and artefact types in Ireland are very similar to those of western Britain and much less like any continental ones. The ultimate origins of the Neolithic farmers was probably part of the northern middle Neolithic stream that spread across from north-central Europe. Before that the Balkans are probably the location.

    3. During the Neolithic there was interaction between the continent and western Britain and western Britian and Ireland. This saw the spread of ideas but apparently not many new people other than some wife trading. Despite similar ideas on tombs they kept very different burial traditions, settlement types, pottery etc. In general Ireland and Britain remained infinately closer in all these aspects than either island did with the continent. This climaxed in the mid-late Neolithic with very closely shared ideas in tombs, henges, grooved ware pot, timber circles etc which was a phenomenon of the two islands and quite different to what was going on in the continent - a time of inward looking insularity.

    4. In the beaker period Ireland experienced a peculiar localised culture with a crucial early mine at Ross Island that supplied early beaker people in Ireland, Britain and northern France but remained peculiar in that a new type of megalithic tomb, the Wedge Tomb, appeared c. 500 years after megalithic tomb building and use had died out - replaced by pit cremations, henges etc. Ireland's beaker culture is actually rrather later, daring to about 2400BC and the pottery was most like the British-Rhinish group and possibly also NW France. The early trade network of Irish copper and gold in the beaker period seems to have largely been to Britain and northern France with a few strays further east. That may be the best indicator we have of origins and close cousins.

    5. After the beaker period Ireland and Britain, especially northern and western Britain, were very closely linked in terms of trade, pottery in burials and most cultural aspects throughout the Bronze Age. In the later Bronze Age c. 13000BC-700bc or so Ireland had a bit of a golden age with a huge amount of impressive bronze and gold objects, hillforts etc. Ireland remained close in its cultures to Britain.

    6. The coming of Iron and the consequent loss of importance of Bronze appears to have badly hit the Atlantic elites in places like Ireland. Ireland was especially badly hit and after Hallstatt C it seems to have slipped into isolation and a dark age. New metal types made after 650BC and known on the continent in the Hallstatt D and early La Tene phases are not known in Ireland. This period of isolation is probably why Ireland did not experience the Q to P shift that affected Britain and Gaul. Iberia was also isolated and also did not experience the shift. This does not imply any contact between Ireland and Iberia - not a single Iberian Iron Age object has been found in Ireland - the connection is a myth. This collapse in Ireland was not just at the elite end. The number of domestic sites also collapses in this era, indications of farming through seeds and pollen in bog cores drops away dramatically etc - there was a genuine serious systems collapse and population collapse in Ireland at this time.

    7. Something of a minor revival in terms of both external influences in metalwork, occupation sites etc occurs in the later La Tene period although this is much better represented in the northern two thirds of the island. The material is similar to Britian and Gaulish metalwork of c. 300-0bc and domestic sites also resume around 350BC. In this period Ireland has a peculiar culture combining new elite La Tene objects with what look like old revived Bronze Age burial traditions (rare cremations in barrows) and unique royal regional massive sites that look very like the henges of late Neolithic times. Other features are huge linear tribal defensive ditches. Domestic sites are rare and insubstantial indicating perhaps troubled times or very mobile populations. Some British and Gaulish tribes may have entered the island at this time judging by Ptolemy;s map.

    8. After a lull during the early Roman occupation of Britain pollen cores indicate a massive expansion of the Irish population despite the fact almost no domestic sites are known. Shortly after Irish raids commenced on Roman Britain and some settlement probably occurred as the Romans left.

    9. Christianity came to Ireland through Roman Britons like St. Patrick at the end of the Roman period although Patrick is known to actually have not been the first to come to convert the Irish. It is possible some British immigration to Ireland also occured in this period as so much of the Early Christian material culture is descended from Romano-British types. However the situation is not at all clear. The succeeding period is known as the Early Christian period when the raths and monasteries were built. Isolated from Germanic intrusions Celtic culture survived into the literate period in Ireland, as it also did in Scotland, Wales and western England. This is often seen as Ireland's golden age.

