Proto Semitic; dating and locating it.

Something I really should have done for proto Semitic before I did the larger post on Afro Asiatic – but you live and learn.

Essentially, if a language has certain technologies in it, you can use the known dates for the age of the  technology to give a date for the language. With proto Indo European the mega giveaway is the multiple number of words for wheel, which essentially stick an oldest date (so far) of 5,300 BP on the last common dialect of proto Indo European; making the claimed 9k date  for the last common dialect of PIE pretty unlikely to say the least. It’s not impossible that Anatolia was the home of the older ancestral language to this later ‘node’, so I have reconciled the Anatolian and steppes locations by assuming one is Neolithic PIE and the later is Bronze age PIE. There do appear to have been a substantial number of loanwords from Semitic into PIE, and this works best with PS being a neighbour to N-PIE rather than BA-PIE, which places the history of proto Semitic back in the North of the Levant a very long time.

I did this for Indo European, but was a bit remiss in not doing it for proto Semitic, which now means I need to re-do an older entry (doh). Most notable here is the absence of the roots for wheel, axle, cart and chariot, which really puts a tight time limit on proto Semitic. 

Dating

Wheel /chariot/cart/axle absent/not found; Oldest date for this tech is 5,300 BP in Slovenia, about 4,600 BP in Mesopotamia.

Silver oldest known 5,000 BP, Aegean/Asia minor.

Antimonyoldest 5,000 BP in Tello, Chaldea, Iraq, reaching Egypt 500 years later.

Camel native to West Asia, domesticates appear 4,000 BP in Arabia, about 2,000 years ago in East Africa.

Horse- native in West Asia/Iran; the Capsian horse dates back to 5,000 Bp

The dating of silversmithing to 5,000 BP (no older date as yet) and antimony at 5,000 BP sets an upper limit for proto Semitic (and PIE too).  The horse is not a native African animal isn’t seen there until they arrive in Nubia at the end of the Egyptian middle Kingdom, about 3,800 BP, still later in Ethiopia. 

I’m assuming that the wheel hadn’t reached there yet- although I see the oldest wheel down as 5,500 years old  in Mesopotamia I can’t find a single reputable source for it, so the oldest known wheel is from Slovenia at 5,300 years. But the slightly later languages like Assyrian and Babylonian have words for wheel, so the expansion of Semitic languages can just be squeezed in between the appearance of the wheel and the appearance of antimony/silver. About 5,000 BP to 4,600 BP, would be my guess (using the standard of Ur for known wheel dating). 

The appearance of the root word for camel puts a large dent in theories suggesting East Africa as a home for proto Semitic, as the camel is quite a recent appearance there, at about 2,000 years old, which places East Africa well out of the range of the possible, since Semitic languages appear in writing well before this date in Asia. The same is true of the root word for horse; it appears in East Africa after Semitic writing in Asia has begun.

Adding this all up; East Africa is effectively dumped out as an urheimat for PS, by the use of the words  for camel and horse -written Semitic is older than camels and horses existing in East Africa.

Location

Bitumen and Naptha  – available in West Asia (link)  in antiquity, Iran Iraq and Syria mainly.

Pistachio and Almond West Asia into North Africa

Sorghum African

Fig– (ficus Carica) – Asia, Mediterranean and West Asia

Vines/grapes – West Asia

Oak tree – Common to the Zagros mountains, not seen in Africa

Mountain – two words, one for mountain, one for mountain with a vineyard

Hill – Five words for hill-pretty exceptional and an indicator of a hilly surrounding

Ice- yes, there is a word for ice in proto Semitic, not really seen much in Africa

Sea/ocean – one word

Boat/ship– two words, but terms for sail and oar are lacking

River- a few words that also have other meanings, and one for riverbank

Stream – two different words for rivulet and narrow stream bed

The animals and flora described are unfortunately not specific to any area in Asia in the Neolithic, although the med coast seems favoured by the flora, and by the camel and horse, neither of which arrive in Africa until after Semitic languages are being written in Mesopotamia. Pistachios, figs and almonds are not tropical trees and won’t grow in East Africa. Although sorghum is from Africa, it arrived in Asia  in roughly the same era as PS appeared, and the root word is also used for beans and wild corn. The presence of petroleum derived products like bitumen and naphtha, which just aren’t found lying around in East Africa, also points towards West Asia, specifically the more Northern part of the possible range. The presence of oak trees and ice certainly doesn’t support any kind of African origin, and oak rees are really only found in cooler mountainous areas of West Asia. The particularly large number of words for hill, and two words for mountain do suggest somwhere particularly hilly. There is a word for ‘wave’ and a word for lake that is interchangeable with sea, suggesting familiarity with a really big lake. The forested areas of the Zagros are mainly oak, pistachio and almond trees, all three are part pf the PS language.

