Celtic Antecedents

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Eamon O'Kelly

Eamon O’Kelly, Esq.

Irish and Scottish Ancient Origins

DNA science has revealed our roots!

© 2021 by Eamon O’Kelly

In August, 2021, a question was posted on Quora and Eamon O’Kelly, Esq. posted an answer. Here is a reprint of the question and O’Kelly’s answer:

How much of the Irish and Scottish today are a mix of Celtic and Viking as opposed to more directly descended from the Celts who arrived much earlier in the late bronze-early iron age?

Revolutionary breakthroughs in ancient DNA research in the past 15 years or so have revealed that the peoples of Ireland and Scotland are predominantly descended from the Bronze Age settlers known as the Beaker Folk. Depending on which studies you rely on, from 80 to over 90 percent of our genetic makeup is of Bronze Age origin. The next biggest element (but less than ten percent) comes from the neolithic farmers who left us such wonders as Newgrange and Callanish, and a small trace of the blood of the original, post-Ice Age hunter-gatherers flows in our veins as well. But the imprint of the people who came in historic times—Norse (‘vikings’), Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and the rest—is surprisingly light.

There is no ‘Celtic DNA,’ however, and it is now generally agreed that the 19th century belief in an Iron Age Celtic invasion of Great Britain and Ireland was based on little more than wishful thinking. There is simply no evidence (DNA or archaeological) of the arrival of a significant wave of settlers in the last millennium BC who replaced the descendants of the Bell Beaker Folk: we are still here.

The term ‘Celts’ has been applied to a variety of tribal peoples who lived in central and western Europe (and even further afield) prior to and coterminous with the Roman era. Some of these tribes spoke what were much later labeled Celtic languages and others did not. The La Tène/Hallstat culture has long been classed as ‘Celtic’ but was largely unknown to many supposedly Celtic peoples (including those in Ireland and Scotland). Nowadays, there is an increasing tendency among scholars to use the term ‘Celtic’ only in connection with the languages, and the idea of a ‘Celtic race’ that came with a complete linguistic and cultural package has largely been abandoned.

Celtic languages did, however, arrive and take root in the islands of Great Britain (Brythonic) and Ireland (Goidelic) by no later than the last few centuries BC. How, why, and even exactly when this came to pass is not really known, and is a matter of considerable inquiry and debate among scholars.

You also asked about the Norse (who were much more than just ‘vikings,’ i.e., seafaring bandits). Although the Norse contribution to the Scottish genome as a whole is fairly small (no more than a couple of percent), it is much more significant in parts of western Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkney, and Shetland. This is not surprising because these were areas extensively colonized by the Norse. The Norse imprint on the Irish gene pool is smaller, but many of us (including me) claim some Norse ancestry.

In sum: (a) the Irish and Scots are largely descended from Bronze Age settlers; (b) although our ancestors acquired Celtic languages perhaps 2,500 years ago, we have no ‘Celtic genes’ (because there are none); and (c) the Irish, on average, have some Norse ancestry but the Scots have more, especially in the west and the isles.

You can contact Eamon by email here: eokelly@aol.com


Video about new neo-lithic sites in the Boyne Valley found in summer 2019

Blood of the Scots and Irish

Here is a link to an another excellent 2018 article, summarizing recent DNA analysis of the present day population of Ireland: Blood of the Irish: What DNA Tells Us About the Ancestry of People in Ireland

Newgrange, (Brugh na Boinne), Aerial View

Newgrange (Brugh na Boinne)

County Meath, Ireland

Built ~ 3200 – 3600 BCE

At some time after 6,000 years ago, there arose aremarkable community of people on the island now known as Ireland. These astute, organized, intelligent and capable people staked their claim on the country and began constructing permanent, indelible monuments which were to stand the test of eons of time. They were the megalithic builders.

Their constructions are Ireland’s best known, most explored,and possibly least understood, monuments. The most famous of these is Newgrange. Newgrange is a magnet for tourists, who flock to the Boyne Valley every year in huge numbers. In 1999, there were 297,000 visitors to Newgrange, and numbers havebeen steadily rising.