    10. The first Germanics to appear in Ireland, assuming the Cauci of Ptolemy's map were not related to the Germanic Chauci, was a couple of raids by the Northumbrian Angles in the later 600s. Howeve, other than monks, the Anglo-Saxons did not settle in Ireland. The Vikings arrived just before 800AS and settled in the decades after. In Ireland the main types of Viking settlements were trading towns and raiding bases - always on the coast or inland bodies of water. They didnt make large rural settlements except in the close vicinity of their towns. They founded the first nucleated fully secular settlements in historic Ireland including the cities of Cork, Dublin, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick and stuck the first coinage in Ireland. They didnt have towns in the northern half of Ireland although they did have a number of military raiding bases there. In the long run after a great shock and much raiding these towns came under the power of the increasingly powerful Irish kings.

    11. The Normans took control of much of Ireland except most of Ulster and north Connaught. They went into decline and the area under their control shrank to what was known as the Pale in eastern Ireland. Nevertheless they probably had more of a genetic impact than the Vikings with many Irish surnames having Norman origins.

    12. In the plantation of Ulster shortly after 1600, the most native part of Ireland and least effected by the Normans was parceled out to planters who came mostly from lowland Scotland and western England. However only the noble classes were actually removed completely and most ordinary Ulster Irish remained nearby albeit on the poorer lands. Being unnaffected by Viking and Norman settlement followed by sectarian division after the Ulster Plantation probably means that the Ulster native largely Roman Catholic population are probably the least mixed descendants of the pre-Norman Irish.

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    A very good summary post!

    I've got something to add (i'm not sure how relevant it is in the grand scheme of things) that i found out fairly recently. During the Viking period in Ireland, swords made in those areas of Ireland were relatively unusual because they were not quenched, this made them much harder than many contemporary swords from the British Isles and NW Europe, although much more brittle. This method is apparently an ancient Irish smithing tradition - So that's an interesting piece of evidence that suggests the continuation of an Irish tradition in the heart of Viking Ireland.

    I can't remember all the details but i took a course on archaeometallurgy a couple of months ago, and the course leader found this in her own academic research (I think for a PHD, can't remember).
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    What I outlined is pretty much exactly the same as in Mallory's book of earlier this year. I really recommend people read a book out this year by the greatest living archaeologist rather than crackpots on blogs. I was inspired to do this post because there is right up to this very day still all sorts of guff being talked about ice age caves and R1b and people sailing to Ireland and of course the dreaded Book of Invasions nonsense. A lot of people seem to prefer to listed to crackpots on the web if it suits what they want to hear rather than read a book by a titan of archaeology who has been based in Ireland for about 40 years or so and is an expert on archaeology, linguistics etc.

    Totally counter-factual stuff like Moffat about an Iberian genocide and population replacement came out just this year. How could Atlantic Iberian copper or bronze age people, nearly all DF27 in terms of the R1b element, wipe out the Irish population and result in it being almost all L21. L21 is rare in Iberia except among Basques and an invasion by Basques into Ireland is total fantasy. I couldnt type what I think of Moffat was for writing that totally absurd article or I would have to use the asterisk until the button was broken. Between that and the out of date western refugia nonsense on the recent TV series about the origins of the Irish the public are being badly misled and its reinforcing a myth.

    As a result the general public in Ireland and those of Irish descent are going to banging on about this theory for years. They need weened off this myth not misled into thinking the evidence fits it when it actually utterly refutes it. Its totally frustrating. What is the point in archaeology, linguistics, historical research done by top scholars if its all undermined by publicity seeking disinformation, out of date TV programs and crackpot bloggers.
    Last edited by alan; 10-06-2013 at 04:56 PM.