All of this does raise the possibility that the Proto Semitic loan words into proto Indo European (for barley, goat, bull) were from an earlier stage of the language’s evolution, back in the early Neolithic. It also suggests a very old vintage for the word wine (wayn) as it travelled with the very early domesticates into the PIE homeland.

proto-semitic1

So as a conclusion… proto Semitic can be dated to somewhere before 4,600 BP (no wheels ), as my best guess, and probably more around the 5,000 BP date. And located in West Asia, in the Syria/Iran/Mesopotamia arc; it’s the only place with naphtha (bitumen travels well,  naphtha doesn’t) and oak trees, and enough familiarity with ice to need a word for it, and lots of hills. I would suggest that it was probably quite closely related to the Akkadian and Eblaite languages, and may just be a dialect of that region that expanded out for some unkown reason, as the 5,000 ya date is a few hundred years older than old Akkadian.

Tree of Semitic languages.

semitic-tree

As a mionr interest, Eblaite is variously classified as both East and West Semitic, and it’s oldest dating is to 4,250 BP. it’s very similar to Akkadian, which suggests to me that these two may branch straight off from proto Semitic. In fact, a study of Eblaite (book link, page 5) reveals that non-Semitic names/nouns are very rare in it, which suggests a long residence in the Syria are for Semitic languages (nouns and place names from older languages are often retained when a new language appears). So I’m going to suggest a home for proto Semitic as somewhere near Ebla and the Zagros mountains, about 4,800 years ago.

Edit:

Recent work has sugested:

Our statistical tests of alternative Semitic histories support an initial divergence of Akkadian from ancestral Semitic over competing hypotheses (e.g. an African origin of Semitic). We estimate an Early Bronze Age origin for Semitic approximately 5750 years ago in the Levant,

Which I can live with, as on reflection one of the dating nouns I used, ass, could be referring to the wild asses that were native to Asia. So, this removes the major reasoning for the  more recent age I have here. I can live with a date of 5,750 years. Also from the same paper:

Ethiosemitic languages of Africa reflect a single introduction of early Ethiosemitic from southern Arabia approximately 2800 years ago.

Which is also no surprise, as no-one really took an African origin for Semitic seriously. I will comment that the age for PS in Asia (tracing back 9k if it was next to Neolithic Anatolian PIE) really does nothing for an African origin for proto Afro-Asiatic. The maximum age of a language group seems to be less than 11,000 years, and the only bio-cultural movements that we know of in that era are moving into Africa and not out of it.

30 responses to “Proto Semitic; dating and locating it.

  1. ” I see the oldest wheel down as 5,500 years old in Mesopotamia”.

    It’s my understanding that the wheel was first used in pottery and only later became used for carts. Presumably your comment “the oldest known wheel is from Slovenia at 5,300 years” refers to the latter type though. But the word may be more ancient than that.

    Regarding the pink circle on your map. At the middle of the southern margin we have Baghdad, ancient Akkad. Semitic was certainly spoken there early on. But further east Semitic is a much more recent introduction. In fact even in Akkad Sumerian was used for religious occassions long after Semitic had replaced it, so Semitic is unlikley to have originated there. In the mountains still further east we find Elamite, arguably related to Semitic but certainly not closely related.

    Therefore it seems we can further restrict the homeland of Semitic to somewhere within the eastern half of your circle.

    • Terry, even the earliest date I can get for the potters wheel made goblets much are later than 4,800 BP, I had a good old look for the wheel in Mesopotamia, before 5k ago I couldn’t find anything. The standard of Ur is the first solid evidence I could get, and they look pretty primitive, so I don’t think it’s way older than that there.

  2. East Africa is effectively dumped out as an urheimat for PS, by the use of the words for camel and horse -written Sumerian is older than camels and horses in East Africa.

    You are admitting before that the date of arrival of both horse and camel to West Asia may have happened AFTER the developement of the Semitic language family (proto-Semitic), actualy after the historical Semitic expansion of the 4th milennium BCE. Therefore, like the word for cat (or telephone) in Europe, it should have nothing to do with the genesis of linguistic families but rather be a neologism within a sprachbund area.

    All of this does raise the possibility that the Proto Semitic loan words into proto Indo European (for barley, goat, bull) were from an earlier stage of the language’s evolution, back in the early Neolithic. It also suggests a very old vintage for the word wine (wayn) as it travelled with the very early domesticates into the PIE homeland.

    This is a serious possibility.

    I must mention that in Basque too the apparent oldest word for “light” alcoholic beverages appears to be wine but with a totally different root (“ardo”), from which the words for beer and cider are derived. Nevertheless you cannot exclude that this meaning replaced an older one, as it happened with “arto” (originally meaning millet and nowadays meaning maize).

    Although I should point out the surrounding languages were probably very similar, members of the Afro Asiatic family from an earlier expansion of Anatolian farmers in the early Neolithic (my own theory, shared by a few others).

    Sumerian was not and Elamite doesn’t seem likely either. The area you marked in the map (Kurdistan) is known to have spoken mostly Hurrian (not AA) and even to have got an IE (specifically Indo-Aryan) elite.

    Semites appeared (as invaders) in Iraq at the central area, roughly the modern Sunni region, between the Sumerian south (roughly modern Shia region) and the Hurrian north (roughly modern Kurdistan). They might have infiltrated by the Diyala valley from “Elam” but, considering their overall expansion and the location of their AA relatives, a migration from the west or SW looks a lot (a lot!) more likely.

