September 19, 2013

Blog hiatus and troll emergency issues

I'll go into hiatus for some days or weeks. I have not been blogging too much as of late and feeling guilty about it but today I really don't care anymore: 90% of the last comments have been made by banned individuals which I deem trolls for a number of reasons (including racism and homophobia but mostly just being annoying pricks) and some other who is quite borderline. 

That takes a toll on me: instead of reading what I like my blog to motivate, interesting comments and discussions, I just read very annoying and often offensive junk, being forced to delete comments one by one and what not. Naturally it takes a toll on me and the flu of four days already I'm going through does not help my patience either.

I will consider it for the rest of the week but most likely I will end up finishing my already planned migration to WordPress. After all this open source blogging platform offers better troll-control tools (and does not allow state governments to censor individual blogs, something that Blogger does, kinda reminding our state slavery every day with state codes after the raw blog address for everyone outside the states).

By the moment in any case comment moderation is on. If you are not a Nazi or a total jerk or both (and that includes already banned individuals, of course), your comments will appear as soon as I read them.

September 13, 2013

Basque and other European origins according to ancient mtDNA

This is a (partly shortened) version of an article I wrote recently in Spanish language for Ama Ata.

For reasons of the variegated methodology used by the various researchers this comparison across time and space has to be simplified. Still it is a valuable insight on the demographic changes produced in the Neolithic and later on in three European regions: Germany, Portugal and the Basque Country. 


As you surely know already, the results of archaeogenetic sequencing in Central Europe have produced quite perplexing results: not just the Neolithic wave seems to have caused major changes but also this one was victim of similarly radical later changes in the demography. Visually:

The first period when we see an mtDNA pool similar to the modern one is already in the Late Bronze Age. However we lack data for all the early and middle Bronze Age and the data of the late Chalcolithic already points to the components of this modern pool being present, albeit in a very fragmented form. If anything there was still excess of L(xR), i.e. N(xR). 

This late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age knot of Central European demographic history is still to be solved. But something we can already say for sure: the Neolithic wave was of dramatic consequences in this region but itself was wiped out by later, still ill understood, secondary waves.


This area is not so well documented, however the data we do have still provide a very interesting sequence of the demographic history of SW or West Iberia. Visually again:

One of the problems here is, quite evidently, that sequencing only the HVS-I region is not at all enough to identify some very important haplogroups, particularly H. We can reasonably think however that most or even all of the R* sequences are actually H.

We see some but not-so-radical changes with the arrival of Neolithic: some apparent decrease of U (halved) and L(xR), a +33% growth of H and first detection of HV0 (probably V). However these changes seem to have been partly countered by Chalcolithic, plausibly by means of blending between first farmers and more purely aboriginal populations. Overall I am very much tempted to think that the arrival of Neolithic to (South and Central) Portugal only caused mild demic changes. 

This fact, together with the extremely high frequencies of haplogroup H and the key role played by SW Iberia in the formation of Dolmenic Megalithism, as well as their pivotal role in Bell Beaker, including the existence of a major civilization (Zambujal, VNSP), the first one ever in Atlantic Europe, makes this area highly suspect as a possible origin for the spread of mtDNA H in Western Europe to the frequencies that we find today (c. 40-50%).

However we have only very limited archaeogenetic data from other Atlantic Megalithic regions and in general from Megalithic burials and it is at least possible that Armorica (Brittany, West France) or Denmark and the nearby Low Germany regions played important roles in this spread, which we see so dramatically exemplified in the German Bell Beaker sample. 

When the finger points to the Moon, the fool looks at the finger. Portugal could be the Moon but it may just be the finger, so I will remain cautious at this stage of research. Whatever the case it does seem to me that Megalithism is a likely source of that excess H (Bell Beaker being just the finger here, almost for sure).

I must add that there seem to be some important demic changes since Chalcolithic in Portugal. Tentatively I will attribute them to the intrusive SW Iberian "horizons" (proto-Tartessian?) and/or the Luso-Celtic invasions of the Iron Age. 

Basque Country

My main aim in all this compilation was, as in a sense in all my diving into prehistoric research for so many years now, to find an answer to the mystery of the origin of Basques and Basque language. 

In the last few years we have been blessed with some important and revealing archaeogenetic research in this area, and therefore I could build also an informative graph for the Basque Country:

Very synthetically, I think that we can see here, much as in Portugal, some not too radical changes with the Neolithic arrival, and then relative stability until present day. This is coherent with the Basque Country not having suffered effective Indoeuropean invasions, unlike Portugal.

