Geographical range and Neolithic date of the
Megalithic Maritime Culture of the Atlantic Coast.
This is the material background to most memories and myths
As mentioned in the Foreword, the heroes and heroines of the book are the the people who built the massive monuments of the era mentioned in the title, that is, Brittany, Cornwall, the west of Wales, Ireland and parts of Scotland. This went onfor the thousand years from 4000 to 3000 BC, with some centuries before and after. To the builders can be added their leaders, who organised and motivated the workers and by 3000 BC had developed arithmetic, geometry and astronomy to a remarkable extent.
They were not the first human beings who lived in Britain. Among the early inhabitants who left their bones here, some 500,000 years ago, was an early was a form of mankind, not quite Homo sapiens. One of them, a tall and well-built male left a shinbone, flint axes and flint flakes from making them at Boxgrove in West Sussex. The latest surviving skeleton found from before the last Ice Age may have been buried over 30,000 years ago in Goats Cave at Paviland in West Glamorgan together with red ochre staining on his bones, shell beads, ornaments of mammoth ivory and mammoth bones. After that thick ice covered most of the country, preventing settlement.
Later when the ice retreated the flow of immigrants along the Atlantic coast from the south began with hunter-gatherers who populated the empty land. The earliest known complete skeleton of one of them is that of a man found in a cave in the Cheddar gorge in Somerset in 1986. He was a young hunter-gatherer from 7000 BC, long before farming reached this island, yet his genes matched those of three people living nearby today (Bryan Sykes 2001 217 and 227 and 2006 11/12).
The next development was when arable farming began in about 4000 BC starting the Neolithic Age. After that, small parties occasionally arrived from Brittany bringing with them ideas and techniques to Ireland, Wales and western shores further north and finally of copper smelting, which ended the Neolithic Age.
The book will follow the movement of people and beliefs from the Nile and Anatolia through the straits of Gibraltar and up the Atlantic coast. A remarkable feature of the Megalithic episode in the Neolithic Age, which lasted from about 3500 to 2500 BC, is that many of the archaeological signatures of the coastal culture still survive today. They are passage graves, which are large barrows that are often round but never long, each covering a stone chamber and a stone passage leading to it, and dolmens, which are stone chambers that consist of large slabs of stone supported by pillars but are now without mounds. Both types of chamber may have held human bones. Illustrations of these markers of the culture are shown in Chapter 2a.
Barry Cunliffe has defined the range of this culture in Facing the Ocean. The Atlantic and its People 8000 BC to AD 1500 2001 p 211. This short episode of about over a thousand years in a long and wide-ranging book is in an area conveniently called the façade. Maps 1 and 1a below will show the distribution of megalithic monuments to be similar to that of the genes of the descendants of the people concerned, the latter with clarity not available in 2001. The memories to be described in the book all happen to be of sites in the façade, which is where all the all the sites remembered are to be found.
The purpose of the principal structures, which have accessible chambers, was to store cleaned bones that had been exposed to scavengers on special platforms. It is believed that these bones, which represented only a small proportion of the community, would have been removed for ritual purposes and returned. Later in the megalithic era the custom changed. Passage graves were abandoned and at Stonehenge cremated bones were buried, probably in leather bags. In that area remains of most of the rest of the people have not been found though the ground is alkaline chalk and tends to dissolve bones, so it is assumed they were committed to the river. The preserved remains are usually described as ancestor worship or elite burial. Burials of a more familiar kind, containing one or a few individuals with personal possessions and no access, would not take place until communal structures ceased to be built.
The other main megaliths within the range are standing stones of various sizes. These are shown in Chapter 2b. Ritual purposes for them are harder to find, except for some engraved very tall standing stones in Brittany, one of them at Locmariaquer with a realistic illustration off bulls.
Photo In.1 Illustration of bulls on a Breton standing stone from Locmariaquer.
This is the middle section of a pillar that was broken into three pieces. This piece was reused as the capstone of the passage grave at Gavrinis, where the picture of bulls on it was concealed.
This, with cattle buried nearby, confirms clues from traditions, suggesting a local cattle cult. For what it is worth, the other figure on the stone is described as an axe or plough. The repertoire of neolithic artists is limited. The only clear clues about beliefs from representations of people or animals on stones are the breasts and necklace motif illustrated in the Foreword, suggesting worship of a goddess, and the bull or cattle cult, which will be associated with a god, and the buried human elite. These, and other aspects of Stonehenge not mentioned in the Foreword, provide memories in romances or other traditions. There are no memories of places in Britain outside Wales, Orkney and Stonehenge except for pagan tangible objects included in Christian premises to be illustrated in Chapter 4.