    Overall Semitic languages are most closely related in West Asia wih lowland areas, not the highlands (except maybe in the Yemen-Ethiopia area, a peripheric region clearly). This seems to me a preferential ecological niche, much as the Eurasian steppes were for IEs (and later for Altaics) and the tundra was for Uralic peoples, revealing their original cultural adaptations.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest the appearance of the horse was the trigger to the expansion of Semitic languages, which would make my core area more into the Elamite area in West/North Iran.

    As said before it looks unlikely: only an infiltration by the diyala corridor could serve as explanation but it fails when relating Semitic to its linguistic syblings and cousins, all them African. The CAPC looks again as the most likely source.

    I have also mentioned as hard to accept the arrival of horse as trigger of Semitic expansion, as this one happened in the 4th milennium BCE (i.e. some 5,500 years ago), and this is well documented and the arrival of horse is of much later date. Semitic expansion was done most likely on foot.

    • You are admitting before that the date of arrival of both horse and camel to West Asia may have happened AFTER the developement of the Semitic language family (proto-Semitic), actualy after the historical Semitic expansion of the 4th milennium BCE.

      Where did I say that?

      What I observed was that horses and camels arived in Africa after Semitic languages were being written, down (in Akkadian). Which makes Africa an unlikley home for PS.

      I actually observed that the horse seems to arrive slightly before the wheel in the more Northern part of the relevant area, which makes it my suggested home for PS (dropping Anatolia for PS). This would make a very narrow time frame for PS, about 4700 years, give or take. The arrival of horses and the wheel are very close in time to the PS expansion, the horse, with their presence in PS would seem to have arrived just before the expansion

      Elamite has been proposed as an Afro Asiatic language by at least two linguitst Luis.

      I’d also debate that they have an affinity for lowlands. PS has has two words for mountain and five for hill. It’s also lacking in descriptive terms for big rivers- but it does have specific words for narrow river bed and rivulet and a word for ice, somthing you’ll not see much in lowland Asia. It also has oak trees, not fond of the warmer lowlands in Asia, but all over the Zagros mountains.

  3. proto-semetic peoples are from africa !!!
    Berbers are they then!

  4. Where did I say that?

    In the main post:

    Camel -native to West Asia, domesticates appear 4,000 BP in Arabia, about 2,000 years ago in East Africa.

    Horse- arrives in West Asia from central Asia about 4,800 BP

    4,800 BP is roughly 2,800 BCE and that is long after the well documented Semitic expansion of c. 3900-3500 BCE (almost 6000 years ago) and just before the beginning of the Akkadian Empire of Sargon (the camel would be after Sargon’s death).

    What I observed was that horses and camels arived in Africa after Semitic languages were being written, down (in Akkadian). Which makes Africa an unlikley home for PS.

    Well, I agree that Semitic has Asiatic origins but the loanword/neologism for camel seems irrelevant in that.

    I actually observed that the horse seems to arrive slightly before the wheel in the more Northern part of the relevant area, which makes it my suggested home for PS (dropping Anatolia for PS). This would make a very narrow time frame for PS, about 4700 years, give or take. The arrival of horses and the wheel are very close in time to the PS expansion, the horse, with their presence in PS would seem to have arrived just before the expansion

    Can’t be: 2700 BCE is way too late: we know almost possitively (importan Sumerian dynasties bear clearly Semitic names) that Semites arrived some 1000 years before that to Mesopotamia. Again the word for horse must be a shared neologism, not a feature of PS.

    Based on what we know of Mesopotamia (and archaeology in the Levant) the Semitic expansion must have happened in the 4th milennium BCE. Where were they before? The most simple theory is that of the seminomads of the CAPC, regardless on wether their language derived from Harifian, Natufian-core or sudanatolian PPNB-core.

    Elamite has been proposed as an Afro Asiatic language by at least two linguitst Luis

    It has also been proposed as Dravidian-related and, for what I know, there’s nothing solid yet. The Linguistic science is full of hyopthesis but only few survive the passing of time. In general it’s safely regarded as an isolate.

    I’d like to know anyhow how did AA manage to expand so much with so many pockets of unassimilated peoples in between (I’m thinking of Sumerians in the case of Elamite and Semitic, right between the two, but the same can apply to so many other historical and protohistorical languages, and their respective ethnicities, of West Asia). For me it’s much more logical to think that AA had a limited extension in Asia (mostly or exclusively as PS) until Semitic peoples expanded massively in the rather well attested 4th milennium epysode.

    • Ah, yes, but camels are a native animal to Asia, unless you want to assume that the locals didn’t have a name for them before they were domesticated. As I pointed out in one anti-Ehret rant a while ago.

      The problem with the expansion date of 6,000 years is that it’s way before the appearance of several technologies and animals donkey in the language. Afro asiatic languages have to have been knocking around in the area for a long time prior, they have loan word into PIE, they can’t have been that distant. It’s the same thing with Anatolian IE languages, they seem to have split of before the wheel was invented. The Semitic names in Sumer are probably is demonstrating is that the parent language was in the area prior to the later expansion, which doen’t take anything away from the expansion date I’ve come up with, as it show’s a Semitic or pre Semtic people near to my proposed expansion point, as it seems to be in the North end of Mesopotamia. I’m just pointing out the expansion of Semitic languages arrives after silver, antimony, the donkey and horses- all pretty late, but no sign of a root for wheel.

