Rock art, Atlantic Europe, Words & Warriors (RAW)

Professor Koch has a key role in a major 4-year research project—Rock art, Atlantic Europe, Words & Warriors (RAW)—funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet). This ambitious project is fundamentally internationalist and multidisciplinary in its approach. It is interpreting evidence gathered in Scandinavia, Wales, and the Iberian Peninsula, synthesising cutting-edge input in linguistics, archaeology, and genetics. As described below, RAW realises research goals set at the international workshop Rock art and metal: Late Bronze Age contact between Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula, co-organised by John Koch, held at Gothenburg University in November 2017, and supported by Sweden’s Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.  


Project synopsis

Recent chemical and isotopic sourcing of copper artefacts in Scandinavia and amber in Iberia reveal a trade system that arose and ended in the Late Bronze Age, 1400/1300–900 BC. Much remains to be explained about this previously unrecognized episode of Iberian–Scandinavian contact. What were the exact dates and volume of this trade? What regions and communities were involved? Did people and ideas move with valuable raw materials? RAW seeks to answer these questions using new technologies and crossing between three disciplines: linguistics–archaeology–genetics (LAG). Its syntheses advance understanding of the formation of Atlantic Europe’s languages, cultures, and populations.

A preliminary look at 1) rock-art motifs shared by these regions at this time and 2) the earliest layer of vocabulary shared by Germanic and Celtic (but not Indo-European as a whole) suggests that seafaring warriors were the primary agents of this trade. RAW is fully investigating these data fields and this hypothesis.

Parallels between Iberian warrior stelae and Scandinavian rock art were noted long ago. Only recently have shared motifs been begun to be recognized more fully and closely dated to the span 1300–900 BC. RAW is building an on-line library of 3D images of rock art to allow researchers world-wide to compare remote immovable objects in fine detail. RAW is entering data about motifs, typology of artefacts depicted, artistic conventions, carving techniques, successive carving events, dating, archaeological contexts, and the script and language of stelae with writing. This new material is being made available through the website of the Swedish Rock Art Research Archives (Svenskt Hällristnings Forsknings Arkiv SHFA, hosted at the World Heritage Site in Tanum, and a Spanish interface has been initiated.

John Koch’s main focus in this project builds on advances in linguistics and archaeogenetics that now allow rock-art iconography to be linked to word meanings in Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Celtic, and Proto-Germanic. He is making an exhaustive analytical study of the sizable Celto-Germanic vocabulary for warfare, weapons, and ideology to determine these words’ original meanings, when they were coined, and the date and direction of borrowings between Indo-European branches.

Ancient-DNA sequencing now reveals mass gene flow from present-day Ukraine/South Russia to North and West Europe about 2500 BC, tipping the debate on Indo-European origins towards the steppe hypothesis. The RAW research team is networking with archaeogeneticists to fill remaining gaps between these migrations and the pre-Roman languages of Atlantic Europe.

The RAW team’s work programme in Year 1 included scanning (3D and 2.5D) and documentation of Bronze Age carved stones In Iberia and Scandinavia and in-depth resifting of inherited vocabulary in key semantic domains in Celtic and Germanic. A dedicated international conference convened in 2022 (Year 3) will lead to a substantial multi-authored book to be published by Oxbow Books. The RAW team are also building links with other projects and individual researchers to share data and develop interpretive models.  

The RAW team:

Prof. Johan Ling (Principal Investigator, Gothenburg & Director SHFA)

Prof. John Koch (Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies)

Dr Marta Díaz-Guardamino (Durham & Gothenburg)

Dr Bettina Schulz-Paulsson (Gothenburg)

Dr Christian Horn (Gothenburg)