European hydrotoponymy (VI): the British Isles and non-Indo-Europeans

middle-bronze-age-british-isles

The nature of the prehistoric languages of the British Isles is particularly difficult to address: because of the lack of ancient data from certain territories; because of the traditional interpretation of Old European names simply as “Celtic”; and because Vennemann’s re-labelling of the Old European hydrotoponymy as non-Indo-European has helped distract the focus away from the real non-Indo-European substrate on the islands.

Alteuropäisch and Celtic

An interesting summary of hydronymy in the British Isles was already offered long ago, in British and European River-Names, by Kitson, Transactions of the Philological Society (1996) 94(2):73-118. In it, he discusses, among others:

  • Non-serial hydronyms: Drua-/Drav-/Dru-, from drew- sometimes reshaped as derw-; ab-; ag-; al-; alb-; alm-; am-; antjā-; arg-; aw-; dan-; eis-; el-/ol-; er-/or-; kar(r)a-, ker-; nebh-; ned-; n(e)id-; sal-; wig-; weis-/wis-; ur-, wer-; etc.
  • Serial elements: -went-, -m(e)no-, -nt-o-, -n-; -nā-, -tā-; -st-, -r-; etc.

Probably non-Celtic suffixes are found e.g. in Tamesis, paralelled in the Spey Tuesis, and also in Tweed (<*Twesetā?); or -no-/-nā- is also particularly frequent in Scottish river-names, but not in English ones. Another interesting case is the reverse suffix relative order into -r-st- instead of -st-r-.

Most if not all of them can be explained as of Old European nature. I will leave aside the discussion of particular formations – most of which may be found repeated, complemented, and updated in more modern texts.

hydronyms-ub-ob
Hydronyms ub-, ob-. Another Western European river name.

Bell Beakers as Old Europeans

(…) Bell-beakers are in fact the only archaeological phenomenon of any period of prehistory with a comparably wide spread to that of river-names in the western half of Europe. The presumption must I think be that Beaker Folk were the vector of alteuropäisch river-names to most of western Europe. Rivers in the base Arg-, which we have seen there is cause to think was not already in use at the earliest stage of the river-naming system, and which therefore should be associated with such a vector if one existed, fit their distribution exceptionally well.

That they were a single-speech community can be asserted more confidently of the Beaker Folk than of most archaeologically identified groups for the very reasons that have caused archaeologists difficulty in interpreting them. As McEvedy (1967:28) put it, ‘the bell-beaker folk march convincingly in every prehistorian’s text, but they do so from Spain to Germany in some and from Germany to Spain in others, while lately there has been a tendency to make them go from Spain to Germany and back again (primary and reflux movements)’. One ‘firm datum seems to be that the British beaker folk came from the Rhine-Elbe region.’

This confirms what the long chronology now indicated for Common Indo-European would suggest anyway, and what to me, as remarked above, the rareness of non-Indo-European names in England suggests, that the old dissenting minority of Celticists were right to see the arrival in Britain of Indo-Europeans, as evinced in river-names whether or not in ethnic proto-Celts, as early as the third millennium. McEvedy’s map of Beaker Folk identifies them linguistically with Celto-Ligurians, but in that his admirably tidy mind was, typically, a degree too tidy. Considerations of phonology indicate that more than one linguistic group was involved.

It is normal in reconstructed Indo-European for groups of related words not all to have the same vowel in the root syllable. The commonest vowel gradation is between e, o, and zero; (…) Language-groups that level short a and o include Germanic and Baltic, Slavonic, Illyrian, Hittite and Indo-Iranian; but Celtic and Italic like Greek and Armenian preserve the original distinction. It follows that Celts speaking normal Celtic sounds cannot have been wholly responsible for bringing alteuropäisch river-names to any area. It would seem to follow, as Professor Nicolaisen has consistently urged, that in Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Italy, where the only historically known early Indo-Europeans were speakers of non-levelling languages, they were preceded by speakers of levelling languages not historically known. This hypothesis, pretty well required by the linguistic evidence, finds so good an archaeological correlate in the Beaker People that I think it would now be flying in the face of the evidence not to accept those as bearers of the river-names to these countries.

bell-beaker-civilization
Bell Beaker Civilization (CAD O. Lemercier).

The funny note is the rejection of the steppe homeland by Kitson in favour of Central European Neolithic cultures, due in part to the ‘impossibility’ of proto-Finnic loans from East Indo-European, if Proto-Indo-European was spoken in the steppe. As I said recently, the lack of knowledge of Uralic languages and Indo-European – Uralic contacts has clearly conditioned the Urheimat question for both, Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic researchers.

On the other hand, the identification of Bell Beakers with Old Europeans was not something new. Already in the 1950s Hugh Hencken talked about this, and J.P. Mallory (who described Bell Beakers more exactly in 2013 as North-West Indo-Europeans) is sure that this idea had been used even before the 1950s.

The question is, though, to what extent the reasoning of those researchers was as detailed so as to consider it a modern approach to the question, because Krahe in the 1940s seems to offer the first reliable data to make that assumption. In any case, Gimbutas’ idea of Kurgan warriors imposing Indo-European languages everywhere, so over-represented in Encyclopedia-like texts since the end of the 1990s, was not the only, and probably never the main hypothesis among many Indo-Europeanists.

Celts part of Bell Beakers?

Regarding Koch and Cunliffe’s revival of the autochthonous Celts idea, one can find a similar traditional view among British researchers of the early and mid-20th century – and a proper rejection based on hydrotoponymy. It seems that many fringe theories in Indo-European studies, from Nordic or Baltic homelands to autochthonous Celts to the Europa Vasconica, can be traced back to revivalist waves of romantic views of the 19th c.:

What the late Professor C. F. C. Hawkes called in British archaeology ‘cumulative Celticity’, built up by successions of comparatively small tribal migrations, will then have operated on the linguistic side as well. That the predecessors of the Celts proper for so long had in most of Britain been people of similar Indo-European speech explains why there is not a significant survival of recognizably non-Indo-European river-names, and why the few serious candidates for non-Indo-European among recorded place-names all seem to be in Scotland. That the river-names kept their north European non-Celtic phonology will be because the Celts proper took them over as names, with denotative not fully lexical meaning. (…)

(…) I think non-Celtic Indo-European-speakers are likely to have been involved in fact, whether or not they are the whole story, both because that it is the hypothesis which makes best sense of the archaeological evidence (…)

(…) because it is widely accepted that placenames in the Low Countries imply the existence of at least one group of not historically attested Indo-European-speakers, not the same as the ones we are concerned with. So do names in Spain, another country where the only historically attested early Indo-Europeans were Celtic. Comparing Spanish alteuropäisch names with British ones gives a glimpse of the dialectal range that must have characterized the Beaker phenomenon. Either group shares one feature with historical Celtic that the other lacks. The Spanish names like Celtic proper mostly keep Inda-European o. There the diagnostic feature is initial p (Schmoll 1959:93, 78-80; Rodriguez 1980), lost from Celtic and the alteuropäisch of Britain.

Interesting is also the early reaction against Vennemann’s much publicized interpretation of Krahe’s Old European as ‘Vasconic’. This is a useful comment which is still applicable to the same non-existent ‘problem’ found by some Indo-Europeanists, depending on their ideas about Indo-European dialectalization:

It is again naughty of Vennemann (1994:244) to call his laryngealist explanation ‘the only kind of explanation that I know’. At least he does not quite go so far in his laryngealism as to posit a proto-Indo-European in which the vowel a never existed, as Kuiper does.

NOTE. It is difficult to understand why the work of so many Indo-Europeanists is usually not known, while Vennemann’s far-fetched theory has been endlessly repeated. I reckon it must be the same phenomenon of personal and professional contacts, involvement in editorial decisions, and simplification in mass media which makes Kristiansen and his theories frequently published and cited nowadays.

Pre-Pritenic

Orkney

Based on these data, I entertained the idea of arguing for a Pre-Celtic Indo-European language in A Storm of Words, called Pre-Pritenic, with a tentative fable based on the data described below for the Insular Celtic substrate, but eventually deleted the whole text, because (unlike other tentative fables, like the Lusitanian or Venetic ones) it was pure speculation with not even fragmentary data to rely on. Here is a fragment of the discussion:

Among the main reasons adduced to reject the non-Celtic nature of Pritenic is Orkney, a region where Pictish carved stones have been found (indicator of a centralised Pictish power and identity). The name was attested first as Gk. Orkas / Orkádos (secondary source, from Pytheas of Massilia, ca. 322-285 BC, or possibly much later) and Lat. Orchades / Orcades (by Latin sources in the 1st century AD), and it was used to describe the northernmost promontory in Scotland, commonly identified as Dunnet Head in Caithness. It is supposed to derive its name from Cel. *φorko- ‘pig’, because speakers of Old Irish interpreted the name for the island later as Insi Orc ‘island of the pigs’. Therefore, Pritenic would have undergone the prototypical Common Celtic evolution of NWIE *p- → Ø- (see above).