      I’m just pointing out that the expansion of the languages seems to come pretty late. A parent dialect had to be around the area at the time, it would share many of the same words if there’s only a thousand years difference.

      Whether Elamite was semtic or not, it does have a very high proportion of Semitic words it, in essence it doesn’t matter if it was semitic or not, as they’d have to be in close contact with a semitic language in Iran to accquire them

  5. yes, but the origin of the proto-Semitic, it comes to expansion of Berbers (Horn of Africa and northern Egypt) Eurasian DNA in these regions so far
    and we all know that the Semitic languages are Afro-Asian branch!!
    this is the presence of the Berbers in an ancient time in middle east !

    • Not really Mathias. The movement from North Africa into to Near East was way old, about 20k ago and from the Egypt area. berber languages aren’t a parent to the Semitic ones, brother and sister are more likely.

  6. Ah, yes, but camels are a native animal to Asia, unless you want to assume that the locals didn’t have a name for them before they were domesticated.

    Of course. You are right in this. My bad.

    The problem with the expansion date of 6,000 years is that it’s way before the appearance of several technologies and animals donkey in the language.

    It doesn’t seem really important if the loanword/neologism spread through sprachbund. Just think on how all European languages say “cat” (a recent arrival from Africa) and how they say “dog” (known in Europe since the Paleolithic). Nearly all European languages (IE or not) call cats in a similar way but they have different names for dog. That is because the new name had little time to evolve and travelled with the animal everywhere, while the name for dog evolved locally for variegated reasons. It is a very good example of how mass-lexical comparison may have many shortcomings, especially if done carelessly.

    … they have loan word into PIE, they can’t have been that distant.

    That may depend. Neolithic waves sent many words in many different directions, especially those related with agriculture, herding or civilization. For instance you can trace the Basque word fro city/town (hiri, iri, uri, uli – found in Iberian in similar forms) to West Asia (iri-salem, iri-ko, ili-on, uru in Sumerian, etc.) or you can trace the Basque word for ram (ahari) to at least Greece (aries), both with no clear intermediate. PIE was not alien to Neolithic neologisms from West Asia (be them proto- or pre-Semitic) obviously.

    The Semitic names in Sumer are probably is demonstrating is that the parent language was in the area prior to the later expansion, which doen’t take anything away from the expansion date I’ve come up with, as it show’s a Semitic or pre Semtic people near to my proposed expansion point, as it seems to be in the North end of Mesopotamia.

    That area is the original homeland of proto-Sumerians by all accounts (this is pretty clear, I understand) and was later known to be inhabited by Hurrians. In fact I suspect that Sumerian is a distant relative of NE Caucasian, via proto-Hurrian (but my evidence is slim: mostly comparison of numbers and the archaeological pattern: Eastern Gravettian > Zarzian > Zagros’ Neolithic > Sumer).

    I’m just pointing out the expansion of Semitic languages arrives after silver, antimony, the donkey and horses- all pretty late, but no sign of a root for wheel.

    The problem is that all those words could well have spread with the innovations themselves, like the word for cat. And instead the wheel could well have been known since old (very hypothetically – I’m not claiming this last) and evolved locally in different words (like dog).

    As the wheel was probably also a neologism, I guess this may imply distinction between a period of greater cultural union and one of cultural divergence. And you basically pointed to the Akkadian Empire with your suggested dates. Well, actually to a few centuries before… but assuming the wheel to be known outside Mesopotamia already precisely about 2600 BCE.

    But with a few twists you can just assume quite safely that what you are calling proto-Semitic is nothing but the cultural and linguistical homogeneization under Sargon and successors. Notice that his empire dominated all the Fertile Crescent, Elam, parts of Anatolia and even as far as Oman.

    So my guess is that you’re seeing just the cultural and liguistical “globalization” process of the Akkadian Empire and that the wheel was known in the area long before the standard of Ur was painted.

    Whether Elamite was semtic or not, it does have a very high proportion of Semitic words it, in essence it doesn’t matter if it was semitic or not, as they’d have to be in close contact with a semitic language in Iran to accquire them

    Akkadian Empire probably too. And Elamite was for sure not Semitic in any case, even if it was related (what I seriously doubt: most of the apparent cognates with AA are not with Semitic but with remote and varied languages of Africa).

    • Do you think you could email that the Christopher Ehret and explain to him that if a word roots out from the same area it doesn’t mean the chronology is the same? An issue I have with his Nilo Sharan dating.

      It had this discussion with Mr Mathilda, I called the concept ‘false root words’. The reason I’m assuming that’s not the case here is the absence of words for wheeled vehicles/wheels, which should have shown the exact same pattern of distribution for silver, antimony and horses. BUT, donkeys shouldn’t show a root word following the same pattern as they come from Africa, the other direction to the other late tech. And the words describing their environment don’t seem to describe anywhere flat, marshy or desert either, or equatorially hot. One of their words for mountain specifically is ‘mountain with a vineyard’, they had oak trees. I’m not going with a more Southerly location than marked for a reason. I’m thinking it’s more likely that the Akkadians ancestors were around in the West Zagros area, and that this is just a late expansion of a dialect from that region.