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    When did the first Q-Celtic speaking people arrive in Ireland, and from where?
    Y-DNA R-DF23>ZP149>ZP171 MDKA Thomas Doherty, b. 1825, Three Trees, Donegal, Ireland.
    mtDNA T2g1 MDKA Francoise Arguin, b. 1698, Camaret-Sur-Mer, Bretagne, France

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    Quote Originally Posted by MacEochaidh View Post
    When did the first Q-Celtic speaking people arrive in Ireland, and from where?
    Noone knows or will probably ever be able to say for sure. All you can do is look at the archaeological and DNA evidence and make a best guess. It may have never really arrived in the sense of a substantial invasion with ready-made Celtic language in their mouths. I may have started off with the beaker copper age trading groups who had to be able to make themselves understood across Europe and it may have slowly developed through constant contact between these beaker and post-beaker trading elites and slowly morphed from west IE to Italo-Celtic to early Celtic in a Q form. The P form probably spread by similar trading elite interaction in dialect fashions with the only difference that Ireland became isolated from this interaction for three centuries from c. 650-350BC, the very time when the Q to P shift is through to have spread. So it all fits.


    Even today we see people trying to assuming modes of speaking associated with wealth - posh accents and diction if they have made some money or aspire to be thought of that way. The P-Q shift is really nothing. Its kind of like the way Spanish is Spain developed a lisp apparently due to the way the king spoke, emulation by the hangers on at the court and spread of this to nobles in the rural areas. It became the dialect associated with being important and people copied it. The Spanish who had already moved to South America did not recieve this 'shift'. Even today the middle classes, especially those sent to private schools, have an accent that doesnt bear any resemblance to the local accent of the area they live in. I am sure what happened was the elites in contact copied each other, not to mention traded wives only within their own class who in turn brought up their kids so its easy to imagine insignificant changes like q-p.

    What is an infinatly more major thing is the profound structural aspects including word order that bind the Irish and British Celtic languages together and separate them from all the continental ones. The structure is so unusual that it clearly sets the isles Celtic speakers apart. So, I am 100% convinced that the real division among the Celtic languages is between the isles on one hand and the continent on the other. The P-Q shift in really zilch in comparison and really just a dialect change that Britain received but Ireland did not. Its pure insanity to group languages by one minor shift and ignore the huge structural aspects that instead split Celtic into an isles and a continental group.

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    I think the important thing is that Q-Celtic probably got to the Isles very early, at least relative to the old idea that it accompanied Iron Age Celtic invaders from the Continent. Now it's not considered crazy to believe the Beaker Folk brought an early form of Celtic with them to the Isles in the Bronze Age. That wasn't always the case.

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    I dont like the Q-P terminology much simply because it gives the impression that they were two separate parallel branches for a long period in prehistory when in reality Q Celtic is just default archaic Celtic prior to the sound shift and all Celts would have spoken it. It also temps people to see a divide into Gaulish-British and Goidelic-Celt-Iberian when in fact other than the P shift the really major division is isles vs continental.

    My guess is that the isles being occupied by a small beaker intrusion then not much else for another 2000 years meant there was a significant substrate effect on the structure of isles Celtic from the Neolithic people. It was presumably common in offshore islands that the beaker people would marry locals rather than wives from mainland Europe. Perhaps a small amount of wives came on boats to the nearer shores of the channel but it doesnt seem probable that that would be an option if you were in parts of Britain well away from the channel or in Ireland. Perhaps on the continent it was easier for beaker daughters to marry other beaker males -- perhaps demonstrated by the increase in H in the beaker period in central Europe. That could be the origin of the isles oddball syntax contrasting with continentals. It may have been that the elite did retain a more continental form initially but the general population created the strangely structured isles Celtic form through having to speak an alien language. Its hard to say how long it took for the form of the lower orders to eclipse the original syntax of Celtic. It could have happened fast if most of their wives were locals or it could have been delayed for a long time if the elite remained aloof like a caste. There was something of a collapse of the old Bronze Age elites and restructuring of society at the start of the Iron Age which could have led to an end of that hypothetical division and the triumph of the pigeon Celtic of the common folk. Celtic kept most of its IE vocab but also in the isles it had its structure radically altered. I have heard that explained before as typical where indigenous peoples of lower status are ruled by a small but high status elite. There are other scenarios such as the removal or Romanisation of the elite element in Britain leaving the Celtic speakers, other than in the west and north, as the ordinary sons of the soils.