This argument is flawed, in so far as it could have happened (with the interpretation of the name from a Celtic point of view) what happened later with Norwegian settlers, who reinterpreted the name according to Old Norse orkn ‘seal’, to identify it as ‘island of the seals’. In fact, texts published in the 19th and 20th century looked for an even closer etymology to the interpreter, who usually saw it as ‘island of the orcas’.

The region name orc- could be speculatively linked to NWIE *ork-i- ‘cut off, divide’, cf. Ita. *erk-i- (vowel analogically changed), Hitt. ārk- (<*hork-ei-), in Latin found with the meaning ‘divide (an inheritance)’, hence noun Lat. erctum ‘inheritance, inherited part’.

Maybe more interesting is a connection to *or-, as found in British rivers or streams Arrow, Oare Water (Som), Ayre , Armet Water, Arnot Burn, Ernan Water etc. for which cognates Skt. arvan(t)- ‘running, swift’, árṇa- ‘surging’, Gmc. *arnia- ‘lively, energetic’ have been proposed (Forster 1941; Nicolaisen 1976; Kitson 1996). Similar to these derivatives in -n-, -m-, one could argue for a denominative suffixation in *-ko-, not uncommon in Old European toponyms (Villar Liébana 2007), which could be interpreted originally as ‘(region) pertaining to the Or (river, stream)’. The a-vocalism of Old European does not need further explanation, being fairly common in the British Isles (Kitson 1996).

I tried to look for rivers and streams in Caithness that fit a potential border for an ancestral tribe, but after reading many (and I really mean too many) texts on Scotland’s hydronymy, which is a quite well-researched area, I didn’t like the idea of plunging into such a speculative task; not when I have this blog for that… I deleted the text from the book, seeing how it doesn’t really add anything of value and may have distracted from its real aim. If any reader wants to post potential candidates for this delimiting river ‘Or’ in Caithness, feel free to post that below.

or-hydronym
Or- hydronyms, mapped by Villar (2007). He considered it a variant of ur-, uro-, and only included one certain occurrence from old river-names in southern England.

Weak (if any) support of a non-Celtic nature of the names might also be found in the late description of Ptolemy’s Geographia (originally ca. 150 AD), Tauroedoúnou tēs kai Orkádos kaloumenēs, translated in Latin as Tarved(r)um, quod et Orcas promontorium dicitur. The original name seems to be formed from *tau-r-, as is common in Indo-European *taur-o- (compare also river Taum), whereas the commonly used Latin translation seems to rely on a Celtic *tarw-o-.

Always Celtic?

As with other Pictish material, these questions are unlikely to be settled without unequivocal sources pointing to the original names and their meaning. The autochthonous trend is set lately by Guto Rhys, whose work is thorough and methodologically sound, although his reviews tend to dismiss all evidence of a non-Celtic (or even non-Brittonic) layer in Pictland as described in previous works, mostly because of the lack of direct sources or uncontroverted data:

Where a supposed divergence is found in certain names, a lack of proper reading or interpretation of materials (or lack of enough cases to generalize them), combined with similar names in other (neighbouring or distant) Celtic languages, is adduced.

However, the same arguments can indeed be used to reject his proposal of a Celtic nature of many names which cannot be simply explained with other clearly Celtic examples: namely, that all similarities are due to later influences, re-analysis and modifications of Old European terms according to Celtic phonemic (or etymological) patterns, or that the Brittonic nature of many names are due to convergence of the attested Pritenic naming conventions with neighbouring dialects.

In the end, the only conclusion is that there is a clear impasse in hydrotoponymic research in the British Isles, particularly in Scotland, with an impossibility of describing non-Celtic or non-Indo-European Pre-Pritenic layers, due in great part – in my opinion – to the trend among many British Celticists to consider Celtic as autochthonous to the Atlantic. This hinders the proper investigation of the question, just like the trend among Basque studies to consider the western Pyrenees as the eternal Vasconic homeland hinders a fair investigation of the actual Vasconic proto-history.

pictland
Probable maximum extent of Pictland is also highlighted in blue and overlain on the modern outline of northern Britain. Image from Noble, G., Goldberg, M., & Hamilton, D. (2018).

Non-Indo-Europeans in Northern Europe

Insular Celtic substrate

Matasović, a specialist in Celtic languages and author of the famous Eytmological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (IEED 2009), writes in The substratum in Insular Celtic (2009):

Syntactic evidence

The syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages (which used to be called Hamito-Semitic) were noted more than a century ago by Morris-Jones (1899), and subsequently discussed by a number of scholars. These parallels include the following.

  1. The VSO order, attested both in OIr. and in Brythonic from the earliest documents (…).
  2. The existence of special relative forms of the verb, (…).
  3. The existence of prepositions inflected for person (or prepositional pronouns), (…).
  4. Prepositional progressive verbal forms, (…).
  5. The existence of the opposition between the “absolute” and “conjunct” verbal forms. (…)

The aforementioned features of Old Irish and Insular Celtic syntax (and a few others) are all found in Afro-Asiatic languages, often in several branches of that family, but usually in Berber and Ancient Egyptian (see e.g. Isaac 2001, 2007a).

Orin Gensler, in his unpublished dissertation (1993) applied refined statistical methods showing that the syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic cannot be attributed to chance. The crucial point is that these parallels include features that are otherwise rare cross-linguistically, but co-occur precisely in those two groups of languages. This more or less amounts to a proof that there was some connection between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic at some stage in prehistory, but the exact nature of that connection is still open to speculation.

“Atlantic” typology

Insular Celtic also shares a number of areal isoglosses with languages of Western Africa, sometimes also with Basque, which shows that the Insular Celtic — Afroasiatic parallels should be viewed in light of the larger framework of prehistoric areal convergences in Western Europe and NW Africa.

The text goes on with typologically rare features found in West Europe and West Africa, such as the inter-dental fricative /þ/ (also in English, Icelandic, Castillian Spanish); initial consonant mutations/regular alterations of initial consonants caused by the grammatical category of the preceding word; the common order demonstrative-noun (within the NP) reversed; the vigesimal counting system; or use of demonstrative articles.

Lexical evidence

(…) only 38 words shared by Brythonic and Goidelic without any plausible IE etymology. These words belong to the semantic fields that are usually prone to borrowing, including words referring to animals (…), plants (…), and elements of the physical world (…). Note that cognates of these words may be unattested in Gaulish and Celtiberian because these languages are poorly attested, so that the actual number of exclusive loanwords from substratum language(s) in Insular Celtic is probably even lower. In my opinion it is not higher than 1% of the vocabulary. The large majority of substratum words in Irish and Welsh (and, generally, in Goidelic and Brythonic) is not shared by these two languages, which probably means that the sources were different substrates of, respectively, Ireland and Britain; (…)

Conclusion

The thesis that Insular Celtic languages were subject to strong influences from an unknown, presumably non-Indo-European substratum, hardly needs to be argued for. However, the available evidence is consistent with several different hypotheses regarding the areal and genetic affiliation of this substratum, or, more probably, substrata. The syntactic parallels between the Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages are probably not accidental, but they should not be taken to mean that the pre-Celtic substratum of Britain and Ireland belonged to the Afro-Asiatic stock. It is also possible that it was a language, or a group of languages (not necessarily related), that belonged to the same macro-area as the Afro-Asiatic languages of North Africa. The parallels between Insular Celtic, Basque, and the Atlantic languages of the Niger-Congo family, presented in the second part of this paper, are consistent with the hypothesis that there was a large linguistic macro-area, encompassing parts of NW Africa, as well as large parts of Western Europe, before the arrival of the speakers of Indo-European, including Celtic.

tuk-language
Map of tuk-, tok-, tuch-, tug- (with India). Interestingly, the language of the -tuk- represents a more recent layer in Iberia than the earlier Old European serial elements, pointing to a west-european expansion from the north, although it may have an Indo-European etymology.

Language of the geminates

Further evidence of the potential presence of non-Indo-European speakers at the arrival of Insular Celtic may be found in Schrijver’s Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2000), and his less enthusiastic revision More on Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2005). Both are referred and enough summarized by Matasović (2009).