The dominant deity is the Goddess of Sovereignty remembered, as Table 2 in Chapter 6 will show, in may other situations and also as the Venuses of the covered alleys in Brittany; as Grainne in Ireland at dozens of places: and as the eloping queens of the stories of Cornwall and Camelot have been converted to Arthurian romances. There is also a more important god than that of the cattle cult. He is a genuine Welsh god called Embreis in a Welsh source of AD 800. The Welsh will be shown to have taken this god with the bluestones from the Atlantic coast to Stonehenge with an annual calendar (Chapter 1b) with solstice alignment from the façade. A religion said in a romance to be based on the sun, moon and planets sounds like a memory of Stonehenge. Though there are no material indications of the planets there, they are conspicuous for moving among the fixed stars.
Brittany is the first place in the northerly flow of people where there are many stories that have been transferred by northward migration to Ireland, Cornwall, West Wales and Orkney. In Brittany and Britain there are several groups described as ‘ritual landscapes’ in addition to single monuments. Five of these groups have memories of ritual activity. They are named here after solstice aligned structures or central features of districts covered in outstanding monuments and will be described in Chapter 3: two in the south of Brittany, Carnac and the great harbour of the Gulf of Morbihan; Stonehenge; Maes Howe in Orkney; Newgrange in Ireland and Avebury. Stonehenge is far from the sea but from the point of view of memories and associated myths can best be described as an outpost of Welsh culture. The first stones of it were brought from Wales by the Welsh in 3000 BC and the last alteration to the site was in about 1500 BC. Avebury, 30km from Stonehenge, is also not in the Atlantic façade. It is included to show that a monument with bigger stones, deeper ditches and taller banks than Stonehenge could be built outside the façade but the original construction lacks the advanced characteristics of the façade, circularity and original solstice orientation. Avebury has no surviving memories.
This book follows two others on similar topics. In 1981 The Real Camelot got its title from a description of Camelot in a French Arthurian romance as ‘the most pagan place in Britain, and where the pagan kings were crowned’ (see Darrah 1981 note 11 on p I49 for the French text). The second book covers a wider range of topics in more detail. It has recently been reissued as an ebook but new information needs a new book.
As explained in the Foreword the Welsh tradition has been censored. For instance there are no references in the Mabinogi, the most accessible collection of ancient Welsh stories, to either sun or moon and half a century ago Welsh scholars would only accept four or five deities. Yet in the French romances, almost the only source of stories of paganism, many of the main characters have Welsh names. There is a simple solution to this apparent problem. The Welsh were converted to Christianity earlier than the people of Brittany. Evidence for this is that the Welsh St Gildas went as a missionary to convert the Bretons in the early 500s AD. A few centuries later Breton poets seem to have picked up the original oral traditions common to both Brittany and Wales and crafted them into Arthurian romances, stories of fighting and amorous dalliance to suit the tastes of French speaking Breton courts. That is why almost all Arthurian stories, though sometimes called the ‘Matter of Britain’ have survived only in French language sources. The Breton poets have extended the meagre contribution of the censored Welsh texts by stories of Breton pagan activities that survived in Brittany into literate times. Examples are the Venus of le Castel, buried under a church in AD1500 and the Venus of Quinipili, whose defaced statue is said to have attracted donations into the 18th Century. This explanation works well throughout the book.
Common to all literary sources is that the stories have been altered to suit the needs of narrators at different times and in many places. A closer look at the few Welsh traditions that have escaped the censors will show them to be more brutal than the versions in the romances, which have been subjected by the Breton poets to another kind of censorship. They had to please different audiences from those of their Welsh equivalents long before.
Developments in Archaeology and Genetics make the search for memories much easier, provide more accurate dates and sometimes confirm what has already been published.
An example of the latter is that there are many references to a close relationship between Orkney and Stonehenge, noted in 1994 in Paganism in Arthurian Romance. For instance, in an Arthurian romance a great gathering on Salisbury Plain is described, with contingents from Orkney to Brittany present. (Darrah 203 and Sommer II 285 and 374ff). Romances relate that king Lot of Orkney on his death was buried at Stonehenge (as Camelot, Darrah 1994 184 and Paris and Ulrich I 262) and there are family links between Lot and Arthur. Lot married one of Arthur’s sisters or half sisters (Darrah 1994 113 and Nigel Bryant, 1978). Lot’s eldest son Gawain was Arthur’s main supporter and Lot’s other son Mordred fought Arthur in the final battle, leaving Arthur mortally wounded. These relationships had been available from 800 years ago on parchment but were not set down in print until 1994 at a time when no one knew that excavations on Orkney would suggest that the first Stonehenge may have been built to the pattern of Orkney’s slightly earlier Ring of Brodgar, and that some houses at Stonehenge were built on the same pattern as those in Orkney (for the excavations Mike Parker Pearson 2012 pp 99, 324/5).
