Monday, 23 January 2017

The term 'Aryan' and its Semitic cognates

The term 'Aryan' had a strange history. Derived from the Sanskrit ārya 'noble, member of the three higher classes', Avestan airya, Old Persian ariya 'member of the Iranian people', it was identified by European scholars during the 19th century with all the Indo-Europeans, and ethnocentric racial theories (De Gobineau, etc., see here) identified the term, suggesting nobility and superiority, with an idea of a Nordic superior race, although historical Germanic people did not identify themselves with a term like 'Arya'. I have already spoken about this topic in a previous post, but now I come back to it because I would like to share with you an interesting, even astonishing, connection.
A connection with the alleged antithesis of the Aryans, the Semites.

In the wiktionary entry about arya, after various other etymologies of the word, a last theory is mentioned: "Oswald Szemerényi has suggested[1][7] that *arya- is a loanword from an Ugaritic word meaning "kinsmen", from Proto-Afro-Asiatic *ħər ‎(“free, noble”)"
Actually, the Ugaritic word noted by Szemerényi is ’ary 'kinsman', from a different root (*ʔar-), but if we see the meaning of the terms derived from the Afro-Asiatic root proposed above, one is surprised by their close similarity with the meanings of the Indo-European terms. 
From A. Bomhard's Afrasian Comparative Vocabulary (2014):
Proto-Afrasian *ħar- ‘(vb.) to be superior, to be higher in status or rank, to be above or over; (n.) nobleman, master, chief, superior; (adj.) free-born, noble’:
Semitic: Proto-Semitic *ħar-ar- ‘to be free-born, to be or become free, to set free’, *ħar(r)-/*ħur(r)- ‘noble, free-born’ > Hebrew ḥōr ‘noble’; Arabic ḥurr ‘noble, free-born; free, independent’, ḥarra ‘to liberate, to free, to set free, to release, to emancipate’, ḥurrīya ‘freedom, liberty, independence, unrestraint, license’; Aramaic ḥərar ‘to be or become free’; Ugaritic ḥrr ‘free’; Sabaean ḥrr ‘freemen, free-born men’; Geez / Ethiopic ḥarāwi ‘free-born, nobleman’, ḥarāwənnā ‘freedom’, ḥarənnat ‘freedom’; Tigrinya ḥara ‘free’, ḥarənnät ‘freedom’; Tigre ḥara ‘free; freedom’; Amharic hurr ‘free’; Gurage hurru bālä ‘to become free, to set free’. 
Egyptian ḥry ‘chief, master, overseer, superior’, ḥr ‘on, upon, over’, ḥrw ‘upper part, top’; Coptic hi- [xi-] (< *ḥaryaw) ‘on, in, at’, hray [xrai] ‘upper part’.
Omotic: North Omotic: Yemsa / Janjero herašo ‘chief, ruler’, herašo ‘chieftainship, rule’. 
We can see how the concept of freedom is often equivalent with that of nobility in these cognates, and Hebrew ḥōr 'noble' is also translated 'free man' (see here), but the Hebrew term ḥērūt 'freedom' comes from Aramaic/Syriac ḥēr 'free' (see here). In Arabic ḥurr means 'free' (opposed to ‛abd 'slave') but also 'noble, good'. For instance, ḥurr al-kalām refers to a speech of high literary quality, not to 'free speech'. The feminine ḥurrah may simply mean 'lady' and ḥurr 'gentleman'. As F. Rosenthal observes (here): "This usage of ḥurr had its origin in the general human inclination to ascribe all bad qualities to the slave and his miserable lot, and all good qualities to those who were legally free men."

This picture strongly reminds the Indian concept of ārya. Also in the Indian use, the connotation of ārya as freeman is clear. In the Ṛgveda, ārya is opposed to dāsa, that means 'slave, servant', in other Vedic texts to the śūdra, one who belongs to the low class of labourers, those who must serve the three higher classes. In the Arthaśāstra, a treatise on law and politics, the chapter on slaves clearly contrasts the position of ārya with that of slave (dāsa). And the Vedic term arya with initial short a means 'master, lord'. The Pāli (Middle Indian) derived term ayya means 'gentleman, lord, master'.
The connotation of freedom could also better explain the Buddhist use of Pāli ariya, Sanskrit ārya, for a person on the path to spiritual liberation.

In the Iranian context, Avestan airya is opposed to other populations like tuirya, while in Achaemenid inscriptions, we find pārsa:pārsahyā: puça: ariya: ariyaciça, “a Persian, son of a Persian, Arya, of Arya origin.” In the compound ariya-ciça, where in ciça (Avestan čiθra) 'seed, origin, lineage', we recognize a concept typical of a tribal and aristocratic culture. But in the Dēnkard we find also a social connotation: ērīh ut dahyupatīh “nobility and lordship,” contrasts with arg ut bār hač škōhišn, “labor and burdens from poverty.” (see here).