However I strongly feel the need to look at the fine detail in the Basque Neolithic transition, because it has some interesting question marks:

Seen as that, it would seem like the Neolithic-induced demic change was more important in Navarre and less in the Western Basque Country. However the two Ebro basin sequences (both Fuente Hoz and Los Cascajos) are very high in U* and low in U5, which is so far the only U subclade sequenced in the Paleolithic of the Basque-Cantabrian area. At this point I do not really know how to interpret this fact nor even what kind of U sublineage is that one.

What I do know is that, on one side, the Biscay-Gipuzkoan area seems to have been initially unaffected by Neolithic demic waves and that the Paternabidea sequence is very very similar to modern day Basque average (and even more in its own sub-region).

It is very possible that the Basque periphery, notably the Ebro banks, suffered more intense demic changes than the core Basque areas of the piedmont. However, when compared with other European regions (very especially Central Europe) the Basque genetic pool seems quite stable since Neolithic times. 

Is Basque language Neolithic?

Even if genetics and language need not to be tightly related, of course, the question of the origin of Basque language and the proposed Vasconic language family, believed to have been spoken in much of Europe at some point in Prehistory, are indeed related to the genetic origin of the Basque people. 

There are four main models for the origin of Basque and Vasconic:
  1. Magdalenian (Paleolithic) origin in the Franco-Cantabrian region some 17-15,000 years ago (incl. possible sub-waves like Tardenoisian/geometric Epipaleolithic).
  2. Neolithic origin.
  3. Megalithic origin.
  4. More or less recent (Iron Age?) arrival, defended by mostly by the fanatics of Indoeuropean continuity. 

We can safely discard #4 only based on archaeology but the genetic aspect seems to add even more weight to this dismissal, after all it is Indoeuropean speaking peoples the ones which show obvious signs of demic change, sometimes very dramatic, not Basques.

Personally, and with due caution, I would also cast doubt on #1, partly because the Vasconic substrate area seems to include strongly many parts of Italy like Sardinia, in principle unaffected by the Magdalenian expansion, and I would also include at least to some extent parts of the Balcans (for example the Ibar river in Kosovo). 

So I am rather inclined for model #2, i.e. that Vasconic was the language family spoken by European Neolithic peoples with roots in Thessaly (pre-Sesklo→Mediterranean Neolithic, proto-Sesklo→Balcano-Danubian Neolithic). I cannot of course exclude a possible re-expansion of some of those languages within the Atlantic Megalithic phenomenon, which I would deem responsible of the expansion of much of mtDNA H up to modern frequencies, however I doubt this one is the source because it is difficult to explain the presence of Vasconic in many pockets in which Megalithism was at best very secondary or did not exist at all (for example most of the Ancient Iberian area, Sardinia, the Balcans, etc.)

So my tentative proposal is that there was a root Vasconic spoken some 9000 years ago in Thessaly (Northern Greece), which split (as per archaeology) in two branches:
  • Southern or Western Vasconic (Impressed-Cardium Pottery and related cultures, including the Megalithic urheimat in Portugal). 
  • Northern or Eastern Vasconic (Red-White Painted Ware in the Balcans and later Linear Pottery in Central Europe).
Basque, ancient Sardinian, Iberian and the hypothetical lingua franca associated to Megalithism would belong to Southern Vasconic. Danubian Neolithic peoples would have spoken Northern Vasconic instead but, as we can see, they were eventually all but wiped out by secondary arrivals from West and East. Even the very Balcanic core areas of Thessaly, Macedonia and Serbia also suffered an invasion early on by peoples with Beige-Black pottery (Vinca-Dimini) surely related to Tell Halaf. So the main survivor to the Metal Ages was Southern (Western) Vasconic, which was then wiped out (excepted Basque) by the Indoeuropean invasions of Celtic and Italic peoples. 

We can still see fossils however. One of my favorite examples is the Latin particle bi- (as in bilateral, bilingual, etc.), which seems derived from Vasconic bi (two, at least in modern Basque) and unrelated to PIE *dwos. Also the English words kill and ill, which seem related to Basque verb hil(-du) (pronounced /hill/ or /ill/ and meaning to die or to kill, depending on how you conjugate it). Again both English terms do not have any apparent PIE origins, although they may derive from proto-Germanic. These are just examples, of course, there seems to be much more to be researched.

Appendix: detail of the data and bibliography: LINK.

September 12, 2013

Are ancient mtDNA sequences from Syria of Indian origin?

Honestly, I have all kind of doubts but that's what a new study claims on the basis of just a few hypervariable sequence markers:

Henry W. Witas, mtDNA from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman Period Suggests a Genetic Link between the Indian Subcontinent and Mesopotamian Cradle of Civilization. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073682]

The authors sequenced the HVS-I (and nothing else!) of the mtDNA of four individuals from Tell Ashara and Tell Ashaik sites of ancient Terqa and Kar-Assurnasirpal (Syria, Euphrates river). And then they proceded to establish a bit unlikely comparisons with East and South Asian M sublineages, of which only one is present today in the region.