Stuart Piggott suggested in 1941 that the stones floated by Merlin in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story of the Giants Dance, mentioned in the Foreword, was a memory of Stonehenge from the Bronze Age. At that time the majority of people thought there were no memories older than those of the Iron Age so the idea was not accepted. Some aspects of Merlin’s behaviour, such as magic and changing his appearance, are still just as off-putting so it would appear that no report of his actions could be taken seriously but in the course of the book Merlin will be shown to be a name for a Welsh god who was worshipped by the people who moved the stones. Yet, in the source used by Piggott, Merlin does not use magic at all. He put the stones of the Giants Dance in ships and floated them to the cemetery on the Mount of Ambrius. There he set them up around the outside of the cemetery in the same way as they had been before removal (GoM VIII 12 Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History is referred to from here onwards as GoM). Today Stonehenge is known to have been a cemetery and the bluestones are set round it just inside the ditch and bank. Geoffrey’s ‘around the outside of the cemetery’ matches reality. It is a memory. The phrase ‘as they had been…’ is also significant. It repeats a similar comment in the last sentence of GoM VIII 10 and it implies that the 56 bluestones were set up in circle in Wales before being moved. Geoffrey interprets the moving of the stones to be capture by the British but he dedicated his book to the Earl of Gloucester whose domain was on the Welsh border at a time when there was enmity between the two countries. His deviation can be explained by the famous phrase ‘he would, wouldn’t he?
For the stones to be moved by the Welsh makes sense in several ways. It provides both a satisfactory motive for moving the stones, religious zeal, and an explanation of how a structure with a solstice oriented interior corridor, a feature otherwise restricted to the Atlantic façade, is far from the coast. Today, unknown to Stuart Piggott, human transport is thought to be likely because no glacier from the source of the Welsh stones now at Stonehenge reached Salisbury Plain to deposit 56 stone pillars and no other fragments of Welsh stone have been found since then (see articles in Science and Stonehenge by the geologists C.P.Green and J.D.Scource 1997).
There are indeed reputable archaeologists who do not believe in human transport, asking why 56 man sized stones could have been moved so far. That has been explained. Those who still believe in glacial transport will also have to explain how the softer Welsh rocks survived being scraped along by a glacier when since being moved they have worn away in a relatively benign climate to below the level of the soil, .
A suggestion that the Welsh stones at Stonehenge, usually called bluestones, were moved on rollers from their sources in Wales to Salisbury Plain by local communities in a carnival atmosphere has a lot going for it as the task would have been beyond the strength of the community in West Wales alone to undertake. The concept of an alliance of seagoing peoples (see The Wonderful Youth in Chapter 5) coupled with help from them after the stones were landed and when they were at Stonehenge is a viable alternative .
In Darrah 1981 other sightings of Stonehenge in romances were pointed out. One is that Camelot and Sarras can be recognized as names of Stonehenge, with all that is conveyed by that statement.
In romance a stone floated to the church of St Stephen, the saint of Christmas, at Camelot on Christmas Day (e.g. Sommer II 81 and VI 6). This supports Camelot as a name for Stonehenge, which has a winter solstice alignment in addition to the more popular summer one. Christmas is a name used by narrators for the winter solstice .
The genetics of the Atlantic facade illustrated
MAP 1, dated 2014, shows the range today of the R1b gene of most male immigrants to Ireland band western areas of Britain. Source Eupedia
MAP 1 a is a close-up of Map1 and shows the coastal range of the gene in Britain and Ireland. Source Eupedia
The dark patches of over 80% of the gene in Map 1 today match the distributions of the culture of the Atlantic coast and of megalithic monuments over 5000 years ago on Maps 2 . The smaller proportion of R1b in northern islands is due to partial replacement by Scandinavian immigrants. Another map, ‘Eupedia/Maciamo: Y DNA haplogroups of ancient civilizations 2011’, shows all the countries with the highest proportions of R1b are on the Atlantic coast. Ireland would have been in this category but has been omitted from that map. The hunter-gatherer male gene is not absent in Orkney though reduced by Norse invasion (Brian Sykes 2006 162).
Map 2 Megalithic Culture Source Tharkun Coll . The orange patches roughly match the black areas on Maps 1 and 1a.
