Map of the Ancient Celtic World

513LH8KTlDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This new book-The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts-is reviewed in The Guardian and in  a Telegraph article and review.

I must have it.

But I don’t yet, so I’ll just summarize  . . . better yet, I’ll just copy from the description on Amazon:

Fifty generations ago the cultural empire of the Celts stretched from the Black Sea to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. In six hundred years, the Celts had produced some of the finest artistic and scientific masterpieces of the ancient world. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, bringing slavery and genocide to western Europe. Within eight years the Celts of what is now France were utterly annihilated, and in another hundred years the Romans had overrun Britain. It is astonishing how little remains of this great civilization.

Well, if you’ve read Death Speaker you know about Caesar and his destruction. It’s a sad story, and while researching it I did get hints of what this new book promises.
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For example, scholar Peter Berresford Ellis, who wrote books titled The Druids and The Celts: A History, makes a big deal about Celtic-built roads, pointing out a few places where the remains of thick wooden planks that once lined such roads have been found–and what such finds imply.

To quote from Amazon again,

While planning a bicycling trip . . . , Graham Robb discovered a door to that forgotten world—a beautiful and precise pattern of towns and holy places based on astronomical and geometrical measurements: this was the three-dimensional “Middle Earth” of the Celts. As coordinates and coincidences revealed themselves across the continent, a map of the Celtic world emerged as a miraculously preserved archival document.

In short, The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts by Graham Robb, is

A treasure hunt that uncovers the secrets of one of the world’s great civilizations, revealing dramatic proof of the extreme sophistication of the Celts, and their creation of the earliest accurate map of the world.

Wowwee.

According to the reviews and articles (because remember–I haven’t got my grasping little paws on the book yet), the Celts built roads linking population and religious centers from the 4th through the 1st century BC, long before the Romans even knew where those populations centers were.

Professor Robb, it seems, set out to disprove his growing sense that the druids, using cartographic knowledge that wouldn’t be re-discovered for centuries, mapped out the ancient world and connected it far in advance of the Romans, who’ve gotten the credit for building the old roads for two thousand years.

I don’t want to give away the surprise ending, but I suspect he failed to disprove his theory.

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Satellite imagery is one of the modern tools that make this research and rediscovery possible. Robb begins his studies with a road that goes in a straight line from the northeast edge of Iberia–Spain & Portugal–all the way to the Alps. This thousand-mile stretch is called the Heraklean Way. What Robb found was that the road runs in a  line that corresponds exactly to the direction of the setting sun on the solstices.

Given all the ways a practical road could meander, that seemed too amazing to be accidental.

Also, lines from the main road did not lead to Roman towns–as would be expected if Romans really built the road–but to earlier, Celtic towns and oppida.

648px-La_tene_fittingDSCF6633Mayhaps you, like me, are enchanted by  the La Tene style of art as seen at left and above? Robb proposed that the curls and designs could be be arranged by “rigorous mathematical principles, and may even encode the navigational and cartographic secrets that the Druids so laboriously developed.”

But the druids get no respect. As Tim Martin (also quoted in the above paragraph)  writes in The Telegraph,depicting the Celt as a woods-dwelling wild man became not just a matter of Italian snobbery but one of propagandist utility.”

Boo. Propaganda!  Even amateur researchers such as me see the pro-Roman bias of most 20th century scholars.

I recall a gruesome cover and headline on Archaeology magazine about 20 years ago that depicted NOT what the article was about (a study of the bones found at Ribemont-sur-Ancre, I think) but the lurid, sensational human sacrifice motif that apparently sells magazines (though I must say, they never sold another magazine to me.) (However, I do visit and appreciate Archaeology’s website, so we’ll let bygones be bygones.)

It will be very interesting to see how this book is received, and what scholars are writing about the Celts twenty years from now.

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2 Responses to Map of the Ancient Celtic World

  1. David says:

    Dear Vicky, I’ve not read Deathspeaker yet, I just read a review and it seems quite similar to the book I am writing ( my first ). I have a character Drewella who seeks advice from the ancestors at the time of caesars first jaunt to Briton. I’m not sure if I should read yours or not. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I had copied your idea ?!? davidwilson244413@hotmail.com

    • vickeykalambakal says:

      Hi, David,

      I felt the same way about certain novels while I was writing–I was worried I might unconsciously copy them. But once I knew my characters and the story, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen, and it didn’t.

      The fun part about reading another author’s take on the same time period is seeing where your research overlaps, and where you’ve each decided to use your imagination.

      Good luck on your novel!

      Vickey Kall

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