Blood of the Celts

Full Title: Blood of the Celts – The New Ancestral Story

Author: Jean Manco

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-500-05183-2

Pages: 240 including illustrations, end notes, Appendix, Bibliography, and Index

SynopsisBlood of the Celts brings together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence to address the often-debated question: who were the Celts? What peoples or cultural identities should that term describe? And did they in fact inhabit the British Isles before the Romans arrived? Author Jean Manco challenges existing accounts of the origins of the Celts, providing a new analysis that draws on the latest discoveries as well as ancient history.

In a novel approach, the book opens with a discussion of early medieval Irish and British texts, allowing the Celts to speak in their own words and voices. It then traces their story back in time into prehistory to their deepest origins and their ancestors, before bringing the narrative forward to the present day. Each chapter also has a useful summary in bullet points to aid the reader and highlight the key facts in the story.

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Review: I honestly don’t know if I should be reviewing this book or not. By the end of it I was just skimming the chapters than reading the round up of important points at the end of each chapter.

I will say that the book has an extensive Endnotes section and a very long bibliography which is a good way to get more information of books to read. I also think that the author really tried. They did try to add in the latest research linguistically, archaeologically (like the Tartessian language and the Celtic from the West hypothesis) , and genetically, though I feel like the genetic part was sort of added in at a later date and honestly, their conclusion in the Introduction to the book really negated any need for that part of the book.  “As we shall see, there are three main components to the modern European gene pool. They came from ancient hunter-gatherers, early farmers and a Copper Age people. The modern Irish have a mixture of all three, as do the modern Germans and Italians. Any genetic differences are far too subtle to talk in terms of a Celtic race.” (p.9)

I felt like the author sometimes jumped to conclusions without really explaining their train of thought and the whole book felt at times like a compilation of what other disciplines said about parts of European pre-history without any real tie into to how that effected the Celtic culture.

I’ve had this book for at least a year and finally decided to read it…now I know why I’ve been hesitant to do so…

 

The Celtic Question: Modern Constructs and Ancient Realities

Author: Kim McCone

Publisher: School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

Published: 2008

ISBN: 9781855002104

Pages: 56 including References


Review:

This very short book is a modified version of a lecture given by Kim McCone at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies on April 24, 2008. It was for the Myles Dillon Memorial.

McCones’ books are usually a hard read for me because I keep feeling like his anti-nativist attitude colours everything (usually he makes good points, it is just that I always feel like he is talking down to his audience). So, I was steeling myself to read this and keep an open mind. I’m glad I did.

This book can be seen as a rebuttal of the arguments made by Chapman (1992), James (1999) and others that have as the central premise of their books the fact that there is no such thing as Celts, or in the case of James, there is no such thing as Celts in the British Isle.

McCone pretty much refutes all their arguments effectively, using the same sources that they do more effectively. These sources include the classical writer, archaeology and linguistics. Be prepared for a bit of linguistic reconstruction for the word Celtic and be prepared to be wowed.

The Story of the Isle of Man

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Author: Arthur William Moore

Publisher: General Books LLC (Scanned)

Published: 2012, originally 1902

ISBN: 9781154154152937

Pages: 31

Review:

I guess I should start with what I didn’t like and get that out of the way. I don’t know what the original book looked like but this scan of the book has three columns on each page. It was hard to keep where I was in the reading straight because of that. The only way you could tell where the chapters were is that the word chapter was italicised. If you missed it, tough luck. I couldn’t really tell what was going on with the headings by the end.

Now that that is out of the way let me get to the meaty part. This book was written in 1902 so of course the scholarship is to that level, and I’m sure the information is out of date. It was obviously written as a text book for children in school, and while the author explained things like “state”, “sovereign” and “government”, he didn’t talk down to the students and he did not dumb down the text.

I also loved how he gave both the mythical origins of the Isle of Man and and the historical one, including a geological survey of how the island was formed. The author managed to weave the mythical/poetic with the historical and still showing how they both differ. I wish all our children were taught this way!

The book went through the history of the Isle of Man up until just before the time the book was published in 1902. I have to say that it wetted my appetite to read more on the subject and I hope I can find books that were written just as well as this book was for its time.

The Celts: The Construction of a Myth

Author: Malcolm Chapman

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Published: 1992

ISBN: 0-333-52088-2

Pages: 342, including 2 Appendices, Notes, Bibliography and an Index.

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Synopsis: The Celts are commonly considered to be one of the great peoples of Europe, with continuous racial, cultural and linguistic genealogy from the Iron Age to the modern-day “Celtic fringe”. This book shows, in contrast, that the Celts, as they have been known and understood over two thousand years, are simply the “other” of the dominant cultural and political traditions of Europe. It is this continuous “otherness” which lends them apparent continuity and substance. Modern social anthropology, Celtic studies, literary and historical evidence, and the author’s own fieldwork in Brittany and Scotland, are brought together in demonstration of this.

Review:

So what should I say about this book? Should I say that it attempted to show that the Celts did not exist? Should I say that devolved into an exercise of “the poor misunderstood English, they had nothing to do with anything that went wrong in Ireland, and Scotland”? Should I say that the author seems to be insisting that Wales is not really a Celtic speaking populace?

I think I am going to stick to what I liked about this book: the first four chapters and the essence of what the author was trying to say rather than the way he said it.

The author approached the subject of the Celts from a social anthropological world view. He discussed how the Celts got their name and from whom, and how that colored everything else that came after. The author points out that the main problem with the Celts is continuity. Did they really have it? Was there really a linguistic continuity? A cultural one? A biological one? Did they call themselves Celts, did they identify one another as such? Should it matter?

