CAWCS to play key role in new international project


Professor John Koch at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) will lead the linguistic component of a 6-year multidisciplinary ‘Maritime Encounters’ research programme funded by Sweden’s central bank.

Professor John Koch at CAWCS will lead the linguistic component of the 6-year multidisciplinary ‘Maritime Encounters’ research Programme funded by Sweden’s central bank.

A grant of 47 million krona (about £3.9 million) has been awarded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond for a ground-breaking project: ‘Maritime encounters: a counterpoint to the dominant terrestrial narrative of European prehistory.’ Seventeen experts from archaeology, historical linguistics, genetics, oceanography, and anthropology based in 8 countries will collaborate closely from 2022–2028. Bronze Age expert Johan Ling at Gothenburg University heads the team.

This ambitious initiative is inspired by the recent revolution in full-genome sequencing of ancient DNA. This breakthrough has brought migration back into archaeological explanation. The formation of the populations, cultures and languages of Europe are now seen largely as consequences of three great prehistoric migrations: hunter-gatherers repopulating the post-glacial landscape, followed by farmers spreading from Anatolia, and then Indo-European-speaking pastoralists from the steppe. There is a significant gap in this current model that we sense most acutely in Scandinavia and the British Isles. How did these groups reach the islands and peninsulas of Atlantic Europe? What types of boats were used? To what extent did indigenous coastal peoples contribute traditions and knowledge that transformed the cultures and languages of incomers in their new environments?

In the planned project a highly international cross-disciplinary team will create a more detailed and nuanced story of how prehistoric societies realised major and minor sea crossings, organised long-distance exchange, and ways of life by the sea in prehistory. Maritime encounters will synthesize a maritime counterpoint to prevailing land-based perspectives on Europe's prehistory.

John Koch commented: "This is very exciting for historical linguists—shining light in a new direction. The main focus has been on reconstructing Proto-Indo-European then studying the attested languages. What lies in between is under-researched, an “Indo-European Dark Ages”. We expect “Maritime Encounters” to bring new insights into the earliest Celtic and Germanic on the north-western fringe of Eurasia—how maritime settings and native peoples reshaped the languages and ways of life of Indo-European-speaking incomers. Wales is important in two key ways: as the home of a language with prehistoric roots in the region and as the source of copper traded across the sea to Scandinavia between 2000 and 1400 BC." 

Director of CAWCS, Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones said: "We are very proud of the success of Prof. Koch and the team of international researchers who developed this application, led by Professor Johan Ling of Gothenburg University. This is an extremely innovative project that will be of great interest to scholars across a range of disciplines and also to the wider community about our prehistory as a people, both in the specific localities and beyond."

Note to Editor

Contact: Dr Angharad Elias (Admin Officer)

1. The Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) was established by the University of Wales in 1985 as a dedicated research centre conducting team-based projects on the languages, literatures, culture and history of Wales and the other Celtic countries. It is located in Aberystwyth, adjacent to the National Library of Wales, which is an internationally-renowned copyright library with excellent research facilities.

2. CAWCS offers unique opportunities for postgraduate students to work alongside specialists in a dynamic and supportive environment. We welcome enquiries about MPhil/PhD topics in any of our research areas. For more information about research opportunities, or for an informal chat about possible topics, contact our Head of Graduate Studies, Dr Elizabeth Edwards:

3. CAWCS is the home of the Dictionary of the Welsh Language, which celebrated its centenary in 2021:  

Further Information

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