Out of the Indo-Iranian world, we can compare an Irish term that has been derived from the same root as ārya, that is aire, so defined in an Irish dictionary:
"In Laws used to describe every freeman, 'commoner' as well as noble, who possesses an independent legal status. Occasionally, however, aire is used in the more restricted sense of 'noble' (as oppd. to 'commoner'), which is its usual meaning in the literature"
"In more general sense noble, chief..."
The term is derived from Proto-Celtic *aryos, found in Gaulish names with a first element Ario- like Ariomanus. There is also a dubious Runic arjostez interpreted as 'most distinguished' (see here), that would show that the root was present also in Germanic.
In Greek, aristos is the famous term for 'noble' in the social sense, being a superlative with the meaning of 'best, most excellent'. In Greek there is also a prefix ari- used to intensify an adjective, possibly connected with aristos according to Chantraine.
In Hittite, we find arawa, arawanni 'free', in Lycian arawa 'free' matching in the Greek version  of the same text apeleutheroi 'freedmen' (see here). Forms apparently comparable with the Semitic terms, although with the loss of the initial pharyngeal consonant, that is apparently preserved in Hittite in other comparisons of Afro-Asiatic roots starting with the same sound given by Bomhard (who connects arawa with a root *her- and/or *hor- ‘to escape, to flee, to run away’, with a different laryngeal consonant, see here). In Hittite there is also the verb arai 'rise; raise', inf. arauwanzi, in Luwian ari(ya) is interpreted as 'raise', and a stem *ariyatt- as 'elevation, mountain' (see here). There is also the Hittite adjective aru 'high', the verb arriya 'rouse, stir, awaken; be awake', and ar- 'to stand, remain standing, stand up, stand upright'.
In Armenian the imperative ari means 'stand up!', in the verb yaṙnem 'to rise, to arise, to get up, to rise or stand up, to rise again' (see this entry).
The Indo-European root of the Hittite and Armenian verbs according to Rix is *h1rei 'to rise' ("sich erheben"), but for the Armenian verb he proposed also *h3er- 'to start moving (forward)' ("sich in (Fort-) Bewegung setzen"), giving also Sanskrit iyarti 'to raise', Greek or-nymi 'to stir up, make to arise, awaken, arouse' and Latin orior, oriri 'to rise, originate'. In Wiktionary, the meaning of this root is "to move, to stir; to rise, to spring" and it gives as derived term also Greek oros 'mountain', following the theory of Frisk and Chantraine. So, a connection with upward movement and height seems clear.

The idea of movement and rising, if it was present also in the Afro-Asiatic *ħar-, could explain the idea of freedom, although we have seen that also in Arabic the main connotation originally was rather nobility, and in Egyptian apparently there is no trace of the idea of freedom, rather 'to be above'. On the other hand, the social concept of members of the higher community and freedom are often exchanged: it happened to 'frank', whose name comes from the name of the javelin, but indicated the members of the conquering people of the Franks and finally meant 'free', or to the Latin adjective liberalis (coming from liber 'free'), that indicated the theoretical disciplines studied by free men or the generous behaviour of the noble. Also Persian āzād 'free' comes from a word meaning 'born (into the clan), noble'.

I suspect that also the name Hurri of the Hurrians comes from the same root as Semitic *ħar(r)-/*ħur(r)-, indicating the people of the free or noble ones like the Āryas, and the fact that they had an aristocracy with Indo-Iranian names and deities in the Mitanni kingdom can be a sign of their affinity with that cultural world. There is also an interesting study by Fournet and Bomhard about affinities between Hurrian and Indo-European languages, suggesting, in their view, a common ancestor.
In Elamite, the Iranians are called Harriya, with an initial laryngeal sound. On the other hand, in the Elamite dictionary (in German) we find ari as equivalent of Akkadian rugbu 'loft, room on roof, upper storey', that can be related with the same root in the sense of 'to be above'.

Then, the similarity of form and use of the Afro-Asiatic root *ħar/ħur- and IE *Har-ya/o- (with the adjectival suffix -ya/yo-) suggest that these concepts of nobility and freedom developed in a common cultural frame of a society where slavery and social stratification were evolving: this was possible with the Neolithic revolution, that with agriculture required hard labour and produced a surplus that allowed to maintain slaves, and was also associated with conflicts and trade that made possible the acquisition of slaves. The Semitic and the Indo-European cultural worlds appear thus to be parallel developments of the Neolithic of the Fertile Crescent: in this cultural 'tree', the Indo-Iranian branch (differently from the other Indo-Europeans) chose to name itself with the adjective or name connected with that root. As if they did not admit that members of their own people could be slaves (and normally slaves were foreigners), and/or because they believed to be especially noble in their behaviour or lineage.
Thus, the social concept evident in the Semitic, Irish, and also Indian use became ethnic, especially in Iranians, who still use it in the name itself of Iran, while in India it can be used to distinguish speakers of Indo-Aryan languages from Dravidian, Munda and Tibeto-Burman speakers, thus being more linguistic than ethnic, besides the traditional association of ārya with the higher castes and ethical behaviour. 