  7. Do you think you could email that the Christopher Ehret and explain to him that if a word roots out from the same area it doesn’t mean the chronology is the same?

    Not sure right now who’s this Chris Ehret right now (was he the one comparing reconstructed hyper-hypothetical superfamilies’ proto-fantasies?), or is that your husband?

    And the words describing their environment don’t seem to describe anywhere flat, marshy or desert either, or equatorially hot. One of their words for mountain specifically is ‘mountain with a vineyard’, they had oak trees.

    Now you have intrigued me. Does this apply to Semitic only or all Afro-Asiatic?

    Still oak trees and vines are not rare in the mediterranean and that includes Palestine (even there is an oak species typical of Palstine specifically). And the words for mountain and hill and interchangeable in many languages (and mountains do exist anyhow in Lebanon or around the Red Sea). They do have a shared word for camel and probably also (overlooked?) for sand and dune and things like that.

    Still I could take that the “fussion” of PPNB and Harifian into the (presumably proto-Semitic) CAPC could have got their main language not from Harifian but from PPNB (i.e. the Turco-Syrian border area) but looking at Harifian as source looks somewhat more parsimonious.

    • No, just proto Semitic has a specific term for ‘mountain with a vineyard’.

      Chis Ehret– a bit flown to flights of fancy involving proving early African domestications by very dubious datings of the language. Essentially claims one language is something like 9,000 years old, but it has proto words derived from the semitic words for goats and sheep that don’t arrive for about another 1500 years at least.

      A little digging into proto Semtic shows that Eblaite Semitic in Syria seems to have been in place a very long time; when they translated it the proper nouns and place/people name were all Semitic, which suggests a pretty long time in situ,becasue name places tend to be retained well after new language groups move in. It’s also pretty close to the root of Semitic languages, on the tree I dug out for them. I’m not being massively specific on the area for PS, but it does seem that the more northern hilly bits of the near East seem a more likely home for it than anything. I’m still going with the more western parts of the area as a favourite as donkeys got there first, and it makes the timing less tight.

      Dug up the quote from the crania study of Anatolians..

      Özdogan (1997) points out that the Neolithic communities of the Central Anatolian plateau form a distinct entity which differs from the south-eastern Anatolian, Levantine and Mesopotamian contemporaneous cultures in settlement pattern, architecture, lithic technology, bone tools, and other archaeological aspects. There is no simple corollary between specific cultural-archaeological entities and biological populations. However, in the case of the above analyses, the population of Çatahöyük differed biologically from the populations of the Near East and southeast Anatolia and were similar to the SKC and Nea Neikomediea cultures. Indeed in a previous publication (Pinhasi 2003), it was demonstrated that the Squared Mahalanobis Distance between Çatalhöyük and Çayönü is twice to three times the average distance between the former and any of the Early Neolithic southeast or central European Early Neolithic populations. The above analysis therefore confirms the archaeological observations made by Özdogan (1997) and reaffirms in this specific case a correspondence between cultural boundaries that define a prehistoric culture and its biological basis.

      It show a real difference between the southern E3b1 carriers and the Highland people.

      I’m warming to the compromise position that the language prior to Indo European (pre proto IE) may have been in the Antolian highlands. Makes you wonder if the words for goat, sheep and wine are IE loans into Semitic, not vice versa.

  8. No, just proto Semitic has a specific term for ‘mountain with a vineyard’.

    What do you visualize in that concept: a real mountain like the Matterhorn or more like a gentle hill with vineyards? I think rather in the second: something not much higher than 600 m. above sea level (honestly, I doubt vines can grow in much higher places, even in the southern Mediterranean).

    A little digging into proto Semtic shows that Eblaite Semitic in Syria seems to have been in place a very long time; when they translated it the proper nouns and place/people name were all Semitic, which suggests a pretty long time in situ,becasue name places tend to be retained well after new language groups move in.

    Some do and some don’t. Something like Potomac and Hudson rivers, the first name is native the second is colonial. Invaders also tend to impose their own names, I see it everyday here in the Basque Country (or check in Ireland). The issue should be looked with great care, something I don’t feel able to do.

    But maybe you’re right after all and PS belongs to PPNB rather than Natufian-Harifian. But, on the other side Natufian also had a branch extending into Syria. Kind of labyrinthic, really.

    It’s also pretty close to the root of Semitic languages, on the tree I dug out for them.

    It should be as it’s an extinct language. Anyhow it seems to belong to Eastern Semitic, with Akkadian, existing two other branches: Western (now represented by Hebrew) and Southern (now represented by Arabic). Eblaite could be a predecessor (or sybling) of Akkadian.

    Even if we accept PPNB as origin of Semitic languages, it ends up being something centered in the Levant rather than Kurdistan.

