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CELTIC-L  February 2003

CELTIC-L February 2003

Subject:

Re: What the Picts built

From:

Cruin MacGriogair <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.

Date:

Fri, 7 Feb 2003 23:33:10 -0900

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (172 lines)

fwilson wrote:

>
>A Chruin,
>
>An toiseach, ceud ta`ing airson freagairt a thoirt dhomh.
>
S' ur Beatha.


>Do you believe there is any credence to one theory that the Picts came from
>N.Spain and it was they who built Stonehenge?
>
>Beanneachd Leibh.
>
>F.
>
Sorry it has taken me so long to reply, I have been real busy, and I
wanted to see what others would say first. It's a real tough question.

The stuff about Spain or Scythia, or whatever, comes out of some rather
obscure, and questionable, Irish oral tradition. As it is not Pictish
oral tradition, I don't give it much weight.

As for Stonehenge, -- OK let's get into it!

An toiseach -- SOMEONE built Stonehenge.
I'm not trying to be flippant of funny here. Stonehenge, Callanish, Carn
Papple -- all those other henges and barrows -- Skara Brae! -- they are
undeniable. They are stone, they are old, and they are there. And much
as some (a few) lingo-histo-anthro-socio scholars would just love to
deny they exist, these big stone things refuse denial. I occasionally
wonder if their builders created then as a monumental joke on us --
laughing all the while as they hammered away with their wood, bone, and
stone implements, thinking about the consternation these constructions
would cause future intellectuals.
The problem that some modern scholars have with these monuments is they
are way too old. They predate the Indo-European language spread. Now,
some scholars have a truly vested interest in believing that the spread
of Indo-European languages was, in fact, the same thing as the spread of
culture (and, incidentally, iron-use) across Europe. That the Aryans,
were, in fact, the first true and blue human culture, and all that
existed before then was a bunch of stone-banging, grunting, cavemen. (If
this kind of thinking all sounds slightly Nazi to you, that is probably
because it is, in fact, slightly Nazi.) These monuments, predating the
"spread" of the Aryans, scream out that there were pre-Aryan people who
could achieve big things. And, in fact, their "big things" are all we
have left. Well... they also leave us with the distressing suspicion
that they might have had even more "culture" than that -- expressed in
wood, and other perishable mediums, and that we are only seeing the hard
tip of their cultural iceberg.
The problem we have, though, in saying whether the "Picts" build
Stonehenge, and the other stone monuments, is one of definition -- who
(and where and when) do we define as "Picts". If we simply say that the
Picts were the people who lived in Alba before the Celtic tribes
arrived, then off course (by this very definition) they built the stone
monuments. Also, by this definition, they spoke some non-indo-european
language, that we can call "Pictish."
Recently, I have read it suggested that perhaps the "proto-Pictish"
people (as the suggestors tend to call them) did not have a real
language, perhaps they only spoke a sort of primitive, pre-language.
These suggestion are, to me, ridiculous -- needless, and far-fetched
attempts to primativize these people. It seems obvious to me that anyone
with the engineering and mathematical skills to build these structures
would have the language skills to match.
Some authors have nimbly minced around the whole question by restricting
the definition of "Pict" in time -- to say between 100 and around 800 AD
-- the time of the "historic" Pict -- or at least the time that seems to
be covered by the Pictish "list of kings". Those authors can then go on
to write about the Pictish art and culture that we have records of, or
at least records of Pictish interactions with Celtic neighbors -- the
Scots, and the Britons (forgive me this simplification). This works, in
as far as it goes, but these authors tend to ascribe all the things we
inherit from the Picts -- language, culture, art -- as having been
invented in this period -- when the Picts were good, practically Celtic
people, and became, even, good Christians. They tend to minimize, or
ignore any achievements of the people they usually call "pre-Picts" or
"proto-Picts".
You asked me what I "believed." As a good little modern Druid, I tend to
try and avoid believe (or, at least, stating my beliefs publicly). But I
will indulge in some speculating of what I think is likely. I think that
there was a sophisticated, pre-indo-european culture operating quite
nicely in Europe. We can safety call, at least the people living in
Alba, "Picts" for want of a better name. I think they spoke "Pictish"
and continued to do so right up until they disappeared out of the
history by interbreeding with the Scots (after a number of wars, a great
deal of trade, and at least four "unions" of the Pictish and Scottish
Crowns). I prefer to think of this disappearance as a "merge."
The question of language is a sticky one, but it is at the heart of the
discussion. The recent trend has been to represent the Picts as
Brythonic speakers, but the few historical "facts" we have in evidence
