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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nineteen: hemeretzi

Andalusian archaeology blog Pileta de Prehistoria has
a nice video archive on Spanish caves (in Spanish language what I've seen so far) that I have just began browsing (earlier I was suffering of some JavaScript bugs that did not let me enjoy all their features).

But it's not about this archive what I want to talk but about a detail of the main panel of the Peñaescrita shelter that I found there. I took this still:

In at least two of the figures I can see the number 19 following the method I read years ago on a book on Iberian archaeoastronomy (sorry but I can't remeber any better reference).

The method, apparently found in many drawings of the period (Chalcolithic) through southern Iberia as well as in the perforated plates of the VNSP-Zambujal civilization in Portugal consists essentially in drawings with the following patterns:

(a) |||||||||/

(b) \\\\\\\\\|/////////

In the second case (b), you count all the lines to 19 but they are distributed in a 9-1-9 pattern, in the former instead (a), the 19 is "hidden" in a 9-1 pattern that you have to read again backwards to form the 9-1-9 or 19 number.

Why 19? What does it mean? For what I recall it was a key number, together with 4, to follow the lunar cycles. They argued that they also produced larger numbers such as 223, which is the key to predict lunar ecclipses (as they happen every such period of lunations or natural months). For some reason that I don't grasp well enough, the number 19 was the most evident and maybe most common in these drawings, of which the above image has two examples (the horizontal bar with 10 other bars hanging from it (a) and the plant drawing to the right (b)).

And this discovery brought me to consider the origin of two Basque numeral names: hamaika (11) and hemeretzi (19). I noticed them because they are the only numbers betwen 10 and 20 that are not said 10-something (i.e. hamabi: 12 < hamar: 10 + bi: 2)

Hamaika or amaika (the 'h' is a mute modern standarization rule that does not exist in most dialects) means of course 'eleven' and is also used in figurative sense to mean 'lots', 'many', but it may equally mean 'finishing' or 'in the way of ending' (from amai(-tu): 'to end', 'to finish'). I hypothesize that in this Chalcolithic astronomical context the name would indicate something like "last count", "begin finishing here".

Hemeretzi also can be understood quite straightforwardly to be hemen etzin: 'here lay'.

I also speculated a bit on whether another number of long name, bederatzi (9), might mean something in this context (bider atzi: 'access the prominence'??) but it has too many possible interpretations so I can't tell with minimal certainty.

In any case, this is a reason why I think that Basque language might have its roots in an important language of the Megalithic area of that era: because these two numerals appear to make sense only in this esoteric context. Surely, back then, large numbers above 10 (some linguists speculate that Basque originally had only numbers up to five) would not be used too much by the commoners, instead priests, druids or witches working with these concepts to be able to make calendaric predictions, in particular eclipses, had to know them and used them often, at least in these esoteric cryptographic calendars.

It's well known that experts in the Megalithic cultural area had an ample and often surprisingly good understanding of astronomy, a key knowledge in an agricultural or mariner context. So the calendars should not raise too many eyebrows. What I'm sure will put some people in a defensive attitude is to relate this knowledge with Basque language with such a clear native etymology.

But that's what I see in any case.

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