    I’m not being massively specific on the area for PS, but it does seem that the more northern hilly bits of the near East seem a more likely home for it than anything. I’m still going with the more western parts of the area as a favourite as donkeys got there first, and it makes the timing less tight.

    I can accept that as a possibility. Does PS have a word for cedar? Cedars are most characteristic of that area, as you probably know.

    Dug up the quote from the crania study of Anatolians..

    Thanks

    … the population of Çatahöyük differed biologically from the populations of the Near East and southeast Anatolia and were similar to the SKC and Nea Neikomediea cultures.

    I think I got lost with the terminology:

    1. I think that SE Anatolia may mean in general all the area bordering Syria but it’s ver imprecise (moreso as the region that has that name is not anymore Anatolia peninsula but mainland West Asia, the use of the term is arbitrary Turkish nationalist and may vary by authors). Honestly I don’t know if they mean Amuq (near Alexandretta and ancient Ugarit) or Tell Halaf (technically in Syria) or even the peoples of the northern Zagros.

    2. What is SKC?

    3. Does Nea Nikomedia culture mean Sesklo culture?

    It show a real difference between the southern E3b1 carriers and the Highland people.

    But Greece is very high in E1b1b (former E3b) and some of the places where it’s highest are precisely the centers of Neolithic. Unless E1b1b arrived with Dimini-Vinca culture – but Dimini appears closely related to areas near Catal Hoyuk: Can Hassan, even if the anthropometrical type is Levantine and Can Hassan may also mean an invasion. In any case E1b1b is not that common among Semites (nor Turks) while J1 (the main Semitic marker) is not that frequent among Greeks (or Blacanic peoples in general).

    Admittedly pretty confusing.

    Makes you wonder if the words for goat, sheep and wine are IE loans into Semitic, not vice versa.

    Hardly. I’d rather think of Semitic > IE, especially if PS was so stronly associated with the rise of Neolithic. We still agree that IE is from the steppes, do we?

  9. Hey, Mathilda: I know you have replied in this post but the link is now broken and can’t find the original.😦

    Just to mention that, IMO, Afroasiatic never reached the Zagros before the Assyrians. Goats and other Zagros domesticates spread to the Levant-South Anatolia area and vice-versa without any demic movement of relevance. Archaeology does suggest a knot between the three West Asian provinces in Kurdistan but does not suggest massive migrations between these three provinces at all.

  10. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070205-snake-spells.html
    Earliest Semitic text (pre-Hebrew, Canaanite) found in Egyptian pyramid.

    The Egyptians during early pyramid building (Old Kingdom, 5th dynasty) had the wheeled scaling ladder, definitely could be used as a cart, though no mention of carts or chariots until later.
    http://the-arc.wikispaces.com/Rolling+Stones

  11. Figs are not tropical trees? What?

  12. Hey Mathilda. I’m not sure I agree with the above criticisms, however I do question your logic in flatly rejecting East Africa. My own interests have led me to compile the available data into the idea that East Africa is probably the homeland of Semitic writing. As for Semitic peoples or languages, this is no doubt far more speculative.

    But the first definitive Semitic writing is indeed in Akkadian in Asia. There appears to be some connection between the abandonment of rhebus/ideographic/pictographic writing in favor of syllabic characters or abjad systems, which may say something about the possible unity of some community of proto-Semites.

    However, my criticism is very simple. You’re making a huge, and very odd Type II error in rejecting East Africa as a possible point of origination of Semitic writing. Certainly this is effectively a consensus with regard to modern (i.e. non-cuneiform) Semitic writing. Part of this error also, is rejecting the degradation of vocabularies over long periods of nomadism. Truth be told, I do not understand how you have made this point about lacking roots and presence of technologies with certainty:

    Wadi al-Hol inscriptions occur probably from adapted hieroglyphs with Semitic sound values overlaid from Semitic words represented by the pictograms (like pr(house)->bayt->bet). Your statement about the absence of “indigenous” roots obviously ignores the possibility that Semitic peoples have borrowed numerous words from surrounding languages when such a word is not pivotal to the community. In simpler terms, how is it not possible that lexicons simply experienced significant drift.

    First of all, I believe that moving southward from Wadi al-Hol, there is a significant possibility of discovering the initial inscriptions of Semites (which may in fact predate Wadi al-Hol by millenia). Additionally, neither of the Wadi inscriptions have been translated with any certainty, making the potential Semitic lexicon in Egypt in the 20th cty BCE significantly less comprehensible than that recorded in Akkadian.

    Of course, the other significant problem is that attestation of vocabulary, as well as of linguistic continuity, requires some form of comprehensible writing. Therefore, I am not sure your endeavor is any less limited by writing than tracing Semitic writing solely. Comparatively few Semitic words were transliterated into Ancient Egyptian, even if you possibly include the Libyan Libu and Tenhhu tribes (for which, particularly regarding the latter, remarkably little information is available). From the former tribe, Shosheq I and his line of Pharaohs presumably emerged; he, or possibly Shosheq II may be the “Striker” mentioned in the Bible.

