THE EARLIEST ORIGINS OF THE BRITISH
STEVE BRADY concludes his three-part study of the origins of the British by examining our earliest roots, prior to the Roman invasion.
The Battersea Shield - recovered from the Thames, it is a superb example of the metal-working skills of our Celtic ancestors.
IN THE earlier articles in this series we have traced the origin of the British people back some two thousand years to the time of Julius Caesar's landing in Kent in 54-55 BC. We have seen that the various invasions of foreigners beloved of those who like to claim that Britain has 'always been a multi-racial society' were, of peoples ethnically very closely related to native Britons, but were also of very much less impact in terms of numbers, and hence on the composition of our population, than their undoubted effects on the language, culture and political/social structure of our islands might lead one to believe.
For all of our recorded history, most of the British people have been descended preponderantly from a population which was native to our land when the first curtain of history rose upon it. But who were they? And how long have they lived here?
To answer these questions we must seek to part the mists of prehistory, to sift a mass of often confused and sometimes apparently contradictory evidence and the mass of contradictory and sometimes apparently confused interpretations placed upon that evidence by archaeologists, historians and physical anthropologists over the years. We will find that certainty is harder to arrive at than in the historical period, but that nevertheless we can at least establish the limits of the possible and arrive at a general picture, at least regarding our principal concern here, the ethnic composition of the British people.
To begin, we can establish a few fixed reference points, facts few if any would dispute which set the limits of the possible in British prehistory, and which any account of that prehistory must include and explain. Most of those facts are easily established because they can readily be observed or inferred from the situation today.
The first such observable fact, and one obviously central to the question of our ethnic origins, is the physical make-up of the British people. As Dr. John Baker F.R.S., the Oxford zoologist, ably expounds in his Race (OUP, 1974, p217 and 264-9), the British population may be distinguished by its physical constitution as being largely comprised of the Nordic sub-race of the European or White race.
The evidence from physical anthropology is open to a variety of historical interpretations, but it does rule out any substantial immigration before our own times from some of the more exotic locations proposed for the roots of the British, such as Iron Age Palestine (the 'British Israel' theory) or Neolithic Asia Minor.
The second fact relevant to the prehistoric origin of the British comes from comparative linguistics. Since Sir William Jones first pointed it out in 1786, it has been known that many of the languages of Europe, parts of the Middle East and Northern India, are closely related. This is evident if we look at some corresponding words in various of these 'Indo-European' languages.
For example English 'one, two, three'; German 'eins, zwei, drei'; French 'un, deux, trois'; Swedish 'en, tva, tre'; Irish 'aon, do, tri'; Latin 'unus, duo, tres'; Greek 'heis, duo, treis'; and the ancient North-west Indian language Sanskrit 'eka, dva, treyas', compared with the non-Indo-European Finnish 'yksi, kaksi, kolme'.
Such similarities, indicating that the languages in which they occur were once one, are, as would be expected, most notable in the 'core vocabulary' of the languages concerned, words such as those for the numbers one to ten, members of the family etc.
We know that Indo-European languages reached India about 1800 B.C. borne by a conquering aristocracy of White, indeed almost certainly Nordic, warriors. Did they spread across Europe, specifically to Britain then, and in that way? Or earlier, and differently? But spread we know they did: at the start of the historical period, most of our people spoke Indo-European tongues. But, interestingly, a minority, the Picts or Cruthin, seem to have spoken unrelated, presumably older languages.
The third relevant factor in the origin of our people comes from studies by archaeologists, especially of the modern 'processual' school, and historians of how language, material culture and ethnicity in an area are, and historically have been, related and how they can change.
The simplest, and oldest, idea was that language, material culture (including technology, art styles and so on) and ethnicity were common aspects of one whole, so that the appearance of a new style of pottery and grave goods in an area implied that the previous inhabitants had been replaced by a new people in the land.
This idea meant that for example the appearance over areas of Northern Europe in the later third/early second millennium BC of a type of 'Battle-Axe' and pottery known as Corded Ware implied a distinct 'Battle Axe/Corded Ware' people, sometimes identified with the first Indo-European speakers invading the area concerned.
The problem with all this becomes obvious if we imagine 50th Century archaeologists noting the occurrence of the remains of bicycles in 3,000 year-old sites around the globe. It will be discovered that older and less advanced bikes occur, first in Britain, then in Europe and North America. Within a century, the 'Bicycle' culture borne by an identifiable ethnic group, the 'Bicycle People', would spread from an ancestral homeland, to invade Europe, America and eventually much of the world.