On the Winter Solstice every year, just after 9am, across the Boyne Valley from Newgrange over a hill known locally as Red Mountain, the sun begins to rise. Given the right weather conditions, the event is spectacular. At four and a half minutes past nine, the light from the rising sun strikes the front of Newgrange, and enters through the passage and roofbox.

For the next 14 minutes, a narrow, foot wide beam of sunlight stretches into the passage and on into the central chamber. In Neolithic times, it illuminated the rear stone of the central recess of the chamber. With simple stone technology, these Neolithic people captured a very significant astronomical and calendrical moment in a spectacular way.

There are two beams of sunlight: a higher beam formed by the doorway falling on the passage, and lower beam from the roofbox that reaches the central chamber. Originally, the roofbox beam would have struck the rear chamber orthostat stone, and, possibly, would have been reflected onto another chamber stone, which contains the famous triple spiral. After these 14 minutes, the beam retreats down the passage and once again all is darkness.

Who were these ancient builders? The Maltese (~4000-3500BCE) and Minoans (~3500-1400BCE) were the first known, great sea-faring civilizations, and had mining colonies for copper and tin in the British Isles, northwestern Spain and Portugal, and later in upper Michigan in the U.S.

The earliest bronze work, gold work, and mines found in Ireland and Cornwall date to this period. It is likely, but not certain, that most of the earliest inhabitants of these parts of the British Isles were Minoans, and later Phoenicians. The bronze age, roughly, began as the Sicilian-Maltese sea kingdom declined and the Minoan sea kingdom rose. Bronze was in use at nearly the same time and the population and number of ancient village/town sites exploded just after 4000 BCE. However, the Minoans were at their zenith between 2500 and 1500 BCE, while Newgrange seems to have been built a few hundred years prior to the first known cities of the Minoans.

There is a second candidate for “first settlement” of Ireland in the ancient megalithic Sicilian-Maltese island kingdom that dates to about 5600BCE (earliest large temple sites) and declined by 2600 BCE–about when the Minoans were hitting their zenith. Settlers of Malta arrived by sea from Sicily. The Minoan sea kingdom shows some evidence of, itself, being a successor state, to this earlier, more westerly, sea kingdom. It’s hard to say how far the ancient Sicilian-Maltese explorers traveled and for what purposes.

The Moon and Newgrange

The Winter Solstice sunrise phenomenon is not the onlyfunction of Newgrange. In the book ‘Uriel’s Machine’, Robert Lomasand Christopher Knight have suggest that the series of eight markings above the roofbox may have been used to track down Venus during specific positions in itseight-year cycle. This eight-year cycle of Venus ties in very closely with the metonic cycle of the moon.

Many astronomers will know that the moon’s orbit around theearth is slightly inclined to the sun’s path, which causes the moon tocross the sun’s path. The moon’s orbit also rotates, and this precession takes 18.6 years. This means that every 9.3 years, on the sun’s summer solstice and winter solstice, a full moon, or waning gibbous moon, will rise in the sun’s position and, weather permitting, shine into the passage and central chamber of Newgrange.

The Irish name for Newgrange is Brugh na Boinne. The word Boinne, from which the River Boyne isderived, means ‘White Cow’, and the ancient goddess Boann may have been associated with the Moon. Indeed, some researchers have pointed out that the period of gestation of a cow is equivalent to nine and a half synodic lunar months. The word Brugh is interesting too. Traditionally it has been interpreted by academics as meaning ‘mansion’ or ‘house’, but there is a word Brú which has been found by researchers of ancient Irish Gaelic to mean ‘womb’ (MacCionnaith Foclóir, 1938). Could the real meaning of Newgrange be ‘The womb of the Moon???’ The symbolism and interplay between the various elements involved leads to further speculation about the whole purpose of the site. We can imagine a full Moon rising over the Hill of Red Mountain, shining across the valley, over the Boyne River, which has the same meaning as the Milky Way in the sky, and may in fact have been seen as its earthly reflection. The Irish for Milky Way is ‘Bealach, or Bothar, an BóFinne’ – the way or the road of the white cow. Some researchers have speculated that perhaps the quartz façade on the front of Newgrange is supposed to be a representation of the Milky Way.

