The Insular Ethnic Layer Cake: base layers : LUSENET : The Garden : One Thread

Forgive me for this from the outset but this is strickly "off the cuff" and I haven't reviewed any of this material for years. In the interim some of it may have been superceded. And there are those of various persuasions who may want to take issue with the material presented here for any number of reasons.

But I'm just going to tell it as I see it.

The history of Europe is the history of the building of a rich ethnic layer cake. These layers mostly oozed or slid from east to west, piling one on top of the other with the occassional less significant decorative episode.

Understanding how the genetic/ethnic/linguistic base of Europe's population was constructed helps one make sense out of the extreme diversity of physical "types" one encounters in Europe, and areas inhabited by people of European descent. It also helps make sense of the evolution of mythology and pre-christian religions on the continent and it's insular satellites.

The most extreme examples of ethnic layering may be found in far western Europe, especially the British Isles and Ireland. Our study will focus there. But in order to understand how Ireland and Britain came to possess their rich ethnic heritage one must look to the east, because it is from there that the ancestors of all the inhabitants of the isular worlds originally came.

We may comfortably assume that humans did not evolve in Europe, nor did the first humans enter Europe from Africa, but from Asia, the middle east, the near east, western Asia via the Caucasus and the area surrounding the black sea. We will not concern ourselves here with those humans that the first MODERN humans entering Europe encountered already there: the Neandertals. The first modern humans to enter Europe probably walked there [ca 40,000 YBP]; though some entry by sea is not an unreasonable supposition. In fact, there may have been later in-migrations by both a northernly land route (the Danube Valley) and a southerly ocean route (the Mediterranean coast)[ca 20,000 YBP]. Various routes into the continent may explain the development of early aboriginal linguistic groups, only two of which appear to survive into the present, Basque in the south and Finnish in the north. This is not to suggest that the Finns used the Danube Valley to enter Europe. Their entry was probably across the flats of Siberia into the far northeast. But who were the original Western Europeans? We may have some clues in the Basques. A study of the Basque language, people, and culture is worthy of a lifetime of study. It is my thought that the Basques of today are the direct decendents of those "Cro-Magnons" who decorated the caves of Lascaux, Altamira, and many others [ca 15,000 YBP]. Today the Basques occupy a restricted area for reasons to be examined further. It may be assumed that the aboriginal Europeans who may be their relatives or ancestors at one time occupied wider areas. Linguistic reconstruction of far western Europe around the end of the last ice age is not possible. It would be a stretch to suggest that the language of the Cro-Magnons was proto-Basque: but it may have been. It may have also been made up of various independent linguistic groups that later died-out, merged, evolved, morphed. Genetic studies may shed more light on western European heritage than linguistic speculation. Basques possess Rh- blood types: they are the only people on earth to be almost entirely homozygous for this recessive trait. A genetic map of the prevalence of Rh- blood in various populations globally reveals the greatest concentrations in the Basque homelands on the shores of the Bay of Biscay in southern France and northern Spain. The gene is prevalent in the British Isles and Ireland and all the western fringes of Europe save Scandinavia, where it is less prevalent. It begins to thin out in Germany and the eastern Mediterranean, and by the time you are in Russia or the mid-east it has all but disappeared. The gene is unknown in Asia, Africa, Australia (aborigine), or North America (aborigine).

The first humans to enter Britain were migratory hunters who walked there when a land bridge existed with the continent near the end of the last ice age [ca 10,000 YBP]. The Ice had retreated sufficiently for ingress, but had not melted sufficiently to obliterate the land bridge. Various animals also migrated into the islands at this time, including hares but not coneys (coneys were not introduced into Britain until after 1066). Vipers arrived in Britain but were denied access to Ireland due to the timing of temperate changes with ice or ocean barriers. Later, during the late Paleolithic, after the rise of sea levels, stone age humans almost assuredly entered Britain, and especially Ireland over water using canoes or primitive ships and boats. It is now known that the art of shipbuilding during the stone age was far more advanced than we might assume. Whether the early waves of stone-age arrivals in the islands were all from the same genetic or linguistic stock is unknown: they were probably not. But linguistic and genetic diversity among far western aboringinals at that time may not have been extreme. In any event, as various groups arrived in the insular worlds they brought their languages and cultures with them to new environments, where they would be influenced by the others there or soon to arrive and proceed along their own unique insular trajectories from then on.

Scholars call the first inhabitants of Britain and Ireland the "Iberians". They may be assumed to possess a similar culture and heritage to the people whoinhabitated Iberia and other portions of far western Europe including modern-day France, which was not yet FRance or even Gaul at that time. It is believed they possessed characteristics akin to those of the modern-day Basques: they were small of stature with dark hair and eyes.

Throughout the neolithic era [ca +-8000 YBP] the Iberians thrived in the insular world: their languages no doubt diverged from those on the continent, as did their customs. Meanwhile, newcomers continued to arrive. Whether these newcomers were welcomed or contested is poorly understood. Human nature being what it is we may assume that both outcomes occured at different times in different places among different individuals and groups.

