Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Sumerian and Indo-European: a surprising connection

Posted by Fredsvenn on May 14, 2017

Proto-Euphratean was considered by some Assyriologists (for example Samuel Noah Kramer), to be the substratum language of the people that introduced farming into Southern Iraq in the Early Ubaid period (5300-4700 BC).

The 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron was one of the most intense aridification events during the Holocene Epoch. It occurred around 3900 BC (5900 years Before Present) and ended the Neolithic Subpluvial and probably initiating the most recent desiccation of the Sahara, as well a five century period of colder climate in more northerly latitudes.

It also triggered human migration to river valleys, such as from central North Africa to the Nile, which eventually led to the emergence of the first complex, highly organized, state-level societies in the 4th millennium BC. It is associated with the last round of the Sahara pump theory.

A model by Claussen et al. (1999) suggested rapid desertification, associated with vegetation-atmosphere interactions following a cooling event, Bond event 4.

Bond et al. (1997) identified a North Atlantic cooling episode 5900 years ago from ice-rafted debris as well as other such now called Bond events, which indicate the existence of a quasiperiodic cycle of Atlantic cooling events approximately every 1470 years ± 500 years.

For some reason, all the earlier arid events (including the 8.2 kiloyear event) were followed by recovery, as is attested by the wealth of evidence of humid conditions in the Sahara between 10,000 and 6,000 BP. However, it appears that the 5.9 kiloyear event was followed by a partial recovery at best, with accelerated desiccation in the millennium that followed.

For example, Cremaschi (1998) describes evidence of rapid aridification in Tadrart Acacus of southwestern Libya, in the form of increased aeolian erosion, sand incursions and the collapse of the roofs of rock shelters. The 5.9 kiloyear event was also recorded as a cold event in the Erhai Lake (China) sediments.

In the eastern Arabian Peninsula, the 5.9 kiloyear event may have contributed to an increase in relatively greater social complexity and have corresponded to an end of the local Ubaid period.

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.

At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1,000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”.

Also, by causing a period of cooling in Europe, it may have contributed to the decline of Old Europe and the first Indo-European migrations into the Balkans from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, according to the book The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony.

Benno Landsberger and other Assyriologists argued that by examining the structure of Sumerian names of occupations, as well as toponyms and hydronyms, one can suggest that there was once an earlier group of people in the region who spoke an entirely different language, often referred to as Proto-Euphratean. Terms for “farmer”, “smith”, “carpenter”, and “date” (as in the fruit), also do not appear to have a Sumerian or Semitic origin.

Linguists coined a different term, “banana languages,” proposed by Igor Dyakonov and Vladislav Ardzinba, based on a characteristic feature of multiple personal names attested in Sumerian texts, namely reduplication of syllables (like in the word banana): Inanna, Zababa, Chuwawa, Bunene etc.

The same feature was attested in some other unclassified languages, including Minoan. The same feature is allegedly attested by several names of Hyksos rulers: although Hyksos tribes were Semitic, some of their names, like Bnon, Apophis, etc. were apparently non-Semitic by origin.

Dyakonov and Ardzinba identified these hypothetical languages with the Samarran culture. Rubio challenged the substratum hypothesis, arguing that there is evidence of borrowing from more than one language. This theory is now predominant in the field (Piotr Michalowski, Gerd Steiner, etc.).

A related proposal by Gordon Whittaker[3] is that the language of the proto-literary texts from the Late Uruk period (c. 3350–3100 BC) is really an early Indo-European language which he terms “Euphratic”.

If the Indo-Europeans moved from the Zagros, as I have proposed in the last post, they should reveal some affinities with other languages of the ancient Near East (by the way, the recent paper by Haak et al. has revealed a ‘Near Eastern’ genetic component in the Yamnaya people from the Russian steppe).

And these affinities are there, for instance with Semitic languages, but also with a very ancient language, that we are not used to associate with Indo-European: Sumerian.

Sumerian and Indo-European: a surprising connection

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