The sequences are (supp table 3, all numbers +16,000 and counting from the CRS, i.e. H2a1 underived, GenBank: NC_012920):
  • TQ28F112: 223-234
  • MK13G117: 223-234-311
  • TQ28F256: 223-234-270
  • MK11G107: 223-266-289
The first two are attributed to M9, the third one to M61 (a quite rare haplogroup) and the last one to M4b (the only one to be found in West Asia nowadays, specifically in Arabia Peninsula).

Now what do the markers actually say? All are highly variable sites and independently can be found in many lineages, however most typically:
  • 223 describes R, hence counting from the CRS, it should mean L(xR).
  • 311 describes L3, hence counting from the CRS it should mean L(xL3).

So all four should be L(xR) and MK13G117 looks like L(xL3).

Exceptions for 311 (consistent with the sequence above): L3b1a3, M4'65'67, M10, M29'Q, M31a1, M56, M57 and M74. However M9 does not make it because to begin with it needs a transition at the 362 site. 

The authors got carried away by their own pre-conceptions and the marker 234, shared by three of the four sequences. However, while that marker is found in M9a, it also needs the 362 marker, which they both lack. So they are not M9 but something else. 

More plausible candidates could be, at least for TQ28F112, M30d/e or M49.

As for the rest, there are no modern sequences, at least via PhyloTree (but neither within the study's own comparisons), that are good correlates. All we can say with certainty is that they are L3(xR), except in the case of MK13G117, which can only be described as  L(xR). 

Maybe if they had tried sequencing the coding region, as in my understanding, they MUST (destroying or damaging valuable ancient bones to do this mediocre research is not anymore justified, if it ever was), they would have got useful and informative results. Now we just have again another frustrating set of nearly useless HVS-I sequences, which can only be ambiguous in the vast majority of cases.

Ah, by the way, there's no obvious correlation between these Metal Ages' sites and ancient Sumerians, of course. Even if the lineages are South Asian by origin or affinity, which is possible but by no means demonstrated, they would at most suggest a relation between the Mid-Upper Euphrates and that area. The region was under intermittent Sumerian, Amorite, Babylonian, Kassite and Assyrian control but mostly is a distinct country within the greater Mesopotamian area.

Notice that previous research (ref.) in the same area but from the Neolithic (PPNB) period has found (also HVS-I) large amounts of mtDNA K, some H and also some L3(xR).

[Note: edited because some ethnographic assumptions I made initially seem to be quite wrong].

Update (2015): the chronology actually corresponds with the Mitanni period. This suggests that whatever true Indian mtDNA was brought by Indo-Aryans coming directly from Pakistan or nearby areas (rather than from the steppe).

A western riverine route for human migration to North Africa in the Abbassia Pluvial

Interesting study on paleo-rivers of the Sahara providing insight for a likely route for Homo sapiens to cross the Sahara towards NW Africa.

Tom J. Coulthard et al., Were Rivers Flowing across the Sahara During the Last Interglacial? Implications for Human Migration through Africa. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074834]


Human migration north through Africa is contentious. This paper uses a novel palaeohydrological and hydraulic modelling approach to test the hypothesis that under wetter climates c.100,000 years ago major river systems ran north across the Sahara to the Mediterranean, creating viable migration routes. We confirm that three of these now buried palaeo river systems could have been active at the key time of human migration across the Sahara. Unexpectedly, it is the most western of these three rivers, the Irharhar river, that represents the most likely route for human migration. The Irharhar river flows directly south to north, uniquely linking the mountain areas experiencing monsoon climates at these times to temperate Mediterranean environments where food and resources would have been abundant. The findings have major implications for our understanding of how humans migrated north through Africa, for the first time providing a quantitative perspective on the probabilities that these routes were viable for human habitation at these times.

Figure 2. Simulated probability of surface water during the last interglacial.
This figure details Archaeological sites, and an annual probability that a location has surface water. The archaeological data are derived from a number of sources (including [42], [66], [67], [68]. The findspots are characterised by Aterian and Middle Stone Age artefacts such as bifacial foliates and stemmed Aterian points and/or typical ‘Mousterian’ points, side scrapers and Levallois technology. Most are represented by surface scatters but where stratified examples exist these can be shown by dating (OSL and U-series techniques) and geomorphological setting to belong within MIS 5e [41], [42].

As discussed in other occasions, it seems likely that some genetic remnants of those early migrations are still visible in at least some NW Africans.