All this has nothing to do, fortunately, with the disastrous and artificial concept of a Nordic 'Aryan race'. It is time to deepen the ancient relation of the Semites with the 'Aryans', evident in many other terms: the results can question some stereotypical oppositions that may still be present in our received picture of humanity and its history.






 





Thursday, 22 December 2016

Indo-European and other linguistic families: space for proposals


Dear followers of the blog, respected scholars, here you can add your linguistic proposals concerning the topic of the connection of Indo-European with other linguistic families.


Giacomo Benedetti

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The wheel from Mehrgarh to the Vedas and the Indian national emblem



On November 15th an article has been published on Nature Communications about a copper amulet (see the photo above) from Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, presented as the earliest object produced through the lost-wax technique.
At the same time, the amulet appears as the earliest reproduction of a spoked wheel. Of course, it is only a shape, but is it possible to use the shape of a wheel before it exists? Or was the symbol itself that finally brought to the creation of the spoked wheel, like a Platonic idea taking shape through a demiurge? It can be an intriguing debate between a materialistic and idealistic approach to history and culture... but let's analyze the issue.

First of all, about the context: "The wheel-shaped amulet inventory number MR.85.03.00.01 was collected in 1985 at the MR2 site of Mehrgarh during the excavations of the ‘Mission Archéologique de l’Indus’ (dir. Jean-François Jarrige)" 
The MR2 site belongs to the Period III of Mehrgarh, associated with the Chalcolithic and dated by the Wikipedia entry and by Kenoyer 4800-3500 BC. More precisely, the paper speaks of "sector X, Early Chalcolithic, end of period III, 4,500–3,600 BC." However, in the supplementary information we read: "Wheel-shaped ornament discovered by Anaick Samzun in 1985 from a surface recollection at the MR2 site. Despite the fact that the copper artefact was not discovered in its primary position, it belongs to the Early Chalcolithic period since the MR2 site dates entirely from this period."

The date given for the object is 6000 years old, but it is clearly a guess, a full number in the middle between 4500 and 3600 BC, which is the dating given here of the site MR2. In the same site also other wheel-shaped objects have been found: one, fragmentary, "close to the skull of a woman buried in the individual tomb H 33". This suggests that such objects were common in Early Chalcolithic Mehrgarh, and had a sort of religious meaning that could be connected also with death.
For a parallel, we can cite the Celtic use of wheel amulets (from here): 
Symbolic votive wheels were offered at shrines (such as in Alesia), cast in rivers (such as the Seine), buried in tombs or worn as amulets since the Middle Bronze Age. Such "wheel pendants" from the Bronze Age usually had four spokes, and are commonly identified as solar symbols or "sun cross". Artefacts parallel to the Celtic votive wheels or wheel-pendants are the so-called Zierscheiben in a Germanic context. The identification of the Sun with a wheel, or a chariot, has parallels in Germanic, Greek and Vedic mythology.
On the other hand, how old are the earliest traces of real spoked wheels used for vehicles? A common answer is: Sintashta in the Russian steppe, around or slightly before 2000 BC (for instance in the detailed book of Anthony "The Horse, the Wheel, and Language"). There are graves containing impressions of spoked wheels, evidently made of wood. The same book explains that the earliest depictions of spoked wheels are later in the Near East: on cylinder seals at Kanesh (Kültepe in Turkey), the important Assyrian colony and Hittite city, around 1900 BC. Anthony used these facts to support an origin from the steppes of the chariots with spoked wheels, followed with enthusiasm by the fans of the steppes. I consider this passion for the steppes an enigmatic and irrational propensity, maybe explainable as a sort of revenge and affirmation of superiority by northern and eastern Europeans on Asians and Mediterraneans, usually regarded (with some obvious reasons) as the source of civilization. 
Anyway, there are some facts that are ignored in this picture. Not only the wheel-shaped amulets, already discovered in the '80s and apparently completely neglected in the debate, but also some terracotta wheels from models of carts found in Harappan sites in Western India and in Shahr-i Shokhta, Iran, in levels dated to the 3rd millennium BC, most probably before the Sintashta graves.