Absurd though this reductio ad absurdum indeed is, it is on similar arguments that classical archaeologists built the “Invasion Hypothesis", in which our island was successively overrun by Neolithic farmers, proto-lndo-Europeans, Beaker People, Wessex Culture people, and at least two waves of Celts.
Instead, modern archeologists identify three processes at work in causing the culture changes the archaeological, and indeed historical, record shows. The first, and ethnically least important, is the "peer-polity interaction": basically simply imitation by one people of ideas, inventions, art forms, fashions etc. of another. A modern example is the 'Bicycle People' of modern China.
The second process of cultural change is "elite dominance". Here there is an invader, albeit numerically, often a small minority, who imposes his language, culture and way of life on a conquered majority. The Norman Conquest of England is a classic, historically attested example. It is feasible, but now widely disputed, that the arrival of the 'Celts' in England was an example of this. A series of prehistoric 'elite dominance' cultural overturns are impossible to disprove in prehistoric Britain, but, as with their historic successors, they would leave most of our gene pool descended from an older, aboriginal stock.
It is the third process, the "demographic wave of advance" model, which can supplant a people in their own land. This model, advanced by the geneticist Professor Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and the archaeologist Albert Ammerman in a series of papers commencing in 1973, depends on the newcomers possessing a massive advantage in technology, specifically the technology of supporting people on a given area of land.
The classic example is Neolithic farming as opposed to Mesolithic hunting / gathering. In Europe, hunting / gathering can support only about 1 person per 10 square kilometres. Neolithic-level farming can support five people on one square kilometre, a fiftyfold increase. If farmers move into a land settled by hunter/gatherers, they need not so much as lay a finger on the natives to outnumber them in a few generations by fifty to one.
Cavalli-Sforza and Ammermann showed, in an elegant mathematical model, that a farming population will spread in a wave of population advance by a kilometre a year simply by random movement of younger sons seeking new land to farm etc., spreading across Europe, for example, in a couple of millennia without anyone deliberately setting out to conquer anywhere. Only if the hunter/gatherers are able to copy the new technology and augment their numbers too, can they survive.
Only once in British history have the preconditions for swamping of the natives by a wave of demographic advance existed, when Neolithic farming techniques impacted on Mesolithic hunter/gatherers around 4500 BC. Since then, no invaders have enjoyed the necessary technological lead.
We can, therefore, conclude that our ancestors have held the land, ethnically virtually unchanged, for 6500 years at least. Before Rome was founded, before Horner sang of the topless towers of llion, before Pharoah commanded the first pyramid, this land was our land.
As Cambridge's Professor Colin Renfrew puts it in his interesting Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (Jonathan Cape, 1987, p.6) the result of the latest findings and thinking in archaeology is that "Our origins - and in general that is claimed here for other parts of Europe too - go back very much deeper [than used to be thought]. These lands have been our lands, and those of our forefathers, for thousands of years longer than is widely thought. Many of the features, then, which define the Irishness of the Irish, or the Spanishness of the Spanish, or the Britishness of the British, go back very much deeper".
When we do look at the archaeological evidence for the period between 4500 BC and the Roman Invasion of Caesar, we discover in fact very little evidence of even the relatively minor ethnic admixture of historical 'elite dominance' invasions such as the Saxon, Norse and Norman.
As Professor Renfrew puts it (op.cit, p. 124): "Professor Graham Clark, in his paper 'The invasion hypothesis in British prehistory', published in 1966, suggested that following the spread of farming to Britain there had perhaps been no more than one significant invasion of Britain before the Roman conquest and even the single exception which he cited, associated with the appearance of Beaker pottery in Britain, would today be discounted by most scholars".
A Bronze collar from Lochar Moss (Dumfries & Galloway). An example of the style of Celtic art which continued in northern Britain long after the Romans, under the Emperor Claudius, had conquered the southern part.
Even the Celts are nowadays, seen as indigenous at least to England. Apart from J.G.P. Clark's paper (cited by Renfrew above. Antiquity, 40, pp.179-89,1966), as far back as 1964 the Iron Age scholar R.F. Hodson exploded the then prevailing view of the arrival of the Celts in three waves of invasion ('Cultural groupings within the British pre-Roman Iron Age', Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 30, pp. 99-110).
