The first human settlement known to date in Europe was in Greece where mitrochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has shown that a woman lived in the mountain caves on the coast of Greece 45,000 years ago.
The first cultural hearth in Europe, according to archaeologists, originated in Northern Germany along the Rhine River about 1200 BC. Most Celtic scholars place the ethnogenesis of the Celts in this location at this time, though the first historical record of the Celts is around 600 BC in trading encounters with the Greeks.
The Celts exchanged furs, amber, tin, and salt with Greek traders; and such trading allowed both groups to spread each others’ culture as well as their goods. To the Greeks, the Celts were the “uncultivated barbarians” who loved war and wine. To the Celts, the Greeks were “empire builders,” who wrote down symbols, but had no living oral traditions of bards and poets who could expound from memory centuries of Celtic genealogy and history.
The Celts (Kelts, Keltoi) were known by many names, and reference to specific ethnic groups like the Gauls, or the Galatians are just various segments of the same uniquely shared culture. The Celtic cultural components were complex and evolved and spread over centuries of tribal diasporas throughout Europe. There are six main Celtic countries today: Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Cornwall and Isle of Man. See map for locations designated in green.
Innovations not often remembered or credited to the Celts are soap, Scottish plaids, intricate Celtic knot patterns on jewelry, iron tools for making other tools of war such as weapons and chariots with wheels. The Celts revered hundreds of gods; some were personal and enshrined in their dwellings. They sent their dead to the afterlife with material culture buried alongside; or they put the ashes of loved ones in urns and buried them in “urn fields.” Once a year Celtic tribes, from far and near, assembled together to re-enforce their cultural heritage of poetry, genealogy, recreation, crafts, and systems of leadership. Those central gatherings of long ago became the predecessors of County Fairs that are held around the world. Strong Celtic cultural ties in Ireland and Scotland today are bound together by music and the Gaelic language. A popular Irish New-Wave artist, Enya, continues Celtic traditions through her unique musical compositions. She sings in the Gaelic language in the following video.
Eventually the Celts and their tribal chiefdoms collapsed from the frequency of wars, leading them to migrate and settle in northern Italy, where they were encountered by other empire builders known as the Romans.
A hundred years later Julius Caesar began the military extermination of the Gauls on the mainland. Because of this, and other widespread persecutions like the “final solution” in Ireland and ethnic cleansing of natives in Scotland, the Celts have sometimes been referred to as the “Indians of Europe.” It is quite amazing that so much of their culture has survived due to the fact that during the Victorian era it was against the law to speak the Celtic languages. Language is the most symbolic way of passing on culture, so when a language goes extinct the culture usually becomes extinct as well.
However, some aspects of the Celtic culture we are happy to have gone extinct. One such practice was the “head cult.” The Celts believed that the human skull was magic, so warriors beheaded their victims and displayed the skulls from stakes around their houses. Or they might even decorate the skulls and use them as drinking containers or hang them from their belts or around a horse’s neck. The Celtic “Golden Age” lasted until the invasion of the Nordic Vikings in the city of Dublin in 795 AD.
Rome never invaded Ireland due to its isolation by water from the mainland, but instead took the Celtic culture traits embedded in Central Europe, along with the characteristic traits of the high Greek culture and propelled them into a far more advanced and sophisticated society. Over the next centuries Roman influence spread across Europe leaving its footprint in every major European city and beyond until its demise.
The next major cultural developments within the European Global Village were based on the re-discovery of Greco-Roman art and literature during the overlapping periods of the Renaissance of the 14th to the 17th century; the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century, and the Age of Exploration the 15th-through the18th centuries.
The Renaissance Period – 1400-1600 AD
The Renaissance brought new expressions of art in composition, color, and iconography. Many of the greatest artists lived during this period; and we equate Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael among the many artistic talents of the Renaissance period.
The Renaissance painting by Quentin Massys of The Money Changer and His Wife, shows more than artistic talent because it reveals the cultural advancements of banking, which Italian Renaissance bankers are said to have invented. Money matters excerpted from this era included bills of exchange, letters of credit, deposit banking, branch banks, and double-entry bookkeeping, things that all pertain to the modern world.
The Age of Enlightenment – 1600-1700 AD
The Age of Enlightenment is associated with the 17th and 18th centuries and was a cultural movement emphasizing reason and individualism, rather than traditions.
The new reasoning revolved around science, philosophy, society, and politics and rejected pre-dominant medieval worldviews. The Enlightenment period, which spread throughout much of Europe, created a cause for the French Revolution, (1789) which destroyed French social stratification and the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church. The logic of the day required freedom and equality for everyone, not just the elites of society. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010, “Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life.” Those scholars and intellectuals we usually associate with The Enlightenment are John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Voltaire.
Art from the Enlightenment Period
Current scholarship by a French professor at Stanford University sheds further “enlightenment” on this exciting and “pivotal period in human history.” The following paragraphs are taken from the Super-Enlightenment website at https://collections.stanford.edu/supere/
“The Age of Philosophy saw a surge of interest in empirical science, humanistic inquiry, and cosmopolitan societies. It also witnessed a surprising fascination with ancient mythologies, alchemy, divine arcana, and secret societies. Did this dark side of the Enlightenment have anything in common with the rational undertakings of the day, or was it a remnant from times past?
This digital archive will allow students and scholars to explore the strange, yet uncannily familiar, writings of French authors who went beyond John Locke’s famed “limits of human understanding,” in order to investigate the mysterious perimeters of knowledge – but often progressed with the same wit and epistemological concerns as Parisian philosophes.
The ideas and practices of these writers (often dismissed as “illuminist”) may thus best be understood as constituting a sort of “Super-Enlightenment,” a category which begs a larger, open question: did the more orthodox Enlightenment thinkers ever cross over to the other side themselves?”
Just like in today’s world there are those on the opposite side of the fence when there are cultural movements for change. This painting below is about liberty, but it expresses both faith and emotion, rather than reason. This is a French painting, and according to one writer, The Enlightenment Period did not fare well for France. “The French citizens, bright and intelligent though they were, ended up being outclassed in the inspiration and integrity department compared to the citizens of the English speaking world.”
Age of Exploration – 1500-1700 AD
The Age of Exploration, sometimes also called The Age of Discovery, was primarily from the 15th through the 18th centuries and brought to light the “Fourth Part of the World,” which became the new continents of North and South America. It was a time for European culture to cut the apron strings from the “motherland” in order to go abroad and learn more about the world. There was a need for more trading posts (which were blocked by the Ottoman Empire), more goods (silver and gold), and more shipping routes (for spices and silks), which required more and better geographical knowledge (necessity of leaving the sight of land).
There are many historical accounts of the first explorations by Christopher Columbus (Spain), Ferdinand Magellan (Portugal), and Captain James Cook (England). All of these firsts resulted in cultural networks that are still in existence today. Many things besides “goods” were diffused back and forth across the seas in the two centuries of major explorations, for good and bad. Besides foods, languages, technology, governments, laws, and politics, there was “The Arrow of Disease,” which Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography at the University of California, documents in his critical thinking article of the same name in Discover Magazine.
This lecture is a very brief accounting of cultural attributes and traits that have influenced the world from the European Global Village. It is far from complete, but students now have many more topics for further research and study on their own. Studying the Global Villages, and the cultural contributions each has made to the globalized world we live in is necessary in order to comprehend that the way the world works is not the same for everyone.