See also:

Ukraine's Neolithic and Bronze Age ancient mtDNA

A doctoral thesis on ancient Ukrainian mtDNA has recently become freely available (h/t Kristiina):

Jeremy R. Newton, Ancient Mitochondrial DNA From Pre-historic Southeastern Europe: The Presence of East Eurasian Haplogroups Provides Evidence of Interactions with South Siberians Across the Central Asian Steppe Belt. Grand Valley State University (thesis), 2011. Freely availableLINK

The key element of this study is table 1:

Location of sites (fig. 3):

Notice that the "Kurgan sites" (D1.8, L8 and L15) are not from the first Kurgan arrivals but rather from a late layer, surely Srubna culture, which is generally believed to be proto-Cimmerian.

The most striking element probably is the presence of relatively high frequencies of mtDNA C since Neolithic times. However this is not inconsistent with previous findings (Desarkissian 2011) of mtDNA C (C1) among NE European Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherers, surely precursors of modern Finnic peoples. It means that the Siberian element of East Asian affinity today best preserved among Uralic peoples, was present in Europe before Neolithic and that it had an impact (21%) even in presumably non-Uralic populations such as Epigravettian derived Dniepr-Don.

This in turn may well explain the subtle Siberian affinity elements sometimes apparent in much of Northern and Central Europe, because these Eastern European peoples made in turn significant demic impacts in those areas, first with the Pitted Ware culture (clearly derived from Dniepr-Don: similar pottery and burial styles) that affected parts of the Southern Baltic, via Belarus, and later with the Kurgan waves of Indoeuropean-speaking invaders.

Maybe a bit more intriguing is the coincidence of C4a lineages in all the three kurgans of SW Ukraine. It may be just a coincidence or a very specific ethnic provenance of the princesses of that sub-group but the thesis argues for these being direct descendants of the Neolithic C4a lineage found in Ya34. I must say I am skeptic but it is not totally impossible. If real, it would imply that all C4a3 and C4a6 haplogroups (at least) are of Eastern European coalescence, what I find a bit difficult to accept, to say the least - but who knows?

An element in favor of such model is that neither of these C sublineages seems to be present in West Siberian ancient mtDNA, while no Oriental lineages altogether have been found in Central Asia before the Iron Age.

See also:

September 9, 2013

Homo sapiens was in China before 100,000 years ago!

This finding consolidates the recent dating of African-like industries of India to c. 96,000 years ago, as well as other previous discoveries from mostly China, and, jointly, they totally out-date not just the ridiculous "60 Ka ago" mantra for the migration out-of-Africa (which we know is dated to c. 125,000 years ago in Arabia and Palestine) but also the previous estimates of c. 80,000 years ago for India (Petraglia 2007).

Guanjung Shen et al., Mass spectrometric U-series dating of Huanglong Cave in Hubei Province, central China: Evidence for early presence of modern humans in eastern Asia. Journal of Human Evolution, 2013. Freely accessible at the time of writing thisLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.05.002]


Most researchers believe that anatomically modern humans (AMH) first appeared in Africa 160-190 ka ago, and would not have reached eastern Asia until ∼50 ka ago. However, the credibility of these scenarios might have been compromised by a largely inaccurate and compressed chronological framework previously established for hominin fossils found in China. Recently there has been a growing body of evidence indicating the possible presence of AMH in eastern Asia ca. 100 ka ago or even earlier. Here we report high-precision mass spectrometric U-series dating of intercalated flowstone samples from Huanglong Cave, a recently discovered Late Pleistocene hominin site in northern Hubei Province, central China. Systematic excavations there have led to the in situ discovery of seven hominin teeth and dozens of stone and bone artifacts. The U-series dates on localized thin flowstone formations bracket the hominin specimens between 81 and 101 ka, currently the most narrow time span for all AMH beyond 45 ka in China, if the assignment of the hominin teeth to modern Homo sapiens holds. Alternatively this study provides further evidence for the early presence of an AMH morphology in China, through either independent evolution of local archaic populations or their assimilation with incoming AMH. Along with recent dating results for hominin samples from Homo erectus to AMH, a new extended and continuous timeline for Chinese hominin fossils is taking shape, which warrants a reconstruction of human evolution, especially the origins of modern humans in eastern Asia.

The range of dates for the teeth is ample but the oldest one is of 102.1 ± 0.9 Ka ago. Other dates are very close to this one: 99.5 ± 2.2, 99.3 ± 1.6, 96.8 ± 1.0, etc. (see table 1), so there can be little doubt about their accuracy. 