    Whatever happened and when, the structure of Irish and British Celtic as it survived in the north and west had very similar usual features compared to continental Celtic.



    Quote Originally Posted by rms2 View Post
    I think the important thing is that Q-Celtic probably got to the Isles very early, at least relative to the old idea that it accompanied Iron Age Celtic invaders from the Continent. Now it's not considered crazy to believe the Beaker Folk brought an early form of Celtic with them to the Isles in the Bronze Age. That wasn't always the case.

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    I don't think people who are at least somewhat knowledgeable use the Q-P Celtic terminology in the way you described. Rather, they know that Q just refers to the earlier, original form and that P was an innovation that occurred behind it, on the Continent (outside Iberia, anyway). Later, the P innovation traveled to Britain, probably through contact with the Continent (trade, etc.). So, using Q and P terminology does not preclude the scenario that you advance for the evolution of Celtic in the Isles, and it does reflect a very real division within the Celtic subfamily of languages.

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    True although it is a very late aerial shift rather than a true branching. The aerial shift actually cuts across the substantial isles v continent lingustic-structural divide in Celtic. That is the reason why its been played down by linguists today. Unfortunately its often cited as important by non-linguists in other fields like archaeology who do not really understand Celtic linguistics. Its not really a true branching as its such a superficial change. I realise that most informed people do understand this but you still get people overegging this as if it is the major deep division in Celtic when it isnt. Its just a single aerial change and peanuts compared with the structural aspects that link isles Celtic in post-Roman times and divide it from the continental norm. Interestingly the Picts were P Celtic speakers despite almost zero La Tene metalwork other than very late AD period stuff which does seem to show it could spread without migration.


    Quote Originally Posted by rms2 View Post
    I don't think people who are at least somewhat knowledgeable use the Q-P Celtic terminology in the way you described. Rather, they know that Q just refers to the earlier, original form and that P was an innovation that occurred behind it, on the Continent (outside Iberia, anyway). Later, the P innovation traveled to Britain, probably through contact with the Continent (trade, etc.). So, using Q and P terminology does not preclude the scenario that you advance for the evolution of Celtic in the Isles, and it does reflect a very real division within the Celtic subfamily of languages.

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    To put my opening post into more genetic terms, it does not appear that very much in the way of Irish male lineages date to any earlier than the beaker period. R1b is simply nowhere near old enough even at the greatest stretch of doubt to be associated with the pre-farming hunters that probably arrived in Ireland by short crossings from Britain. If anything of them remains today then haplgroup I western clades seems most likely. Ireland was not the most attractive area for hunters as it lacked wild cattle, deer etc leaving the only pre-Neolithic target for hunters wild boar. Fishing seems to have been the main thing that made Ireland viable. However, despite a lack of y lines that likely date to this era there is a large northern European component, more than half of the total, in Ireland and this most likely dates to input from these early hunters. I dont think their male lines survived though.

    Until very recently it would have been assumed that the Neolithic would have been the first and greatest genetic input in Ireland and indeed Europe as a whole. However, it is becoming increasingly clear they hit the skids after a couple of centuries and had to drop many aspects of their culture that they brought from the continent that didnt work out in Ireland. Settlements became progressively more and more ephemeral as the Neolithic progressed with a lot of the effort given to ritual. Nonetheless it is surprising that there are few male lines in Ireland old enough to date to this period. I assume that the c.20% Med. autosomal component largely derives from these farmers.

    The big surprise is that relatively recent R1b copper age beaker using newcomers seem to have come to strongly dominate the genepool in Ireland. However we know from M222 that a line established by one man only perhaps 1600-2000 years ago has become a substantial chunk of the Irish yDNA. So we have no reason to not believe this happened several other times and that Ireland's high L21 count probably half derives from just a handful of early Medieval chiefly lineages. Male lineages seem to tell us more about who were powerful in the last few thousand years rather than much about the Neolithic or the pre-farming era, both of which seem to have left little yDNA imprint in Ireland although probably leaving substantial mt DNA and autosomal imprints.
    Last edited by alan; 10-07-2013 at 12:38 AM.

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