The Welsh have more in common with sun-kissed glamour pusses like actress Penelope Cruz and footballer Christiano Ronaldo than pale- faced Germans like Helmet Kohl, according to an academic. Professor John Koch suggests the Welsh can trace their ancestry back to Portugal and Spain, debunking the century-old received wisdom that our forebears came from Iron Age Germany and Austria. His radical work on Celtic origins flatly contradicts the writing of Sir John Rhys, who in the late 19th century established the idea that we originally came from central Europe. Sir John believed the Celts were the remnants of a great culture that extended here from modern-day eastern France, Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria. But Professor Koch, of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, in Aberystwyth, says archaeological inscriptions on stones show we came from southern Portugal and south-west Spain. He said: “Celts are said to come from west central Europe – Austria, southern Germany, eastern France and that part of the world. “That’s been the theory that everybody has grown up with for at least 100 years. “There is evidence that the Celtic languages were spoken there because of place names and people’s names.
“But the assumption was that was where they came from. I think they got there later. “There is evidence in Spain and Portugal indicating they were there 500 or more years before.”
Professor Koch says there are Celtic texts in Portugal and Spain way before they started springing up in central Europe during Roman times. One key piece of evidence is the earliest written language of western Europe – Tartessian, found on inscribed stones in Portugal and Spain dating back to between 800BC and 400BC. The professor maintains this language can be deciphered as Celtic. Expert on Welsh history and archaeology Dr Raimund Karl, says there is also biological and genetic evidence to support professor Koch’s theory. He said: “In the last couple of years there have been a number of genetic studies of human DNA indicating that the population of much of the western part of the British Isles is related to other communities along the Atlantic seafront. These include Brittany, northern Spain, Portugal and the French Atlantic coast. That’s their genetic origin.”
But Dr Karl, of the University of Wales, Bangor, said there is also archaeological evidence suggesting a cultural link with central Europe. “There is evidence suggesting a link with central Europe from elite-material culture – stuff associated with the upper parts of society. This includes weaponry, feasting equipment, artwork on jewellery and other prestigious items.” However the academic said attempts to identify a biological Celt or notions of cultures emanating from a particular spot are meaningless. He believes human cultures and populations are constantly in a state of flux, drawing their influences from far and wide. Dr Karl, himself an Austrian, added: “I personally think the question of where Celtic culture originated is by and large meaningless. Culture is constantly changing and never has a single point of origin. “The biological Celt is meaningless because human populations inter-mingle.”