Here comes one of the most problematic challenges in reconstructing far-western European prehistory. We know through the archeological record that customs changed over time, but we can never be certain why. Change may have been a function of independent evolution, fashions introduced through trade, emulation of other groups, subjugation by small groups of dominant invaders, or racial replacement. Or of combinations of any or all of the above factors.

We do know that by the late neolithic period, around the time of the building of stonhenge [ca 4000 YBP] some things had changed. It has been suggested by some scholars that by that time the first Indo-European incursions had begun. We hear the phrases proto-Indo-European or even proto-Celt applied. Funerary customs in Britain and Ireland are perhaps our best clues in the archeological record for changes in cultures and mores.

In the neolithic members of a community were interred into the sides of "long barrows", or rectangular-shaped mounds, the sides of which were reinforced with stones. Various portions of these long-barrows may have been reserved for certain families or lineages. Sholars are fairly certain that before internment, bodies were de-fleshed. That is, they were exposed to the elements in air-burials until reduced to skeletons. There is some evidence that bones were deliberatly mechanically defleshed to speed the process of skeletonization. Whether cannibalism was a part of this process is unknown. It has been suggested that large communal wooden scaffolds were constructed in sacred space to display the corpses of the departed during de-fleshing. After the dead were reduced to a neat, clean pile of bones, the bones were then interred into the family niche in the side of the long barrow. During the long-barrow period funerary customs appear to have been more egalitarian. THe construction of stonhenge began during the long-barrow period but continued and expanded during the round-barrow period.

Round barrows were burial mounds, but that is all they had in common with the long barrows. Funerary practices during the long-barrow period appear to have been less egalitarian. Only nobles or special personages had round barrows raised around the burial chambers, with the chieftain in the certain often accompanied by grave goods. Later, members of his family, dynasty or retinue (presumably) would be interred into the outer perimeter of the mound at various intervals. Defleshing does not appear to have been a part of the customs of the peoples who employed the round-barrow method of interrment. Another name for a round barrow is the Russian term "Kurgan". Kurgans are found in Continental Europe, and especially in Russian, and especially in the steppe regions of Russia and western Asia. Who built the Kurgans and why did similar structures appear in Britain and Ireland?

While the neolithic period in far western Europe was in full-swing, events were transpiring in the east that would forever alter the genetic, linguistic, and cultural history of western Europe. The bronze age had brought metal to many peoples, especially in the eastern mediterranean, starting around 5000 YBP. Egypt and the civilizations of the fertile cresent began to take shape. North of there on the steppes surrounding the Volga basin of present-day Russia lived peoples whose livelihood and cultural identity revolved around the domestication and use of horses. The horse-culture of the steps lasted for a long time, into the iron-age [ca 2700 YBP], and underwent many changes, and was embraced by peoples of many diverse ethnicities. But we are talking about the earliest expressions of this culture, around 3000 to 1500 BC, during the bronze age. Something started happening in the Volga basin, and it was something new, and powerful, and energetic. Peoples sharing the horse-culture, possibly from diverse ethnicities at first, merged together. as they pooled their energies and talents on the plain a new language evolved: Indo-European. Indo-European languages are very influential today and include all European Languages save Basque, Finnish, and Hungarian, and Sanscrit and it's spawn. The evolution of the new language coincided with the evolution of a new culture with bronze weapons including swords and tridents, the discovery and development of horseback riding (before that horses were used for draught animals only), and the invention of the SPOKED wheel (before that wheels were solid, heavy, slow, cumbersome slabs). The spoked wheel and the four-wheeled carts they enabled were perhaps the most important development, because they were fast, and high-capacity, and allowed this new and energetic Indo-European people to rapidly expand into the traditional home-ranges of other humans. The era of humans residing in one valley for the whole of their lives had not yey ended, but it was about to be radically challenged by wave upon wave of migrations out of the Volga Basin first, and later from other areas in Eurasia. Starting around 2500 BC, the cart-driving horse-riding Indo-Europeans begain their migrations out, to both the east and west. In the east they rapidly conquered present-day Iran, rested a few generations and then conquered most of India. In the west they entered Europe primarily through the Danube Valley, but also drove north and circled into the plains of the Baltic. They moved south into the Mediterranean region. In the north they drove the Finns before them into the hinterlands. In the west they penetrated deep into the territorry of the Iberians until they became stalled or bogged down in west of present-day France. In the mediterranean they expanded south as successive waves of "northern invaders" known to history in Greece as the Achaeans, Dorians, and Ionians (and later more historically even as the Macedonians {'twas ever thus} ["Before old Alexander, 'twas JUST THE SAME as now"(JA) ].