The maps show matches between culture and genes. Most memories in traditional stories are from Brittany to Orkney but there are some of Gibraltar, Anatolia and the Nile. One, of boat loads of Basques on their way to Ireland (in English in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History III 12) could only be noticed as a memory when Basques were shown to have the same genes as the Irish, shown black on Map1. The women who came in the boats have a more varied genetic inheritance.
The people of the facade from Brittany to Orkney have called themselves Celts for centuries. This is a name borrowed from a later culture that spread over most of Europe in the Iron Age but is used here as a convenient name for the people of the façade.
Genetics and the Irish Foundation Legend
A woman called Cessair was the first leader of a people to Ireland and the only woman to do so. Her journey from Meroe high up the Nile to Ireland is described in ‘The Book of the takings of Ireland’ (see Irish Foundation legend in next Chapter for details). She was later displaced in a ‘taking’ that brought farming to Ireland. Her journey is confirmed for the men in the boats by the ‘Eupedia map of Old World male DNA’, which shows a spread today of sub- Saharan R1b M73 male genes stretching east to the Nile Valley and including Cessair’s starting point. There is another small hotspot on the Mediterranean coast west of the current mouth of the Nile. Here the male gene is a mixture with ‘probably the main constituent Italo-CelticR1b S116/p312’. R1b genes can be seen to spread along the whole of the African coast of the Mediterranean as far as the Straits of Gibraltar and with greater concentrations along the northern coasts, including Greece. These distributions demonstrate the coastal nature of male R1b, with African Italo-Celtic genes following the Atlantic coast northwards from Gibraltar.
A motif like a coiled rope on the deck of a yacht is widely distributed on rocks, including in the Sahara (Hugot and Bruggman) and in the Nile valley at the extreme north of Egypt. The same motif is also to be found on the entrance stone at Newgrange. The Nile as a route out of Africa is shown to be a possibility and the paternal gene of Cessair’s people being carried by water all the way from Meroe through the Mediterranean to Orkney shows her people were water borne long before they were farmers. A similar but distinct pattern of circles round a cup mark, sometimes with a ‘drainage channel’ is to be found both on natural stones and on pillar stones in Portugal, the Basque country, north Britain, Ireland and Scotland, that is in the whole of the Atlantic façade, and sometimes outside it (see the one on Long Meg at the end of Chapter 2b for an example).
The ‘taker’ to arrive in Ireland after Cessair was Partholon who brought with him the apparatus of farming (Macalister III 39), so introducing the Neolithic Age to Ireland in about 4000 BC. No subsequent ‘taker’ replaced the genes of Cessair’s men, whose line remains almost undiluted to this day in the west of Ireland. Later immigrants, like Partholon’s men, seem to have had the same gene.
Bryan Sykes first book, The Seven Daughters of Eve, in 2001, describes how almost all the women in Europe are descended from only seven women and distinguishes the clans (technically halogroups) by personal names beginning with the letter now given to the group (e.g. Ursula for group U). In his second book five years later he points out that a particular ‘daughter of Eve’, whom he calls ‘Jasmine’ came to Ireland with farming (Sykes 2006 156. Before that several other ’daughters’ had arrived there. He also comments that: ‘By about [4000 BC] the [genetic] pattern was set for the rest of the history of the Isles [i.e. the British Isles and Ireland] and very little has disturbed it since’ (Sykes 2006 281). About 4000 BC suggests the advent of farming. At that time the women in Partholon’s boat, who belonged to the people of ‘Jasmine’s clan were the last female immigrants to arrive in Ireland in a ‘taking’. The advent of farming in Britain may be dated, from the bone of a domesticated cow buried below a pillar at Stonehenge to about 4000 BC (Mike Parker Pearson 23), there may be some earlier records but the date is of roughly the same age as for Ireland and 1500 years before the Stonehenge pillar was accidentally set up on top of it. The end of immigration with Partholon supports a conclusion, reached later in the book for different reasons, that stories of Nemed and other later takers were duplicates of Partholon’s. In the north west quadrant of Ireland 95% of the population still carry the Atlantic coastal gene R1b, rising to 98% in some places (Sykes 2006 160).
One of the ‘daughters’ who came before Jasmine will correspond to Cessair so if this ‘daughter’ can be recognized her female descendants and their male children can be identified today. Male and female genes are inherited in the same way but the female genes used by geneticists are those of ‘mitochondria’, which are essential inclusions passed on outside the usual system. Children of both sexes get their mDNA from their mother but males do not pass it on to their own children
Genetics in the British Foundation legend
The British foundation legend in Geoffrey’s History (I 3) tells how the original ‘Brit’ was called Brutus or Brute and gives him an ancestry in Troy. The logic of the ancestral name is that in Welsh a short ‘u’ is pronounced like the English ‘i’ in ‘dip’. According to Geoffrey ‘Brit’ and his people travelled by a devious route through the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic coast, roughly the same as that provided by tradition for the bearers of arable farming to Ireland. Many of the places on this journey roughly correspond to the track of neolithic genes, though some of the landmarks are in the wrong order.