I think at the time that this book was written people still assumed that the Celts were one ethnic entity spread across the Atlantic fringe. We know that is not true now and we know that the work Celt refers to a linguistic designation rather than a biological one.

I think the main thing that I got out of this book is that the whole “the Celts ruled a wide swatch of land all over Europe through expansion” is an out dated idea (already knew that from my own readings) and that it was more like a small band of people (maybe warriors, maybe artisans) moved their culture and language where they went and it was adopted by the people (which confirms my own thought process on this issue).

Should one get this book? Honestly, it depends. Are you like me and you want to read what the “there are no Celts” camp is saying out of curiosity? Then go ahead, just maybe get it from the library or borrow it from someone. If you aren’t curious or you are just starting out, skip it for now, and if you get the curiosity later then again borrow it from the library of from someone who has it.

Europe Before Rome

Full Title – Europe Before Rome: A Site-By-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages

Author – T. Douglas Price

Publication – Oxford University Press

Published – 2013

Synopsis – Werner Herzog’s 2011 film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the painted caves at Chauvet, France brought a glimpse of Europe’s extraordinary prehistory to a popular audience. But paleolithic cave paintings, stunning as they are, form just a part of a story that begins with the arrival of the first humans to Europe 1.3 million years ago, and culminates in the achievements of Greece and Rome. 

In Europe before Rome, T. Douglas Price takes readers on a guided tour through dozens of the most important prehistoric sites on the continent, from very recent discoveries to some of the most famous and puzzling places in the world, like Chauvet, Stonehenge, and Knossos. This volume focuses on more than 60 sites, organized chronologically according to their archaeological time period and accompanied by 200 illustrations, including numerous color photographs, maps, and drawings. Our understanding of prehistoric European archaeology has been almost completely rewritten in the last 25 years with a series of major findings from virtually every time period, such as Otzi the Iceman, the discoveries at Atapuerca, and evidence of a much earlier eruption at Mt. Vesuvius. Many of the sites explored in the book offer the earliest European evidence we have of the typical features of human society–tool making, hunting, cooking, burial practices, agriculture, and warfare. Introductory prologues to each chapter provide context for the wider changes in human behavior and society in the time period, while the author’s concluding remarks offer expert reflections on the enduring significance of these places. 

Tracing the evolution of human society in Europe across more than a million years, Europe before Rome gives readers a vivid portrait of life for prehistoric man and woman.

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Review – This was an interesting and delightful book to read. Basically, the author took me with him on archeological site hopping tours.  At the beginning of each tour he gave me an explanation where, what, and who we were going to visit. 

In this book you may choose to read the explanatory chapters then choose whichever sites may interest you, or you may read the book cover to cover. I read it both ways and see myself going back to read specific entries at a later date.

Don’t expect too much deep history as this is primarily an archeological survey book but there are some tidbits that are worth further research like the fact that an analysis of the Bell Beaker peoples’ teeth showed that they were from Northern Spain and the Czech Republic and that the author very much equates them with the Indo-Europeans…

Mapping the Lost World of the Celts

Original Title: The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe

Author: Graham Robb

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Published: 2013

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Synopsis: Fifty generations ago the cultural empire of the Celts stretched from the Black Sea to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. In six hundred years, the Celts had produced some of the finest artistic and scientific masterpieces of the ancient world. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, bringing slavery and genocide to western Europe. Within eight years the Celts of what is now France were utterly annihilated, and in another hundred years the Romans had overrun Britain. It is astonishing how little remains of this great civilization. While planning a bicycling trip along the Heraklean Way, the ancient route from Portugal to the Alps, Graham Robb discovered a door to that forgotten world–a beautiful and precise pattern of towns and holy places based on astronomical and geometrical measurements: this was the three-dimensional “Middle Earth” of the Celts. As coordinates and coincidences revealed themselves across the continent, a map of the Celtic world emerged as a miraculously preserved archival document.

Review: The book is made up of a Protohistory, four parts and an Epilogue. The first part is made up of five chapters, the second is made up of three chapters, the third and fourth parts are each made up of four chapters. At the end of the book there is a Works Cited section, a Notes section, a General index and a Geographical index. It also has a Chronology of the Celts.

The Protohistory chapter, or rather the Preface of the book, describes how the book came to be written and how it was all a series of happenings that led to the ultimate idea. The language was a bit flowery though so by this point I was kind of wondering about the rest of the book…

I wasn’t left wondering for long.  The book was…it was…I honestly have no words. Most of the time I was reading the book (what I could stomache of it anyway) I was either rolling my eyes or thinking SOURCE!!! Don’t get me wrong his most outlandish hypotheses were explained…sort of in the notes for the chapters in the back of the book but still they were just…Can you tell I’m frustrated?

This book was basically a lot of assumptions that had some basis in history but you had to make some great leaps of faith to connect them. I wish someone had plastered Unverified Personal Gnosis all over this book’s cover so I knew what this book would be instead of me thinking that it was a history book. I’m sure there are some truths in this book, but they were buried so deep in the author’s flowery words and wishful thinking that I totally missed them.

After I wrote my review I went to Amazon to check what other people had to say about this book and I was boggled by the people who said it was a dry read but a great one, and that it was a great book to read if you are interested in the Celts…

I wouldn’t recommend this book to beginners, and to the more advanced readers of Celtic history?  Approach with caution.

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

Synopsis:

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.

Review:

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.