The Celts and Moon images in art

These ancient megalithic cultures were in both Ireland and Scotland. Their culture and carvings are very similar to ancient pre-Celtic sites in Spain, and similar to other ancient megalithic cultures in the northeastern Mediterranean, westernmost Asia and the island kingdoms in between these areas. But, by language, artifacts and DNA, the first definable Celts, arrived in Ireland and Scotland much later, about 900-1100 BCE. These Celts came from Iberia (now Spain and Portugal), bringing iron with them, and so were not the first migration from the Iberian Peninsula.

Based upon place names and archaeological evidence, the Neolithic people came to Scotland from the sea, most likely from Scandinavia or the Baltic area. The Knap of Howar site, on the island of Papa Westray, Orkney, was occupied between 3700-2800 BCE and is considered the oldest stone house in northern Europe. The one consistent aspect of their settlements is the construction of burial sites from stone. Cairns, barrows, passage graves, chambered tombs and burial mounds, all built by the dry stone method (placing and lodging one stone snugly against another without mortar) have been discovered throughout Scotland. Skara Brae is a neolithic site situated in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. The village of stone buildings was inhabited from c. 3100 to 2500 BCE.

In the past, historians dated the arrival of the Picts in Scotland to sometime shortly before their mention in Roman history, and as a single invasive wave. Modern scholarship, however, offers a much earlier date of arrival, prior to 800 BCE, based on a long continuity of Pictish stone carvings, with no full-scale invasion. According to the Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland, ‘the Picts did not ‘arrive’ – in a sense, they had always been there, for they were the descendants of the first people to inhabit what eventually became Scotland’. Historian Stuart McHardy supports this claim, writing that ‘the Picts were, in fact, the indigenous population of this part of the world,‘ by the time the Romans arrived in Britain, 32 CE. They originally came from Scythia (Scandinavia, the Baltic area, Poland, and southward into what is now Russia and Ukrainia), settled first in Orkney, and then migrated south. They created many intricately carved symbol stones. People at the time would have understood the symbols and figures carved on the stones, but their meanings have been lost over the centuries and, today, there is much debate about the meaning of some Pictish symbols. Here we see one that is clearly a crescent moon.

Carrowkeel – World’s Oldest Known Astronomical Observatory

Cairn G at Carrowkeel, County Sligo, Ireland

The first day of summer 2016, was June 20th, aka Mid-Summer. It was also a full moon – a rare co-incidence. This got us thinking again about the ancient astronomical observatories of the Neolithic age in Ireland and Scotland.

When this subject is discussed, we usually hear mostly about the huge passage tomb at Newgrange in County Meath, famed for being built around 3200 BCE, making it more than 600 years older than the Giza Pyramids in Egypt, and 1,000 years more ancient than Stonehenge. However, there are other neo-lithic sites throughout Ireland, and one of the oldest is at Carrowkeel in County Sligo.

CarrowkeelCairnG 2

There are 14 passage mounds at Carrowkeel, all in different stages of construction. Although the site suffered an explosive assault in the 1911 ‘digs’, there are enough remains to show us that this was once an extremely important part of the Neolithic Irish landscape.

Carrowkeel Cairn G is smaller and less sophisticated, and the Cairn G passage is only two meters long compared with nineteen meters at Newgrange but Cairn G is estimated to have been built around 3900 BCE, or 700 years before Newgrange!

Researcher Martin Byrne, whose website, http://www.carrowkeel.com, covers many subjects, was the first to demonstrate that the passage mound known as Cairn G, has a ‘light-box‘, which is similar in design to the light-box at Newgrange, and so constructed so as to allow the light of both the sun and moon to penetrate the inner chamber.

In summer the effect is present for a month on either side of the summer solstice, and in winter, the light of the full moon is present on either side of the winter solstice.
Here is a link to more photographs of the setting sun shining into Cairn G taken at summer solstice, 20th June 2008

Here is a short video of the summer solstice effect, taken at sunset on June 21, 2010, at Cairn G in Carrowkeel, County Sligo


Beaker People

Beaker People

Who were the ‘Beaker People’?

