Celtic from the West 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe

Editors: John T. Koch and Barry Cunliffe

Publisher: Oxbow Books

Copyrighted: 2013

ISBN: 978-1-84217-529-3


Europe’s Atlantic façade has long been treated as marginal to the formation of the European Bronze Age and the puzzle of the origin and early spread of the Indo-European languages. Until recently the idea that Atlantic Europe was a wholly pre-Indo-European world throughout the Bronze Age remained plausible. Rapidly expanding evidence for the later prehistory and the pre-Roman languages of the West increasingly exclude that possibility. It is therefore time to refocus on a narrowing list of ‘suspects’ as possible archaeological proxies for the arrival of this great language family and emergence of its Celtic branch. This reconsideration inevitably throws penetrating new light on the formation of later prehistoric Atlantic Europe and the implications of new evidence for inter-regional connections.

Table of Contents (with my notes):

PrologueHa C1a ≠ PC (‘The Earliest Hallstatt Iron Age cannot equal Proto-Celtic’) by John T. Koch  – The Prologue sets the scene by giving us what the essays in the book will be arguing for or against.  Then it talks a little about each essay.

1. The Indo-Europeanization of Atlantic Europe by J. P. Mallory  – This essay deals with three phases of linguistic evidence for the Indo-Europeanization of Atlantic Europe.

2. The Arrival of the Beaker Set in Britain and Ireland by A. P. Fitzpatrick  – This was a very interesting essay on the Beaker Set or culture and how it may have behaved in England, Scotland and Ireland

3. Beakers into Bronze: Tracing connections between Western Iberia and the British Isles 2800–800 BC by Catriona Gibson  – The similarities and the differences…very interesting

4. Out of the Flow and Ebb of the European Bronze Age: Heroes, Tartessos, and Celtic by John T. Koch  – Being Cunliffe’s “sort of” supporter on the theory of Celtic from the West, I was very curious to see what he would say in this essay.  He didn’t disappoint.  This is one of my favorite essays in this book.  Most of the questions he asked were very thought provoking and interesting

5. Westward Ho? Sword-Bearers and All the Rest of it . . . by Dirk Brandherm  – Extremely short and to the point about archeological evidence of swords and how much we can infer from it.

6. Dead-Sea Connections: A Bronze Age and Iron Age Ritual Site on the Isle of Thanet by Jacqueline I. McKinley, Jörn Schuster, & Andrew Millard  – An interesting archeological survey, no linguistic evidence in this essay.

7. Models of Language Spread and Language Development in Prehistoric Europe by Dagmar S. Wodtko  – I absolutely loved this essay, it talks about how language can spread and under what conditions as well as why.  Very informative.

8. Early Celtic in the West: The Indo-European Context by Colin Renfrew – This essay was a survey of the theories on the origins of IE languages and when the daughter languages may have split. I always thought tgere were two theories on that but there are actually three.

EpilogueThe Celts—Where Next by Barry Cunliffe  – Cunliffe summerizes the three theories on where and when the IE languages spread, he also sunnerized where all the contributors to this issue agreed.


This was a fun though sometimes confusing book to read. I loved all the conclusions and bibliographies at the end of each essay.  They gave me more books to read on what interested me the most and summerized what I read in each essay to help me digest them better.  I know that I’m going to have to go back and read some essays again as they need more in depth reading to fully appreciate all their meanings and implications.

I have to admit though I have favorites among them. First would be essay number 7 by Wodtko.  It explained in an easy and concise mannor why and how a language might spread even if the people who spoke that language were in the minority. The second was essay number 8 by Renfrew, which dicussed all the theiries about the origins of the IE languages. And finally Koch’s essay (essay number 4) for the reasons mentioned above.

So am I convinced of Celtic from the West? Well, it still needs more work, as even Cunliffe and  Renfrew admit, but a lot of good points have been raised, and cast a little doubt in my mind about the old models.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Celtic from the West theory or indeed in the Celts as a whole.