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‘Celts: art and identity’ exhibition: ‘New Celticism’ at the British Museum

  • Manuel Fernández-Götz (a1)

Controversies about the ‘Celts’ have constituted an ongoing debate over the last few decades, with postures ranging from blank scepticism and denial, to critical revisions, but also to the maintenance of more traditional approaches. After a lively and overall useful debate in the pages of Antiquity between 1996–1998 (principally with articles by Vincent and Ruth Megaw vs Simon James and John Collis), Simon James's controversial volume The Atlantic Celts. Ancient people or modern invention? (1999) attracted considerable attention, both among scholars and the wider public, encouraging discussions about the relationship—if any—between modern Celtic identities and the ancient Celts. A major milestone was reached with the publication of John Collis's monograph The Celts. Origins, myths and inventions (2003), which is probably the best historiographical review about the construction of the concept and the different sources involved from Antiquity to modern times. One of his main points is that classical sources never referred to the presence of Celts on the British Isles and that the use of the term for the populations of ancient Britain was mainly an invention of the modern era (see also Morse 2005, How the Celts came to Britain). From a rather different perspective, new approaches based mostly on linguistics emphasise the crucial role of the Atlantic façade in the development of Celtic languages (Cunliffe & Koch 2010).

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Collis, J. 2003. The Celts. Origins, myths and inventions. Stroud: Tempus.
Cunliffe, B. & Koch, J.T. (ed.). 2010. Celtic from the West: alternative perspectives from archaeology, genetics, language and literature. Oxford: Oxbow.
Farley, J. & Hunter, F. (ed.). 2015. Celts: art and identity. London: British Museum.
James, S. 1999. The Atlantic Celts. Ancient people or modern invention? London: British Museum.
Karl, R., Leskovar, J. & Moser, S. (ed.). 2012. Die erfundenen Kelten—Mythologie eines Begriffes und seine Verwendung in Archäologie, Tourismus und Esoterik (Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich 31). Linz: Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum.
Leins, I. 2015. Celts: art and identity. London: British Museum.
Megaw, V. 2010. Bearing the truth about Celtic art: Kunst der Kelten in Bern. Antiquity 84: 250–55.
Megaw, V. 2013. A Celtic cornucopia. Antiquity 87: 280–84.
Megaw, V. 2016. Identifying Celts. Antiquity 90: 245–48.
Morse, M.A. 2005. How the Celts came to Britain: druids, ancient skulls and the birth of archaeology. Stroud: Tempus.
Müller, F. 2009. Art of the Celts: 700 BC to AD 700. Bern: Historisches Museum.
Piggott, S. 1970. Early Celtic art. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Rieckhoff, S. 2007. Die Erfindung der Kelten, in Karl, R. & Leskovar, J. (ed.) Interpretierte Eisenzeiten 2. Fallstudien, Methoden, Theorie: 2339. Linz: Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum.
Ruiz Zapatero, G. 2001. ¿Quiénes fueron los celtas? Disipando la niebla: mitología de un collage histórico, in Almagro-Gorbea, M., Mariné, & Álvarez-Sanchís, J.R. (ed.) Celtas y Vettones: 7291. Ávila: Diputación Provincial de Ávila.
Taylor, T. 1992. The Gundestrup Cauldron. Scientific American (March 1992): 81–89.
Tolkien, J.R.R. 1963. English and Welsh, Angles and Britons. Cardiff: The O'Donnell Lectures.
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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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