Antecedents of the British and Irish ‘Celts’

By Cecilia Fábos-Becker – Published 2021-08-27

In the other article in this week’s newsletter, Eamon O’Kelly, Esq., an accomplished lawyer who also has a history degree from Fordham University, the British and Irish Celtic people are identified as predominantly descendants of originally what archeologists named ‘the Beaker people’ for a unique pottery style, not, as long believed, descended from the Hallstatt culture in Austria. They were not the first post-ice age settlers of Britannia and Ireland but the earlier groups were smaller. The Bell-Beaker culture people did not build either Newgrange (ca. 3200 BCE) or Stonehenge (ca. 2500 BCE), but came later and used some of the previously built megalithic sites. Their Bell-Beaker DNA, though, became dominant. Eamon O’Kelly’s comments are further substantiated by what is known about the genetics of the Beaker people, and in particular, the geographic concentrations of the by far most dominant genetic haplogroup. Here is a link to the first of several articles that should be interesting to those interested in the prehistoric origins of what we now call Irish and British Celts. This article is from the British Natural History Museum’s ‘Discover’ magazine. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2018/february/the-beaker-people-a-new-population-for-ancient-britain.html

The modern descendants of the Beaker people and skeletal remains of the Beaker people themselves who brought their culture to Britannia and Ireland, have a predominance of a particular haplogroup, R1b (with various subclades) that is concentrated most heavily in West Europe, not central Europe, though it may have originated much further east in the Bakshir area of the Urals and north of the Caspian sea steppe, which also has a high percentage of the same haplogroup along with a small area of the Caucasus between the Black and Caspian seas. When you look at the map in the third link in this article from ‘Eupedia’ it is easily seen that the greatest concentrations of all the R1b haplogroup and its subclades in West Europe are in the northwest of the Iberian peninsula, Brittany and adjacent areas in France, Britannia and Ireland. The Beaker people arrived in Britannia and Ireland beginning about 2200 BCE, about 500 years earlier than many of the oral traditions for what became called the Celts in Britain. Here is an article from the British magazine ‘Current Archeology’ on the DNA of the Bell-Beaker people: https://archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/prehistoric-pop-culture-deciphering-the-dna-of-the-bell-beaker-complex.htm
See also the ‘Eupedia’ link to maps and sub-links on the R1b haplogroup and its origins. https://www.eupedia.com/europe/Haplogroup_R1b_Y-DNA.shtml

The highest concentrations of the Beaker culture haplogroup are interestingly in the same areas in the ancient oral histories of what we now call British and Irish that were described in these traditions as the places they lived before coming to Britannia and Ireland. The haplogroup and associated culture is not dominant in central Europe, where the Hallstatt ‘Celtic” culture developed. It was the eastern Hallstatt culture peoples whom the Greeks knew and referred to as ‘Celtoi/Keltoi’, from which the term ‘Celt’ comes. The Romans called the western peoples of France, which included a large number of ‘Beaker culture R1b descendants, Gauls from which the terms Gaels and Gaelic come. The British and Irish ‘Celts” developed in the west of Europe. While the haplogroup exists in central Asia, and originated there, the cultural artifacts that defined the Beaker culture that became ‘Celtic’ Ireland and Britannia did not exist in central Asia. The pottery style developed much later than the haplogroup. The R1b haplogroup itself developed later than the earlier, related R1a group that is more predominant in central Europe. The Bell-Beaker culture also largely spread through trade, not migration, though trading peoples have certainly intermarried in places where they engaged in trade.

What is now known by archeologists is that the Beaker culture people did become very sophisticated metallurgists and their techniques and styles spread to central Europe–to the descendants of the Hallstatt culture.

For a long time it was believed that the metallurgy spread from central Europe westward with the believed ancestors of the ‘Celts.’ Both modern techniques for dating artifacts, including metals, and the development of the science of genetics have now proved otherwise. Metals can be dated with several techniques, now including spectrum analysis for the combinations of trace elements with copper, lead, silver and iron. Before modern refining these traces remained in finished products. The combination points to specific areas of geology and mining. Mining by humans leaves organic residues which can also be dated. So it’s absolutely now known when many metal artifacts were made, and when, and when and where the metals for the artifacts were mined. The spread of particular cultures and how can thus be determined from the combination of the artifacts and DNA.

