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:

English in Prehistoric Britain

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English Place-Names

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. more


Islands in the Thames

Win Scutt found an ideal place to test the hypothesis that an ancestor of the English language might have been spoken in prehistoric Britain. The Upper Thames valley, around Cricklade in Wiltshire, has a cluster of 'island' place-names. The Old English for island is 'eg', usually pronounced 'ey'. more

Roman Place-Names

Since it has always been assumed that speakers of 'celtic' languages lived in much of Britain before the Roman conquest in 43AD, Roman place-names have been scrutinised for traces of anything that resembles early forms of Welsh or Cornish. However, elements of English can be discerned in the same names just as easily - perhaps more so. Untangling the remnants of an older language in place-names is not reliable. It is even possible to find in Roman place-names resemblances with the names of dishes in a curry-house! Nevertheless, there is some remarkable support among the evidence from Roman place-names for origins in a form of English. more

The great debate on the origins of Britain's early languages began on BBC 2 Newsnight, at 22.30 on Wednesday 3rd January 2007 with Win Scutt and Stephen Oppenheimer. See it again by following the link at the top of this page.

Learning Archaeology

If you're curious about archaeology, but a total beginner, this site will show you how to find out. Here you'll find advice on good books, weblinks and courses.

World Archaeology News

Hear the latest archaeological news from around the world, tune in to Win Scutt on BBC Radio Five Live every Tuesday morning at 3.30.

Website by Win Scutt

Like Win Scutt, Stephen Oppenheimer has been researching the origins of the British. But while Win built his hypothesis from place-names, Stephen started with the genetics of living people. His new book is an exciting and convincing read. Click on the link above to buy it at a substantial discount from Amazon. - find more than 80 million out-of-print books worldwide.