Terracotta wheels from Banawali and Rakhigarhi, Mature Harappan period
Terracotta wheels from Bhirrana, Mature Harappan period

Terracotta wheel from Shahr-i Sokhta, 2750-2200 BC

Not only. Kenoyer in "Wheeled Vehicles of the Indus Valley Civilization of Pakistan and India", published in 2004, remarks:
At Harappa we find evidence for the use of terracotta model carts as early as 3500 BC during the Ravi Phase at Harappa [...] No carts or wheels dating to this early time period have been reported from any sites in Afghanistan or Central Asia, or even from sites such as Mehrgarh and Nausharo that are located at the edge of the Indus plain. [...] it is now possible to say that, on the basis of the currently available archaeological evidence, the development of Indus wheeled carts appears to be the result of indigenous processes occurring out in the alluvium and not the result of diffusion from mountainous regions to the west.
Evidently, he did not consider the wheel-shaped amulets from Mehrgarh, but he was dealing with models of carts and terracotta wheels, which are very different from the copper amulets.
But what is impressive here is that he puts the first wheeled carts in the region in the Indus valley, something completely ignored by this passage from the Wikipedia entry on the wheel:
The first evidence of wheeled vehicles appears in the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia (Sumerian civilization), the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture) and Central Europe (Cucuteni-Trypillian culture), so the question of which culture originally invented the wheeled vehicle is still unsolved.    
Can we consider normal that the Indus valley is not mentioned 12 years after the article of Kenoyer? And is it normal that in the book of Anthony, published in 2007, there is no reference to the same article? Maybe yes, we can consider it normal, because South Asian archaeology is evidently out of the range of mainstream knowledge, even when the authors are important Western archaeologists like Kenoyer. I am the only one who has added references to Indian findings in the paragraph of that entry on the history of the wheel, and fortunately they have not been removed.
Anthony in his book, p.69, states that the Baden culture ceramic wagon models dated 3300-3100 BC are "the oldest well-dated three-dimensional models of wheeled vehicles", and there is no mention of the Harappan findings.

An exception to this silence is the Bulgarian M. Ivanova, who, about the Maykop wheels from northern Caucasus, says in "The Black Sea and the Early Civilizations of Europe, the Near East and Asia", pp.121-2:  
The remains of two wooden wheels at Novokorsunskaja allow some suppositions about the type of vehicle to which they belonged. In size, they are similar to wheels of the Catacomb culture [...] The presence of a hub suggests a vehicle with rotating wheels and a fixed axle. The vehicle from which the wheels at Novokorsunskaja originate might have been a two-axle wagon like the roughly contemporary wagon from Koldyri on the Lower Don. But it is also possible that the find from Novokorsunskaja was a two-wheeled cart. Clay models of two-wheeled carts with rotating wheels attest to the use of this type of vehicle in central Asia and the Indus valley in the late fourth millennium BC. At Altyn-depe in south Turkmenistan, such models occur in the second half of the fourth millennium (Namazga III period) and become more common in the early centuries of the third millennium. Cattle figurines with holes in the withers for attaching the yoke have been recovered at Kara-depe. Comparable models appeared in the Indus valley around 3500–3300 BC, during the Ravi-Phase of the Indus culture at Harappa (Kenoyer 2004, 90 f., Fig. 2).
So, going back to Kenoyer's article, the American archaeologist continues speaking of the wheels found from the Early Harappan period (2800-2600 BC), 17 in number; 4 of them from Harappa have painted motifs, and one "shows radiating lines that could represent spokes". The design given in the paper (Figure 4, no.7) can suggest spokes indeed. Kenoyer adds that the technology of wheel transport however is not well attested out of Harappa itself, and he remarks, citing Tosi 1968, that also Shahr-i Sokhta has not given wheels. Probably, the terracotta wheel exposed in the Museum of Oriental Art in Rome shown above has been found later than Tosi's publication. By the way, it is remarkable that there are also zebu (Bos indicus) figurines, and since zebus were domesticated around Mehrgarh, it suggests a significant influence from the East, from the Indian subcontinent. A tendency shown also in the historical period, since the Helmand area (Arachosia) was known as White India and was more Indian than Iranian until the Muslim conquest (see here). 
On the other hand, Kenoyer adds (p.8):
Further north in Central Asia, the first carts appear during the subsequent Namazga V period (2600-2200 BC) that corresponds to the Harappa Period in the Indus Valley, and these are four wheeled carts drawn by one or two camels and not by bullocks. Since camels were not domesticated in the Indus valley, we can assume that the use of camel carts is an indigenous process in Central Asia and that the construction of four wheeled carts in Central Asia is also a local phenomenon.
About the Mature Harappan period, Kenoyer speaks of a significant increase in the number of terracotta carts and wheel fragments, and has also something to say about the reproduction of spoked wheels: 
The most controversial discussion revolves around the construction of spoked wheels that have been associated with the use of the horse drawn chariot and by extension, the Indo-Aryan culture. In India single examples of "spoked wheels" have been reported from the sites of Lothal, Rupar, and Mitathal, Banawali and most recently at Rakhigarhi [...] Perhaps the most convincing example of a spoked wheel comes from the site of Rahkigarhi, presumably from the Harappan levels though the excavation report has not yet been published. In this example there are eleven radiating spokes that would have provided considerable support to a light outer rim.
The wheel in question is that of the photo above. Kenoyer does not speak of Bhirrana, that was excavated in the same period of the publication of his article (2003-2006). And in Puratattva no.36, of the year 2005-6, after Kenoyer's article, we find an article by L.S.Rao about wheels found in Bhirrana. There are several instances of wheels with painted spokes or spokes in low relief, already from the Early Mature Harappan period. I suppose the dating of this period should be around 2600 BC (the accepted beginning of the Mature Harappan), although a paper by Sarkar et al. published on Nature gives even 6.5–5 ka BP for this period. Being too far from the consensus on the periodization of the Indus-Saraswati culture, I do not dare to accept it.
However, we have a confirmation that spoked wheels were well known in Mature Harappan India. L.S.Rao, who apparently did not know Kenoyer's article (he cites only a 1998 book of him), remarks that they have not been found in the Indus valley, but we have seen that an example was already in an Early Harappan level of Harappa, and we can add the spoked wheel from Shahr-i Sokhta contemporary with Mature Harappan. Mehrgarh's amulets seem a bit too early, also compared with the earliest cart models from Harappa (3500 BC). However, 3600 BC as the lowest limit of the Chalcolithic level of the amulets is not so far from it, but very far from the first attestations of a terracotta wheel with spokes (after 2800 BC, Early Harappan). Moreover, those copper objects are quite different from the terracotta wheels, and they can also be pure symbols. But why in that shape, and symbols of what? We can remark that they have six spokes. What can be the meaning of that number? 
If you search for numerical symbolism in ancient India, the best place is the hymn RV I.164. There we read in st.11-12: 