to support this do not impress me. The fact that Old-Irish-speaking
Columbus wanted to take an interpreter to speak with the Picts is
meaningless to me (he would want to take an interpreter today, if he was
a modern Irish speaker, going to speak with modern Scots-Gaelic
speakers). He would certainly want an interpreter if the "native" tongue
of Picts was a non-indo-european language. The fact that some place
names in Scotland have p-Celtic roots, again, means little to me. They
could easily be borrowing. I found many place names in Wales that had,
or seemed to have, q-Celtic roots. And there are, for sure, as many
ancient place names in Scotland that have q-Celtic roots, and quite a
few that have non-recognizable, presumable pre-Celtic, or, (again
obviously by our definition), "Pictish" roots. Also, remember, that many
of the early scribes and mapmakers were Roman, using Brythonic guides.
They would have had a huge influence on place names and people names
(the Eponii -- the "horse people" of Ptolomy being an excellent example).
The examples of Pictish Ogam stone inscriptions that are readable to us
are non-conclusive. Picts seem to have used Ogam in the same way as the
Scots did, and have occasionally represented "Son of" as "Maqq" Now the
Picto-Brythonic crowd would try to explain this away by claiming that
the Picts used the Ogam "q" character to represent the sound of "p" -- a
real stretch of the plausible, and, for me a needlessly artificial
excuse. Who cares what words the Picts borrowed from the Scots when
writing with Ogam (which they may well have learned from the Scots in
the first place)? They also occasionally wrote in Latin while using Ogam
characters -- we would never use this fact to try and suggest that the
Picts were a Roman culture, or Latin speakers!
What do I think? I think that history and human culture is a bit more
complex than is dreamt of in our philosophies, or at least in many of
our doctoral thesii. I think ideas, science, culture, and language can
ebb and flow through human populations without a pre-requisite mass
movement of people. I think, as previously suggested by Muiris Mag
Ualghairg, that language and culture may have developed on the British
Isles as much as the rest of Europe, and spread out from there (and all
the way along the silk route to the gates of China).
Do I know this -- I don't know -- but I feel it. I feel it in my bones.
I recently toured the British Isles, and visited a number old sites. I
traipsed across old wet moors and lamented at the broken barrows. I
stood in the drizzle on a Roman wall fort and tried to feel what it
would feel like to some poor wet miserable Roman foot soldier waiting
for the painted barbarians to come storming out the mists, but they
never come -- just the rain, rain, and rain. I stood at a henge on a
high moor overlooking Inis Mons, and tried to imagine the last great
gathering of Druids on the opposite shore, waiting for Romans to come
and slaughter them all (they had to know how it would end). I stood on
the Reconstructed Carn Papple and wondered what the Picts really called
it, and whether you really could see all the way to Aran if you ever had
a clear day. And I searched for the remnants of mighty Caladon, and felt
heartsick that there is nothing left other than ridiculous tree-farm
pines all planted in neat rows.
Did this help me to know it better. I don't know. But it helped me feel
it better (and I never discount that).
So what do I feel? I feel that not only did the Picts learn from Halstat
and La Tene cultures, but those cultures learned from the Picts. And
Aristotle learned his mathematics from them all. Even though we like to
think we inherit Aristotelian mathematics and philosophies through the
Greeks, then Romans, many of those ideas actually came from the henge
builders (and probable go back much further -- Neanderthals? Who knows?)
I think many Picts learned to speak Brythonic (to deal and trade with
their neighbors to the south), and later Gaelic, (to deal with the
Scots) but that they hung on stubbornly to their own pre-historic
language, art, and culture right up to the merge. I think that much of
this very cultural influence was preserved in the early Celtic-Christian
church, despite at least one Pictish king's attempt to eject this church
and side with Roman church. This is, at least , much of the Pictish
culture we can see -- the Celtic-Christian monks wrote it and drew it --
while other Christians suppressed and destroyed much of the rest.
Therefore, I feel that "Scottish" and even "Irish" culture inherits a
lot of Pictish culture. There is the art for sure, but I think the
inheritance is much wider, albeit much more subtle, than simply art and
stories.
I think of myself as a descendant of the Picts just as much as a
descendant of the Scots. And if truth be told, I am, I think, a bit more
ashamed of my Scottish ancestry. This for the simple, prejudiced reason
that the crimes and atrocities committed by the Scots are historical.
They are written in black and white, and are, therefore, less ignorable.
We are all just the bits, the flotsam and jetsam, of our times, and
their times. They all breath in us.
Slainte,

Cruithne.

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