Unless one invents a time machine and meanders back however many thousands of years, the best we can ever hope for in the quest for the definitive version of events is to piece together the various fragments of evidence. Such evidence as provided by archaeology, first-hand accounts and the remains of individuals dated from the period in question are mixed with conjecture and wild and educated guesswork, elements of logic and modern scientific techniques. Oftentimes, a healthy dose of bias is tossed into the mix and the result is way off the mark.
We have great respect for the work of archaeologists who do know whereof they speak, though – especially when it corroborates our view of things. That said, it should also be mentioned that our view is not made of fairy-dust, nor do we take our mythology to be anything other than what it is meant to be. We don’t look at the tale of Beddgelert and look beyond a town’s attempts at adding a sense of mystery, nor do we actually look for the stone from which King Arthur is reputed to have pulled the sword. But neither do we believe the Kelts, so named here for sake of convenience – we never called ourselves thus – were only here from just shy of the beginning of the Iron age. Indeed, we were here at least since the Ice Age, before Britain became an island; and neither did we import all the things which we, in modern Britain, take for granted.
We were farmers long before conventional archaeology has it introduced to us by marauding warriors from the near east, we had culture thousands of years before the Romans were supposed to have civilised us, we may not have had writing – but think, writing is only deemed a mark of intelligence nowadays, because it is almost universal; however, we had intelligence enough before that. Our life, in ancient Britain, was rich and complex; we had industry, we had skills, we had laws and much else which today we mostly think came from the Roman invasion, and even what we think of as thoroughly modern.
With the coming of the Bronze Age – malachite ore being mined in huge quantities in sites including Great Orme in north Wales, and of course tin being mined in Cornwall – we were able to express our place in the Grand Scheme of Things with great temples like Stonehenge, the monuments of the Avebury area and elsewhere in the country. We achieved great feats of engineering, comparable with the likes of Brunel; indeed most thinkers are completely at a loss as to how such a thing could have been built. And yet again, you see those self-same thinkers spouting beliefs that Stonehenge was imported wholesale from some civilised place and imposed upon our landscape, without even acknowledging even the merest possibility that it could have actually been a completely home-grown project. As descendents of the people who built it, we feel slandered. And no, Beaker Folk – which is how these people are styled – are not some alien race who superceded ancient Britons and then succumbed to the superiority of the Kelts – no, it is all one line. Neither did we all become Italian during the Roman period, wholly German or Scandinavian during what’s commonly described the Anglo-Saxon period or French after 1066. We stayed largely as we were, and largely as we have been since before we became an island. Incidentally, we don’t, either, subscribe to the oft-vaunted notion that modern man had his origins in darkest Africa. What archaeologists and their historical allies have done is look at the patterns of funerary rites and deduced that this group of people do different things than that group of people; therefore they must be different. But then someone does some things differently to their grandfathers, who did things differently from theirs and so on. If we extrapolate that to an archaeologically significant gap, then all of a sudden everyone’s of a different culture.
Of course, we all know the ancient Britons wrote very little, therefore that particular avenue is closed to us. We are wise, too, to take with an ocean of salt anything Romans had to say; there is evidence that, when Julius Caesar made his aborted attempts at colonisation circa BC55, that he was beaten back by the fearless warriors of the time. It is unlikely in this instance that any chronicler is going to be complimentary – indeed, the Romans call all in their paths savages and barbarians. In AD43, though, the evidence is not so much of invasion but of being invited. According to Cassius Dio, King Verica of the Atrebates - who was on good terms with the Roman Empire - invited the Roman armies to sort out some local difficulties; his kingdom was under occupation by the Catuvellauni tribe to the north. It’s likely he was swept out of power (Roman annals have him fleeing to Rome where he became a suppliant before Claudius). The same is purported to have happened to Vortigern after the Romans left, who had the Saxon characters Hengist and Horsa come in and, again, help him with his little local difficulty.
Much of what we take for granted today – the British national dress, the suit, to the martial art of fighting with a quarterstaff, even putting coins in a wishing well - is all firmly rooted in our history. Fairy tales tell stories which, were they not so veiled in the brightly-coloured apparel to which children are attracted, would reveal dark and sinister goings on – in the case of Little Red Riding Hood, which is essentially a tale about child prostitution – and, in the case of Snow White, secrets about the Ancient Ways. All these things, with the right kind of eyes, reveal themselves.
The right kind of eyes are quite difficult to find. The Troubadours of Albion are fortunate because we have several generations passed knowledge down mother to daughter, and this makes us aware. That archaeology is gradually finding in our favour is flattering, but even so that our version is not acknowledged as a waypoint to the truth, even with the archaeological, written, logical and circumstantial evidence, the research we’ve done over time and the insights we provide, is frustrating.