In the ancient oral traditions of the history of their people the Celts say they did come from what is now Asturias and Galicia of northwest Spain and Brittany with the Irish Celts coming more from Iberia and the British Celts (Welsh, Cornish, Picts and what existed in what is now England before the Romans) from Brittany. Thus, one part of some long held beliefs about British and Irish Celts has consistency among the oral traditions, DNA, and the early culture–the Beaker pottery. There is not much more said about the earliest history of what we now call British and Irish Celts before them having lived in what is now parts of Spain and France. That should have been given more attention by historians and archeologists of recent centuries because the oral traditions actually showed where what we now call the British and Irish Celtic culture did indeed originate.

The R1b Bell-Beaker Culture replaced a smaller group of settlers in Ireland and Britannia who were Mediterranean-west Asian peoples with I and J clade haplogroups. A bit over 10% of long-time families and clans in Ireland, Scotland, and more so in Wales and Cornwall still have I and J clade Y-DNA.

Dr. Tyrone Bowes of ‘Irish Origenes‘ ‘Scottishorigenes‘ and ‘Englishorigenes’ has identified from 18th and early 19th century land and tax records many hundreds of families (and clans) that have lived in the same place as farming families for many centuries. His https://www.origenesmaps.com website is rich with related maps of all kinds, and he has written a summary of more recent Irish DNA findings: https://www.irishorigenes.com/content/irish-dna

Until the industrial revolution and inexpensive more modern transportation by railroads and steamships, most people in Britain and Ireland lived, died and married within a few miles of where they lived, not just for the centuries of recorded history that we saved, but for millennia. There are quite a lot of descendants of the 10,000 year old ‘Cheddar man’ still living within 20 miles of where he lived and died as just one example. Dr. Bowes found distinctive haplogroups and their subclades associated with individual families and clans. This also shows on the FTDNA (Family Tree DNA testing company, one of only a few who test for male Y-DNA and maternal mitochondrial MtDNA) ‘surname project’ databases, also. The research and results are consistent with one another. For maps of surnames and clans associated with particular haplogroups done by Dr. Tyrone Bowes here are the links.

Interestingly, another part of west Europe with a higher concentration of the I and J haplogroups is in the Basque region of northern Spain and southern France, roughly between the two concentrations of the Beaker culture and its R1b haplogroup. There is a link between the peoples of the Beaker culture, the Basques and the I-J families of the northwest Balkans, and Britannia and Ireland. The link is bronze: specifically the places where copper and tin ore could be found. The greatest early powers of the bronze age were a sea-going island and southern Italian peninsula culture including Malta and Sardinia, followed by what we now call the Minoans but which were known to Egyptians and others as ‘Keretuans,’ whose capitol was on the island of Crete. Some of the earliest skeletal remains found on Crete, and tested, have been in the I-J haplogroups. There is a small concentration of the I-J groups in Croatia where archeology shows copper was already being mined and refined about 6,500- 7,000 years ago. Another area with a small concentration of the older I-J groups is parts of Bulgaria, though its oldest population was largely replaced, as happened in Ireland and Britannia. It also has sites that are over 5,000 years old where bronze and copper artifacts have been found in large quantities. Very little is known yet about the earliest civilizations in Bulgaria. They have only recently begun to be studied after significant finds beginning in the last decades of the 20th century.

The Maltese-Sardinia-Southern Italy seagoing empire was contemporary with the Croatian sites and copper and bronze were being used in the later part of this empire. The Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth archeological site in County Meath in Ireland is nearly identical to a site on Malta called ‘Giganta’ and Giganta is about 300-400 years older. Newgrange is estimated to have been built ca. 3200 BCE, or between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago. Giganta is closer to 4,000 BCE.

