Atlantic Europe

Atlantic Europe is a geographical and anthropological term for the western portion of Europe which borders the Atlantic Ocean. The term may refer to the idea of Atlantic Europe as a cultural unit and/or as a biogeographical region.

It comprises the Atlantic Isles (Great Britain and Ireland), Iceland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the central and northern regions of Portugal, northwestern and northern Spain (including Galicia, the Southern Basque Country), the southwestern and western portion of France (Northern Basque Country), western Scandinavia and northern Germany.

Weather and overall physical conditions are relatively similar along this area (with the exception of parts of Scandinavia and the Baltic), resulting in similar landscapes with common endemic plant and animal species. From a strictly physical point of view most of the Atlantic European shoreline can be considered a single biogeographical region.[1][2] Physical geographers label this biogeographical area as the European Atlantic Domain, part of the Euro-Siberian botanic region.[3]



The Atlantic Bronze Age is a cultural complex of the Bronze Age period of approximately 1300–700 BC, that marked the economic and cultural exchange between the current territories of Portugal, Spain, France, Great Britain and Ireland. Via the Bell Beaker culture, Atlantic and Central Europe were in close cultural contact from at least the mid 3rd millennium BC, contributing to what would emerge as the Celtic culture of the West/Central European Iron Age.[4]

Archaeologists have noted that the prehistoric peoples of Atlantic Europe presented common traits, as shown by artifacts, artistic and architectural styles found in the region which attest to at least some form of trade and/or cultural link.[5] In addition, a number of genetic studies seem to interrelate specific groups of population in parts of Atlantic Europe in contrast with, for example, Central or Mediterranean Europe.[6][7]

Some examples of early cultural contact are the European Megalithic Culture and the Atlantic Bronze Age, or "carp's tongue sword complex". This refers to an industry mainly based on the west coast of France and Brittany but which clearly had links with societies in Iberia and Britain, as evidenced by products such as the carp's tongue sword and the end winged axe, which were widely bought and sold along the routes of the Atlantic seaways.

Atlantic Europe is also a term often used in reference to the territory occupied by the Celtic-speaking peoples and Celtic influenced people of western Europe.[8]

Culture at present

A number of authors have postulated that there still is a cultural continuum in Atlantic Europe, forming a cultural unit which has its roots in prehistoric times but remained until today mostly thanks to sea trade. Geographers also mention the influence of the natural environment in the construction of a similar cultural landscape along the western European coasts.

Some of the first geographers to consider this idea of Atlantic Europe were Otero Pedrayo and Orlando Ribeiro. Pedrayo stated in his studies about Galicia that this territory was marked by a strong "Atlantic character", not Mediterranean, despite the fact of being part of a Mediterranean state (Spain). On the other hand, while researching about his native Portugal, Ribeiro deepened the concepts of Atlantic Europe and Mediterranean Europe, linking southern Portugal more towards the Mediterranean culture and central and northern Portugal (together with Galicia and Asturias) to a pan-Atlantic European culture.

This idea would be further developed from the 1950s onwards by authors such as P. Flatrès, Emyr Estyn Evans, A. Bouhier, Meynier, J. García Fernández, Patrick O'Flanagan, Richard Bradley, Barry Cunliffe, Carlos Ferrás Sexto and Xoán Paredes, among others.

O'Flanagan, based on the theories of Pedrayo and Ribeiro, states that Atlantic Europe is a cultural reality that stretches along the coastal fringe of Europe, from Norway to South-Central Portugal (roughly down to the Santarém area), and including Britain and Ireland. With this in mind, Paredes affirms that there exists a cultural landscape common to Atlantic (namely Celtic) Europe, mainly based on the settlement pattern, use and shared perception of the lived space, thus evidencing in itself a social and cultural internal cohesion and continuity.[10][11]

Bob Quinn in his documentary series Atlantean speculates that western European Celtic culture is actually an earlier, pre-Celtic, Atlantic culture that included Atlantic Europe and people of the Maghreb such as Berbers and that it continues today.