dvādaśāraṃ nahi tajjarāya varvarti cakraṃ pari dyāṃ ṛtasya |
ā putrā agne mithunāso atra sapta śatāni viṃśatiśca tasthuḥ ||
pañcapādaṃ pitaraṃ dvādaśākṛtiṃ diva āhuḥ pare ardhe purīṣiṇam |
atheme anya upare vicakṣaṇaṃ saptacakre ṣaḷara āhur arpitam ||


So translated by Jamison and Brereton (see here):
11. Twelve-spoked, the wheel of truth [=the Sun] ever rolls around heaven—yet not to old age. Upon it, o Agni, stand seven hundred twenty sons in pairs [=the nights and days of the year].
12. They speak of the father [=the Moon] with five feet [=the seasons] and twelve forms [=the months], the overflowing one in the upper half of heaven.
But these others speak of the far-gazing one [=the Sun] in the nearer (half) fixed on (the chariot) with seven wheels [=the Sun, Moon, and visible planets] and six spokes [=the seasons, in a different reckoning].
The word ṣaḷ-ara means 'having six spokes' and it is the Rigvedic equivalent of ṣaḍ-ara, found in a repetition of st.12 placed in AV (Śaunaka recension) 9.9.12 before a repetition of st.11 (see here for the translation). The same stanza 12 is cited in the Atharvavedic Praśna Upaniṣad, commented by Śaṃkara, who recognized the symbolism of the year and seasons. About ṣaḍara, he glossed with the compound ṣaḍ-ṛtu-mat- 'having six seasons'.

Now, in Harappan seals we find a sort of spoked wheel, regularly with six spokes:

Harappan square seals with the character of the 'spoked wheel' (from this site)

Plano convex molded tablet 
discovered in Harappa, 1997.

The similarity of shape with Mehrgarh's amulets is remarkable, and the fact that it is placed over the heroic scene on the convex tablet shows its strong symbolic character, probably with a solar meaning as in the Vedic hymn.
Also in historical times, the wheel of Viṣṇu, called Sudarśana-cakra, is often described as having six spokes, symbolizing again the six seasons (see e.g. here).
Thus, we would have again a striking instance of cultural continuity, this time from Chalcolithic Mehrgarh to historical India through the Harappan age. 
Mehrgarh's 'spoked wheel' perhaps was not a real wheel but a circle symbolizing the cyclical time of the year and the Sun, like the Native American 'cross in a circle' or the Sun cross of European prehistory. We can also compare Bactrian bronze seals having circular shape, the last one is directly comparable to the one from Mehrgarh, although with 8 spokes:


However, the Harappan terracotta wheels reproduce real wheels, and the ancient six-spoked symbol could be easily identified with the new technological object, that had also the advantage of representing the idea of movement of the Sun. Now, the spoked wheel has been associated with the Aryans because it is mentioned in the Vedas. In Vedic rituals like the Vājapeya we find a ratha-cakra 'chariot wheel' placed on a post to symbolize the Sun, with 17 spokes. According to the Kātyāyana Śrautasūtra, before climbing the post, the officiant is hailed with formulas, which declare him lord of the 12 months and the 6 seasons of the year (see here).

