'Celts' Are Not Really Celtic

September 17, 2004

Famous 'Celtic' nations may be misnamed

Genetic studies hint at unexpected origins of clans

Sept. 9, 2004

DUBLIN, Ireland - Celtic nations like Ireland and Scotland have more in common with the Portuguese and Spanish than with "Celts" — the name commonly used for a group of people from ancient Alpine Europe, scientists say.

"There is a received wisdom that the origin of the people of these islands lie in invasions or migrations ... but the affinities don't point eastwards to a shared origin," said Daniel Bradley, co-author of a genetic study into Celtic origins.

Early historians believed the Celts — thought to have come from an area to the east of modern France and south of Germany — invaded the Atlantic islands around 2,500 years ago.

But archaeologists have recently questioned that theory, and now Bradley, from Trinity College Dublin, and his team, say DNA evidence supports their thinking.

Geneticists used DNA samples from people living in Celtic nations and compared the genetic traits with those of people in other parts of Europe.

The study showed that people in Celtic areas — Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany and Cornwall — had strong genetic ties, but that this heritage had more in common with people from the Iberian Peninsula.

"What we would propose is that this commonality among the Atlantic facade is much older ... 6,000 years ago or earlier," Bradley told Reuters.

He said people may have moved up from areas around modern-day Portugal and Spain at the end of the Ice Age.

The similarities between Atlantic "Celts" could also suggest these areas had good levels of communications with one another, he added.

But the study could not determine whether the common genetic traits meant "Celtic" nations would look alike or have similar temperaments. Dark or red hair and freckles are considered Celtic features.