Wales - Ancient Times

The British Isles have had human habitation for nearly a million years, according to archaeologists who have found stone tools and footprints.  They know that Neanderthals were there before the ice age.  Evidence exists of a Neolithic culture around 4000 B.C.  In ancient times the British Isles were connected to continental Europe by a chalk ridge.  But eventually, this was cut through by rising ocean levels, creating the English Channel.  Because of the ice age, most of the population left, leaving only a small ice-free zone in the south part of the main island.  Cornwall was ice-free, but what is now Wales was covered except for the Gower Peninsula.  Ireland was totally covered.  After the ice age, people began to migrate back into the British Isles.  This migration began about 11,600 years ago.  The temperatures after the ice age rose rapidly.

For centuries, the only evidence we have had about ancient peoples is from archeological finds.  Written history, at least in Britain, started with the Roman invasion.  Archaeology only gives us clues.  We then have to make assumptions about what life was like in ancient times. 

DNA suggests that Wales is genetically distinct from the rest of mainland Britain.  North Wales and South Wales are genetically different even in Wales.  The DNA shows that the population came from Northern France, Ireland, and the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal.  The Irish mix in is North Wales, South Wales from the continent.  The mountainous nature of Wales made it more likely that the ancient DNA would be retained. 

The people who came to Britain from the European Continent were Celts.  Who were the Celts?  Where did they come from?  Archaeologists and Historians have long known that they appeared in Europe near the end of the Bronze age.  The Celts were a collection of tribes with similarities in language and culture.  These were the Gaels, Gauls, Britons, Irish and Galatians, and Basques.  Their languages and cultural traditions live on in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany, and to an extent in Cornwall, Isle of Man, and in Galician Spain.

DNA indicates that Celts were originally tribes that came from the Russian Stepps.  We know that they split into two language groups, the Brythonic (which lives on in Welsh, Cornish, and Breton, and Galician.)  The second group is the Goidelic (which lives on with Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx).  Three Celtic languages are now extinct (Cumbric, Cornish, and Pictish).  The DNA of the Celts is not consistent.  There are nine different DNA groups for the Celts.  Rather than a single people, the Celts were a diverse group of people with language and cultural similarities.  They worshipped pagan gods, with different Celtic societies having their own pantheon of gods and myths.  The Brythonic Celts migrated into Greece and traveled along the Danube River to Poland.  The Goidelic Celts migrated westward into Switzerland and France.  This group becomes the Gauls of France. Eventually, the Celts moved and settled thoughout continental Europe

Eventually, both groups, Brythonic and Goidelic cross the channel and become ancestors of the British Celtic nations.

In Wales, the Celts moved into five tribal areas, which we know as  Deceangli, Cornobii, Ordovices, Silures, and Dematae. These Celts were primitive, but not ignorant savages.  However, they were warlike by necessity. 

At this time, there are were no countries anywhere in Europe.  The British Isles were covered by vast forests. Celtic tribes existed everywhere.  In Wales, they lived mostly as small family groups.  There were no cities, no villages.  Their homes were made of timber and sod.  These huts had no windows.  

Consider.  A family lives in a forest glade.  As children are born, more space is needed.  An attack is made on a family in a nearby glade.  One group is conquered, and the two families are combined.  This attacking and combining goes on for generations.  Eventually, a leader emerges and now this group of people, this tribe, has a chief.  This is how civilization is formed.  These tribes get larger and larger and eventually, the tribal chief and his family become the rulers.  Hereditary nobility is born.  The chief now is given a new title “Prince”.  As principalities combine, eventually nations emerge and a noble family takes power choosing a “King”.  Royalty has now emerged.

The year is 55 BC. Julius Caesar leads a Roman expedition into Britain, and another a year later.  These expeditions are not successful.  However, in 43 AD, Roman Emperor Claudius sends four Roman Legions to Britain, they begin to conquer, and by 90 AD, most native Welsh tribes had been defeated and Rome ruled in Wales. 

The Romans brought civilization to Wales.  They built roads, bridges across rivers, and erected buildings sof stone, and viaducts.  This Roman lifestyle transformed Wales.  Many Latin words were adopted into the Welsh language.  Pont for bridge – the Welsh had not built any significant bridges, fenster for window (Welsh huts did not have windows).  Other Latin words such as stilleto, and eglwys Roman word for church were added to the Welsh language.

Four hundred years later, the Roman Empire collapsed and disappeared.  Roman influence lived on long after the Romans had left.  Many Roman soldiers had married Celtic women and stayed on, helping to keep the Roman lifestyle alive.  Many roads today in Britain follow the original Roman roads.  The Roman language (Latin) in Britain sounded different from that spoken in Rome.  After Romans left Britain, the vernacular Latin they spoke lived on and became the Latin spoken in church.  Different than that spoken in churches in other parts of Europe.  Also, the Roman occupiers of Europe had broken away from Rome in the 3rd Century and became part of the Gallic Empire.  

This is a rare image of modern-day Celts performing an ancient Celtic Ritual known as the Ooohiiioo! This sacred ritual was performed at Bute Park in Cardiff, Wales in 2019, and believed to be repeated in many parts of the world by the descendants of Ancient Celts known as “Bucks”.  This strange ritual is usually enacted following the consumption of a grain-based beverage.  The two outside figures have arms raised indicating that the Welsh rule the known world. The author standing next to the ancient fertility symbol has his hands raised in deference to the Welsh deity Cwrw.

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