Celts - Origins - Archaeological Evidence

Archaeological Evidence

Further information: Iron Age Europe

Before the 19th century, scholars assumed that the original land of the Celts was west of the Rhine, more precisely in Gaul, because it was where Greek and Roman ancient sources, namely Cesar, located the Celts. This view was challenged by Jubainville who placed the land of origin of the Celts east of the Rhine. Jubainville based his arguments on a phrase of Herodotus´ that placed the Celts at the source of the Danube, and argued that Herodotus had meant to place the Celtic homeland in southern Germany. The finding of the prehistoric cemetery of Hallstat in 1846 by Johan Ramsauer and almost ten years later the finding of the archaeological site of La Tène by Hansli Kopp in 1857 draw attention to this area. The concept that the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures could be seen not just as chronological periods but as “Culture Groups”, entities composed of people of the same ethnicity and language, started to grow by the end of the 19th century. In the beginning of the 20th century the belief that those “Culture Groups” could be thought in racial or ethnic terms was strongly held by Gordon Childe whose theory was influenced by the writings of Gustaf Kossinna. Along the 20th century the racial ethnic interpretation of La Tene culture rooted much stronger, and any findings of “La Tene culture” and “flat inhumation cemeteries” were directly associated with the celts and the celtic language. The Iron Age Hallstatt (c. 800-475 BC) and La Tène (c. 500-50 BC) cultures are typically associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic culture.

In various academic disciplines the Celts were considered a Central European Iron Age phenomenon, through the cultures of Hallstatt and La Tène. However, archaeological finds from the Halstatt and La Tène culture were rare in the Iberian Peninsula, in southwestern France, northern and western Britain, southern Ireland and Galatia and did not provide enough evidence for a cultural scenario comparable to that of Central Europe. It is considered equally difficult to maintain that the origin of the Peninsular Celts can be linked to the preceding Urnfield culture, leading to a more recent approach that introduces a 'proto-Celtic' substratum and a process of Celticisation having its initial roots in the Bronze Age Bell Beaker culture.

The La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age (from 450 BC to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC) in eastern France, Switzerland, Austria, southwest Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It developed out of the Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under the impetus of considerable Mediterranean influence from Greek, and later Etruscan civilisations. A shift of settlement centres took place in the 4th century.

The western La Tène culture corresponds to historical Celtic Gaul. Whether this means that the whole of La Tène culture can be attributed to a unified Celtic people is difficult to assess; archaeologists have repeatedly concluded that language, material culture, and political affiliation do not necessarily run parallel. Frey notes that in the 5th century, "burial customs in the Celtic world were not uniform; rather, localised groups had their own beliefs, which, in consequence, also gave rise to distinct artistic expressions". Thus, while the La Tène culture is certainly associated with the Gauls, the presence of La Tène artefacts may be due to cultural contact and does not imply the permanent presence of Celtic speakers.

Read more about this topic:  Celts, Origins

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