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Friday, September 12, 2008

Agriculture reached the ancient Basque Country some 5,500 years ago


Found at
Mathilda's Anthropology Blog, a frequently renewed anthropological and archaeological blog that is very worth checking regularly, specially because it often adresses a range of issues that other blogs do not (specially worth mentioning her interest in North Africa, seldom found elsewhere).

Wheat grains found in the site of El Mirón (Ramales, Cantabria) have been dated to c. 5,550 BP, as a team lead by Leonor Peña-Chocarro reports at the Journal of Archaeological Science. This confirms the earliest possible dates managed for the arrival of Neolithic to the Northern Atlantic Iberian Peninsula, probably imported from the upper Ebro or middle Garonne Epicardial groups, of somewhat earlier dates.

You may wonder why I consider this town of modern province of Cantabria to be part of the "ancient Basque Country". Well, the fact is that ancient Cantabrians (as known historically as well as archaeologically) dwelt farther east, in western Cantabria, eastern Asturias and nearby areas of Castile-Leon. The eastern Cantabrian area fell until Castilian conquest in the 10th century CE in the Basque area - though one could well argue that historical Cantabrians were once Basques as well. Whatever the case, the village of Ramales, renamed "Ramales de la Victoria" by the Fascists in 1937, is just at the modern border with Biscay (Western Basque Country) and cannot be detached of Basque Prehistory and ancient and medieval history.

It's maybe worth mentioning that farmer in Basque is nekazari, literally 'hard work' (neka(-tu) = to get tired, nekez = hardly, with effort), what seems to suggest that early Basques saw it as a somewhat undesirable way of life. There is no such negative connotation for sepherdry instead, sepherd being artzain (from ardi = sheep + zain(-du) = to care, keep or guard). Sepherdry also expanded among Basques in the 4th milennium BCE and the earliest known sites out of the Ebro banks are known in Santimamiñe cave (Biscay), that holds the best continuous archaeological record in the area (from Chatelperronian to the Iron Age).

Pottery instead is older, with findings at Zatoia (Pyrenean Navarre) dated to the early 6th milennium BCE, in what seems a subneolithic context (hunter-gatherers with pottery).

20 comments:

Manjunat said...

It's maybe worth mentioning that farmer in Basque is nekazari, literally 'hard work' (neka(-tu) = to get tired, nekez = hardly, with effort)

In Kannada, plough is called "negilu" and it does not have any etymology. I think Y-Hg-J2 people were responsible for spread of agriculture in Basque region and in Dravidian lands. Hence most likely nekazari and negilu might have derived from some dead language of J2 people. It most likely a borrowed word for Basque might have meant initially 'plougher' or farmer. However, coincidentally it also matched with a native Basque word meaning 'hard work'.

Maju said...

Hello, Manju.

Plough is a much later developement than agriculture (and anyhow the Basque term is "golda", unrelated). Also Y-DNA J2 (or J in general) is virtually null among Basques though it was surely involved in the expansion of Cardium Pottery Neolithic through Mediterranean Europe, that's true.

In any case, as with other agricultural instruments, the Basque words seem native: composites/declinations based on earlier words. Neka(-tu) is to get tired, to suffer and neke: work, exhaustion, tiredness. All related words (dozens!) also keep this etymological meaning. The only doubt might be those directly related from "nekazari" (farmer, peasant) but the etymology is also in this case extremely evident (in some cases it may mean to artisanship or generic work too).

I don't think there could be any connection with Kannada: it's surely just a coincidence (it happens more often than people usually realizes).

There are a handful of Neolithic Basque words though that could well be borrowings. IMO, "ahari" (ram) is one (related to Greek "aries"?) and we have already discussed the pretty clear case of ili/ilu/uli/iri/iru/uri/ur/uru (meaning "town") all around the Indo-Mediterranean strip.

There might be others, specially those related with introduced animals and crops but it's hard to judge after the ancient Indo-Mediterranean languages were nearly wiped out by Indoeuropean and Semitic tongues.