Those, such as Christopher Hawkes, who once championed the idea that the Celts "came to" Britain, have now abandoned such ideas in favour of "cumulative Celticity", whereby first the Hallstatt and then the La Tene art and weapon styles spread to Britain by peer-polity interaction (e.g. his paper "Cumulative Celticity in pre-Roman Britain", Etudes Celtiques, 13, 2, pp.607-28). Renfrew (op. cit, p.241) speaks of the idea of any "wave of Celtic immigrants to Britain" as having now "been almost universally abandoned".
Iron Age technology itself seems to have been imported, like the Chinese bicycle, rather than being brought, as used to be thought, by yet another wave of invaders. As Professor J.V.S. Megaw and D.D.A. Simpson put it in their classic textbook Introduction to British Prehistory (Leicester University Press, 1979, p.412): "the idea of a new population at the beginning of the Iron Age bringing knowledge of hillforts and characteristic pottery and settlements, as well as iron technology, is now hard to maintain... it is now becoming clear that much of what was traditionally regarded as Iron Age was in fact already current in the late Bronze Age, especially in the case of pottery and settlements. In fact the only innovations that can clearly be assigned to the onset of the Iron Age are the widespread change from bronze to iron for many purposes, and metal objects of Hallstatt C type ... It is difficult to find any evidence that conclusively suggests the arrival of a new population at the beginning of the Iron Age."
Megaw and Simpson, whose text, reflecting the contributions of five other leading authorities beside themselves, may be regarded in many ways as reflecting the modern generally accepted view in the field, repeatedly criticise "the earlier vogue amongst archaeologists to ascribe all major changes in British prehistory to 'invasion' or wholesale settlement" (ibid., p243). Indeed, they provide a comprehensive and detailed account of our prehistory from which few believers in the outdated 'Invasion Hypothesis' are likely to emerge with their preconceptions intact.
This is not to suggest that for over forty centuries nary an outlander planted settled foot on British soil. In the absence of Customs and Immigration, or indeed the sort of unitary state which establishes such invaluable departments of government, a few odd bands evidently trickled in here and there.
In general, however, modern archaeology discounts immigration as a significant factor in British prehistory for the whole 45 centuries between the begining of the Neolithic farming period and the invasion of the Roman Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. Extensive trade in goods, ideas, technology, culture, fashions and religion there certainly was between Britain and the Continent, from a surprisingly early date and to a remarkably substantial degree - our Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age ancestors were far from the ignorant, benighted woad-smeared savages, isolated in primeval forest, of popular superstition: the powerful and highly organized Bronze Age Wessex culture, for example, traded as far as Mycenean Greece and Pharaoh's Egypt.
We have seen that there have been no ethnically significant invasions of Britain since 4500 B.C., the beginning of the Neolithic Age. But what about that point, the beginning of farming in Britain - first identified, incidentally, in Ulster, at Ballynagilly, Co.Tyrone, with a radiocarbon date around 4500 B.C.?
It is tempting to correlate that 'Neolithic Revolution', with two additional events which may have been contemporaneous; the arrival of the Indo-European speech on these shores, and of a population which is more typically Nordic racially, and differs in such features as blood-group distribution and genetic factors, than that of areas of our islands linked historically with non- and hence presumably pre- Indo-European language and culture.
This is what Professor Colin Renfrew of Cambridge and his followers would have us do, at least in part. They argue, and modern archaeology would agree thus far, that the Indo-European dispersal in Europe is considerably older than the date of 2500 B.C. once accepted.
Professor Renfrew suggests that the Indo-Europeans flooded across Europe because they were the first farmers, and thus could swamp native Mesolithic hunter/gathers and that exceptionally some Mesolithic peoples did learn the new ways before they were submerged, so their numbers too increased, and their peoples survived.
This, Renfrew suggests, is what happened to the Basques, whose language is pre-lndo-European, in Spain, and to pre-Indo-European-speaking peoples who survived into historic times, such as the Etruscans in Italy and the Picts / Pretani / Cruthin / Attacotti in the British Isles.
Renfrew follows mainstream scholarship thereafter in arguing that after the great Indo-European farming flood from 6000-4500 BC the racial composition of Europe and Britain remained largely stable, and indeed that most people in most Western European nations, our own included, however much ruling elites and the languages and laws they impose may ebb and flow, are basically descended from the inhabitants of the same lands 6500 years ago.
