So, who were the Celts?
For many people in the world, not only in Europe but in America, Australia, and South Africa, the Celts are an emotive subject. Like the American who wrote to me about his alcoholism, the idea of being a Celt provides a raft of emotional support – a sense of being rooted back in a heroic past and an explanation of behaviour. How many times do you hear ‘it’s in my Celtic ancestry'? Attempt to take away that support and it will generate a reaction of puzzled hurt, as Simon James found after the publication of his The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention. At one level, then, the concept of Celt is a belief, however mistily understood, that underpins sense of self and of inheritance. Archaeologists who wish to deconstruct that belief for strictly academic reasons should reflect on the need that, through time, humans have had to define their identity – a need that requires the constant restatement and reinterpretation of the many symbols of their perceived ethnicity. The concept of Celt is ever evolving.
In this last chapter, therefore, let us review the multifarious Celts who have peopled our world, our beliefs and our imaginations.
To the early Greeks – historians/geographers like Hecataeus and Herodotus – the Celts were the barbarians of western Europe, extending from the Atlantic coasts of Iberia and Gaul to the source of the Danube. This understanding was, in all probability, based on