A Trojan ancestry is far from being as ridiculous as it appears. Troy is on the Mediterranean and is at the north-western corner of Anatolia, a country arguably the birthplace of western agriculture and one of the places where the R1b gene may have come from as shown in Eupedia 2014 Map of the Old World. A second reference to Troy is that Brit and his people came across four generations of Trojans in a settlement near Gibraltar (as the Pillars of Hercules in Geoffrey’s History I 12). This fits the pattern of successive overlapping migrations suggested by genetics and is not a circumstance that is likely to have been guessed so seems to be a genuine memory. This settlement could be the node called ‘Tagus’ on Cunliffe’s page 211, though missing in Map 1. More information about the Foundation Legends is provided later under ‘Literary Sources’ in the next chapter.
The effect of genetics on a search for memories and myths
Genetics does more than add a scaffolding of reality to support conclusions reached from traditional tales. It adds a human touch. The men with the gene of the Atlantic coast are ancestors of 80% of men in Ireland. The distribution of the surviving highly visible megaliths of Map 2 is similar to the distribution of the invisible genes of dead men whose descendants still live in the same place after 5000 years. The megalith builders are related (in the sense of having a common ancestor) to a large number of native Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen living today. In England they are about 70% of the population in spite of Anglo-Saxon conquests in the east.
The women of Jasmine’s clan, who came with farming, are about 12% of native British women today. The descendants of pre-farming female immigrants, those older than Jasmine’s clan, make up about 74% of the native female population of England, in addition to those of Jasmine at 12%, suggesting that only 14% of native British women do not come from hunter gatherer stock of neolithic origin.
MAP 3 from R. Castleden in 3rd Stone shows the distribution of megaliths round the Celtic Sea. Small dots show the presence of dolmens, large dots of round passage graves. Note the remarkable correspondence of the neolithic dots on Welsh peninsulas, Anglesey and Cornwall to that of R1b genes today on Map 1
Map 4 The broken line is an addition to show the sharp cut off between the passage graves, dolmens and most of the henges to the west of the line the long barrows to the east. The Maps make the distinction between the surviving monuments of the west coast of Wales and those of places inland very clear.
A key feature of Map 4 is Milford Haven in Dyfed, south if the southernmost tip of Wales. This great harbour with easy access, recently an oil terminal, is comparable to the Gulf of Morbihan but 5000 years ago was larger and deeper. Milford Haven is a branching point where the East Cleddau river, which flows into the eastern end of the Haven, is tidal up to Canaston Bridge, not far from Arberth, and accessible by boats. Arberth is where travellers from the Morbihan will be shown to have settled and made their headquarters before moving on to Salisbury Plain.
A summary of neolithic astronomical events visible to the naked eye
The earliest reference to such events in the Atlantic coast was by Hecataeus (see p 92) whose reference to an island temple mentions a link with Apollo. This god’s 19 year cycle of visits suggests the Metonic Cycle that applies only to astronomical events involving both sun and moon. In Britain there is a reference to a sun temple and worship of the moon and planets at Stonehenge (as the City of Sarras) in a romance of the 1200s AD (St Graal ed Hucher II 130f). See also Appendix on naked eye astronomy
The concept that any moving object in the sky foretells or affects what happens on earth is likely to have had an early origin. The seven ‘planetes’ or wandering stars (the five visible planets, the sun and moon) were called after deities in classical times and still are today, with Lundi or Monday for moon, Mardi for Mars, Mercredi for Mercury, Jeudi for Jupiter and Vendredi for Venus, Saturday for Saturn and Sunday for the sun. Anglo-Saxon deities get a look in with Tuesday (for Tiw), Wednesday (for Woden), Thursday (for Thor) and Friday (for the goddess Frigga). The planets move in a more erratic way than the stars, sun or moon. No certain material evidence of planets in the form of alignments has been discovered. There are no references to the sun, moon or planets in the oldest Welsh traditions.
The three notable solstice aligned structures are Stonehenge in Britain, Newgrange in Ireland and Maes Howe in Orkney. Details will be provided in Chapter 3. Solstice alignment, an annual calendar and a new religion seem to have been developed in Wales before transfer to Salisbury Plain with the bluestones.