The Huanglong teeth (various views)
Now, how solidly can these teeth be considered to belong to the species Homo sapiens? Very solidly it seems:
The seven hominin teeth from Huanglong Cave have been assigned to AMH mainly because of their generally more advanced morphology than that of H. erectus and other archaic populations (Liu et al., 2010b), especially in terms of the crown breath/length index. These teeth also lack major archaic suprastructural characteristics listed by Bermúdez de Castro (1988) for eastern Asian mid-Pleistocene hominins, such as “strong tuberculum linguale (incisors), marked lingual inclination of the buccal face (incisors and canines), buccal cingulum (canines and molars), wrinkling (molars), taurodontism (molars), swelling of the buccal faces (molars)” (Tim Compton, Personal communication). However, in their roots, these teeth still retain a few archaic features, being more robust and complicated than those of modern humans (Liu et al., 2010b).

Zhirendong jaw
Let's not forget that further South in China, in Zhirendong, a "modern" jaw was found and dated to c. 100,000 years ago as well.

As for the so-called "molecular clock":
The new timeline for human evolution in China is in disagreement with the molecular clock that posits a late appearance for AMH in eastern Asia (e.g., Chu et al., 1998).

... too bad for the "clock", because a clock that doesn't inform us of time with at least some accuracy is totally useless.

September 6, 2013

More Basque linguistics: the meaning of "Varduli"... and other ancient tribes

A quick linguistic note I just feel I need to write. 

If you make a search on the etymology of Varduli (one of the historical Basque tribes of the early Roman era), we find that it is almost invariably attributed to the alleged Celtic root *bhar- meaning border, frontier. This is the same logic used with the better known tribe of the Vascones, which gave their name to Basques in general later on in Indoeuropean languages. 

Ancient tribes of the Greater Basque Country (blue Celts, red pre-IE)

One of the problems here is that Latin letter v was not originally /v/, much less /b/ but originally just /u/, i.e. the same sound as English w when used as semi-consonant. In fact the letter u did not exist in Classic Latin, just v (i.e. IVLIVS: Julius). Both letters j and u evolved only at a later stage. However both cases are documented with other phonetics: Varduli in Greek are said Bardoúloi, Bardiétes (where the B, beta, should sound like English v). In the case of the Vascones there is a coinage with the word Barscunes, which should sound /b/ and is the main link to the alleged Celtic root *bhar-.

Often the country of the Varduli is assimilated to Gipuzkoa but the actual Varduli did not just occupy most (not all) of that modern province but their domain extended much further south into lands now belonging to the provinces of Navarre and Araba until the Ebro river. Their capital was in fact the town that Romans named Ara Coeli, later Araceli and that Basques know by the compound name of Uharte-Arakil (Sakana valley, Navarre), where Arakil is obviously Ara Coeli but Uharte is a Basque word that means island or more precisely between waters (ur-arte). Therefore Uharte is the genuine Basque name.

My understanding is therefore that Varduli means nothing else than Uharte-Uli (shortened to Uhartuli), i.e. the city of Uharte. Uli, ili, uri, iri: city in Basque and Iberian, as well as many other Mediterranean languages (cf. Ilion, *Irisalem, *Iriko, etc.), being a clear wanderwört of prehistoric origins. Today it's said mostly "hiri" but toponimy includes all variants: Uribe, Basauri, Ulia, Irun, Iruinea, Pompaelo (= Pompaeius-Ilu), etc.

Therefore the rewriting of this ethnonym with Greek beta (/v/) seems a misunderstanding by those cartographers who used it. 

Harder is to be certain about other ethnonyms but if I'm correct about the true meaning of Varduli, it may mean that other tribal names reported by Greco-Roman erudites could also mean locations, such as towns, without further ado, mistaken by collective denominations. I know that it was usual to add the suffix -ani or similar to these cases (example: Basti → Bastetani) but probably the ancient cartographers did not have enough knowledge in all cases, especially if their sources were second or third hand. 

A notorious case is in my opinion the name of the Astures, which could well mean, if Basque (or otherwise Vasconic), Aitz-Uri, i.e. the city (uri) of the rock or mountain (aitz). We know that the capital of the Astures (Asturica Augusta for the Romans, Astorga by the modern name) existed since at least the Atlantic Bronze Age, so it is not like nearby Legio Augusta (León) a Roman foundation by any means. So it seems, on first sight, plausible that the ancient Astures were also named by their capital city: Aitzuri, now Astorga. 

However on second thought, it happens that Astorga is located on flatlands, but, as you can see in this picture, right under an often snowed mountain. Aitzuri can also mean (and would be the natural translation in modern Basque) white peak. I leave this open therefore because it could mean either. 

Another ethnonym of ancient North Iberia that seems very Vasconic is Artabri (sing. Artabrus), who lived in what is now Northern Galicia, next to the Astures. A plausible Basque etymology can well be Arte-Buru, i.e. the head of the holm oak (Q. ilex). The holm oak grows well by the coast, precisely where the ancient Artabri lived, being like other oaks often considered special and a sacred meeting place. The second compound buru (head) may mean either a promontory or hill, if geographic, or maybe chieftain, leader. 

