Talking to each other
The archaeological evidence we have explored above shows quite decisively that across much of western Europe stable communities existed over long periods of time, often bound together by networks of exchange. The testimony of the Classical writers, with some support from archaeology, adds a different dimension by sketching the complex movements of peoples from west central Europe southwards and eastwards, as they fought their way into Mediterranean history after about 400 BC. During the longue durée of indigenous development and the frantic chaos of folk movement, people needed to talk to each other: the language they used, in its various forms and dialects, belongs to a group that, since the beginning of the eighteenth century, philologists have called ‘Celtic’.
It might be assumed that after 200 years of scholarship the origins and development of the early Celtic languages would have been pretty well understood, yet in his essay ‘The Early Celts: The Evidence of Language’, a recent and enthusiastic review of Celtic philology by one of its greatest practitioners, David Ellis Evans concludes ‘that this scholarly activity has, by and large, not produced the results that are generally acceptable and enlightening. The labyrinthine and frustrating nature of the subject discussed here must not be denied or disguised, for all the new insights gained from caring concentration on it.’ With that warning in mind let us proceed cautiously.