Archaeology Culture History Irish Mythology - Seanchas

John T Koch: Thinking About Indo-European And Celtic Myths

The video below is from a lecture by the American historian John T Koch, summarising the evidence for linking Europe’s historically swift transition from the Neolithic/Megalithic Age to the successor Copper/Bronze Age with a westward migration of Proto-Indo-European speaking peoples from the Pontic–Caspian Steppe of modern day Russia and Ukraine to the central and western regions of the Continent around 3000-3500 BCE. For Ireland, specifically, the archaeological and genetic – and at a stretch, linguistic – evidence points towards a not insignificant influx of migrants to the country around 2400 BCE who were ultimately derived from those Proto-Indo-European communities that had settled in the Atlantic littoral zone of the Iberian Peninsula and possibly France some centuries earlier. These incomers, presumably families and individuals, seem to have brought with them a largely pastoral and metallurgical culture which absorbed parts of the existing agrarian culture of the megalith-builders who turn had displaced the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers before them on the island. More importantly, perhaps, the Iberian-derived groups quite possibly introduced the Indo-European dialect or dialects to north-western Europe that eventually developed into the ancestor or ancestors of the modern Irish, Scottish, Manx, Cornish and Breton languages.

15 comments on “John T Koch: Thinking About Indo-European And Celtic Myths

  1. Go raibh míle maith agat, Niall,


  2. It is interesting. The presumption that any Indo-European must have entirely eradicated any pre-exisitng people……I honestly don’t know what to say about it.

    In a lot of cases the exiting population ends up intermarrying quite a bit with the newcomers, even when the relationship isn’t all peace, love, and brotherhood. For example, even though the pre-Contact Native Americans saw over 98% of their people killed by disease, and the secondary famines and fighting between desperate dispossessed group…..and that was before a bunch of European (mostly Spaniards at first) came around and to put it kindly weren’t up to the standards of UN Peacekeepers.

    And yet……there has been quite a bit of intermarriage between Native American people and those of European, African, and Asian origins. Mexican identity is heavily tied to the idea of European-Native American mixing. A child born to Cortez and an Aztec woman is mythologized as “The First Mexican”.

    Also they’re saying now that the Chinese, Egyptians, Japanese etc are the result of mixing multiple ethnic groups. It would be no big surprise to find out Irish are a mixture of IndoEuropean and pre-IndoEuropean farmers. No surprise at all!!!!

    I just met some Irish women who were telling me about the ways in which Irish and other Celtic languages show cognates with the Latin languages. “tu” is the word for “you” in Irish?


    • Also they told me a less-commonly used way of saying “How are you?” in Irish. I don’t want to risk mangling or mispelling it, but it sounded a lot like ¿Cómo estás tú?, they also had words for “land”, “horse”, “gold” and other words. Some might be false cognates, but…!!


      • Jim Monaghan

        Many Irish words derive from Latin and French. Later than you speculate. The language of the Church was Latin. The Anglo-Normans spoke French. Indeed in English, nearly all words for abstract ideas and legal stuff derives from Norman French. Languages constantly evolve. Indeed one of the silliest things is the efforts of the Academie Francais to stop the French language changing.


        • I’m sure there would have to be Latin and French loan words due to centuries of Catholicism!!

          However, it was my understanding that words for livestock, features of landscape, family relationships tend to be more conservative than say words used for discussing theology, modern science, inventions etc.

          I’d be REALLY surprised if a pronoun was a loan word. “Tu” = “you” in Irish? That the informal you in most (all?) Latin languages.

          Apparently many linguists accept the idea of an “Italo-Celtic” branch of the I.E. languages. All surviving members of the Italic parts would be Latin/Romance tongues.


          • On foot of what you say Grace, I’ve read and I can’t quite recall the reference, in relation to seeming displacements that often the adoption of different cultures can occur relatively rapidly – England springs to mind, and I’m trying to recall was it Saxon displacements of original inhabitants.


            • I saw a study saying The English have more Basque genes than Saxon. While the Saxon language and culture may have dominated, the genetics of these basque related people persisted.

