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The Language of Our Bronze Age Ancestors



       The English language is a member of the Teutonic family of tongues, to which belong also German and the Scandinavian languages.  Until now the oldest examples of Teutonic language have been short runic texts from about the time of Christ.


       King Woden-lithi's written version of his own tongue [at Peterborough, Ontario, Canada] has given us the first decipherable information on how our ancestors spoke 4,000 years ago.  With the aid of his American inscription, the fragmentary related inscriptions in the same alphabet, found in Scandinavia, can now also be deciphered, and they prove to be the same language as Woden-lithi's, or nearly so.  Also, aided by this new information, we can now begin to solve the late Stone Age hieroglyphic rebus inscriptions.  Adding these Neolithic forms to the alphabetic versions given us by Woden-lithi, one can now list some of the basic vocabulary of the Bronze Age Teutonic peoples."   The list made from the above sources was provided by Fell (1982) in Table 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d, 4e.  "Words inferred from a Neolithic rebus are prefixed with an asterisk (*).


       Pronunciation.-- King Woden-lithi's language was evidently pronounced with a strong pervading aspiration.  Initial r is probably hr.  Two signs for r appear in his alphabet.  One of them is apparently to be rendered as -ar, or -or.  The sign for d seems always to occur in words where Old Norse  <= Saharan?> has a letter that also occurs in Old English; its sound is the th in words like this, then.  The letter t appears in both unaspirated and aspirated forms.  The aspirated form, here rendered as th, is to be pronounced as th in with.




       Fell (1982) noted that several outstanding facts become increasingly apparent from various epigraphic expeditions.  He stated, "One is that we have greatly underrated the achievements of the Bronze age peoples of northern Europe.  We have long known, from their conspicuous carvings that constitute the rock art of the Bronze Age, that the North Sea and the Baltic were the home waters of fleets of ships.  What we have failed to realize is that those same ships and characteristic Bronze Age style, are also depicted on the rocks and cliffs of the maritime regions of eastern North America.  And now it is also apparent that these same matching petroglyphs, on both sides of the Atlantic, are also accompanied by readable texts cut in ancient scripts that are likewise found on either side of the Atlantic.


       What this means, of course, is that the ancient shipwrights made sound vessels, whose skippers and crews sailed them across the ocean, thereby fulfilling their builders' dreams.  Flotillas of Ancient Norsemen, and Baltic ships each summer set their prows to the northwest, to cross the Atlantic, to return later in the season with cargoes of raw materials furnished by the Algonquians with whom they traded.  To make these crossings they depended in part upon the sea roads that had been opened up by the amelioration of the climate at the peak of the Bronze Age [see Climate] .  As oceanographers have inferred, the polar ice melted then, and the favorable westward-flowing air and water currents generated by the permanent polar high now became available to aid in the westward passage.  The return voyage, as always, could be made on the west wind drift, in the latitude of around 40E-north latitude, as Columbus rediscovered.  While these Norsemen traders opened up the northern parts of North America, other sailors from the Mediterranean lands were doing similar things..., but their outward voyage lay along the path that Columbus employed, utilizing the westward-blowing trade winds, found at latitudes below 30E N.  Both sets of navigation, though employing different outward routs, were obliged to use the same homeward track, that of the west wind drift in middle latitudes.  Along this common sea road the sailors of the two different regions would occasionally meet, thus prompting intercultural exchanges between the Baltic lands and North Africa.