Even more interesting than the discussion of potential non-Indo-Europeans still lingering in Ireland until well into the Common Era, is the discussion on his paper Lost Languages in Northern Europe (2001). Apart from other non-Indo-European borrowings in northern Europe, most of which must clearly be included within the European agricultural substrate, Schrijver tries to interpret the relative chronology of a substratum language of northern Europe, described by Kuiper (1995) as A2, and by Schrijver as “language of geminates“.

This substrate language is heavily present in Germanic (see e.g. Boutkan 1998), but also in Celtic and Balto-Slavic:

A highly characteristic feature of words deriving from this language is the variation of the final root consonant, which may be single or double, voiced or voiceless, and prenasalized. (…)

Incidentally, the language of geminates cannot be Uralic, as another of its characteristics is the frequent occurrence of word-initial *kn- and *kl-, and Uralic languages do not allow consonant clusters at the beginning of the word. On the other hand, and at the risk of explaining obscura per obscuriora, one might consider the possibility that the consonant gradation of Lappish and Baltic Finnic is somehow connected with the alternation of consonants at the end of the first syllable in the “language of geminates”.

The idea that the Northern European language of geminates could play an intermediary role in loan contacts between Northern and Western Indo-European on the one hand and Finno-Ugric on the other may also account for the fact that Finno-Ugric words could end up as far away as Celtic, which as far as we know was never in direct contact with a branch of Uralic.

Schrijver later changed his view about certain aspects of this substrate, from a “language of geminates” influencing Balto-Finnic which in turn influenced Germanic, to Pre-Balto-Finnic speakers being the substrate of Germanic, and both evolving at the same time in contact in Scandinavia. In fact, we know that Pre-Proto-Germanic evolved in southern Scandinavia, with a core in Jutland that shifted to the south, so the location must have been close to the North European Plain.

Also fitting this model is the substrate behind Balto-Slavic (spoken in the West Baltic), which must have also been (Para-)Balto-Finnic. However, the frequent word-initial *kn- and *kl- and the loanwords appearing in the Celtic homeland (also including Early Balto-Finnic) must place this Uralic(± non-Indo-European) language contact also well into Central European Corded Ware groups.

Similarly, one of the shared features between Finnic and Mordvinic is precisely the presence of certain geminated consonants. A revision of the data in combination with these facts should shift of evidence to a (Para-)Balto-Finnic-speaking Baltic area during the Early Bronze Age, certainly encompassing the Battle Axe culture.

corded-ware-groups-europe
Corded Ware groups. “Classical funerary practices” found regularly, in darker shades. Modified from Furholt (2014).

Afroasiatic-like substrate and Vasconic

The only archaeological culture that could fit most of these data, in the currently known relative chronological time frame, would be the Megalithic expansion in Western Europe, or potentially (maybe in addition to this early layer) the expansion of the Proto-Beaker package, which could have spread a Basque-Iberian language (see e.g. my take on Basque-Iberians).

Whether the language behind the Insular Celtic substrate (or, rather, some of its dialects) had true Afroasiatic syntactic features or it was just a language with features which happened to be similar to Afroasiatic is irrelevant. It’s impossible to reconstruct with confidence a Pre-Proto-Basque language with the currently available information.

Interestingly, it is possible to argue for an Afroasiatic branch surviving among hunter-gatherers adopting Neolithic traits in northern Europe. This has been proposed many times in the past, and one could argue in palaeogenomics for indirect supporting data, such as the expansion of WHG ancestry from south-east Europe (close to Anatolia, forming a cline with AME), and in particular of hg. R1b-V88 from the steppe – potentially associated with the Afroasiatic expansion into Africa from a Nostratic community.

NOTE. I will not resort here to typologically-based arguments similar to the “Hamito-Semit(id)ic” and “Vasconic-Uralic” Europe that were commonly in use in the 1990s, because they are in great part based on the mere re-labelling of Old European layers as “Vasconic” and flawed mass lexical/grammatical comparisons. For linguists favourable to this kind of reasoning, the theory set forth here is probably easier, though, as will be for those supporting a Neolithic expansion of Indo-European from the Mediterranean. This, however, has its own set of problems, as I have already discussed.

megalithic-tradition-western-europe
Distribution of megaliths in western, central, and northern Europe (after Muller 2006; graphic: Holger Dieterich).

Single Grave culture

The non-Indo-European substrate of Insular Celtic, in combination with the oldest hydrotoponymic layers – almost exclusively of Old European nature – of Britain and likely all of Ireland, can more easily be explained as a first layer of North-West Indo-European speakers heavily influenced by an Afroasiatic(-like) substrate reaching the British Isles, possibly with a slightly richer set of non-Indo-European loanwords at the time. Their language would have been later replaced by the closely related Celtic dialects imposed by elites in the Early Iron Age, which could have then easily absorbed this (mainly syntactic) substrate.

There is little space to argue for a hypothetic non-Indo-European expansion from another region, or for an in situ substrate, due to:

  1. the radical population replacement (and Y-chromosome bottleneck) in Britain and northern Ireland stemming from the Lower Rhine;
  2. the lack of meaningful population movements during the Bronze Age (at least from out of the islands);
  3. the final east-west movements of Celtic languages;
  4. the presence of the same (mainly syntactic) substrate in both Goidelic and Brittonic; and
  5. the minimal non-Indo-European lexical borrowings and hydrotoponymy, different in each island;

Based on archaeological and palaeogenomic data, the only reasonable direct connection of north-western Bell Beakers and this substrate language would be then the Corded Ware groups from north-western Europe – i.e. the traditionally named Single Grave culture from northern Germany and Denmark, and the Protruding Foot Beaker culture from the Netherlands.

The main reasons for this are as follows:

1. Early Corded Ware wave

The earliest Corded Ware burials from northern Europe (ca. 2900-2800 BC) show important differences, so no strict funerary norms existed at first (Furholt 2014):

  • In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east–south-west, and south–north; contrary to the supposed rule, male individuals are regularly deposite on their left and females on their right side
  • In the Danish Isles and north-eastern Germany, the Final Neolithic / Single Grave Period is characterized by a majority of megalithic graves, with only some single graves from typical barrows.
  • In south Germany, west–east and collective burials prevail, while in Switzerland no graves are found.
  • In Kuyavia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west–east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.
corded-ware-expansion
Corded Ware and neighbouring groups. Top: cultural map. Bottom: varied Y-chromosome haplogroups from ancient DNA samples. See full maps.

In genetics, the area that would become the ‘core Corded Ware province’ only after ca. 2700 BC also shows a surprising variability in the oldest samples in terms of haplogroups (which may indicate a recent departure of migrants from a mixed homeland); in terms of admixture, at least one sample clusters close to EEF groups, while later ones from Esperstedt – of hg. R1a-M417 (possibly xZ645) – show a likely admixture with Yamna vanguard groups expanding from the Carpathian Basin.

On the contrary, the slightly later eastern expansions as Battle Axe and Abashevo show long-lasting genetic continuity and a marked bottleneck under R1a-Z645 subclades, as well as a clear cultural connection through the Fatyanovo culture. The role of local populations, particularly females, in preserving local customs in the Single Grave culture (see Bourgeois and Kroon 2017) is also quite relevant to the continuity of the regionl culture in spite of migrations.

2. Single Grave culture in Denmark

The Corded Ware culture in Denmark was particularly weak in its human impact compared to previous farmers (see e.g. Feeser et al. 2019), and also in its cultural traits, adopting Funnel Beaker culture traits up to a point where even the Copenhagen group describes cultural continuity, likely entailing an important substrate language impact (see e.g. Iversen and Kroonen 2017).

It’s not difficult to realize that this same argument used for Semitic-like terms in Germanic by Kroonen (2012) – e.g. words for ‘lentil’, ‘pea’, and ‘turnip’ – and supported by the Copenhagen group may be used to support the adoption of non-Uralic substrate in a Uralic-speaking Corded Ware area (as Schrijver does), which later influenced incoming Bell Beakers that developed into the Pre-Proto-Germanic speakers.

From Iversen (2016):

As it appears from the analysis above, the situation in East Denmark during the 3rd millennium BC is culturally rather complex. The continued use of megalithic entombments and the almost total rejection of the Single Grave burial custom show a strong affiliation with old Funnel Beaker traditions even after the end of the Funnel Beaker culture. (…) With an almost total lack of the two defining elements of the Single Grave culture – interments in single graves and the prominent position of stone battle axes – one can hardly talk about a Single Grave culture in East Denmark. What we see is rather the adoption of various Single Grave, Battle Axe and Pitted Ware cultural traits into a setting that was basically a continuation of Funnel Beaker norms and traditions (Iversen 2015).

denmark-single-grave-battle-axe
Single Grave and Battle axe culture graves in Denmark and scania (dots). Grey colouring: Distribution of Jutland single Graves. Dark grey: Initial phase ca. 2850–2800 BC. Cross: Megalithic tombs with single Grave/Battle axe culture finds (Iversen 2013 fig. 3).

