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Basingstoke Archaeological and Historical Society
10:21am Tuesday 29th November 2011 in Reports
PROFESSOR Sir Barry Cunliffe was the guest speaker at the society’s November meeting. His chosen subject – ‘Celts from the West’ – provided a large audience with a fascinating summary of the changes that have taken place over the past half century in our understanding of the origins of the pre-literate societies of Iron Age Western Europe. These people or peoples, called ‘Celtic’ by classical historians, were often recorded as hostile towards Mediterranean civilisations – a notable event being the sack of Rome in 390 BC. Contemporary sources never associate them exclusively with one homeland but described them as living in tribal territories across Western Europe. Why they should have apparently become aggressive in the latter part of the first millennium BC will never be satisfactorily explained in the absence of indigenous written sources but it seems most likely that the upheavals were caused by population pressures.
For about a century before 1960 scholars believed that ‘Celtic’ peoples had spread east and west from a Rhine/Danube regional homeland. However later research has confirmed the eastward movement through the Balkans to Anatolia but it has become increasingly clear that there was no complementary movement westwards and the long held opinion that the Celtic peoples of north-west Europe and the British Isles had continental origins has had to be revised.
Sir Barry explained that evidence has accumulated to show that megalithic tombs (or passage graves) pottery, stone battle axes and more recently the study of place names and linguistics all point to human populations coming to Western Europe by sea from about 4500 BC along its Atlantic coast. Beginning at the Iberian Peninsula, Indo-European language speakers moved northwards through Brittany, Ireland, the Western Isles of Scotland and beyond. With settlement their language differentiated into regional dialects over time and, as populations increased, the river systems that flow into the Atlantic became the conduits for extended areas of settlement eastwards towards the centre of the Continent.
Society activities this past month have included continuing field work, under surprisingly favourable conditions for the time of year, on the site of the Up Nately brickworks and on the North Wessex Downs Bronze Age site while a small group of members represented the society at the Family History and Local History Day at the Discovery Centre, Basingstoke, on October 9.
The Christmas Party will take place from 7.30pm on Thursday, December 8, at Church Cottage, Basingstoke.
Looking forward to 2012 the society is planning a members’ field trip to Brittany and Normandy in the early spring.