This would lead us to the similarly-sounding name Cantabrus/-i. If -brus is indeed buru (head), what is canta-? Possibly gain, gane (height, peak) maybe in the form ganeta (zone of peaks, the peaks), very common in Basque toponymy. If so, it could well be ganeta-buru: the head of the peak-zone, what makes good sense, especially if we reckon that the Cantabri were a confederation of many smaller tribes (→ approximate map, notice that the eastern border has been displaced surely for modern political reasons).

I don't wish to finish without mentioning the Ausci. Sometimes this Aquitanian tribe, the larger one among northern Basques, is said to be at the origin of the Basque endonym euskaldun, which derivates from euskera (Basque language), having the pseudo-mysterious root eusk-. The apparent similitude between Ausci (/awski/) and eusk- (/ewsk-/) has led some to propose an etymological relationship. 

However I tend to think that euskera derives, like all other words beginning with eusk- from the verb eutsi (hold, persist, resist), where -ts- transforms regularly into -sk-. Hence euskarri (pillar, lit. holding stone), euskailu (bowl, lit. holding gadget), etc. Euskera would therefore be the persistent (eutsi) mode, lifestyle or language (-era), in contrast with erdera (applied to all non-Basque languages but primarily Indoeuropean ones) which should mean the dividing (erditu) mode, lifestyle or language.

It is difficult to find a meaning for the ethnonym Ausci but it does not seem to make sense from the verb eutsi, as there is no suffix attached. The singular form was Auscus, what makes me think of the Navarrese village of Aezkoa (where -a is nominative article and -ko must mean of a place). Aez- here could well be aitz (rock, peak) again (of the rock therefore, no wonder considering its location) or alternatively could well be a shortening of ametz (a type of oak, Q. pyrenaica). But while these etymologies seem to fit well for Aezkoa, they are more difficult to relate to the Ausci, who lived in the northeastern flatlands near the Garona (Garonne). 

A bit far fetched but a possible etymology could be ahozko, meaning oral: aho = mouth, -zko= made of. Ahozko is a real word, not something I just made up. However "the orals" is not something that sounds correct so maybe for them it could mean something else, like those who speak or whatever.

If so I wonder if my previous best guess about the origin of the word euskera was wrong after all, could it be just ahozkera, i.e. the oral (or spoken) mode or language. Could it be that the divide meaning of erdera refers to being partly written, as happened with Latin?

Enough for this quickie linguistic note. Thanks for reading and feel free to add comments, especially if you're open-minded.

Another wacko linguistic speculation: Ibero-Uralic

Just got notice via Jatorriberri[eu/es] of this informal paper on the alleged relationship between Basque (or rather Iberian) with Uralic, via Turkish, it seems.

Eduard Selleslagh-Suykens, Iberian and Uralic Supected Finno-Ugric-like elements in the Iberian language (and maybe even Altaic ones). Revised version of August 25, 2013. Self-publication at → LINK (doc format)

Before I forget about it, let's see what this guy really has. Or rather what he does not have.

First of all I must mention that Mr. Selleslagh-Suykens does not have a curriculum on the matter. I have made a throughout search and he looks an aficionado without any linguistic degree. Nothing wrong with that except that he would need to be even more convincing in order to overcome that handicap, something he fails to.

Twisting ibar (river bank) until it becomes unrecognizable

Mr. Selleslagh, avoids the issue of having to learn at least some Basque by dismissing this language's similitudes with Iberian as mere loanwords from Iberian. That way he can ignore Basque meanings and etymologies altogether.

That way the known toponym "ibar" (Iber-Ebro river in Iberia, Ibar river in Kosovo, etc.), which he chooses to write "ybar" for some odd reason, does not need to have any relationship with Basque ibar (river bank), ibai (river), ibon (creek) or even very possibly ibili (to walk) but can be imagined to be whatever, in his case:
Conclusions: 1. Basque ‘ume’ is probably an Iberian loanword, and 2. Iberian ‘Ybar’ probably means ‘father’. And ‘Ybar-Yi’ (like in the Sinarcas stele) would mean ‘my father’, a very plausible meaning in its context.

I do not know what the Sinarcas stele means, for those with interest and knowledge of Spanish I suggest reading the dedicated study by renowned Valencian linguist Luis Silgo Gauche.

In the original transcriptions by Fletcher (1985) and Untermann (1990) there is simply no "-yi-" but "-wi-" or "-ḿi-". This is one of the problems of Iberian script: major differences in transcription. Therefore Selleslagh's Ybar-Yi can well be Wibaŕ-Wi or Ḿibaŕ-Ḿi... or whatever.