The reason why East Denmark so conservatively upheld the Funnel Beaker traditions must be found in the area’s old position as a ‘megalithic heartland’, which reaches back to the early 4th millennium BC when dolmens and passage graves were constructed in very large numbers. (…) The result was a cultural blend governed by old Funnel Beaker norms and the use of Pitted Ware, Single Grave and Battle Axe material culture. This situation continued until the beginning of the Late Neolithic (ca. 2350 BC) when cultural and social development took a new course and flint daggers and metal objects appeared/ re-appeared in South Scandinavia.

The radical change brought about in the Late Neolithic “Dagger Period” is commonly agreed to be associated with the arrival and expansion of the Pre-Proto-Germanic communtity (read more here).

3. Single Grave culture in the Netherlands

The Corded Ware culture in the Netherlands is particularly disconnected culturally from its eastern core areas, which is reflected in the likely survival of a non-Indo-European language around the Low Countries, in the so-called Nordwestblock area. From Kroon et al. (2019):

The connections between changes in ceramic production techniques and social changes (see Fig. 2) allow for the formulation of hypotheses about the technological impact of the scenarios that archaeologists have proposed for the introduction of the CWC. If migration (i.e. an influx of new communities that bring new material culture) causes the spread of the CWC, then CWC vessels should differ from the vessels of previous communities in all respects: resilient, group-related, and salient techniques. However, if the introduction of the CWC is the result of diffusion of stylistic traits and moving objects, both these imported objects (different raw materials and production sequences) and changes in salient techniques should be observed when comparing CWC vessels to VLC vessels. Network interactions should yield the same changes as diffusion, as the combined movement of people, objects and styles within existing networks leads to the introduction of CWC. However, network interactions should yield one additional characteristic. Given that new people are integrated into extant communities, the occurrence of vessels with different resilient techniques, but group-related techniques that are stable relative to previous communities, is to be expected.

culture-change-cwc-netherlands
Schematic representation of the hypothesised changes in ceramic technology for diffusion (above) and migration (below) scenarios for the spread of the CWC. Image from Kroon et al. (2019).

The over-arching transitional process in the Western coastal area of the Netherlands is local continuity with diffusion and network interaction traits. Interestingly, the supra-regional networks of the VLC communities in this region, as well as some of the defining technological practices within these networks, remain intact throughout the CWC transition.

In the absence of detailed genetic and isotopic data from Late Neolithic individuals from the western coastal areas of the Netherlands, direct conclusions on the relations between the migrations demonstrated by genetic analyses in other regions and the outcomes of this study remain speculative. However, if a similar shift in the late Neolithic gene pool from this area can be detected, this raises questions on the impact of such migrations on knowledge transmission and local traditions. If such a change cannot be attested, questions should be raised about the nature of the CWC in this particular area. Questions that will ultimately boil down to what we define as CWC.

In other words, the introduction of Corded Ware in the Netherlands, which we can assume were driven by migrations – evidenced by the arrival of “Steppe ancestry” (see below) – would need to be interpreted in light of the adoption of a different set of cultural traits in this region. Combining linguistic and archaeological data, there is strong evidence that the Corded Ware ideology and its internal coherence might have been broken in the westernmost territories, hence the likely survival of the local culture and language(s).

Further reasons for this independence from the Uralic homeland, supporting the advantages of a cultural and linguistic integration among regional groups, include:

  1. the gradual shift of the core Corded Ware territory to the east in the centuries leading to the mid-3rd millennium BC;
  2. the similar weakened grip in Jutland (see above);
  3. the development of an isolated “classical” package in western Europe disconnected from eastern groups; and
  4. the cultural and genetic impact of expanding vanguard Yamna settlers.
single-grave-netherlands
General distribution of SGC settlements in the Netherlands. A = the tidal area in the province of Noord-Holland; B = the coastal barriers and Older Dunes area; C = the central river district; D = the northern, central and southern Dutch Pleistocene areas. a = certain/probable settlement; b = possible settlement; c = wooden trackway. Legend Holocene: 1 = coastal barriers and dunes. 2 = marine clay. 3 = peat. 4 = river clay. 5 = river dunes. 6 = water. Image modified from Drenth, Brinkkemper, and Lauwerier (2006).

4. Old Europeans in Britain

This predominant non-Indo-European language would later be the substrate language of Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine and the British Isles.

Culturally, the same process as in the previous Single Grave culture period may have happened in the Low Countries, due to the culturally favorable situation there. This might be inferred from the continuity of Protruding Foot Beaker into All-Over Ornamented Beaker, most likely an imitation of the expanding Proto-Beaker package by locals of the Single Grave culture.

Arguably, though, the same situation should have happened in all other Proto-Beaker regions favourable to cultural change and witnessing admixture with locals, such as Iberia, and the social relevance of this imitation is far from being accepted by almost anyone except for archaeologists working around the Rhine… From Heise (2014):

While in 1955 the Maritime Beaker was considered to be intrusive, the 1976 work seemed to prove that in the Netherlands a continuous development from Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB) to All-Over Ornamented (AOO) Beaker to Maritime Beaker occurred. Nevertheless, the authors stressed that it was not possible to identify ‘the’ origin of the ‘Bell Beaker Culture’ in the Lower Rhine Area since typical artefacts (wristguards, daggers) were not known to be associated with the early AOO and Maritime pottery. Furthermore they argued against the “misleading simplification” of a single point of origin (Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 2). However, this last observation was not appreciated or was simply ignored by large parts of the research community and the theory was subsequently applied as a universal solution in many parts of Europe.

all-over-ornamented-beakers
Typological development of Beakers in the Netherlands (PFB: Protruding Foot Beakers; AOO: All Over Ornamented Beakers; BB: Bell Beakers) (after Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 4, fig. 1).

In fact, most archaeologists have unequivocally rejected a Single Grave – Classical Bell Beaker continuity, and Heyd’s model has been recently confirmed in paleogenomics, which shows an evident expansion of East Bell Beakers from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (see here). We may nevertheless still save the following assertion, as particularly relevant for the continuity of non-Indo-European languages among the Single Grave groups of the Lower Rhine:

Marc Vander Linden argued that the “local validity of the Dutch sequence cannot […] be questioned” (2012, 76).

Olalde et al. (2019) showed how British, Dutch, and French Beakers have excess “Steppe ancestry” relative to Central European Beakers from Germany, who are in turn closest to the origin of Old Europeans in Iberia (i.e. Galaico-Lusitanian, “Ligurian”), the Lower Danube (i.e. Celtic), Italy (i.e. Italic, Venetic, Messapic), Sicily, and even Denmark (i.e. Germanic). This excess “Steppe ancestry” probably implies admixture with local Single Grave populations of the Lower Rhine, which is further supported by the position of these Lower Rhine Beakers in the PCA (using British Beakers and Netherlands BA as proxies), clustering – among Bell Beakers – closest to Corded Ware samples.

rhine-beakers
PCA of ancient Eurasian samples, with Corded Ware clusters drawn. Rhine/British Bell Beakers partially overlapping them. See full PCAs.

Futhermore, the emergence of Bell Beakers in the British Isles represents a radical replacement, with a population turnover of ca. 90% of the local population, and Yamna lineages representing more than 90% of the haplogroups of individuals in Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland, apart from an evident Y-chromosome bottleneck under hg. R1b-S461 (and its subclade R1b-L21), maintained during the whole Bronze Age. The scarce non-Indo-European hydrotoponymy attests to the lack of integration of local populations or their languages into the new society. All this suggests an initial swift and massive intrusion marking the linguistic evolution of the British Isles until the Iron Age.

The arrival of Insular Celtic in the British Isles will be likely defined by an increase in ancestry related to Central Europe (and probably haplogroups, too). Since the Afroasiatic-like substrate is unrelated to Common Celtic, the non-Indo-European substrate must be associated with preceding Bronze Age populations of western Europe, most likely with Bronze Age Britons, who are in turn derived from Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine admixed with Single Grave peoples. The latter, therefore, must have passed on their Afroasiatic-like language as the substrate of Lower Rhine Beakers.

5. Vasconic from the north

Another indirect proof to the survival of non-Indo-Europeans in northern Europe is offered by Basques. Vasconic speakers came originally from some place beyond Aquitaine, and very recently before the Roman conquests, because place- and river-names show an overwhelming Old European substratum to the north of the Pyrenees, and exclusively Old European to the south.

