The Languages of Britain
A 21st Century Revolution in British History
The foundations of British history are shaking. A new paradigm, supported by genetic and linguistic evidence, is taking shape. Gone is an Anglo Saxon migration that swept into eastern Britain in the 5th century AD; gone is the notion that Celts retreated to the western fringes. Instead, Britain is settled by at least two distinct genetic and linguistic groups in prehistory - thousands of years before the Anglo Saxons.
An introduction to this exciting debate was broadcast on BBC Newsnight on 3rd January 2007. You can watch the feature again on Google Video by clicking here:
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The first indications came from English place-names.
During the 1980s and 1990s, archaeologist Win Scutt was studying the prehistoric landscape of South West England. He was investigating the possibility that the systems of land division The Dartmoor Reaves found on Dartmoor, Devon might have once existed in the lowlands of Devon and Cornwall.
Finding similar field systems surviving in the lowlands, but lacking good dating evidence, he turned to English and Cornish place-names in the hope that early names might correlate with apparently ancient features. Now, both Cornish and English place-names are conventionally dated to the period after the 4th century AD. Win Scutt was curious to find that some place-names appeared to describe prehistoric places better than they described early medieval places. But it was not until 2001 that he stumbled on an explanation - and it centred on the humble natterjack toad Bufo calamita.