       At least twice since the close of the Stone Age, conditions have favored such events.  The first occurred during the warm period of the middle Bronze Age which was previously noted.  Then the world's climates cooled again, and the northern route to America became too ice-bound and too dangerous to attract adventurers in those directions any longer.  It remained thus until about AD 700, when once more the earth's climate ameliorated [see Climate] .  Once again the northern icecap melted and the polar seas could support navigation that made use of the polar high.  Once more mariners came to northeastern America, this time under a name by which they are known in history--The Vikings.  Yet, as the inscriptions show, these Vikings were not just Norsemen, they included as before men from the Baltic lands, Lithuanians and Latvians, as well as Celts from Ireland and probably also Wales.  After AD 1200 the earth grew colder again, the thousand vineyards of William the Conqueror's England died out, and Normans turned their attention to the south of Europe to bring in their Malmsey wines, no longer fermented in England, where no vineyards now survived.  The old routs to America were deserted, and that western land lay ignored by Europe until the voyage of Columbus once more awakened the cupidity of monarchs who, by this time, now controlled large populations of Europe.  This time the full force of European exploitation fell upon the Amerindians, and the age of American isolation had ended.


       Another remarkable fact that now impresses itself upon our minds is that the ancient Europeans were not barbarians.  They not only spoke in the chief dialects of the Indo-European tongues, but already by late Neolithic times the Europeans could write.  The languages they wrote now prove to have been comprehensible to us as representing the principal tongues of modern Europe:  Teutonic, Baltic, Celtic, and also Basque.  Yet another surprising discovery is due to Professor Linus Brunner, who announced in 1981 the occurrence of Semitic vocabulary in the newly identified Rhaetic language of ancient Switzerland.


       The heretofore mysterious people, to whom the archeologists have attached such names as 'Beaker Folk,' 'Bell-beaker People,' and so on, now prove to be Europeans of our own stocks, speaking-- and writing-- in early variant forms of languages that we can see as related closely to the classical Teutonic, Celtic, and other tongues of Europe at the time of the Romans.  The inscriptions found on their artifacts prove this.  That it was not understood before is simply because archeologists have mistaken the writing for decorative engraving.  When a loom weight has inscribed upon it the word warp, it is quite obvious that this is a purely practical identification label for a weaver.  Decorative it may be, but let us not overlook the fact that such a label tells us immediately the linguistic stock of the person who engraved it.  And, of course, it also certifies that the engraver belonged to a literate society.


       The same is true of the engravers of the rock and cliff inscriptions of Scandinavia.  When we discover that the 'meaningless' decorations beside their ship carvings is none other than a readable comment in Baltic speech, appropriate to the scene depicted, we know at once that the designer was familiar with the language spoken by the ancestors of the people who still live along the Baltic coasts today.  They were, in short, Balts.  Let us recognize this simple fact, and call them by their proper names.  And when we find very similar, and similarly lettered, engravings on North American rocks, it is our obligation to our ancestors to recognize their European origins, and to call them by their proper names too.


       Yet another of the new facts now coming to our attention is the surprising discovery that words appropriate to the contexts are painted or engraved beside the famous cavern paintings of the great Aurignacian sites of Europe.  These works of art have been attributed to Paleolithic people of 20,000 years ago, yet we find now that they apparently used the same words for the animals they painted as did German and French, Spanish and Basque speakers within historic times.  When a German of the Middle Ages called a wild bison a wisent, he was using the same word that we find written in Baltic script beside one of the most famous ancient paintings of a bison, that on the roof of the Altamira Cavern.


       Other paintings in other caves are similarly accompanied by ogam or Baltic script, rendering the names of the animals in tongues of the Celtic and Basque families.  We do not find such inscriptions beside paintings of animals that disappeared from Europe during the last glaciation.  Thus the mammoths are not identified by name (though the Basque word that means "Bogeyman" appears beside one such mammoth picture).  This seems to mean that the paintings were added in sequence over a long period, and only the latest of the series carry identifications in written language.  Thus, it is probably wrong to date all the parietal art to about 20,000 BC.


       In proof of the truth of this contention may be cited the case of the Basque bone disk "coinage," [mentioned earlier.]  This is obviously a local Pyrenean copy, made by Basques from a silver model provided by the Celtic coins of Aquitania in the second century before Christ.  We have to correct the dating assigned by archaeologists, for it is not 20,000 years old, but only 2,000 years of age, and its purpose was not that of a bead or a button, but that of token coinage.  The word engraved on it is still used in present-day Basque.