Their origin is potentially quite far away, since Modern Basques show a similar cluster to that found in Iron Age Celtiberians of the Basque country. This could essentially mean that Basques were peoples of north/central European ancestry (see below fitting models of origin populations), because they must have arrived to Aquitaine after the arrival of Celtiberians, and with a similar ancestry.

In words of Olalde et al. (2019):

(…) increases in Steppe ancestry were not always accompanied by switches to Indo-European languages. This is consistent with the genetic profile of present-day Basques who speak the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe but overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.

olalde-iberia-chalcolithic

The Tollense Valley near Rügen in the West Baltic shows LBA people clustering with Modern Basques (see here). This is compatible with the arrival (or displacement) of Vasconic-speaking Northern/Central Europeans close to the Rhine, possibly originally from northern France, very likely close to the Atlantic area during the Final Bronze Age / Early Iron Age based on cultural interactions.

british-isles-basques-late-bronze-age
Population movements from central-northern Europe into western Europe. Top: Cultures of the Late Bronze Age. Bottom: PCA with Bronze Age samples and drawn clusters. Marked in red is the Tollense site (please note: the approximate Tollense cluster does not include outliers, among them those closer to Modern Basques). Also marked is the British Bell Beaker sample closest to CWC populations. See full maps and whole PCAs.

Pre-Steppe languages in Europe?

An alternative to Old Europeans of the British Isles would be to support some kind of non-Indo-European/Vasconic continuity in the Atlantic façade close to the English Channel and the North Sea, given the current lack of palaeogenomic data on Bell Beakers and later groups in the area, and the potential Vasconic nature of Megalithic/Proto-Beaker groups that might have survived there.

The main problems with this approach are the lack of such an Afroasiatic-like substrate in Gaulish, which should have shown the same substrate as Insular Celtic, and the impossibility of associating this Afroasiatic-like substrate with Vasconic, both potentially representing completely different languages. A counterargument would be that we don’t have that much information on Gaulish and its dialects – or on the syntax of Vasconic, for that matter – to reject this hypothesis straight away…

In any case, the survival of pockets of non-Indo-European, non-Uralic speakers in northern Europe, even after Steppe-related expansions, should not shock anyone:

If the survival of non-Indo-European-speaking groups happened despite the swift expansion and radical population replacement brought about by the Bell Beaker folk – so called traditionally because of its unitary culture suggesting a unitary language community -, and non-Uralic-speaking groups in areas dominated by Corded Ware peoples, it could certainly have happened, and even more so, with Corded Ware and Bell Beaker groups at the western and northern edges of their expansions, due to the early loss of contact with their respective core cultural regions.

Conclusion

Even obscure components of place or river names, like those from northern Europe, the Nordwestblock area, and the British Isles, might be better explained as Old European exceptions than any other alternative, i.e. either as an Indo-European layer over a non-Indo-European one or vice versa, or both in different periods, before the eventual unifying Celtic, Roman, and (later) Germanic expansions.

All in all, one could say about substrates and hydrotoponymy in the British Isles, the Lower Rhine, and in northern Europe as a whole, that the potentially interesting non-Indo-European forms are precisely those which do not interest either scholarly ‘faction’:

  • those supporting a non-Indo-European Western Europe, because it doesn’t represent the whole substrate, and can’t be used to argue for a Europa Vasconica or Europa Afroasiatica;
  • those supporting a Palaeo-Indo-European Western Europe, because their limited presence concentrated in isolated pockets doesn’t deny the Indo-Europeanness of the Old European layer anywhere.

However, these are the details that should be studied and that could define what happened exactly after steppe-related migrations, e.g. in the Single Grave cultural area before and after North-West Indo-Europeans admixed with its population, and thus what happened in the British Isles, too.

Ignoring the (mostly useless) typological comparisons, my bet would be for an ancient Uralic layer heavily admixed with local non-Uralic peoples, especially intense in the Single Grave culture. This Proto-Uralic layer would be of a dialect or dialects (assuming succeeding CWC waves and later local expansions) different from the known Late Proto-Uralic – which expanded with eastern Corded Ware groups.

Describing the phonetic features of this layer could improve our knowledge of Early Proto-Uralic, as well as some specifics of the evolution of Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and potentially Celtic and Balto-Finnic.

This would be similar to the relevance of Aquitanian toponyms for Proto-Basque reconstruction, or of the alteuropäische substratum when it conflicts with the Proto-Indo-European dialectal reconstruction of some linguists (e.g. the laryngeal Pre-Indo-Slavonic of Kortlandt) which, like Kitson implies, should question the dialectal reconstruction of this minority of Indo-Europeanists, and not the Indo-European nature of the substratum.

Related

European hydrotoponymy (V): Etruscans and Rhaetians after Italic peoples

italy-mediterranean-bronze-age

There is overwhelming evidence that the oldest hydrotoponymic layer in Italy (and especially Etruria) is of Old European nature, which means that non-Indo-European-speaking (or, at least, non-Old-European-speaking) Etruscans came later to the Apennine Peninsula.

Furthermore, there is direct and indirect linguistic, archaeological, and palaeogenomic data supporting that the intrusive Tursānoi came from the Aegean during the Late Bronze Age, possibly through the Adriatic, and that their languages spread to Etruria and probably also to the eastern Alps.

Hydrotoponymic layer

The following are translated excerpts (emphasis mine) from Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental, by Villar et al. Universidad de Salamanca (2007):

villar-vascos
Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental (2007). Buy the ebook online (or the printed version, if available).

‘(Indo-)Mediterranean’ substrate?

The name Indo-Mediterranean substrate was spread in Italy by the work of V. Pisani. Other Italian scholars continued this idea, such as W. Belardi, L. Heilmann, D. Silvestri, etc. In their hands, the nuclear area of ​​the Indo-Mediterranean substratum was established as follows: “il mondo culturale indomediterráneo trova i suoi più importanti centri di gravitazione (e, soltanto secondariamente, di espansione) nel Mediterràneo Orientale (Creta, Cipro, Asia Minore), nella ‘regione dei due fiumi’ (area di espansione subarea) e nella valle dell’Indo (civiltà de Harappa e Mohenjo Daro)”. From there they could have spread to other areas, such as the western Mediterranean. Even at one point there was talk of “a Mediterranean oasis in the Baltic”, whose main basis was the existence of numerous lexical elements, real or supposedly pre-Indo-European in the Baltic languages.

One of the paradoxes of the theory of the Mediterranean substrate is that the lexical or toponymic components that are attributed to it can rarely be explained etymologically from the surviving languages ​​of said supposed substrate; sometimes they are not even very compatible with what we know of the non-Indo-European languages ​​of the corresponding area. For example, neither Basque nor Iberian have an ancestral and autochthonous phoneme /p/, while that phoneme is frequent in substrate words (cf. among the few mentioned above *pal- and *lap-). In fact, for these three languages ​​other alternative origins have been imagined, so that they would not be representatives of the local substrate: Basque (North Africa, the Caucasus), Iberian (North Africa), Etruscan (Asia Minor). Thus, under such hypotheses the non-Indo-European languages ​​attested in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula would not be autochthonous, but as immigrant as the Indo-European languages.

akwa-hydronyms
Akʷa hydronyms. The majority of old serial elements are found in Italy, with 9, where they don’t appear as second element. Different to the southern areas, they are found in especially frequent compounds in the acha-Namen in Germany, and hyper-represented (as usual) in Lithuania, which shows strictly 8 ancient names.

Italy and Iberia

Let’s review data on Italy:

I. Serial tponyms and hydronyms of Italy:

  1. ub-: Caecubus, Egubium, Litubium, Marrubium, Olobia, Rutuba, Tardoba, Tardubius, Verubius, etc.
  2. uc-: Aluca, Arucia, Arugus, Ausucum, Ausugum, Motuca, Uccia.
  3. ur-: Orinos, Stura, Stura, Astura, Tibur, Caburrum, Calorem.
  4. urc-: Coturga, Orgus, Urcia, Urcinia, Urgo.
  5. bai-: Baebiani.
  6. tuc-: Tucianus (pagus).
  7. murc-: Murcia, Murgantia, Murgantia.
  8. *war: Varduli, Barduli.

ub-hydronyms

II. Non-serial toponyms and hydronyms of Italy: Aesis, Aisis, Ana, Ania, Anios, Arsia, Astura, Ausa, Ausonia, Ausculum, Bardinisca vallis, Barduli, Basentius, Basta, Boron, Cabienses (Cabia), Caburrum, Cales, Cales, Casta Ballenis, Ceresium, Cerili, Corsica, Cortona, Curicum, Ispelum, Ispila, Isporos, Istonium, Istria, lacus, Latis, Latium, Laurentum, Laurentes, Luca, Lucania, Lucera, Maleventum, mare, Marrucini, Minio, Minius, Oscela, Osci, Ossa, Ostia, Paestum, Pisaurum, Pisaurus, Sabini, Sagis, Savo, Sila, Silarus, Silis, Soletum, etc.

italy-iberia-hydronymy-toponymy

Not few of the coincident place names between the southern Iberian and Italic material are rigorous cognates. We understand by such the names that not only coincide in the root or in the serial element, but in the whole root set plus suffixes, or – if it is a compound – in the two sets of roots plus suffixes. In addition to the ones that we are going to present below, there are others that we did not mention because the Iberian correlate was not found within the southern group, but in other geographical areas, as is the case, for example, with the Italian Mantua and the Spanish Mantua (Carpetania).