The wheel was so central in the ancient Indian worldview that the ideal king was called Cakravartin 'a ruler the wheels of whose chariot roll everywhere without obstruction' (Monier-Williams, translating the German Petersburg dictionary). Both in Jain and Buddhist traditions this emperor of the Earth has, among the seven jewels (ratna), the 'jewel of the wheel', symbol of Dharma, in the sense of justice and social order.

Relief with Cakravartin from Amaravatī
Also Ashoka, the great emperor, used a wheel, evident in the pillar below, with 24 spokes, explained in various ways and adopted in the Indian flag itself. However, it seems that on the top of the lions there was a wheel with 32 spokes, that can be interpreted as the 32 marks of the Mahāpuruṣa (Great Man) proper to the Buddha and the Cakravartin king. Interestingly, in the legend of Ashoka called Aśokāvadāna, the number of pilgrimage sites connected with the life of the Buddha and visited by Ashoka totals thirty-two (see J.S. Strong, The Legend of King Aśoka, Princeton 1983, pp.123-5).
Radha Kumud Mookherjee, an historian and member of the Indian Parliament at the time of Nehru, tried to include that wheel on the national emblem (see here):
“It app­ears that a ‘chakra’ with thirty-two spokes was, in the original, placed atop the shoulders of the four lions. The basic idea was that the wheel of righteousness, representing spiritual forces, should be above the four lions, representing material strength. (However) there is evidence to show that this top wheel fell off the shaft on which it rested and so in the Sarnath Museum one sees the lion capital without the top.”“We feel our state emblem should not embody in itself, as it were, a historical mistake. The sheer accident of the wheel being detached from the pillar should not justify a truncated copy of the original sculpture. Besides, the chakra, which is now only engraved in the abacus, does not convey the significance and symbolism of the original, which stresses the superiority of spiritual values. It will be in conformity with our principles and ideals if we correct the mistake. If we have wanted to revive the Ashokan ideals, as indeed we have done, let us not perpetuate a mutilated variant of this monument.”
Pragyan Kumud, a descendant of the historian, has decided to "go up to the highest authorities until the change is made", explaining: “There is something in symbolism, otherwise we would not need national emblems. Maybe, if the chakra of peace was put back into its rightful place, our country would witness a change for the better.” 

So, the wheel symbol is still actual in India, a rolling lasting millennia...

reconstructed Sarnath pillar















   

  
 Giacomo Benedetti, Impruneta, Italy, 6/12/2016


    

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Jiroft culture and Harappa: an iconographic comparison can reveal the deep roots of Indo-Iranian traditions






The first image is given in a recent paper by D. Frenez and M. Vidale, two brilliant archaeologists specialized in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age from Oman to Western India. The plaque does not come from their excavations but from the Barakat Gallery website. So it has no context, but the style is typical of the art of the so-called Jiroft culture of the Halil Rud valley, recently discovered. 
A civilization, as is remarked in the article, rich in contacts with the Indus valley, being contemporary with the Mature Harappan period. These contacts are shown also by this figure, because the figure of a bovine in front of a cup-like container recalls the unicorn seals, like the one shown above (cf. this post). There are also Indus seals with a zebu bull, but without a container. The Jiroft figure thus is not identifiable with any of the two Harappan models, and it reveals a strong originality in the presence of more than one animal: below the zebu, we have a suckling calf, which shows that the zebu is a cow and not a bull as in the Harappan iconography, and above, there is a small animal apparently attacking the hump of the cow. The authors propose many identifications for this animal, and the most convincing seem those about Canidae like wolf, jackal or hyena, because of the pointed muzzle.
This dramatisation of the scene, so different from the static isolation of Indus animals on the seals, apparently expresses a feature of Jiroft imagery and worldview: the opposition of two animals as symbols of two opposing principles, as is remarked in the entry of the Encyclopedia Iranica about the iconography of chlorite artefacts from the Jiroft culture:  
Two opposing principles arise from the Jiroft imagery: one is negative, with the scorpion and the snake, symbols of suffering and death; the other is positive, with the cheetah and the eagle engaged on the side of man against the reptile. It is clearly not feasible to propose an interpretation of the Jiroft iconography before one can integrate it in the culture it stems from. It, however, seems possible to suggest the idea of a dualistic mode of thinking geared to human pursuits. This particular orientation bears the mark of the strongly contrasted natural environment of the Iranian-Indian plateau. Without falling into geographic determinism, account has to be taken of the extremely particular conditions that prevail in this vast region set against the Zagros Mountain range and turned toward the East and Central Asia. The landscapes may have left their mark on the life of the population, its language, writing, culture, and religion since the dawn of history.
It is obvious that this dualism alludes to the historical Zoroastrian worldview, seen as a continuation of a very ancient pattern of thought. And Zoroastrian mythology and ritual might help us to interpret our plaque. Already in the Avesta, the figure of the cow (gav) and the 'soul of the cow' (Geuš Urvan) enjoy an important position. In the later and more detailed Pahlavi literature, Gāw ī Ēwdād is the 'sole-created cow/bull', first animal to live on earth, and killed by the Evil Spirit (Ahriman). On the other hand, the Evil Spirit is closely associated with the wolf, created by him in 15 species (wolf, black wolf, tiger, lion, panther, cheetah, hyena, jackal, etc., see here). So, we can have here a representation of the cosmic fight between the evil and good forces acting in the Zoroastrian world.