It was pretty much all over by 1500 BC, when the Indo-Europeans had spread as far south as Egypt, which they'd conquered for an abortive dynasty known as the Hyksos (which I believe divided the first and Middle kingdoms, and was known for it's CHARIOTS) and the Levant, where they were known as the "Sea Peoples" and became known to history as the Philistines (yes, the Philistines of the Old Testament period are theorized to have been an incursive sea-faring Indo-European group). Indo-Europeans also spread as far east as China's Gobi Desert, where they also introduced the spoked wheel and horseback riding to China.

This is about where the Etruscans come in. I belive they were aboriginal Europeans, related or NOT to the Basques. They may have been their own linguistic group: one of the aboriginal groups that died out linguistically, thought their genetic heritage lives on no doubt in those of northern Itlaian descent. They held their own in Northern Italy against successive waves of Indo-European incursions that eventually leap-frogged them. the Latins of course, are Indo-European.

In western Europe, even if the bulk of the Indo-Eurpean migration may have been held-up in the Alps, there were certainly incursions of groups as far west as the islands, and into Ireland. How Ireland was first broached by Indo-European stock is a matter for debate, and will be examined in depth as we advance along the time-line.

It may be that proto-Indo-Europeans may have reached Ireland and Britain by sea from the coastal plains of northern Europe by or across the channel by 2000 BC at the earliest and by 1500 BC in greater frequency. These incursions may have had a disproportionate influence on customs and culture to actual NUMBERS of invaders if accompanied by successful military campaigns or political coups.

It may be that the average Indo-European looked different from the average Iberian. It issupposed that the Indo-Europeans were taller and more fair of hair, eye, and complexion than the Iberians. They were also RH+.

But the mass incursions of Indo-Europeans from the east, into Iberian occupied territory on the continent, and as a trickle or injection perhaps in Britian and Ireland, was not the only alteration of the ethnic mix that was taking place prior to 1000 BC.

The Semitic kingdoms of Accadian, Canaan, Assyria, Babylonia were powerful. One city state served their ends: it was independent and known as Phoenicia. The Phoenicians lived in two cities on the coast of modern-day Lebanon, Sidon and Tyre. THey were periodically subjugated by variors imperial powers from the interior but were alwaysallowed to retain autonomy because there citadels were irreducible and they were GREAT SEAMEN and TRADERS who were valuable to these empires for what they could provide. Kind of like the situation with Communist China and Hong Kong today. The Phoenicians had traveled to Britain and Ireland very early on, establishing small trading concerns on both islands which may or may not have included colonies of reasonable size. Irish mythology suggests that at one time (prior even to the arrival of the Danaans)semetic peoples were the dominant ethnic group in Ireland. But that is folklore and will be discussed later after this broad and reasonably reliable (I hope) overview has been laid down. The Phoenicians were interested in the Islands because of the rich tin resources there. Tin is an essential ingredient of bronze: a "stategic material" of the day. So, added to the ethnic mix on the islands probably not long after the first Indo-European incursions, was the Levantine semitic strain.

After the technology of smelting and forging iron reached central Europe around 800 BC, the Indo-Europeans broke out of the Alps and rapidly advanced through France and Iberia all the way to the western fringes. By this time, the original homogeneous Indo-European group that had entered Europe around 2000 BC, spreading in all directions, had differentiated linguistically and cultural to extremes. Those who had moved into the mediterranean had intrebred and merged with the aboriginal mediterraneans. Those who had moved west had interbred and merged with the Iberians. Those who had moved north had interbred and merged with the Finns. The once reasonably homogeneous group was no longer linguistically mutually intelligible, nor were they necessarily of similar physical characteristics.

In central Europe, the Iberians faced the Celts to the east, who had by about 800 BC, developed a unique cultural and linguistic identity. Behind the Celts, in even deeper remote fastnesses were the Germanic peoples. Behind the Germans were the Slavs. Linguistic groups included in the Indo-European language family are Greek, Slavic, Latin, Celtic, Germanic, Amermenian, Iranian, and Sanskrit, among some others.

It was Indo-Europeans in their guise as Celts who first entered Iberian-dominated fringes of western Europe.

The Celts entered Britain first across the channel. Ireland presented more of a challenge. The Celts who entered Britain across the channel had already morphed linguistically from some others of their kin: the first to invade to the west. Those who went west first proceeeded to the western fringes of Iberia. They brought with them a more antique form of Celtic language, Goidelic. On the continental western fringes they conservered their early language as Celtic continuted to evolve in the Gaulish heartland.

Around 500 BC, the Goidels of western Iberia boarded ships and sailed to Eire. Here's where the particularly Irish part of the story begins, and where myth and prehistorical reconstruction through archaeology run parallel, diverge, and begin to become confused until history dawns.

The next installment of this thread will focus primarily on events in Ireland and Britain, though we will still need to look over our shoulders toward the continent occassionally as we inticipate the arrival of the next wave of invaders from the west.

-- Anonymous, June 22, 2002

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