As can be seen, the parallels between the southern Iberian toponymic area and the Italic one are so wide and strict that the mere calculation of probabilities makes any attempt to attribute them to the mere chance of random homophony irrational. And the improbability of chance increases as coincidences are added in new places in Europe. What will not prevent, for sure, that some would resort to it as an explanation, in particular those who are reluctant to abandon the conception of the prehistory of the European continent that underlies their usual approaches, which suffer an irreparable strike when they are confronted with these data.

The second aspect, the compatibility of this material with Indo-European etymology, offers another significant correlation: the “southern” series that are also found in the Ibero-Pyrenean region and in Italy (and the rest of western Europe) are compatible with Indo-European etymologies; (…)

I will spare the reader of all proposed Indo-European etymologies, most of which are fairly evident. Those interested should buy one of the books, or both.

or-hydronyms

Etruria

(…) in the whole of Italy there is a considerable collection of toponyms and hydronyms of “Southern Iberian” type, whose joint inventory we have contributed to above. From them we find in Etruria Ause, Veturris / Bituriza, Castola, Hasta, Cortona, Luca, Minio, Osa / Ossa, Pissai, Pistoria. The Hispanic and Italian correlates of those names are:

iberian-etruscan-indo-european

However, the inventory of ancient names and hydronyms of Etruria compatible without discussion with well-known Indo-European etymologies is much wider: Albina, Alma, Alsium, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Aventia, Marta, Pallia, Umbro, Vetulonium, Volsinii. Furthermore, the majority of Etrurian hydronyms have non-Latin Indo-European etymology: Albina, Alma, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Auser, Aventia, Marta, Minio, Osa, Ossa, Pallia, Umbro. And very few of the others (Clusinus, Cremera, Lingeus, Trasumenus, Vesidia) could claim an Etruscan etymology, if only one could do so.

In summary, the territory occupied by Etruscans presents a hydro-toponymic situation very similar to that of the rest of Italy and Western Europe: it exhibits a very deep toponymic stratum of Indo-European character to which most hydronyms attested in antiquity belong. As we know the history of Etruria from the end of the 1st millennium BC, and we know that no other Indo-European peoples mediated between the Etruscans and the Romanization of the territory, we must conclude that this ancient toponymy was there before the Etruscans arrived or emerged in that place. And, when the Etruscans settled there, they did not have the opportunity to put names of their language to the rivers in general, because they had already received them from a previous people and the Etruscans limited themselves to learning them, adapting them to their language, and transmitting them in turn to the Romans. When the latter Romanized Etruria, they limited themselves to incorporating those names and adapting them to Latin.

maro-maranto

Etruscans

The ‘foreign’ Tyrsenians

Here is a recapitulation of the main reasons why Etruscans were recently intrusive to Italy, as they appeared in The Origin of the Etruscans, by Beekes (2003):

NOTE. You can read another version of the text in PDF, as the main paper from Biblioteca Orientalis LIX(3-4) 2002.

  1. The tradition as given by Herodotus and Dionysius of Halikarnassos.
  2. The story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians.
  3. The use of the term ‘Tyrsēnoi’ for both Etruscans and a people in north-western Asia Minor. Above we argued that the eastern Tyrsēnoi are the remnant of a population. This means that the Tyrsēnoi/Etruscans came from this area.
  4. The Lemnos inscription.
  5. To the testimony of Lemnos must now be added that Herodotus says that the people of Plakiê and Skylakê spoke the same language as the Etruscans.
  6. etruscan-homeland

  7. The kumdanlı inscription. (…) lake Egridir (of which the old name is unknown, unless it was just Limnai). This is just over the border of classical Lydia. The inscription dates from the second century ad and is given by Ramsay (i883); the same inscription is cited by Sundwall (i9i3, 22i). It mentions three people as Tyrsēnoi(67, 68, i02). Though very late, the inscription is of great interest, as it is the only time that we have inscriptional evidence for Tyrsēnoi in Asia Minor. (And nobody will argue that these were Etruscans from Italy.) (…)
  8. The suffix -ānos. The suffix -ānos in the name Tyrsēnoi (with ē from ā) points to the north-west of Asia Minor. It has long since been recognized that this suffix for ethnic names is at home in north-west Asia Minor; some think that it is of non-Greek origin; cf. Αβυδηνός , Ολυμπιηνός, Περγαμηνός, Σαρδηνός; (see Chantraine i933, 206; Schwyzer 490 (6); De Simone i993, 88ff.). This proves that the name Tyrsēnoi originated in the north-west of Asia Minor. (…)
  9. Loanwords. As to the language, Steinbauer (i999, 367) observes that Etruscan shows most connections (loanwords) with Lydian (…)
  10. Tarchon. The definite proof of the oriental origin of the Etruscans is that a ‘hero’ of great significance is Tarchon (Briquel i99i). He is clearly the Stormgod Tarhun(t)-, the highest god of the Luwians and Hittites.
  11. Nanas. This identification is strongly confirmed by the story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians who came from Greece under Nanas (Nanos), mentioned by Hellanikos. This name was long ago recognized as an Anatolian ‘Lallname’.
  12. The triumphus complex. In his study of the Roman triumphus Versnel has shown that (i970, 293): ‘the Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor, together with the god who formed the centre of it, a god whom the Greeks called Dionysos, the Etruscans Tinia (or by an Italic name Voltumna), a figure of the ‘dying and rising’ type, who was invoked by the cry *thriambe and who on New Year’s Day was represented by the king.’ And on p. 300: ‘The Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor and gave Rome two ceremonies: the ludi Romani as the festival of the New Year, the triumph as the festival of the victory. … Only along this way is it possible to explain the data: i. the Dionysiac call to epiphany triumpe, introduced via Etruria; 2. the identification of the Roman victorious general and of the magistrate leading the games with the god Iuppiter; 3. the typological and historic relation between the ludi Romani and the triumph.’
  13. The double axe. On a smaller issue Versnel concludes (p. 299): ‘When this bipennis [‘double axe’], property of ‘Zeus Bakchos’, carried as symbol of sacred power by Lydian kings, is encountered again as the symbol of the royal authority of the Etruscan kings, particularly of the supreme king of the federation of cities, this may be considered an important indication of the Asia Minor origin of the entire underlying ideology, and of the ceremony of investiture in which the bipennis played a part.’ These conclusions are of primary importance, as they concern a deeprooted complex of religious views that cannot have been taken over from elsewhere.
  14. The Kabeiroi. One might also recall the Latin word camillus, which means a young boy of noble birth who assists with ritual actions. (…) Probably more evidence can be found in the field of religion, such as the much discussed hepatoscopy. It seems quite probable to me that the lituus, the crosier used by the Roman priests, is Anatolian (see e.g. Wainwright i959, 2i0; cf. Haas i99i, Abb. 75, the Stormgod standing on an animal with his lituus over his shoulder).
  15. The Etruscan way of life. There was in antiquity much criticism on Etruscan customs, concerning cruelty, sexual behaviour, and the behaviour of women. (…) Dionysius concluded from the fact that they were so strange that they had always lived in Italy, whereas it is of course much more natural to explain it by assuming that they were strangers.
  16. No withdrawal area. We have seen above that Tuscany is not a ‘withdrawal area’, where an ancient people may hold out when the country is invaded. On the contrary, it is a desirable area which the Indo-European peoples, had they come later, would certainly have occupied. (But it went the other way: the Etruscans came long after the Indo-Europeans and settled there/conquered the country.)
  17. sea-peoples-expansion-tyrsenians
    The Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean c. 1200 BC. Map by Ian Mladjov.
  18. Archaeology. Many scholars would like to see archaeological evidence, but I think that it is quite possible that we shall never find any.
  19. The 1200 crisis. In 1200 the whole Mediterranean was in commotion; the Mycenaean and Hittite worlds, between which the TyrseOEnoi lived, disappeared. So the movement of the Etruscans fits very well in the general picture. That this was the setting of the migration of the Etruscans has been assumed by many earlier scholars.
  20. The ten saecula. As to the time, it has been argued that the Etruscans thought that their world would last ten saecula (Briquel i999, 58; Pfiffig i975, i59ff.). The way of counting provides several problems, however (…) If we accept it, we arrive at 968 bc. Now we do not know from when one started counting. This might have been a decisive victory over the Umbrians, or a kind of unification of the Etruscans, or the founding of an important city. It could well be that this was some 200 years after the arrival of the Etruscans, which would take us to 1168 bc. (…)
  21. The famine. Herodotus states that the reason for the departure of the Tyrsēnoi was a long famine. This has been identified as the famine about i200. (…)
  22. The sea-peoples. (…) The phenomenon as a whole stands, it seems; the problem is the details: which peoples took part in which movements? In our case, as the Lukka are mentioned (which were very probably the Lycians), the Tyrsēnoi may have been involved as well. So the question is whether the T(w)r(w)š, mentioned by Merneptah, were the Tyrsēnoi. We have no confirmation, but it seems quite possible.
  23. The journey. We know from the abundant finds of ceramics in the i3th century that the Mycenaeans knew the sea-route to Italy. (…)
  24. The Umbrians. Pliny (3, ii2) states that the Etruscans conquered 300 cities from the Umbrians (Trecenta eorum oppida Tusci debellasse reperiuntur.). This clearly refers to the ‘Landnahme’. This statement is confirmed by the river Umbro (mod. Ombrone), which flows in its full length in Etruscan territory. The river will have given its name to the people, or vice versa. Anyhow, the river will have flowed in Umbrian territory; so the Etruscans must have pushed the Umbrians out.
  25. The name Sergestus, of a prominent friend of Aeneas, seems identical with Lydian Srkastu- and Phrygian Surkastos (…) it is excluded that (Virgil) got it from Lydia or Phrygia, or Asa Minor in general. So he must have got it at home, from a source that was acqainted with Etruscan traditions. This means that the name was known to the Etruscans (or those who studied their traditions). Above I proposed that it lives on in Etr. Sekst-alu-.

