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Thread: Language as a Clue to Prehistory

  1. Top | #91
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Chalcolithic, Eneolithic, Aeneolithic, or Copper Age - between Neolithic and Bronze Age
    Samara (Samara Bend of Volga River, ~ 5000-4500 BCE)
    Khvalynsk culture (at Samara, 4900–3500 BCE)
    then Yamna / Yamnaya

    Botai culture (3700-3100 BCE)

    Cucuteni–Trypillia culture also Cucuteni-Tripolye (Ukrainian vs. Russian town name)
    (NE Romania, Moldova, W Ukraine, 5500-2750 BCE)
    The majority of Cucuteni–Trypillia settlements consisted of high-density, small settlements (spaced 3 to 4 kilometres apart), concentrated mainly in the Siret, Prut and Dniester river valleys.[3]

    During the Middle Trypillia phase (c. 4000 to 3500 BCE), populations belonging to the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture built the largest settlements in Neolithic Europe, some of which contained as many as three thousand structures and were possibly inhabited by 20,000 to 46,000 people.[4][5][6]

    One of the most notable aspects of this culture was the periodic destruction of settlements, with each single-habitation site having a lifetime of roughly 60 to 80 years.[7] The purpose of burning these settlements is a subject of debate among scholars; some of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier habitational levels, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings. One particular location; the Poduri site in Romania, revealed thirteen habitation levels that were constructed on top of each other over many years.[7]
    The size record for cities with Neolithic technology may be held by the Aztec city Tenochtitlan, where Mexico City now is, with estimates like 200,000 - 400,000 people.

    That burning of houses is called the Burned house horizon, and it's not sure whether it's accidental or deliberate.

    Back to linguistics, there is a lot of evidence of a pre-Indo-European substrate in Europe, something I'd posted about earlier. Words like "bean", borrowed separately in different places. Latin fava < first borrowed as *bhabha < original *baba, for instance.

    This is consistent with Cucuteni–Trypillia and its predecessors and SE European contemporaries being pre-Indo-European.

  2. Top | #92
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    Development of proto-Germanic language is a mystery

    With one exception the relationships — at least in broad brush-stroke form — can be deduced between the early adventures of the P-I-E people and the eventual placement of the subfamilies of Indo-European language. The exception is Germanic.

    When farmers arrived, hunter-gatherers were outnumbered and had to adopt farming themselves, flee to the north, or die out. The "shell midden" people along the Atlantic coast with a very productive littoral economy could hold out longest, but they eventually adopted farming also, celebrating this new success by becoming the "Megalithic" people, doing the initial constructions at Stonehenge and erecting le Grand Menhir Brisé in Armorica (Brittany). (I wanted to add a Wiki link to the fabulous menhir erected 6700 years ago, but some Wikipedia nitwit now has that term redirecting to Locmariaquer, a commune near the menhir site!)

    Europe's North was the one place where non-farmers held out. Around the shorelines of Denmark, northern Germany, Sweden and Norway, hunter-gatherers practiced sealing and fishing, and were building log-boats before 6000 BC. These ancient people are among the ancestors of the Germanic people.

    The Mesolithic Ertebølle culture of Scandinavia gave birth to the Funnelbeaker culture which was unique in several ways. It had little resemblance to the farming cultures of Linear Pottery culture to its south, nor to the Kurgan P-I-E cultures emerging to its east. The slovenly style of Funnelbeaker (aka TRB) settlements betray its origin from hunter-gatherer culture, yet it led the way in some Neolithic developments. The earliest preserved wagon-wheels are found at TRB sites.

    TRB eventually came into competition with the Kurgan-derived Globular Amphora and Corded Ware (aka Battle-Axe or Single-Grave) cultures, but I think care should be taken before generalizing about these vast cultural horizons which stretched from the Rhine to the Volga. The Western portion of Corded Ware was sibling to Bell Beaker and might have spoken a language sibling to Italo-Celtic. The eastern part of Corded Ware had R1a haplogroup compared with R1b in the West, and eventually spoke proto-Baltic. Meanwhile Funnelbeaker persisted and competed with Corded Ware for several centuries in Denmark and northern Germany. Conditions would have been ripe for the creation of a creole language, but if such a language survived it was probably re-creolized 1000 years later! Funnelbeaker (TRB) was also in conflict with the Pitted Ware culture to its north, a non-farming culture possibly related to the (Uralic speaking?) Comb Ceramic culture to its east. Although non-farmers, Pitted Ware should not be under-estimated! They were superb hunters, sealers, fishers and sea navigators; had fur-skins and amber to trade for agricultural goods they wanted; and might have been daring raiders and warriors.

    It is said that the Nordic Bronze Age began in Denmark or southern Sweden, as a result of a union between the Corded Ware-Battle-axe culture and Pitted Ware. Again there was opportunity for language creolization, or at least the emergence of a strong Pitted Ware substrate in the language that became proto-Germanic.

    I detail the above just to argue against a glib equation of proto-Germanic with Corded Ware. The Germanic languages are most divergent from other I-E branches based on grammar, lexicon and phonology, and show evidence of inheritance both from Italo-Celtic and from proto-Baltoslavic. The development of proto-Germanic language is a complicated, largely-unknown story.

  3. Top | #93
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Returning to Pre-modern human migration, I note its mentioning
    • 8.2 kiloyear event - a cold spell that lasted for a few centuries, likely caused by the sudden draining of some North American glacial lakes.
    • Bond event (5.9 kiloyear event) - one of several ice-rafting events every 1000 - 1500 years
    • 4.2 kiloyear event droughts in the Mediterranean Basin and North America and some places, and wet conditions and flooding in some other places. It likely caused the collapse of Old Kingdom Egypt and the Akkadian Empire.