       Thus, the forthcoming years will doubtless witness more drastic pruning of the antiquity assigned to some European works of art.  They may have been the work of Paleolithic hunters but, if so, then the Paleolithic way of life as hunters and food-gatherers must have persisted in some parts of Europe well into the era that is generally called late Neolithic.  In the world today there are still Stone Age peoples.  So also in Europe in the Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago, there may well have been pockets of isolated people, living in the Paleolithic manner but acquainted with the writing systems used by their more civilized neighbors, and applying it to the labeling of their art work.


       We have been slow to recognize the presence of written words in the Celtic, Basque, and Teutonic tongues beside or on these ancient cave paintings.  But since we have begun to read the inscriptions, the time has come to reconsider the role of linguists in archaeology.


       Have we, perhaps, devoted too much attention to the grammatical niceties of ancient languages, and not enough to the daily vocabulary of the simple country people who really constituted the bulk of the population in classical times?   Too many published papers appear with titles like "On the Use of the Optiative Mood in Aeolic Greek after the Time of Alcaeus."  Many more papers ought to be written under headings such as "The Vocabulary of Six Greek Graffiti from a Mycenaean Village.


       Grammar without vocabulary is useless.  Vocabulary without grammar is decidedly useful.  With a slight knowledge, and dreadful pronunciation, of Berber, Fell was able in North Africa to elicit friendship and valuable aid during his North Africa work.  Elegant Arabic, however literary and grammatical, would not have availed so well as a few uttered words of Berber that Fell had recognized as belonging to the Indo-European vocabulary of ancient Europe.  The white Berbers have no recollection of their ancestors' having come from Europe, yet their anatomy declares them to be Europoids.  Their vocabulary also yields European roots, whereas their grammar tells us nothing about the origin of their language.


       During Norman times the English tongue was shorn of nearly all its characteristic Teutonic grammar, and instead a simplified Anglo-French set of grammatical rules took its place.  On the other hand, the vocabulary retained most of the old Saxon roots, and added much French and Latin to them.  To modern students from Asia, English seems to be (as one of them described it to me) "a kind of French."  His ideas were based on shared vocabulary and such grammatical features as the use by modern English of the French plural in a terminal -s, almost all the old Teutonic plurals in -n having disappeared, except in rural dialects.  A farmer still makes kine the plural of cow, but the city dweller does not.  So it is from the farmers and other village folk that we can get best information on the older forms of European languages.


       This is a general rule.  When Sir henry Rawlinson set about the-- seemingly hopeless-- task of deciphering the cliff-cut cuneiform inscriptions of Behistun [Iran], he made the basic premise that the tongue of the local Iranian villagers might be the closest he could find to the language of the ancient inscription cut by Darius.  Jus as Champollion used Coptic to guide him into ancient Egyptian, so also Rawlinson used the local idioms of Behistun itself.  These approaches, which sound naive, are in fact well founded on reason, and they produced results.


       It is expected that a younger generation of linguists will arise from our hidebound universities, and turn once more, as Jakob Grimm did a century ago, to the village communities of Europe.  Let them collect the old vocabulary and discover whatever words they can, however vulgar they may seem to the city ear.  it is from these ancient words that we shall garner the most useful guides to the speech of our ancestors 5,000 years ago.  Much that Julius Pokorny has done, by way of extracting the "highest common factor" from each set of related Indo-European words, has helped in reading the old inscriptions.  He and his predecessors and his successors, such as Linus Brunner and Imanol Agiŕe, are worthy explorers of the tongues of our ancestors.  The inscribed artifacts of Stone Age people also bear information that has been overlooked.


       It is not a random harvest, but one already partly organized.  The harvest is ripe for the gathering, and now is the time to bring it in.



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