The Bronze age did not begin with what we now think of as the Celts. It had already been going on for millennia. The Celts did become superior metallurgists over time, building upon what they learned from others, especially those in the metal ore mining areas before them. The Celts are not one group stretching from Britannia and Ireland to Austria and the British and Irish Celts did not originate in Austria. The British and Irish Celts are a particular haplogroup and culture that is concentrated in the two places their own oral traditions say were where they came from as a definable people–the northwest Iberian peninsula and Brittany in France. What made the R1b haplogroup as successful as it is now was not the art of metal working but the art of cattle-herding, and hybridizing cattle for more docility and milk, and ability to digest all milk products as well as eat beef. The milk enabled more of their young to survive and thrive, even when mothers died in childbirth,as one in three did until only the last century and a half in countries with better hygiene, sanitation and medicine. Cattle, sheep and goats were domesticated about the same time as these were the animals that could provide materials for clothing as well as food in the vicinity of the Taurus mountains. The earliest evidence of herding is in this area beginning about 8500 BCE, but it is believed by archeologists that herding began in the Caucasus or southern Caspian steppes earlier and spread to the Taurus mountains, which is one of a few small areas in Anatolia that also have a smaller, but significant, percentage of the R1b haplogroup.. From recent documentaries on television, such as ‘Nova’ episodes, regarding determining the first horse-herding and riding cultures, the archeologists were looking for not only bits of animal skins and woolen material, but also pottery that contains traces of proteins, fats and minerals most associated with milk.

What’s politically interesting is that the same haplogroup that actually enables more children to survive infancy exists in a significant percentage in a minority group in Afghanistan, the Hazara. Afghanistan is now dominated by religious-political groups who claim to want more children being born and yet that is the very group these religious-political groups have targeted for genocide in recent years, and they were targeted in the late 19th century as well.. The R1b haplogroup is also in a significant percentage of the people of Turkmenistan, suggesting there was once a relatively unified, large, north-south geographic area of the haplogroup from the Bakshir area of the Urals in southernmost Russia going into the Caucasus, and what is now westernmost Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan and north central Afghanistan.


Earlier tomb / observatories

The 5,000 – 6,000 year old monuments of the sea-going Maltese and Minoans

These passage tomb / observatories of Ireland are most similar to the passage tombs of Malta which pre-date them by several hundred years. Also, the ‘I’ and ‘J’ Y-DNA Haplogroups of the Maltese and Sardinians are the same as the Y-DNA of contemporary Irish and British peoples. I and J Haplogroups diverged from an older group that -DNA scientists call ‘I-J’.

The same spiral motifs at the entrance, and the same ‘shamrock’ configuration of three side chambers surrounding the central chamber of Newgrange are both present in the first constructions at Ggantija on Malta. Over time, extra ‘lobes’ were added along with additional construction joining the three original buildings, and so eventually, a massive external temple complex was built.

This suggests that the Maltese sea-going empire of ~6,000 years ago was brought to Ireland in the succeeding millennia.

When the Maltese sea-going empire was rising ~4000 BCE and at its peak ~3600 BCE, the sea level was several hundred feet lower than it is today, and the Britannic islands were was still joined to continental Europe. The Maltese islands were also larger and some adjoined. Their distance to Italy was shorter. Malta is noted also for having some of the earliest bronze artifacts. We now know that the Minoan ships were crossing the Atlantic, in search of copper, and that the resulting copper ore-trace minerals used in Maltese bronze suggests the Maltese had done so first.

Malta’s civilization fell as the sea level rose, and the Minoan empire succeeded the Maltese. Larger islands, like Crete, comprised the Minoan empire, and the Minoans had developed more coastal colonies, some seem to have succeeded earlier Maltese colonies. These colonies had a dual purpose. Although the passage tomb-observatories with their light-box windows were certainly built to mark the solstices, equinoxes and moon cycles important for agriculture, there is another likely purpose for these sea-going empires. These colonies provided control over lands that provided resources to the empire, including food and provisions for the ships.

However, these large buildings could have served also as weather observatories and navigational beacons to let the ships know where they were. Since weather is also seasonal and affects the likelihood of more regular, fair winds and a safe voyage, these same seasonal observations may have been used to indicate when the ice pack in the north was receding and storms were likely to be at their worst or least. The evidence is also shows that some of these temple complexes had perpetual fires burning which would have served as light-houses or navigational beacons to let the sailors know where they were and how far away from land.

Sligo’s location is on the northwest coast of Ireland, one of the last points of land before heading west across the Atlantic. Newgrange is in a more sheltered, navigable river area with a rich alluvial flood plain for food. Just south are the Wicklow Mountains where gold was mined and crafted into torcs and other jewelry dating back to the bronze age, and late Neolithic age, (now displayed in the National Museum of Ireland).