But then, why the cup? It is not an object found on Harappan seals. According to the authors,
"This cup closely resembles ceramic forms of similar general classes, well known in the repertories of the Halil river valley, Sistan and Kandahar in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. Moreover, it also remind[s] the carved chlorite cups of the Halil Rud Civilization."

If we look at the Zoroastrian ritual implements, there is one that reminds the cup of our plaque: the Hawan, the mortar used to press the sacred Haoma (Ephedra) twigs. Here there is a nice picture of it and here is a drawing from the Zoroastrian Heritage site:




Interestingly, Bartholomae says that the havana- (Hawan) today is made of copper, but before it was made of stone, like the chlorite cups. But going back to the comparison with the Harappan unicorn seals, the object in front of the unicorn has been interpreted as a Soma strainer, particularly by Mahadevan, a very good identification in my opinion. So, we can suppose that the authors of the Jiroft plaque were aware of the common Soma/Haoma cult but chose to put the mortar instead of the strainer (that is also among the Zoroastrian implements, see above), maybe because they found it more important, or maybe simply because it was easier to be represented by their technique and material. In this context, the cow can be associated also with the milk that was mixed with the Haoma extract.

I do not suggest that the Halil Rud civilization was already Zoroastrian (Zarathustra should be placed at least in the 2nd mill. BC), but that it had similar rituals connected with the ancestral Indo-Iranian *sauma- cult, and a similar (typically Iranian) dualistic worldview and imagery where the cow could be a symbol of the beneficent side of reality, always threatened by the maleficent, demoniac side, symbolised by the wolf.  



Monday, 28 March 2016

Continuity of Harappan culture in Sindh and the intriguing case of the copper plates



I have just found a significant paper of 2012 by Rafique Mughal on archaeological research in Sindh about the so-called Jhukar culture of the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC. Like Kenoyer about Harappa, he shows how this culture is in strong continuity with the previous 'Harappan' phase:
Most recent research has confirmed that the onset of decline or Late Harappan period or phase of the Indus Civilization did signal a number of changes in the material culture but the basic Indus cultural fabric continued to survive for a considerable length of time in a very large area of Sindh and southeastern Baluchistan. 
Mughal speaks of his excavations at Jhukar: 

The new evidence changed our understanding and perspective of the Late Indus/Harappan Cultural period in the lower or Souther Indus Valley. It was found that the Indus ceramics as known from Mohenjo-daro and other cities were present in all the layers at Jhukar and found mixed with the new or modified forms of pottery which are labeled as "Jhukar" in the literature. [...] There were less than ten percent new pottery types but all these types were found associated with 80% of the Mature Harappan or Indus pottery. The evidence was almost conclusive to establish for the first time that the Jhukar culture is only a pottery style emerging in association with the continuing Mature Indus ceramic tradition without any break or sudden change in cultural continuity in Sindh. 
 There was a change in the disappearance of square seals, substituted by round ones, similar to those found in the Persian gulf (Bahrein). The script continued to be used on pottery, which is a remarkable fact. Mughal also speaks of the wide relations of the Indus sites with Balochistan and Central Asia, especially the Bactria-Margiana, all areas that belong in my opinion to the Indo-Iranian cultural domain. On the other hand, in the Jhukar period there were relations with Gujarat and even Rajasthan (Gilund) but not apparently with Punjab. Thus the unity of the vast Mature Harappan net was broken.

About the crisis of the urban civilization in Sindh, Mughal sees the main factor in the change of course of Indus and Hakra (Nara in Sindh) caused by tectonic movements. He also cites the earthquake of 1819 in lower Indus valley causing mass migrations. But we must consider also the change in rains and the aridification around the beginning of the 2nd mill. BC.