Whatever the case the logic of relating ibar with Basque senar (husband) and therefore with seme/sembe (son) looks very much far-fetched, especially when he's totally ignoring Basque itself, that can easily explain the root ib- as referring to rivers (ibai, ibar, ibon) or maybe to the act of flowing or moving, if we dare to include the verb ibili (to walk), which can well be related to bide (path, way) by loss of the initial i- (common in Basque verbs of that type, where the root is -bil-: nabil: I walk, gabiltza: we walk, etc.) Another possible cognate in the same way could be bizi (life, alive).

Turkish, ergo Altaic, ergo Uralic, ergo Sumerian... whatever!

This is the "best" of the paper...

At first sight, they have nothing in common, Bq. ‘buru’ having ‘head’, and Trk. ‘burun’ ‘nose’ as primary meanings. However, both are used in many other meanings that have one thing in common: they all refer to some form of ‘extremity’ or ‘protuberance’, sometimes even for the same concept, e.g. cape (in geography). However, as far as I know, ‘buru’ is not attested in Iberian, which does not necessarily mean it didn’t exist.

Buru does not have the meaning of extremity, although it may have the meaning of notorious ending, such as a hill, cape or the round ends of the lauburu (Basque curved swastika). More importantly it has the meaning of self and about:
Hitz egiten nuen nire buruari: lit. I was talking to my head; actual meaning: I was talking to myself.
Hau hizkuntari buruz da: this is about language.

But nose and head are close enough may say someone... let's see what else he has:

Both mean ‘day’. The Turkish word for ‘sun’, ‘güneş’, is derived from ‘gün’. According to L. Trask “Barandiarán (1972) suggests an original sense of ‘sun’, ‘light’, which is possible but beyond checking for Bq. ‘egun’ “. That would mean that the Basque word for ‘sun’, ‘eguzki’, is derived fom ‘egun’ (in its meaning of ‘day’) by means of a compound suffix: ‘egu(n)-(e)z-ki’.

Some say that it is egu(n)-uzki: asshole of the day, especially because in some dialects sun is indeed said uzki (in others eki, which is also the word for east)

A plausible etymology anyhow, I believe already suggested by J. Paskual, for egun can well be egi-une: the zone or period of truth. Similarly eki (sun, east) might be a variant of egi: truth, limit, in the same emphatic way that ekin (to take action) is related to egin (to do).
Ezina ekinez egina: the impossible [gets] done through action.

Naturally the verbs egin and ekin themselves seem derived from that egi root, as is probably egon (a non-essential variant of to be, as in to stay at a location or to be temporarily affected by a condition, similar to Spanish estar).

But, even if you believe that these two coincidences with Turkish mean something (who knows?), in order to make them imply Ibero-Uralic of some sort, we'd have not just to believe in Ibero-Basque (something that Selleslagh does not quite apparently) but also in Macro-Altaic, a very much contested hypothesis.

More "evidence" for Basque-Turkish (not Ibero-Uralic yet) relations:
Adi(n)-Aydın :

Both a have strong relationship with intellectual capacity and the like: the Basque word has several acceptances like ‘age’ (probably through a link with ‘wise’), ‘understanding’, ‘judgement’; the Turkish word means intellectual, literate, etc.’. The Basque word frequently occurs in Aquitanian names, so an Iberian origin cannot be excluded since Aquitanian names often mimic or copy Iberian names.

Adin (age) seems related to adi (to listen, to pay attention) and there is indeed the "wise" connection: aditu(-a) (someone who understand, expert). But I haven't found any Turkish meaning other than personal name. It does not seem proto-Turkic anyhow (unlike what happens with burun and gün).
Both mean ‘name’. Another pure coincidence? I begin to think there are too many of them.

Isim is clearly derived from proto-Semitic *šim- (documented in many languages ), so if anything it'd be a relationship of Basque with Semitic or with some other West Asian substrate. 

Whatever the case we have again a clear internal etymology in Basque: izan (to be, essential, similar to Spanish ser, to exist). 
Izena duen guztia izan omen da: all that has name may be (exist).
Izena izana: the name, the being.



This time I’m venturing into perilous territory, but it might contribute something. The Basque suffix means ‘offspring, young animal’ and is obviously related to ‘ume’

As perilous as he just rejected the existence of the word ume in pre-proto-Basque when arguing for ibar meaning father.
Of course ume (kid) and kume (cub, whelp, foal) are related or at least everybody thinks so (it's so obvious!) On a side note, I think English cub is derived from Basque (or other Vasconic) kume, something that happens with other non-IE words like ill and kill (surely related to Basque hil: to die, to kill).
But the Turkish alleged cognate is the main problem:
The Turkish word has a basic meaning of ‘conglomeration, group …’, including ‘family’.

