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Old February 27th, 2011, 11:03 AM   #1

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Who were the Picts?


Recently there have been a couple of films based on the Rosemary Sutcliffe book “Eagle of the Ninth”. Both the films and the book are based on a false premise in that they refer to Picts. While I don't have much of a quarrel with the application of poetic licence, this gives a false impression.


Pytheas, circa 300BC, referred to the inhabitants of what is now Great Britain as Pretani and the archipeligo as the Pretanic Isles. It's been argued that Pretaniis possibly a Celtic word translating as “those who paint themselves”, but it's never been explained why Pytheas used a Celtic word (that's if it is).


The term “Pict” was never used by the early Roman chroniclers, Tacitus refers to the Caledonians as “Britons”. It's only in 297CE that the term “Pict” is first used (by Emenius).


So who were the Picts? Some have suggested that they were a Celtic people, others have suggested they were a non-Celtic people, yet it seems they spoke some form of a Brythonnic language. There is an on-going argument about the Pictish language, but I'm just going to note that it's generally accepted that the Goidelic languages arrived before the Brythonnic ones, so I'm unsure about this as I don't know how the Pictish language became an isolate.


On the origins of this enigmatic people, my suggestion is that the Picts were the descendants of the original Bronze Age inhabitants.


Incidentally, forget anything you've ever heard about a “Pictish extermination” or genocide. The Picts didn't disappear, they weren't exterminated. They were assimilated as were the Gaels of the Isles and Argyll and the Welsh of Strathclyde. The result is the present-day indigenous population of Scotland.


Thoughts?
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Old February 27th, 2011, 11:22 AM   #2

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chookie View Post
my suggestion is that the Picts were the descendants of the original Bronze Age inhabitants. ?
The original inhabitants of Britain were Mesolithic, later joined by Neolithic migrants, these made up the overwhelming bulk of the population. There seems to have been no major Bronze Age migration and if there was an Iron Age one it only effected the South.

So the only real option for differentiating the Picts from the rest of the Scots is by claiming they were descended from the Mesolithic migrants not the Neolithic ones.

You could logic it like this, the majority of Englsih(south of the Danelaw) and Welsh have DNA roughly 80% Neolithic / 20% Mesolithic, so what happened to all the Mesolithic people in England and Wales, where did they go? They didn't just disapear. Perhaps this means when the Neolithic people arrived they may have forced the Mesolithic Northwards and they took refuge in the far North of Scotland and became the Picts. When the Romans vastly weakend and depopulated the Caledonian tribes the Picts in the far north were able to move down and overrun them.

There is of course no evidence for this, a simple DNA test would reveal if the people in Pictish areas were different or if Scottish DNA had a higher Mesolithic count, but as the Vikings seem to have replaced up to 50% of the male population of Scotland as recent surveys suggest, this is not possible as that evidence has gone.

So there you are, a viable theory based around the prehistory we know and explains away the lack of evidence.

Nope I don't believe it myself before you ask.

Last edited by Toltec; February 27th, 2011 at 12:26 PM.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 12:27 PM   #3

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I don’t buy that. How do you know the Vikings replaced 50% of the male population? Sounds very unlikely. If something as dramatic as that had happened in Scotland as recently as the Vikings then we would know about it. If there is something in the DNA that puts the Scots a little closer to the Scandinavians then perhaps this is because of something that happened much farther back. Northern Britain is pretty much a blank before the Romans. There could have been all sorts of invasions and migrations to Northern Britain from the north east before the first millenium BC of which we know nothing.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 12:31 PM   #4

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It's the latest theory, Scandinvians have a genetic marker not found in western Europe. In Wales and England south of the Danelaw it's barely present, in Scotland and England north of the Danelaw it's abundant. The fact it follows the Danelaw in England and Scotland has a strong Viking past, means many people are suggesting the arrival corresponds to the Vikings.

Yes you are right the migration from Scandinavia could have been pre-Roman, or even during Roman times, they built the Saxon Shore forts to fight someone, and it sure wasn't the Saxons. In fact there's a good case for it being Romans times, the Saxon shore forts kept the invaders from England but not Scotland. The Romans also stopped maintaining the Northern forts towards the end of their rule. So that would explain the north of the Danelaw bit.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 12:43 PM   #5

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There is a story that the Picts are from the northwest of the British Isles, and it is true that they first appeared - and made most of their monuments - on Orkney, and then spread south through Scotland. A Scandinavian (or, as ancient writers put it, Scythian) origin for them after the Roman campaign of 84AD is not out of the question. Both Bede and Irish writers describe how they came from across the sea.

I personally believe the Scandinavian origin theory. There was something about the Picts that didn't fit in with the broadly similar Celtic cultures that already existed in the British Isles; their art work and language was nothing like that of the Britons or the Gaels. They almost certainly weren't the people that the Romans fought in 84AD. Unless they were a rebellion of the pre-Celtic peoples after the destruction of the ruling classes by the Roman's ethnic cleansing, there's no other explanation for the difference between their language and culture.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 12:47 PM   #6

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The Oppenheimer book puts Viking dna in British isles at 5.5% overall. I have read somewhere (that sounded plausible but I can't remember exactly where now) that the numbers of Vikings who actually settled in England would have been about 10,000 and perhaps about 2000 in Ireland but I can't remember the figure for Scotland but it was very low as well.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 12:49 PM   #7

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Wasn't there something to do with ancient breeds of sheep in Scotland which matched those in Scandinavia?
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Old February 27th, 2011, 01:02 PM   #8

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The population of the Hebrides at the time was very low. The population of the Hebrides in the 200s was several thousand. The Irish annals state that the Picts asked for three hundred Irish women when they arrived.

Quote:
Wasn't there something to do with ancient breeds of sheep in Scotland which matched those in Scandinavia?
Yes, the Soay sheep, on the St Kilda archipelago.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 01:10 PM   #9

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This needs a little explaination, its one of the most recent maps.

Most maps if you look around the net show haplogroups and you get that big wedge of R across western Europe. This is a map of the subclades of R. It didn't exist a few years ago but now dozens of different types of R can be found.

So this is only talking about the R, the percentage of R in a country can be seen on the small pie diagram to the left, and what subclades of R on the big diagram to the right.

As can be seen the pink stuff is the Scandinavian stuff I was talking about. It's only really found in large quantities in Norway and Russia, not found in Ireland, pretty common in Scotland and mostly in the NW of England.

So when did it get there, is the question.

One theory is the Vikings, another is the Saxon raids during Roman times were in fact Norwegian raids. They clearly weren't German, no M173 is found in the British Isles.

Another reasonable Theory Ri has made is the Picts were Scandinavians. but this would give them no connection to Ireland whatsoever which he has suggested in the past.


Click the image to open in full size.

Last edited by Toltec; February 27th, 2011 at 01:32 PM.
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Old February 27th, 2011, 01:18 PM   #10

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I think that the origin of the Picts is Scandinavian; they were exposed to Celtic influence, but that never extended to anything more than the upper level of their society, as reflected in the names of their kings. The Irish connection comes in with the cruithne in the 600s, who contemporary chroniclers describe as 'British.'

It would explain the high percentage of Scandinavian descendants in the Western Isles even though most of the islands - with the exception of Lewis - were not colonised by later Viking raiders, and it would also explain why the Picts appeared in the north of Scotland, and why most of their brochs are in the north and west.
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