While in a past publication of 1992 he saw a complete end of Harappan "cultural mosaic" after Jhukar, here Mughal concludes, like B.B. Lal, with the continuity of "Indus traditions" and also people up to the present:
Even today, many Indus traditions continue to survive in art form and daily life of the people. For example, the use of shell bangles on the upper and lower parts of arms recalls the style of famous bronze dancing girl of Mohenjo-daro. The short-wheeled bullock carts of present-day Sindhi farmers are precisely identical in shape with those found at the Indus culture sites. The facial features of many local people in Sindh very much resemble those of the famous "King-Priest" of Mohenjo-daro. Such examples demonstrate survival of several aspects of the Indus Civilization since the third millennium BCE that would link the past with the present and also future.    


Probably he was alluding to someone like this modern rural Sindhi (from here).
This continuity suggests that the general abandonment of sites in Sindh following Jhukar did not mean a disappearance of the local culture, we can imagine at least a survival of some rural communities using carts and shell bangles, also present in Rajasthan and Gujarat. More specific is the survival of ancient kinds of boats depicted also on Indus tablets, and the Ajrak or blockprinted shawls that have been recognized in the garment of the so-called King-Priest of Mohenjo-daro.
A similar trefoil motif can still be found on some modern ajraks (from here, cf. here):




It is interesting that the technique of ajrak has been cited in a recent paper by V. Shinde and R.J. Willis about some particular copper plates from a private collection in Pakistan, with Indus script and animal and human-like figures comparable with Harappan seals and tablets. 


About these plates, the authors write:
The proposal that this unique set of copper plates was designed for printing is indeed radical, but offers the most obvious reason for their existence. The principles of printing were perhaps known to Indus Valley artisans through the ancient technique of ajrakh, printing fabric with woodblock designs. It is possible that the copper plates were created firstly to maintain a permanent record of the standard designs on seals and tablets, and furthermore provide a cheap and portable means to distribute standard designs to craftsmen that carved seals in the Indus Valley region.
Copper plates with inscriptions are an important aspect of ancient Indian epigraphy (see here), but apparently not for printing. In this case, the authors think that they were used for printing because the script is 'mirrored' as in the seals. They have even tried to print with a plate on tussah silk and parchment, with good results. An example is here on tussah silk:


Ajrak printing is done with wooden carved blocks, made from Acacia Arabica trees, indigenous to Sindh (see here). We can suppose that already in Indus times they used such wood for textile printing, which went completely lost like cloth or leather. We can even wonder if the seals were not used also as stamps with ink, and if in post-Harappan times they continued to be used in wood instead of steatite. Anyway, the aspects of continuity between the civilization that flourished in the Sindhu and Sarasvati valleys during the 3rd millennium BC and the later South Asian culture are remarkable, and suggest that, despite crises and natural calamities, the civilization flowed without breaks, like a majestic river.   

A traditional bullock cart and flat bottomed ferry boat used for local transport along the Indus River near the ancient site of Mohenjo-daro, Sindh (https://www.harappa.com/indus/2.html)


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Sumerian and Indo-European: a multifarious connection

In my first post on this topic, I focused on an exploration of the connections between Sumerian and Indo-European roots and words, neglecting the possible connections with other linguistic families except some citations of Akkadian or Kartvelian parallels.

But checking these other connections is important in order to ascertain if an apparent Sumerian/Indo-European parallel is not a loan or a specific relation, but only the appearance of two results of a root which is spread in a much wider area.
Sumerian, in its apparent isolation, has been compared with very different linguistic families. One is even Austric, which seems especially strong in grammatical morphology (see here).
A more lexical comparison has been made with Dravidian, by Boisson and Sathasivam (see here).
This comparison has also been widened to Afro-Asiatic (see here).
And finally to the so called 'Nostratic', involving all these families except Austric (see here).

Some Sumerian words that we have compared with Indo-European are traced also in other linguistic families, like tab 'to burn' or zalag 'to shine' in Austric, tag 'to touch' in Afro-Asiatic and Dravidian, kur 'mountain' in Austric and Afro-Asiatic, and so on.

This can suggest that both Sumerian and Indo-European belong to a broad (Southern) Asian linguistic area, and impose caution about direct connections. But if we discover that a parallel is found only between Sumerian and Indo-European, there are more probabilities that the direct connection is there.

Another point to be considered is the possibility that different Indo-European languages lent words to Sumerian, kentum and satem for instance, in different periods.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Third post on the (no more so) surprising connection

Lib Zagmuk (Happy New Year)!

Since the second post is full again, I open another post for the new comments of my prolific followers from India, Greece and Brazil (also others are welcome of course) about Sumerian/Indo-European connections.

Enjoy!