    Back to linguistics and prehistory.

    Early Slavs - Slavs spread out of their homeland and overran much of Eastern Europe over 500 - 1000 CE.

    Their early borrowings from Germanic show that they were a more-or-less unified community around 500 CE.


    Uralic languages
    Proto-Uralic language
    Proto-Uralic homeland hypotheses
    Toward the northeast of the Indo-European homeland was the homeland of the Proto-Uralic speakers, and there's an interesting story of contacts there. The speakers of the Uralic languages are in and near the northern part of the Ural Mountains, extending into northern Siberia and Scandinavia. There is also an isolated population of Uralic speakers: Hungary. The closest relatives of Hungarian are Khanty and Nenets, "Ob-Ugric" languages, because of being near the northern end of the Ob River in Siberia.

    How did Hungarians get there? Their Proto-Hungarian-speaking ancestors learned how to be cattle-herding nomads from some neighbors, likely the Turkic Chuvash people, and some of them went on a long journey, settling down in their current home in the early Middle Ages and mixing with the local population.

    Hungarians' own name for themselves is Magyar and for their nation Magyarorszag, "Magyar Land".

    Pre-Finno-Ugric substrate
    Finno-Ugric is all the Uralic langauges but the Samoyedic ones, and is named after Finnish and Hungarian. It has some words that are not Indo-European and likely not Uralic. But these words don't have much in common with putative pre-Germanic non-Indo-European ones: Germanic substrate hypothesis

    I note in passing Goidelic substrate hypothesis - some putative pre-Celtic words in the Insular Celtic languages:
    • Continental Celtic: Gaulish, etc.
    • Insular Celtic: Goidelic: Scots Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Manx
    • Insular Celtic: Brittonic: Welsh, Cornish, Breton

  4. Top | #94
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    What was before Indo-European and Uralic in Europe:
    Pre-Indo-European languages
    Paleo-European languages

    I'll turn to Indo-European and Uralic contacts. There are several layers:
    • Proto-Indo-European
    • Indo-Iranian
    • Proto-Germanic
    • Recent centuries

    Recent centuries aren't very interesting for prehistory, other than illustrating what words tend to be borrowed. Two words that English relatively recently got from Uralic languages are:
    • Sauna - hot room - from Finnish, likely descended from a borrowing from early Germanic
    • Goulash - a kind of beef stew - from Hungarian gulyás


    Looking back further, we find the Finnish and Estonian words for king: kuningas. It has other cognates in the Finnic branch of the Uralic languages, and it was borrowed from early Germanic *kuningaz, reconstructed from English "king", German "König", and other such words.

    Even further, we find a lot of words in Uralic that were borrowed from early Indo-Iranian languages. This points to contacts around 2000 BCE with early Indo-iranian speakers in the Ukraine - Russia - Kazakhstan steppe zone.

    Indo-Iranian loanwords in the Uralic languages
    INDO-IRANIAN BORROWINGS IN URALIC: CRITICAL OVERVIEW OF THE SOUND SUBSTITUTIONS AND DISTRIBUTION CRITERION - INDO-IRA.pdf
    Early Contacts between Uralic and Indo-European: Linguistic and Archaeological Considerations

    For example, the Finnish word for a young pig, porsas, is from Proto-Uralic *porsas < Proto-Indo-Iranian *porsas < PIE *porkos, also "young pig". It became the usual word for pig in Latin, porcus, and from Old French, it came into English as "pork". English "farrow" is also from PIE *porkos.

    Another early borrowing is words for "hundred" in much of Uralic. Finnish sata and Hungarian száz < PUR *sita < PII *satam < PIE kmtom, also "hundred". This is reconstructed from English "hundred", Latin centum, Greek hekaton, Russian sto, Sanskrit satam, etc.

  5. Top | #95
    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Going further, we find connections between Proto-Uralic and Proto-Indo-European.

    Laryngeal theory - mentions IE-Uralic connections
    Indo-Uralic languages
    Frederik Kortlandt: Other electronic publications - has some stuff on Indo-Uralic comparisons
    indo european - Did Uralic borrow basic vocabulary from PIE, and if so why? - Linguistics Stack Exchange

    From that Stack Exchange page,
    This section of the Wikipedia article on laryngeal theory lists proposed IE-to-Uralic loanwords containing laryngeals. Several of these have quite basic meanings: "woman", "person", "do", "give", "go". Though not unheard of, it's unusual for languages to borrow such basic vocabulary, especially in large numbers.
    The first answer noted the work of Björn Collinder. In his voluminous writings, he notes four layers of borrowing:
    1. PIE -> Proto-Uralic
    2. Proto-Indo-Iranian -> Proto-Finno-Ugric (ancestor of all Uralic other than Samoyedic)
    3. "Pre-modern borrowings from IE languages into individual Uralic languages, notably the borrowings from Alanic (the ancestor of Ossetic, an Iranian language) into Hungarian, or the borrowings from proto-Germanic into Finnish."
    4. Over the last few centuries, like Swedish -> Finnish

    The second answer:
    The IE-to-Uralic loanword transfer phenomenon is quite messy. There are those basic vocabulary terms that look alike, but it goes beyond that sometimes. The conjecture that the borrowings are borrowings is moderately well accepted, though people have been pointing out the exact same problems you just did: they are so fundamentally basic it's almost silly.
    Like "give", "do", "woman", "person", "wet/water", "fish", "to stab, push", ... 1st, 2nd person pronouns, some noun-case endings, some personal verb endings, ...

    Also some correspondence between IE laryngeals *H and Proto-Uralic *k.

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