Atlantic Europe in politics

There is a multi-national association of regions, which acts as a co-ordinator of Atlantic European regions and its interests. This is the Atlantic Arc Commission.[12] Operative since 1989, it includes 26 regions from four member States - Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. The Atlantic Arc Commission is one of the seven Geographical Commissions in the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe.[13]


Many scholars have historically postulated a genetic link between the various Atlantic populations,[14] with many claiming there was a migratory expansion after the least glacial age. However recent findings and improved genetic analysis tools have not supported such a theory. Basque like Neolithic farmers did populate Britain (and all of Northern Europe) during the Neolithic period, though around 1200 BC over 90% of British DNA was overturned by a North European population of ultimate Russian Steppe origin as part of an ongoing migration process that brought large amounts of Steppe DNA (including the R1b haplogroup) to North and West Europe.[15] Modern autosomal genetic clustering is testament to this fact, as both modern and Iron Age British and Irish samples cluster genetically very closely with other North European populations, not Iberians, Galicians, Basques or those from the south of France.[16][17] Such findings have largely put to rest the theory that there is a significant genetic link (beyond being Europeans) between the various 'Celtic' peoples in the Atlantic area.


  1. Indicative map of the European biogeographical regions 2005. Archived July 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. Map of the biogeographical regions of Europe
  3. Map of the floristic regions of Europe
  4. Cunliffe, B. and Koch, J.T., Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literature. Oxbow books, 2012.
  5. Bradley, R. (1997): Rock Art and the Prehistory of Atlantic Europe. Routledge
  6. Brian Donnelly (2004): "We are not Celts at all but Galicians; DNA research links the Scots, Irish and Welsh to north-western Spain", The Herald (Glasgow - UK), p. 15.
  7. Salas, A; Comas, D; Lareu, MV; Bertranpetit, J; Carracedo, A (1998). "mtDNA analysis of the Galician population: a genetic edge of European variation". Eur J Hum Genet. 6 (4): 365–75. doi:10.1038/sj.ejhg.5200202. PMID 9781045.
  8. "Modern Celtic realm - National Geographic". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-13.
  9. "Atlantic Arc Commission". Archived from the original on 2006-11-26. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  10. Paredes, X.M. Bases do Atlantismo Europeo Galego. Unha visión desde a Xeografía Cultural e Histórica. Tese de Licenciatura. Dept. de Xeografía, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, 1999
  11. Paredes, X.M.,"A utilidade do celtismo. Celticidade galaica no S.XXI", in proceedings of Jornadas das Letras Galego-Portuguesas 2012-2014, DTS and SAGA. p. 175-190, 2015.
  12. "Atlantic Arc Commission". Archived from the original on 2006-11-26. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  13. Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions
  14. Sykes 2006, pp. 283–284
  15. Olalde, I; et al. (May 2017). "The Beaker Phenomenon and the Genomic Transformation of Northwest Europe". bioRxiv 135962.
  16. Novembre J, Johnson T, Bryc K, et al. (November 2008), "Genes mirror geography within Europe", Nature, 456 (7218): 98–101, Bibcode:2008Natur.456...98N, doi:10.1038/nature07331, PMC 2735096, PMID 18758442
  17. Lao O, Lu TT, Nothnagel M, et al. (August 2008), "Correlation between genetic and geographic structure in Europe", Curr. Biol., 18 (16): 1241–8, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.049, PMID 18691889

See also


  • Orlando Ribeiro, Portugal o Mediterrâneo e o Atlântico, Lisboa, 1945.
  • Emyr Estyn Evans, The Atlantic Ends of Europe, Advancety Offsiders, London, 1958.
  • H.N. Savory, "Serpentiforms in Megalithic art: a link between Wales and the Iberian NW", in Cadernos de Estudos Galegos no. 84, p. 80-89, Santiago de Compostela, 1973.
  • Patrick O'Flanagan, "La Europa Atlántica: Pasado y presente. Una revisión del concepto y de la realidad'", in proceedings of Congreso Internacional: A periferia Atlántica de Europa: o desenvolvemento e os problemas socioculturais, Universidade de Santiago Compostela, 1992.
  • Patrick O'Flanagan, "Galicia en el marco geográfico e histórico de la Europa Atlántica", in Xeográfica no. 1, p. 115-133, 2001.
  • Barry Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples, 8000 BC to AD 1500, OUP, 2001.
  • Francesco Benozzo and Mario Alinei, "A área galega na prehistoria lingüística e cultural de Europa", in A Trabe de Ouro, no. 71, p. 13-39, Santiago de Compostela, 2007.
  • Barry Cunliffe. and John T. Koch, Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literature, Oxbow books, 2012.
  • Xoán M. Paredes, "A utilidade do celtismo. Celticidade galaica no S.XXI", in proceedings of Jornadas das Letras Galego-Portuguesas, 2012-2014, DTS and SAGA, p. 175-190, 2015.

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