    There are some other odd scattered examples of potentially Semitic names described or attested throughout the history of Egyptian writing. However, attestation is connected to depiction or writing – Semitic or not. And if pictures depicted presumed Semitic peoples or pantheons, it becomes more difficult than tracing comprehensible writing. Additionally, the bridge between “Arabia” and modern Eritrea appears to more logically reflect a potential crossing point for early Semites compared to Sinai.

    So here’s my challenge, given that our knowledge of early Semites is effectively limited to scraps of potentially homogenized writing samples – in that we derive information only from what we find and not that which we do not – and evidence of non-adapted forms of this writing exist pretty much only in Egypt (as so far discovered), AND these writing samples primarily occur along obscure ancient roads, shouldn’t we suspect continued nomadism even in Egypt possibly into the 1st mil BC? There are scattered pieces of information, including Biblical texts, that suggest that Semites in Egypt were not so much slaves but possibly domestic servants (the PR character may have been on Egyptian houses, and easily recognizable). As I have mentioned, the earlier attestations of Semites all come from Upper Egypt – in fact the first mention of “Jews” (specifically) comes from Elephantine something like 1152 BC with Jewish soldiers stationed in that city by the Persian Shah to assist the Pharaoh with the Nubian campaign.

    I also think that in examining possible Proto-Semitic components, particularly if you (specifically) advocate for an Asian origin – should not so quickly dismiss Arabia as an origin also – recent discoveries in the desert (there) have basically discovered inscriptions in Arabia beginning around 1500 BC derived from the Sinaitic script (http://www.mnh.si.edu/epigraphy/e_pre-islamic/preislamic.htm) and a continuous history of writing. The thing is, the Sinaitic writing is not numerous or early enough to reflect massive Semitic migrations. And virtually no serious evidence (because of the same Type II error you are advocating) has been attempted to be recovered from excavations either on the north-eastern most point of Lake Nubia in Sudan, or in Eritrea. But if Semites were effectively defined by a creation (myth) and either semi-nomadic/pastoral or nomadic or wandering quality, then we should expect to find increasingly less complex, more ancient, and more southerly Semitic inscriptions.

    sorry for the length:
    I suppose I am saying something slightly off topic by comparison, but at best your analysis claims to assert with certainty the origination of modern words based on an assumption that nothing has been either supplanted or had been assumed to be of limited importance, and therefore merely does not have an ancient root for different reasons (not for lack of technology). There is no question that Semites outside of their own governance have often been historically characterized by distinction to the broader community. So unless technologies like camels or wheels were integral to Semitic society or expressly forbidden (i.e. like words for pork or pigs) then it is possible these words either were not important enough to inscribe.

    Additionally these earliest (non-cuneiform) inscriptions, found along ancient obscure desert trade roads (previously thought to not have been traversed in these eras) suggest no evidence either of dromedaries or of carts. Thus perhaps Semites at this time (between 2000 and 1500 BC) neither used dromedaries nor carts. So even though those technologies may have been known to them, there may have been a definitive class or cultural element of exclusion that mitigated the importance of adopting indigenous roots for those words.

    The other caveat I would add is the extremely potent and homogenizing (and dividing) force of Arabic. I do not mean to imply that Arabic has supplanted everything, but Arabic does appear to be the descendant of a related early-division in Semitic languages. Based solely on early clear attestations of Arabic (http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/), there appears to be both a relation between Semitic languages, but also a clear stylistic distinction of Arabic – either in terms of poetry or vocabulary. Nevertheless, by the early Islamic period much of the proto-language of Qur’anic Arabic, Fus7a, and probably Arabian Arabic more generally are basically present. Therefore, what I mean to imply is that Arabic, as well as Islamic names, may be the descendants of a slightly different preserved legacy than that preserved by Akkadian or Hebrew. Additionally Hebrew has borrowed significantly from Arabic, most notably in Andalusia.

    As a final note, because we cannot trace the development of Semites prior to writing, the imperative should be dual: a) we must continue to search for the earliest writing (an ideal and not a material find); b) we should attempt to examine the effect of neighboring ancient languages on neighboring Semitic communities (possibly Lycian, Nubian, Meroitic, Egyptian, and Indo-European). The beauty is that these barriers break down and it becomes an effective value-judgment as to how Semitic spread and how much of a top-down insertion of words could have occurred. Simply because we may have lost the language of many or even most Ancient Semites (following the division of proto-Semitic (also an ideal)), does not mean that many or most communities had words that are no longer attested in the archaeological record.

    • AFAIK Michael, an Asian origin for Semitic is pretty well accepted, for multiple reasons. The only argument ever put forward for east Africa was ‘internal diversity’ which is a really lame one once you realise it only takes one later dialect to wipe out the internal diversity of an area (as it did for berber languages).

      Nothing about proto Semitic locates it in Africa, it has animals in the proto language that don’t appear in Africa until well after semitic languages are written in the near East. Nothing about the landscape it describes is African. I’m not actually out on a limb here. This is pretty standard stuff.

      • Look I understand your arguments here, and my best wishes for your family on another note, as you mentioned they had been sick. However, I don’t understand how you are deriving words from a language that does not exist (outside of an ideal to show the unity of descendant Semitic languages – real languages).