Just for the record (maybe you find some suspicious coincidences somewhere else), a brief list of Neolithic animals and crops:

- ardi: sheep
- ahari: ram
- behi/bei: cow (probably native)
- zezen: bull (probably native)
- ahuntz: goat (probably native)
- aker: billy goat (probably native)
- zerri, txerri: pig (boar instead is urde or basurde, which must be native)
- zaldi: horse (probably native)
- oilo: hen
- oilar: cock, rooster
- ardo: wine
- arto: originally millet, now maize
- gari: wheat
- zekale, zikirio, ainagu: rye
- garagar: barley (garagardoa: beer)
- dilista: lentil (recent borrowing? - lentils are know from early Neolithic in Iberia)
- ilar: pea (green)
- olo: oat
- aza: cabbage
- eltze: pot; eltzegile: potter
- ontzi, itsasontzi: ship; from 'ontzi': bowl (+ itsaso = sea)

Enjoy.

Maju said...

Btw, I just noticed that Basque "zerri" (pig, now most commonly "txerri") would seem to be directly related to Spanish "cerdo" (pig as well), which is unrelated to its possible Latin roots (sus, porcus). It might be a common derivation from an ancient Mediterranean root (ancient Iberian?) but it's also true that Castilian/Spanish has many borrowings from Basque. It does not seem a Celtic borrowing either.

Manjunat said...

I am saying 'negilu' is a borrow in Kannada and not a native word. Similarly, nekazari in Basque and ingu(=part of the plough) in Akkadian.

There are no root words for negilu in Kannada or in other Dravidian languages. Also, n+g/k consonant group is evident in Kannada,Akkadian and Basque languages.

Farmer being derived from 'hard work' is too much imaginative etymology for my taste :-). I'd rather prefer it as plougher.LOL

Manjunat said...

I think all three languages might have borrowed it from Sumerian language terms.

numun-ar-GUL: a part of the seeder plow ('seed' + 'to place' + 'to obstruct')

NUMUN-isal: a tool ('seed' + 'rudder')
http://www.sumerian.org/suml-r.htm

Very descriptive.

Maju said...

And what I say, Manju, is that nekazari just cannot be a borrowing unless the whole "neke" root is (what does not look like).

I have no problem re. the other etymologies you mention but I'm in very strong disagreement re. Basque "nekazari".

Farmer being derived from 'hard work' is too much imaginative etymology for my taste

*Shrug*

It is the natural reading of the word: it's not forced at all and there are dozens other words with the same etymology (both for neke(-z) and for -ari). Neke/nekatu and ari are common words in daily Basque, even separately. It's just impossible it's not that way. Basically it says "worker".

Instead your Sumerian etymology does seem very forced, moreso when Sumerians don't seem to be related at all with Mediterranean (nor Central European) Neolithic.

Negilu and numur-ar-GUL might be related - only hypothetically, of course.

... n+g/k consonant group is evident in Kannada,Akkadian and Basque languages.

Then it must mean winter, as the first Basque word I can think having n+g is "negu" (winter). Surely they were thinking how hard would be their lives in the winter if they did not work very hard with the plough, like in that tale of the ant...

I'm being sarcastic here, indeed.

Seriously there's no way the etymology I mentioned for the Basque word is not correct: anyone minimally familiar with Basque can't but see it. It's like "weekend" being a derivate from week+end and not from "vini, vidi vici". There can't be any doubt about that.

Please check: http://www.zompist.com/chance.htm - a must read for the amateur linguist. It begins like this:

On sci.lang we are often presented with lists of resemblances between far-flung languages (e.g. Basque and Ainu, Welsh and Mandan, Hebrew and Quechua, Hebrew and every other language, Basque and every other language), along with the claim that such resemblances "couldn't be due to chance", or are "too many" to be due to chance.

Linguists dismiss these lists, for several reasons. (...)


Enjoy.

Manjunat said...

Please check: http://www.zompist.com/chance.htm - a must read for the amateur linguist.

Huh! Professional linguists lack commonsense.

Anyway, at least I tried to correlate spread of agriculture and linguistic terms.