Hmmm, this one does look very perilous indeed. 

He also has some other speculations relating Basque (normally not Iberian) suffixes with Hungarian (one case), a variety of European/West Asian languages (another case) or Centum Indoeuropean (another more complex case).

What can be concluded? In my opinion nothing. They can indeed be coincidences. Coincidences of sound and meaning do happen and only a systematic corpus such as mass-lexical comparisons can be of any use... and that only to begin with, because then the comparative method should be used to refine that first approach.

There is just one striking coincidence with proto-Turkish: egun-gün and another one, quite more dubious, with proto-Semitic: izen-*sim-. Some speculations on a common pan-European substrate of some declensions/suffixes. And then those clearly wrong rantings about the word ibar.

There is nothing of substance here, move along.

Note: a very simple (highly incomplete but a good preliminary exercise) way of comparing languages for possible similitudes is to compare the numeral series, especially 1-5, or maybe up to 10. There is a veteran online database for that. For our purposes (1-5 only):
  • PIE: *oynos/*sem *duwo: *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe
  • Basque: bat bi hiru lau bost 
    • Proto-Basque (??): *bade *biga *(h)ilur *laur *bortz(e)
  • Proto-Finno-Ugric: *ykte *kakte *kolm- *neljä- *vit(t)e
  • Old Turkic: bir iki üch tört besh
  • Akkadian (example of old Semitic): ishte:n shena shalash erbe h.amish
  • Proto-North-Caucasian (??): *cHê *qHwä: *s'wimHV *hêmqi *fh`ä^
  • Sumerian: desh min pesh lim i
  • Georgian: erti ori sami otxi xuti
I can hardly find anything comparable, maybe Sumerian min with Basque bi (ignoring the PB speculation), PIE *treyes with Basque hiru (??), Turkic tört and besh with PIE *kwetwores and *penkwe. But that's about it stretching my imagination all I can. The only half-solid hint is the PIE-Turkic connection, which may be just loanwords of IE substrate to Central Asian early Turkic in the Iron Age.

September 3, 2013

Hungarian ancient DNA and the origins of Central European Neolithic

Davidski leads me to this interesting article where the Neolithic mtDNA of what is now Hungary is detailed far beyond of what I used to know:

Eszter Banffy, German-Hungarian bioarchaeological research project in the Archaeological Institute of the Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungarian Archeology, 2013. Open accessLINK 1, LINK 2
Note: the second link, even if unofficial (Banffy's page) provides (at least in my browser) with a better formatted PDF.

Most interesting is this map:

previous CE data
The results are roughly similar to those obtained for early Neolithic Germany. For comparison, to the right there is a pie chart I built recently with the German data (plus one Austrian and another Eastern Hungarian samples, which were already known - H and N1a respectively). 

The main difference is the much greater presence of U(xK) in Germany, surely remnant of pre-Neolithic peoples. Otherwise it is quite similar to the West Hungarian pie (consider R* as most likely H, just that untested for the relevant markers). No wonder if we consider that West Hungary (along with nearby areas in Austria, Slovakia and Moravia) is at the origin of the Western Linear Pottery Culture, also known as Danubian Neolithic or LBK. 

However the Eastern Linear Pottery of the Tisza basin is generally understood to be at the origin of LBK itself, being somehow transitional between Starcevo (part of the Red & White Painted Pottery complex, originated at Sesklo) and LBK. And we do see some differences with the Western group, notably the Tisza group has much less H (but more H5), less J and also some less N1a.

Lacking by the moment ancient DNA data from Starcevo, Sesklo and other Balcan Neolithic groups at the origin of European Neolithic, we are limited to speculation but I suspect that the greater amount of haplogroup H was incorporated from pre-Neolithic peoples. After all H has been found in great amounts in Paleolithic Iberia (Portugal, Cantabria and Basque Country) and (to a lesser extent) also in Karelia, what clearly indicates that it was present in the European continent before the agricultural revolution, being the Swabian and Baltic cases (no H found to date) probably exceptional in this aspect. On the other hand H was found but only at low levels in Neolithic Kurdistan (15%, up to 23% incl. R*), suggesting it did not come from West Asia (unlike what is probably the case of K, reaching 53% in the Kurdish tells and never reported in Paleolithic Europe). 

A similar but stranger case may be that of N1a, found to belong to an exclusively European subclade, nowadays very rare. It's quite plausible that this lineage was restricted to some Central European pockets in the Paleolithic and found occasion for expansion in the Neolithic... only to dramatically recede later on.

It is very worth mentioning that the profile of Eszter Banffy at has a lot of papers (many in Hungarian or German but many others also in English) with focus on Central European and Balcanic Neolithic.