Near Prehistory in Northern Europe was an Indo-European world

The Picts were the topic of discussion on this week on In Our Time. They are a mysterious yet intriguing people because we don’t know much about them in their own words, but, they are one of the roots of modern Scottish identity. When I first encountered the Picts decades ago there was some debate as to whether they were a pre-Indo-European people or not. Today that seems to not be a hypothesis people entertain. Rather, the Picts were simply the least Romanized of the Brythonic Celtic people of Britain.

Today because of the genetic data I think we can be rather confident that by the time of the Roman Empire there were no non-Indo-Europeans left in Northern Europe. The Beaker people in Britain and Ireland seem to have overwhelmingly replaced the native population of farmers, whose ancestors had predominantly arrived from the eastern Mediterranean thousands of years ago (via the Atlantic littoral or Central Europe). Across Northern Europe, in general, the replacement of the previous populations was substantial, though not total.

In Southern Europe, the arrival of Indo-Europeans was more fitful, and persistence of Basque attests to the fact that non-Indo-European languages were spoken down to historical times (if Etruscan is considered native to the Italian peninsula, that’s another example, though this is hotly debated and I lean toward the exogenous model). The pre-Latin language of Sardinia was almost certainly not Indo-European, while Greek has a high proportion of non-Indo-European words in its lexicon.

 

3 thoughts on “Near Prehistory in Northern Europe was an Indo-European world

  1. The one exception are Uralic languages which arrived shortly after IE languages did and in many cases expanded on top of IE speakers. Both Saami and Finns definitly have mostly prehistoric IE ancestry even though they lack large amounts of R1a or R1b (replaced by N1c).

    Interestingly, in addition to 50%+ normal northern European genetics with 25% Siberian stuff, Saami seem to also have a decent chunk of “SHG” (Mesolithic Scandinavia) ancestry. IMO, this suggests Mesolithic decended people in Fennoscandinavia and Russia (EHG, SHG types) persisted up until near historic times.

  2. Interestingly, in addition to 50%+ normal northern European genetics with 25% Siberian stuff, Saami seem to also have a decent chunk of “SHG” (Mesolithic Scandinavia) ancestry. IMO, this suggests Mesolithic decended people in Fennoscandinavia and Russia (EHG, SHG types) persisted up until near historic times.

    yes. this is possible. some of the uniparental lineages in sami indidate connection to ‘iberian refugia.’ might be that….

  3. From what little linguistic evidence of Pictish we have it appears to back up idea that it represents a continuity of the stage of what could be termed ‘Pre-Proto-Brythonic’ that was once spoken throughout the island of Britain before the Roman invasion. One interesting bit of evidence is the preservation of /v/ phoneme which in ‘Neo-Brythonic’ mutates to a /gw/ and in Goidelic undergoes sound-change to a /f/

    The recent beaker paper had fairly large number of Neolithic genomes from Scotland. Bradley at a recent ‘Genetic Genealogy Ireland’ event (at back to your past in Dublin) recently mentioned that the first Irish mesolithic genome has just been sequenced (not published let).

    What of course would be interesting is was there non-Celtic forms of Indo-European spoken in the isles at any stage and how long did they persist. For example in Ireland there is the issue of the Partraige (‘tribal group’ in west of Ireland — literally ‘crab people’) and words such as Partán (crab). Which contain a /P/ phoneme, let don’t seem to be loan words from either Latin (where /P/ was borrowed from in 6th century) or Brythonic (/p/ occurred from sound change of /kw/).

    Some have proposed that the word/name might represent a non-Celtic speaking population surviving up to the 6th century. Perhaps akin to the situation in western Iberia where you have Lusitanian which is clearly Indo-European but can’t be Celtic due to it perserving IE /p/.

    It will be interesting when we start seeing some genomes from the Iron age/Early Christian period, particularly as it appears major social changes occurred in Ireland during this period (the rise of the Uí Néill — the massive changes between Archaic Irish as written on Ogham stones and ‘Old Irish’ etc).

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