              One comparison was to Mexico. There Spanish language and Catholicism dominate, genetically the people are mixed and culturally both European and Indian customs are easy to find.

              The idea with England is you have a similar situation minus “the smallpox and measles apocalypse”, that was involved in the Mexican case.

              Similarly there was a documentary about Egypt where an American documentarian asks an Egyptian historian about what he learned in HS-that the Arabs wiped out the people of ancient Egypt. The historian nonchalantly said this was unlikely given the populations of Arabia and the Nile Valley at any given time-even if Arabic and Islam prevailed


            • Yes, the Germanic invaders did a very good job, linguistically/culturally, of pushing out and/or absorbing the original Romano-British/post-Roman inhabitants of eastern and southern Britain.

              Interestingly, the old academic theory of “invasions”, of population displacement in the ancient past, which strongly went out of favour in the late 20th century (especially after WWII and the horrors of eugenics-driven genocide and mass murder) has now come back into play based upon the findings of modern DNA-based archaeology and research. It seems that in many cases population replacement was more or less a thing. Albeit more credibly so given the very small numbers we’re talking about in terms of ancient populations.


      • Plenty of Irish words have Latinate and Scano-Germanic origins. My aunts in West Cork still say “garsoon” for a young lad. Which is from Norman-French garçon “boy” via Irish garsún “young boy”.

        The fun part about the Indo-European family of languages is finding all the cognates in the different branches. People devote whole careers to it. And then fight like cats and dogs over the results! 😉


        • Interesting. My relatives in Boston have an EXTREME bias that says Latin languages are beautiful and everything else, including English, is just UUUGGGLY.

          I figured one way to convince them that Irish is a very pretty language would be to give them a lot of information about the Italo-Celtic theory in advance and THEN have them listen to some spoken Irish. Now without the prompting they’d likely to react to spoken Irish (songs would be a bit different) by saying some less-than-flattering things about their ancestors’ language. Get them in advance by convincing them it’s much like a Latin language they would be like “Say! What a pretty language!” 😉

          As for “garcon” to “garsun”, wouldn’t that be a recent French loan word, (Middle Ages)? Medieval or Modern loan words would be a different thing from older IE cognates, yes?

          I have to say the phrase “Conas atá tú?” really had me gobsmacked, even though the women who told me it were clear that it wasn’t the most common way to ask “How are you?” They had studied Spanish, so they knew I’d find it Latin-sounding.

          I would agree that the whole IE family thing is kind of uncanny at times. There’s always these weird places where eerily similar sounding words and phrases show up, and they don’t appear ot be just “loan words”.


  3. Dara O Rourke

    A language can move faster than a large group of people. Especially 2500 years ago.


    • I’m not sure. In the pre-Medieval/Classical period human beings were the vector for linguistic and cultural change (since no other medium of dissemination existed). The late 20th century idea of new “cultural packages” minus new people is gradually falling out of favour. It seems that, yes, where dramatic changes are observable in the archaeological and DNA records, they were almost certainly accompanied by population movements, whether rapid or slow, big or small. It’s an uncomfortable subject, especially in light of contemporary politics, but the past is the past.


      • It always seemed intuitive to me, that inter-marriage or other means of finding “mixed” children would seem like a very, very high probability even if the different groups didn’t necessarily got along at all.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. gendjinn

    Cassidy et al 2015 is being a little overstated by Koch and should be read in the context of the 2018 paper “Insular Celtic population structure and genomic footprints of migration” Byron et al (from the same labs as Cassidy 2015).

    The displacement & replacement model which on the continent could be quite severe, did not have the same levels of impact in Ireland or Britain. Over the past couple of years the Paleolithic HG haplotypes are showing a greater persistence in full genome analysis than the previous 20 years of study has revealed. Iberian peninsula research in particular, and finding a greater portion of Basque haplotypes showing up in archaic UK DNA (Brigantes etc).

    If you search on pubmed for misc combos of Neolithic/Paleolithic/Irish & Genome/DNA/Haplotypes will turn up most of the recent research and a surprising amount of it is available for free download.

    Liked by 1 person

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