How old are the Celtic languages once spoken in the Iberian Peninsula? Where did the 'Celts' come from? Were they from central-eastern Europe, as tradittionally assumed, or did they originate in the west? The debate about these issues is quite lively, with new proposals being made as the research in this field continues its development. The identification of some ancient languages of western Iberia as 'Celtic' is one of the most relevant developments.
A series of specialists, e.g. José Antonio Correa and Jürgen Untermann, have argued for the possible celticity of some words in Tartessian, a language of southwest Iberia. The Tartessian inscriptions are remarkably old (in some cases as early as the 7th c. BC), which makes them particularly relevant for celtologists. A similar case is Lepontic, in northern Italy, a Celtic language attested in very early inscriptions. Prof. John T. Koch has provided some further evidence to prove that Tartessian was a Celtic language, or at least that there was a significant percentage of Celtic elements in it (Koch's article is available here). If we add to this other proposals about the celticity of Gallaecian and Lusitanian (vid. Ballester 2004, "Hablas indoeuropeas y anindoeuropeas en la Hispania prerromana". Elea 6, 107-138), one has the impression that the chronological horizons of Celtic elements in Iberia must be much earlier than previously, or traditionally, assumed. This, of course, has far-reaching implications for our global understanding of the Celtic language group, or about the origins of the 'Celts' themselves. And there are of course some scholars already following these new lines of research.
In 2008 the University of Wales launched a research project called Ancient Britain and the Atlantic Zone, also known as ABrAZo. The project is coordinated by Prof. Koch, and its aims are explained in this web-page. Obviously, the abbreviation used for the project (ABrAZo) is also the Spanish word for 'hug' or 'embrace', exactly the same as in Galician (abrazo) and very similar to the Portuguese one (abraço). The name is actually quite appropriate, as the project aims to find common elements in the archaeology, languages and genetic components of these Atlantic areas (western Iberia, Armorica, Ireland, western Britain) as a single archaeological entity. I guess the inspiration for the project comes from the work of archaeologist Barry Cunliffe and his theories about the peoples of the Atlantic Façade, which he outlined in his book The Ancient Celts (1997) and developed in his influential Facing the Ocean. The Atlantic and its Peoples (2001). In fact, Cunliffe is co-editor (with John Koch) of the first volume emanated from the ABrAZo project: Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literature (2010), Oxbow Books, and has also contributed with an article. Another author in this volume is Stephen Oppenheimer, whose theories have already been discussed in this blog (see here).
There are many more things to say about this issue (Celtic, Lusitanian, Tartessians), and I'll be publishing more posts about it in the future. Un abrazo!