So it is conceivable that about 4500 BC the only successful major immigration before the 20th Century brought Nordic proto-lndo-European farmers to England. By the time the native, perhaps Mediterranid, Mesolithic people, who may have numbered only 10,000 in Britain all told (see Lloyd and Jennifer Laing, op. cit. p 91) picked up the new farming skills they had already been swamped in the southern half of Britain, but in the North and West their population, admixed with some of the newcomers (for there is no lack of Nordic characteristics in the Scots, Welsh, Irish and Ulster populations), was able to rise sufficiently to hold its own, so that for four thousand years more their speech and ways of life lingered on, until swamped by Celtic cultures.
So, although the coming of the first farmers 6500 years ago was the only time before our own when the British people could have been swamped by immigrants, when immigrants could have made up a significant proportion of our gene pool, it is by no means certain that this did happen. The first of the "elite dominance" superficial ripples on the surface of our folk could have imposed Indo-European language and culture on a predominantly native population, the descendants of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who had learned farming by contact with continental traders.
In any case, subsequent interbreeding of the peoples of our island ensures that all that all of us have at least a proportion of the blood of the First Britons, the Mesolithic hunters, in our veins. For those hunters were indeed the first Britons, descended from the Palaeolithic hunters who first walked here over ten thousand years ago when musk ox and reindeer grazed where now the Channel flows, and the glaciers of the Great Ice Age still reached as far as the English Midlands.
By the 7th millennium BC, when our land had become an island, a British identity had already emerged; as Megaw and Simpson point out (op. cit. p63) "it is certainly not possible to identify any of the British later mesolithic industries very closely to any particular Continental background". For eighty centuries, we have been an identifiable separate entity, a nation. A nation from which, not "waves of immigrants" we are sprung.
For it should now be absolutely beyond doubt that we are not and never have been a "nation of Immigrants". The heart of our folk, the bonds of our blood, our roots in this our soil, go back far deeper than the little ripples of changing lords and masters who have eddied in the shallows of the last quarter or leas of our national story.
At root we are one people, one nation. And we are very old in this land. In the ancestry of every true Briton, perhaps in many cases most of the ancestry if it is traced back far enough, is the blood of those who came to this land when there were no people before them, before Britain was an island, those who did not come to Britain in aeroplanes, or ships, or boats, or canoes. They walked.
It is a bond of shared blood ten thousand years deep which the first major and demographically significant wake of immigrants to land here do not and cannot share, and without which, though they be born here, they cannot ever be British. For modern Coloured Immigration is not, as its apologists claim, "just the latest wave of Immigrants to reach Britain, the latest layer in the ethnic mix which makes up our people". For, as we have seen, there have never been waves, as distinct from insignificant ripples, of immigrants for at least 6500 years, if ever.
We are not an ethnic mix, even a mixture of Europeans. We are a united, inter-related family, bonded by kinship stretching back three hundred generations. Outsiders can never belong, even were they not as blatantly alien as the Blacks and Browns and Yellows who are now foisted upon us, and in unprecedented numbers.
Never, ever, have so many, literally millions, come to our land. Never, ever, have they so outbred the natives, so that at the present rate we will be a minority in this our ancient homeland within one more lifetime.
White European immigrants, Poles and Ukrainians and the like, in modest numbers can marry into our national family, as earlier such insignificant and assimilable minorities, Norman, Saxon, Dane, did. Negroes and Asiatics cannot: their offspring are as visibly alien as they are. All they can do is destroy the ancient nationhood we have built up over three hundred human lifetimes. If we let them.
We must not. For this land is not just somewhere we happen to live, a mere place of birth or residence, as those would hand it over to any alien who shares that transient birth or residence claim. It is our home, our only home. We have nowhere else to go, as the Immigrants have. And we have grown into this ancient earth, this our British soil, generation after generation, for longer than our histories run, longer even than our legends tell.
Before our land was an island, it was our land. Our land, part of us, bonded in blood over a hundred centuries of birth and growth and begetting and death. Shall we fail the three hundred generations of our forebears who stand behind us, and in less than eighty years throw away what they have held for ten thousand? They held it for us. We can do no less for those who come after us. Keep the faith, guard the land, for the land is ours, forever. We are not a Nation of Immigrants, we never were. And we never shall be!