Manjunat said...

On sci.lang we are often presented with lists of resemblances between far-flung languages (e.g. Basque and Ainu, Welsh and Mandan, Hebrew and Quechua, Hebrew and every other language, Basque and every other language), along with the claim that such resemblances "couldn't be due to chance", or are "too many" to be due to chance.

By the way, that is absolutely irrelevant in this discussion. I am not trying to connect far flung languages here. On the contrary, my argument goes against the people who come out with such comparisons. I am saying all these words are borrowings in the respective languages.

Now, if I think about it, I feel you have completely misunderstood my whole point. Otherwise you wouldn't have pointed me to that site.

Maju said...

Hey, Manju.

I think the zompist link is relevant because it shows how sound coincidence across languages happen a lot and moreso when the allowance for sound changes (like k/g) or meaning (like plough and farmer) is greater.

Anyway, at least I tried to correlate spread of agriculture and linguistic terms.

That is why I posted other Neolithic related Basque words, because your proposal seems terribly wrong for the etymology of Basque "nekazari" but maybe you could support your ideas with other sound and meaning coincidences.

So far no luck it seems.

...

Remember I mentioned the word "negu" (winter) just to make a satyrical point. I realize now that "negu" may well be related with "neke" and therefore "nekazari". Why? Well, the closest-sounding word to "negu" (all within Basque) is "negar" (cry, crying - negar egin = to cry, lit. to make "cry").

So, well, there may be an archaic nek/neg Basque root meaning pain, suffering, effort, hardness.

But all this is linguisics within Basque. And doesn't seem like Sumerian could be related.

While taking it separately "negilu" (but not the Sumerian word) could appear oddly related with this archaic Basque root, being Kannada so extremely distant in geography, I still find nigh-on-impossible to believe they are connected.

Enjoy.

Ebizur said...

Basque "negar" (cry) is obviously related to Japanese "nak-" (cry) and Basque "neka(-tu)" (get tired) is obviously related to Japanese "negira-" (demonstrate one's appreciation for a person's labor).

Mwahaha, I am the ultimate armchair linguist!!!! (^-^) You just lack common sense, maju.

Maju said...

Mwahaha, I am the ultimate armchair linguist!!!!

Yes, indeed.

You just lack common sense, maju.

Do I? Why? At least I did not begin my post with "mwahaha", like some psychotic cartoon character.

Probably I lack common sense because I don't just move one and ignore your post.

Anyhow, All my comparisons are within the same language. It's only logical that similar sounding words with similar meaning in the same language and that are not loanwords could be related.

It's hypothetical, sure, but all must be unless you can use a time machine.

To me it does make a lot of sense. Neke > negu and negar. It has nothing to do with comparing Japanese words. Japanese can't be closely related to Basque because of many other reasons (just compare the Swadesh lists), hence suggesting what you do is just nonsense.

Ebizur said...

OMG...it's a joke. DUH! (*.*)

I can't believe you didn't recognize the sarcasm in that one. Maju obviously has a deleterious mutation in his "keen sense of the obvious" gene; you react the same as 人斬り on dna-forums.

Maju said...

Sarcasm sure. I know you meant to be sarcastic, mocking or something like that...

... but the why, the meaning of your sarcasm is what I do not understand.

In other words: I really don't know what you mean and would you be less cryptic, no matter if you are sarcastic or not, maybe I would understand what you mean. It's meaning not sarcastic intention what I do not get.

Surely I have some deletereous mutation for an inability to understand what you are talking about but you also seem to have some "mutation" for not making yourself easily understandable.

Remember this is a written medium not a tavern conversation.

Manjunat said...

Then it must mean winter, as the first Basque word I can think having n+g is "negu" (winter). Surely they were thinking how hard would be their lives in the winter if they did not work very hard with the plough

'nagu' in Kannada means 'laugh'. Why do Kannadigas laugh when Basque and Japanese cry? This must be carefully analyzed.

The term for 'common cold' in Kannada is 'negadi'. Consider the close relationship between winter and common cold.

