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The Atecotti

  • Edward R. Townsend

In his recent fine appraisal of the time-honoured ‘Pictish Question’ the late Professor H. M. Chadwick lends his powerful support to the theory that the first Celtic language to be spoken in Scotland, as elsewhere in Britain, was of the ‘Q’ variety. He regards the Cruithnigh (distinct in this connection from the ‘Picts’) as the introducers, in the Bronze Age, of this insular Celtic tongue which—he considers—was never, either in Scotland north or south of the Forth-Clyde isthmus, entirely supplanted by the modified Continental—or ‘P’—Celtic of the subsequent Iron Age intruders. It is proposed, for present purposes, to accept this primary contention of Professor Chadwick without cavil. But, on a minor point, I think we are entitled to suggest that the evidence afforded by the brochs, by the forts constructed by means of the ‘murus gallicus’, and by the large hill-top oppida, all of which can with fair confidence be attributed to the Iron Age, is sufficiently strong to render it likely that, about the beginning of the present era, the descendants of the Bronze Age natives of southern Scotland preserved a separate ethnic identity only in the hilly interior of their country. For this reason it is proposed to limit the claim to aboriginal status south of the isthmus to Ptolemy's ‘Selgovae’, who appear to have inhabited the centre of the Southern Uplands. Celtic scholars seem unusually agreed that this name is to be referred to the early Celtic vocable which was later represented by the Old Irish ‘selg’, ‘hunt’. A designation such as ‘They-who-hunt’ was probably a sobriquet, bestowed on a primitive pastoral people by more agriculturally-minded outsiders, and is hardly likely to have been the tribal-name by which these people knew themselves. To that point we will return later. But, since the sobriquet is not clearly attested after the time of Ptolemy, perhaps we may assume that it passed out of use, as such names are inclined to do. If so, was it replaced by another ? It is in that light that it is desired to consider the question of the Atecotti. Who were they?

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1 H. M. Chadwick, Early Scotlandthe Picts, the Scots and the Welsh of Southern Scotland, 1949.

2 V. Gordon Childe, Prehistoric Communities of the British Isles, 1940, p. 248.

3 V. Gordon Childe, Scotland before the Scots, 1946, p. 136.

4 W. F. Skene, Celtic Scotland (1886 ed.), vol. 1, footnotes to pp. 99-102 and 106.

5 A. MacBain, Place Names of Highlands and Islands, 1922, p. 142. Also W. J. Watson, History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, 1926, p. 21.

6 E. MacNeill, Phases of Irish History, 1920, p. 151.

7 Collingwood and Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements, 1936, p. 282.

8 Rhys and Brynmor-Jones, The Welsh People, 1900, p. 102.

9 Sir Charles Oman, England before the Norman Conquest, 1910, p. 161.

10 E. Foord, The Last Age of Roman Britain, 1925, p. 82. *An impossible etymology. ED.

11 MacNeill, op. cit., p. 149.

12 Collingwood and Myres, op. cit., p. 284, footnote.

13 MacNeill, op. cit., p. 148.

14 Rhys and Brynmor-Jones, op. cit., p. 102.

15 R. A. S. Macalister, The Archaeology of Ireland, 1949, p. 166.

16 Macalister, op. cit., p. 285, footnote.

17 Granarne Clark, Archaeology and Society, 1939, pp. 185-7.

18 Chadwick, op. cit., p. 71.

19 Chadwick, op. cit., p. 72.

20 Watson, op. cit., p. 178.

21 Chadwick, op. cit., p. 156.

22 Watson, op. cit., pp. 132 and 135. But Dr Watson’s assessment of Welsh names may perhaps be unduly high. See the late Dr E. J. Gwynn, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 11, part 1, June, 1927, p. 102.

23 Watson, op. cit., p. 135.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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