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The term pre-Celtic refers to the period in the prehistory of Central and Western Europe postdating the emergence of Proto-Celtic and predating the expansion of the Celts in the course of the earlier Iron Age (9th to 6th centuries BC). The area involved is that of the maximum extent of Celtic languages in about the mid first century BC.
For continental Europe, pre-Celtic languages of the European Bronze Age may be taken to include other Indo-European dialects (Illyrian, possibly Lusitanian, the hypothetical Proto-Italo-Celtic dialects, "Old European") on one hand, and non-Indo-European and pre-Indo-European languages (Rhaetic, Etruscan, Basque) on the other. However, proponents of the Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis see Western Europe as being Proto-Indo-European language speaking from the arrival of modern man in about 60,000 BC.
Recent work by Gray and Atkinson suggests that a Proto-Celtic language branched from the Indo-European tree around 6000 years ago.
In both continental Europe and the British Isles, the pre-Celtic populations are likely to have been the originators of the megalith cultures (the Atlantic Bronze Age). In the later Celtic areas there are many archaeological cultures.
When the Celts are first recorded about 600 BC they are already widespread across Iberia, Gaul and Central Europe. Various associations with archaeological cultures have been assumed but without much justification. The homeland of the Celts is very controversial.
In Ireland the Book of Invasions gives a pseudo-history for a number of incoming peoples. However, this does not seem to be compatible with the genetics, see for example Oppenheimer's "Blood of the British".
Studies of the DNA in populations across Europe suggest that haplogroups I (about 25% of the European population) may be the only survivor of Palaeolithic times. The two main European haplogroups in modern times, R1b in Western Europe, and R1a in Eastern Europe, originated in Central Asia and are thought to have arrived through the Eurasian steppes with the Indo-Aryan migrations. Their earliest presence in Europe probably coincides with the Yamna culture (3500 - 2200 BCE) in modern Ukraine. Haplogroup J2 has been linked to migration from the Near East, notably the with the Minoan Greeks and the Phoenician colonization.
- Thompson, T. Ireland's Pre-Celtic Archaeological and Anthropological Heritage. (2006) Edwin Mellen Press.
- Waddell, J., The Celticization of the West: an Irish Perspective, in C. Chevillot and A. Coffyn (eds), L' Age du Bronze Atlantique. Actes du 1er Colloque de Beynac, Beynac (1991), 349-366.
- Waddell, J.,The Question of the Celticization of Ireland, Emania No. 9 (1991), 5-16.
- Waddell, J., 'Celts, Celticisation and the Irish Bronze Age', in J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig (eds.), Ireland in the Bronze Age. Proceedings of the Dublin Conference, April 1995, 158-169.