You can read the full text (and its appendices) for further evidences adduced by Beekes, who considers the matter mostly settled.

Local Italic peoples

Another main reason for the intrusion of Tyrsenians among local groups is the ancient connection between Italic languages, which most likely formed an ancient Apennine dialect continuum:

  • the core Italic group with Latino-Faliscan and Palaeo-Sabellic – probably also including an Ausonian-Siculian branch – separated ca. 1500-1000 BC;
  • NOTE. Sicel is believed to have arrived in Sicily with Ausonian-Siculian speakers either around the 13th c. or in the middle of the 11th c. BC (or in both waves), from their ancient settlements in the mainland, driving prior inhabitants (Elymians) to the east of the island, which sets another clear terminus ante quem for the expansion of Italic languages in southern Italy.

  • and the possibly more distantly related North Picene and Venetic, connecting all roughly to an early to mid-2nd millennium BC language.

This continuum was probably broken (with language replacement and displacement events) with the 12th c. BC turmoil and the emergence of new social hierarchies. The adoption of older place and river names, as well as the lack of long-lasting influence on neighbouring languages, suggests that the predominance of the Etruscan language in its proto-historic territory was probably gradual and quite recent.

NOTE. For more on guesstimates, relative chronological expansions and potential archaeological identifications, see e.g. “Ausgliederung und Aufgliederung der italischen Sprachen”, by Helmut Rix In: Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003). Or, basically, any recent (linguistic) text on the distribution and attribution of ancient Apennine languages to the Ital(o-Venet)ic group.

Italic-venetic-etruscan-languages-map
Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands. Italo-Venetic languages surrounded with shadowed red border. I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Sicel; IE1, Venetic; IE2, North Picene; IE3, Ligurian; IE4, Elymian; IE5, Messapian; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic; N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan; N3, Nuragic. Image modified from Davius Sanctex.

Archaeology

The main criticism against this ethnolinguistic model of foreign Tyrsenians comes, surprisingly, from the lack of archaeological data to support this arrival. Or, rather, fitting anthropological interpretations of a culture of Asia Minor with similar hierarchical societies (?). From Review of R. S. P. Beekes, The Origin of the Etruscans, by Mahoney, Etruscan Studies (2008):

A crucial part of Beekes’ argument, however, is that there is a significant cultural break in Etruria around 1200, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age or Proto-Villanovan period (p. 34, citing Briquel and Torelli). The introduction of cremation can be dated to around this period, and there is also evidence for a new hierarchical social organization (convenient summary in Barker and Rasmussen, p. 53-60). Beekes simply says that there is a change, and changes of this sort can come about when new people move in to an existing society, so therefore this change is consistent with his theory. That is correct as far as it goes, but what is missing is any consideration of how and why people coming in from Asia Minor would cause the particular changes that take place in Etruria. Can we argue that the society of the pre-migration Tyrsenians was hierarchical in the same way as those of the various Indo-European-speaking peoples in the region? Beekes simply says “what we still would like to have is material objects, or art traditions etc., from Etruria agreeing with their homeland” (p. 34). What we would really like to have is evidence for the organization of society in this alleged homeland.

Weird as this criticism is, here it is yet another example of the social change brought about under Eastern Mediterranean influences during the Final Bronze Age, from a recent paper (behind paywall) Mobile elites at Frattesina: flows of people in a Late Bronze Age ‘port of trade’ in northern Italy, by Cavazzuti et al. Antiquity (2019):

Introduction

The collapse of the Terramare system c. 1150 BC was followed by a sudden and substantial depopulation of the central part of the Po Plain (Cardarelli 2009). At the beginning of the Final Bronze Age, the southern part of the Po Valley was almost abandoned. In contrast, in the northern part of the Po Valley, some villages survived (…) Concurrently, a new territorial system arose, pivoting around the socio-economic pole of Frattesina (Calzavara Capuis et al. 1984; Bietti Sestieri et al. 2015; Cupitò et al. 2015). Therefore, within the area of the wider Terramare ‘culture’, local responses to the crisis led to different outcomes, some of which were relatively successful and others catastrophic. Economic factors—both in terms of internal carrying capacity and degree of openness to external relations—probably played a key role in determining different responses to the tensions.

The communities of the Terramare, especially in the southern area, were probably not flexible enough to adapt their political structure and modes of production to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Moreover, the domino effect from the overall geo-political instability of the twelfth century BC, in a highly interconnected system such as the Mediterranean, was undoubtedly another factor (Cardarelli 2009). The lack of evidence in the southern Terramare area for connections with the Aegean and the Levant suggests a more ‘closed’ system located on the edge of the ‘globalised’ world of the Late Bronze Age. In contrast, there is well-documented evidence from the largest terramare on the northern side of the Po River for possible incipient institutionalised, well-connected elites—particularly at Fondo Paviani, which has yielded locally produced pottery in Levantine and Late Helladic IIIC Aegean-Mycenaean styles (Bettelli et al. 2015).

The display of austere equality that dominated the Middle and Late Bronze Age ‘urnfields’ (Salzani 2005; Cardarelli 2014) strongly limited funerary expressions of social differentiation. Internal inequalities nonetheless existed between different co-resident extended families and lineages comprising tens of individuals at most (e.g. at Casinalbo; Cardarelli et al. 2014: 722–28), and, above all, between large centres, such as the terramara at Fondo Paviani and dependent satellite settlements (Balista et al. 2005; Cupitò et al. 2015). It seems reasonable therefore to hypothesise that groups based at nodal sites in the system attracted more prestige goods from exotic places, along with individuals from distant areas, while small villages attracted people mainly from within a local radius (Cavazzuti et al. 2019a). Within this dynamic cultural context, the Final Bronze Age funerary evidence from Frattesina documents a more elaborate display of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of elites. At Le Narde (Frattesina’s cemetery), this privileged segment of society, probably with its own entourage, is clearly represented by a small number of burials with several indicators of prestige.

bow-fibula-italy-aegean
Distribution of the violin-bow fibulae with two temple knots in the different source categories. Map by Sabine Pabst (2018).

