The Celts: A Very Short Introduction

By Barry Cunliffe | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Sharing values

All communities live within a culture – a set of shared values expressing their identity. Cultures are complex, but essentially they reflect the beliefs and values of the social group and usually embody some sense of the past and aspirations for a future. An anthropologist or sociologist can approach culture through direct communication with the group under study. A historian has more limited access through the filter of the written word, while an archaeologist dealing with the more distant past has to rely largely on surviving material remains, sometimes with the addition of distorted anecdotes that come down to us through scraps of contemporary writing. Fifty years ago the definition of a prehistoric culture seemed comparatively straightforward: works of that period are rich with culture names – Michelsberg culture, Beaker culture, Urnfield culture – but now archaeologists are more circumspect, realizing that definitions such as these, while generally useful as broad archaeological constructs, may have little reality when attempting to understand how past communities defined their own identity.

Is there such a thing as ‘Celtic culture’? The answer must be no. If, for the sake of this argument, we take the three communities who are thought to have spoken an early form of Celtic language in the sixth century BC – those living in the centre of the Iberian peninsula, in the Lepontic region, and in Ireland – there is little in the material

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