But winter is South India is mild(in coastal regions non-existent) and probably best time in the year. That maybe why a term for winter with root 'nag' has become extinct. But its presence could be detected in that word 'negadi'.

I agree with your view that harshness of winter in European lands might have given rise to abstracts for hard work and cry from the root 'winter'. However, the situation is reversed in Dravidian lands. Here winter is more like a happy time before harsh summer or after torrential rain. Hence 'nagu' means laugh in Kannada.

Manjunat said...

After that painful scholarly work I again claim Kannada negilu and Basque nekezari and Akkadian ingu all derived from Sumerian word.

Maju said...

Ok, ok... you have persuaded me that Kannadas (those live in Karnataka, right?) are the lost Basque tribe ;-)

But...

... and Akkadian ingu...

Well, ingu sounds more to Basque ingudi (anvil) and inguma (a mythological criature - I think than an evil one). It does not seem to relate with nek-/neg- at all. I cannot agree with mixing that word with the others even in the wildest speculative "research". You just can't migrate a vowel and pretend it's all the same: it's something totally different. Vowels do matter: an "e" and an "i" (or maybe an "a") might be interchangeable at times but "ne" and "in" are not.

Certainly, if you can do that in any language, it must be a language that is not related at all with Basque.

Ingu resembles English ingot though. You can write a whole new theory from that. :-D

Manjunat said...

Ok, ok... you have persuaded me that Kannadas (those live in Karnataka, right?) are the lost Basque tribe ;-)

Come on, Maju! You exasperate me. I don't think you get the point that the whole discussion has nothing to do with linguistic affiliations but only about borrowed words.

Ingu resembles English ingot though. You can write a whole new theory from that. :-D

Now don't be a folk linguist.

Maju said...

Ok. I was not sure if you were serious anymore. Sorry.

I do not think that the mentioned Basque words are loans, not at all. I have already exposed why. We are not talking of isolated words but the opposite: words that appear perfectly integrated in a Basque family of terms.

I could admit, if the evidence would be minimally clear, that some words (plough, city, whatever) could be borrowings. I think it is the case for city (iri, uru, etc.), actually but the evidence is clear and you see very similar words meaning the same all through a very large area.

But it's certainly not the case for nekazari and all that family of Basque words. Sorry.

If the Kannada terms negadi and negilu have something to do. It is certainly strange that they resemble much more to Basque terms (at least re. the possible root nek-/neg-) than to anything in between. That means that those languages in between are not likely origins at all.

It means that either there is no connection and it's just a sound coincidence or that there is a connection but has nothing to do with West Asia (or at least what we know of it). Lacking further evidence, I'd say it's the first. But I am not sufficiently knowledgeable of Kannada or Dravidian in general to reach to a definitive conclussion.

What seems clear is that the Basque set of words beginning with nek-/neg- are an internal developements of Basque language and not any borrowings. If Basque words/roots have arrived to India via some odd route (Megalithism?), I can't tell for sure but on first sight it seems unlikely.

One thing that has always intrigued me is the Tantric term "maithuna" that basically means love, sexual love (What language is it? doesn't seem IE). Curiously the Basque word for love is "maitasuna" (maite + -tasun + -a, where "maite" is the verb to love, "-tasun" is like English -dom, like in freedom, and -a the sing. nominative intransitive declination). Obviously I think it must be a coincidence but I cannot be 100% sure.

In any case, if there is any linguistic relation between ancient India and ancient Europe, specially a relation that seems to skip West Asia and the Eurasian steppes, we would need a much stronger catalogue of terms: a handful of words is not enough.

Manjunat said...

Ok. I was not sure if you were serious anymore. Sorry.

I am not serious as long as your satire is within limits of our discussion :-).

One thing that has always intrigued me is the Tantric term "maithuna" that basically means love, sexual love (What language is it? doesn't seem IE).

It certainly appears to be Indo-Iranian if not IE.

Maju said...

Yah, it seems it has cognates in IA languages (though the ethymology connection with "dvandva" looks very odd to me). Well, just another example of how sound coincidences mean nothing without a good research.