Results

(…) the individual in burial Narde1-168 may have achieved the status of a ‘warrior-chief’, as symbolised by the presence of an Allerona-type sword (Bianco Peroni 1970). This was ritually broken and deposited in pieces inside the grave, along with a bronze pin, a pair of tweezers and other ornaments (Figure 8). (…) yielded a strontium isotope ratio (0.70983) that is incompatible with the local 0–20km baseline (Table 3), but fits within the 20–50km range. By contrast, the value obtained from the femoral cortical bone (0.70924) is consistent with the local range of Frattesina. This means that this individual moved to the site after early childhood—possibly during youth or early adulthood—and he probably spent the last years of his life there, at the apex of the community.

Marshall Sahlins (1981), in his famous article ‘The stranger-king: or Dumézil among the Fijians’, compares the dynamics of power in the Fiji Islands to the Indo-European tradition, arguing that human societies tend to locate power as originating from the outside (Sahlins 1981, 2008; see also Ling & Rowlands 2015). Sahlins focuses on origin myths across ancient polities in the Indo-European language area, which systematically feature a dichotomy between what the Romans called gravitas and celeritas. The former refers to the conservative, peaceful and productive character of an established native community, while celeritas represents the disruptive, transformative violence personified in the stranger king, who “erupts upon a pastoral scene of peaceful husbandry and political equality (or at least limited authority)” (Sahlins 1981: 112).

grave-goods-frattesina-warrior-chief-allerona-sword
The grave goods and cremated bones of burial Narde1-168 (after Salzani 1989). Urn height is 0.26m, sword length is 0.46m.

The individual buried in grave Narde1-168 at Frattesina was probably neither a true ‘king’, nor a true ‘stranger’. Despite its uniqueness, his grave resembles those of the rest of the community and is included within a large collective—or at least not evidently exclusive—burial mound. ‘Warrior-chief’ perhaps would be a more appropriate definition for this individual. Moreover, his place of origin was not so distant as to define him as a ‘stranger’. Nonetheless, Sahlins’s archetype of the ‘stranger-king’ evokes the power of alterity; burial Narde1-168 perfectly embodies celeritas, which breaks with the gravitas of the former Terramare tradition and guided whatever survived the collapse towards a new social model. Since the discovery of Frattesina and its cemeteries, Italian scholars have debated the mechanisms underlying the origin and economic success of the settlement, and the degree of foreign (i.e. Cypriot and Levantine) involvement in this process as suggested by archaeological finds (Cupitò et al. 2015). The new isotopic data presented here demonstrate that even though some individuals may have come from the Levant—where the available 87Sr/86Sr baseline ranges from 0.7079–0.7086 (Sheridan & Gregoricka 2015; Gregoricka & Guise Sheridan 2016)—or were from other exotic places, they nonetheless represent a minority of the population and, in any case, not the upper elite. The latter appear quite mobile, although probably from within the broader hinterland radius.

Adriatic or western route?

One of the interesting questions, and probably non-trivial for the correct interpretation of ancestry in future ancient DNA samples, is from where exactly did Tyrsenians come from, and more importantly where exactly did the arrive, and when. I have the impression that a Tyrrhenian Sea route is more commonly depicted (as in my maps) due to the historical predominance of Etruscans in the west, but that archaeologists usually consider the Adriatic – and thus a spread from the Po River Valley and/or Pannonia – a more likely route for Tyrsenian speakers, and probably rightly so.

NOTE. The tentative (and highly speculative) classification of fragmentary Rhaetian as more archaic than Etruscan relative to Lemnian may give further support to this route.

Failing a precise time transect from a population geographically close to the origin of their expansion in central or northern Italy, we are bound to see the same misinterpretations of the data we have seen in the case of Sea Peoples of hg. R1b behind Philistines. Nevertheless, here are some interesting predictions of population movements by Pabst (2013) based particularly on the Stätzling-/Allerona-sword from Narde in Veneto, which have been confirmed for the moment with isotope analyses, showing that some peoples of Frattesina had previously lived in the eastern Mediterranean, and that local elites had a much closer origin:

staetzling-swords
Distribution of the various blade profiles of the Stätzling (l) and Casale (H) type of leaf blade sword: 1 White symbols: blade with rapier-like ribs. – 2 black symbols: flat rhombic blade profile.- 3 Large gray symbols: a blade with a narrow midrib and longitudinal grooves.- Small gray symbols: lenticular or indefinite blade profile. (Map S. Pabst).

An Ingot fragment from the hoard of Hočko Pohorje in Styria, Slovenia indicates that possibly also Pannonia was involved in the 12th century BC (or during stage Ha A1) in the East and Central Mediterranean copper trade. According to the chemical composition or the high iron content, it is particularly close to individual finds from Sardinia, Italy and Anatolia.

The people behind the Stätzling swords could have been the potentates of this supraregional trade in the Adriatic and Ionian seas. This is also to be expected from the presence of late Mycenaean populations on the upper Adriatic. This is indicated – in addition to individual Mycenaean ceramics imports – especially in the Aegean Stätzling sword from the fly cave of Škocjan in the hinterland of Trieste, in this exchange network of the 12th century BC. However, not only people from the late Mycenaean cultural area were involved in the process. For native elites are suspected behind the mostly locally manufactured Stätzling swords in Pannonia and Italy, according to the analysis of the grave find 227 of Narde; perhaps local organizers of the trade, as allies of the Mycenaean chiefs.

Palaeogenomics

Palaeogenomics might help shed light upon the complex matter of the Tyrsenian emergence in Europe. Even though Rhaetian is a fragmentary language, it seems that it is related to Etruscan, and neither are remnant languages from the Bronze Age, but rather intrusive languages to Italy and Central Europe.

It is more than likely, then, that ancient DNA will show an increase in Aegean ancestry during the Late/Final Bronze Age in central and/or northern Italy, even if this change is found rapidly diluted within generations, as happened with the Aegean ancestry among Philistines, who – in spite of this dilution – also left their prolonged linguistic mark in the Levant.

This is the summary I made of an online report from oral communication A 12,000-year Genetic History of Rome and the Italian Peninsula, by Hannah Moots, the 6th February 2019, with 134 samples from Lazio and surrounding areas:

bronze-iron-age-romans-etruscans-osco-umbrians-map
Bronze Age – Iron Age evolution of Italy Top Left: Early Bronze Age cultures. Bottom left: PCA of groups from the Bronze Age; marked in red are previous Italy Bell Beakers. Top Right: Early Iron Age cultures. Bottom right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age – Middle Ages; marked in red are the approximate location of described ancient Italian clusters, one including Etruscans, Osco-Umbrians, Picentes, etc., and the wider cluster of Romans (dates unknown). See full maps and PCAs.

While Bronze Age samples of west-central Italy show a clear homogenisation of the genetic pool, with a shift in the PCA towards central Europe (away from the previous CHG/Iran Neolithic influence), and thus close to the modern Sardinian cluster, the few investigated Iron Age samples from the Republican period (ca. 700–20 BC) show a widespread genetic cluster encompassing the modern Italian ones, overlapping North Italian (ca. 60%) or South Italian/Sicilian (ca. 40%) clusters. The arrival or increase of EHG-, Levant Neolithic-, or CHG/IN-related ancestry in samples from this period suggest influence from previous population movements during the LBA from the north or through the Mediterranean, respectively. The Imperial Period shows influence from CHG/IN-related ancestry, but only sporadically Levant Neolithic.

NOTE. For more on the referred northern and southern Italian clusters, see Population structure of modern-day Italians reveals patterns of ancient and archaic ancestries in Southern Europe, by Raveane et al. bioRxiv (2018).

italian-north-south-clusters
Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from modern individuals. A) Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from 3,282 modern individuals assigned, through a CP/fS analysis, to European West Asian and Caucasian clusters.

The alternative view

Kristiansen is among those who offer an alternative view in the archaeological question, supporting the opposite direction of population movements: of Terramare migrants in Greece, a theory which is not to be lightly dismissed, in the complex setting of population movements across the Mediterranean during the Final Bronze Age.

As a weak linguistic support for such a movement, one can find the hypothesis of Eteo-Cretans as Osco-Umbrian speakers, based on de Ligt’s speculative interpretation of the Praisos inscription (Talanta 2008-2009).

It seems that, even if these views are also correct, the overwhelming evidence is for a foreign origin of Tyrsenians:

  • lack of Tyrsenian hydrotoponymic layers in Italy or central Europe;
  • guesstimates and “split” distribution of Italo-Venetic languages;
  • foreign culture and influences of Etruscans;
  • recent predominance and influence of Etruscan language and culture;
  • East Mediterranean peoples in the LBA Po Valley (isotope analyses);
  • genetics of Sea Peoples from the Aegean.

Related