Not very long ago, the common consensus was that “civilization” developed slowly in Europe. Outside of the Mediterranean civilizations of Greece and Italy, ancient Europe was a backwater full of barbaric tribesmen who mostly lived in hut-like dwellings. Most laymen and many historians would say that compared to Sumer, Babylon, China, Egypt, and the Indus River Valley, Europe was far behind the curve.
This attitude is undergoing a transformation. Thanks to recent archaeological discoveries, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that ancient Europe, especially prehistoric Europe, was far more developed than previously thought. This development wasn’t just in the Mediterranean basin, either. Archaeologists have not only unearthed evidence of professional armies, advanced technologies, and elaborate social structures in the mountains of Northern Europe and the Balkans, but they’ve even decoded some of the continent’s oldest mysteries.
10. The Origins Of The Celts
In 2006, Bertie Currie, the owner of McCuaig’s Bar in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, made a curious discovery while clearing land for a driveway. Underneath a large stone, Currie found several bones. Once the police concluded that McCuaig’s Bar wasn’t sitting on top of a crime scene, archeologists moved in. What they found was revolutionary—three skeletons that predate the arrival of the Celts in Ireland by 1,000 years or more.
Although recent radiocarbon dating put the origins of the skeletons at about 2000 BC, scientists at Oxford, the University of Wales, Queen’s University Belfast, and Trinity College Dublin found that DNA recovered from the ancient bones closely resembled that of modern-day individuals from Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Such a find calls into question the presiding belief that Celts from mainland Europe migrated to the British Isles sometime between 1000 and 500 BC.
As a result, many theories have been put forward that rewrite common wisdom about the British Isles. Some concluded that the skeletons reveal that Irish, Scottish, and Welsh DNA originates from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, thereby arguing for multiple migrations that predated the Celtic movement northward from their homes in Germany, Austria, and Spain. Others, like Barry Cunliffe, argue that the skeletons show that Celtic civilization began in the British Isles and then spread to mainland Europe. Another group argues that the prehistoric Irish may have even predated the arrival of Indo-Europeans. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that what we know about prehistoric Ireland is about to change.