        I am not saying you are out on a limb, I am aware of the limb on which I perch. Nevertheless, your emphasis on “standard stuff” returns me to the actual point I made about rejecting a potentially true hypothesis. So. Where is Proto-Semitic written? And (I’m going to go out on another limb here) since it is not, how do you know that deriving words from cross-comparisons of the oldest extant writings is not bound to either include many borrowwords and exclude probably just as much native to the languages?

        Once again, though cuneiform Akkadian may be the oldest record of Semitic languages, the other ‘independent’ records (Wadi al-Hol and Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions) have not been translating, so no words, let alone connotation, can be extracted from any source save 1?

        Once again, I would humbly inquire, how are you presupposing you know Proto-Semitic with any certainty (We’re also not talking about disconnected communities; Semitic languages have a fairly confined and historically connected geographic basis)?

      • I’m working from the reconstructions of the proto words available. Published work from some very respected linguists and other scholars is quite happy in assigning the presence of technologies from the presence of proto words, and I’m assuming (on faith) that the authors have bothered to compare the internal diversity of the words to the rest of the language group to filter out later loanwords, which would probably be a bit conspicious by their lack of variation from dialect to dialect. I did consider ‘false proto words’ as a blind alley when I started wrting the PIE entry, but I realised they’d show less variety and they shouldn’t be that had to pick out if there was a large time difference between proto language and incoming loan.

        One of my main reasons for PS needing to be in Asia is that it shows a lot of loan words for Turkish/Iranian animals and crops into Proto Indo European, which was probably about 5,500-6,000k ago, which also the kind of age you get for PS from the tech available in it. This isn’t a likely scenario if PS was in Africa

  13. Sorry for this… but do you know when the earliest attested Semitic word for cat occurs? I have had this discussion numerous times with a Sudanese Nubian friend, and after checking as best we could it would appear that excluding Ancient Egyptian and Chinese, most languages have adopted the ancient Afro-Asiatic/possibly Nubian word qadiis (qadiisa in Sudanese Arabic and something very similar in Nubian; qitta in Arabic, 5atul in Hebrew, 2utta in Egyptian Arabic (miau or miau-miau in both Ancient Chinese and Egyptian).

  14. … excluding Ancient Egyptian and Chinese, most languages have adopted the ancient Afro-Asiatic/possibly Nubian word qadiis.

    That’s largely true but seems it’s not the case of Dravidian either. I was corrected in that detail by the author of this blog long ago. Would be too difficult to find the exact comment when I got corrected but it should not be so hard to research.

    But sure: the word “cat” is a clear case of interlinguistic loanword that travelled with the innovation, as I think it happened often in the Neolithic.

    On the other hand I can’t see how the origins of some kind of writing are really meaningful for the origins of language. The same language can and often is written in different scripts (Serbocroat for instance).

  15. http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/dictionary/search.php

    This dictionary/link you have used is Akkadian and the “inclusion” of Proto-Semitic roots, unsourced, at the bottom of the page, does not constitute a scholarly source. Still waiting for those sources, btw.

  16. Also in my own research, I came across 10 roots in Semitic specifically referring to either a gazelle or bucks of gazelles (and goats (but not just goats)). I will admit 2 or 3 of them refer either to gazelles or antelope. So what about the other 7 or 8 roots not related (to the other 6-7 that have more ambiguous meanings) to gazelles specifically?

  17. On the other hand I can’t see how the origins of some kind of writing are really meaningful for the origins of language. The same language can and often is written in different scripts (Serbocroat for instance).

    I have to say this is the best conclusion I have seen so far after reading this several times just hoping to grok all the information. I think it is funny people refer to respected linguists and scholars here. I understand the author here is anthropologist. With all due respect, I do not doubt her knowledge on that topic, but there is a large gap between modern linguistic analysis (even diachronic sociolinguistics, which is as close as scientific linguistic analysis gets to this conversation) and people who claim to be “linguists” that decipher these materials and claim to make solid conclusions on limited, tangential evidence. That is a history class, not linguistics. As modern linguistics, at least on the theoretical level, were fighting about the definition of sentence structure, universal grammar, and very basic issues on contemporary language, post-Chomskian arrogance excludes them from making really presumptuous assumptions (like assuming Africans, to use the blanket term used above, not having a word for ice, since there is no way ice exists in Africa) that there is enough data to trace the origins of language groups. They had trouble doing this five years ago, when I was a linguistics student, with spoken languages. I doubt that has changed so much in such a short period of time. I also find it hard to believe any serious linguistic analysis is done on something as far off as Proto-Semtic with the current data available. I know Arabic professors who trace the history of Arabic as a secondary research project. Arabic is heavily documents (even in its earlier forms) by comparison to PS, and many of his conclusions are prefaced with “data is too insufficient to make this more than a hypothesis.” So, I think that Luis, who has demonstrated depth in his linguistic analysis, made a very telling, if not the most important, point on this issue. I will take it to the extreme, however: the evidence here is not really evidence at all, but would make a really nice collection for a coffee table book.

    • will take it to the extreme, however: the evidence here is not really evidence at all, but would make a really nice collection for a coffee table book

      it’s what I was aiming for.

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