Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ur-language: "Politics"

One of the striking aspects of archaeolingustics is how certain words have survived millennia almost unchanged - one thinks for example of "atman" (breath, to blow) in Cave Six, the ancestor of the German "atmen" (to breathe) and "atman" (vital breath, the soul) in Sanskrit. The glyph for "atman" is found close to the depiction of a hunter using a blowpipe to bring down some as yet unidentified arboreal creature; given the age of the painting, this has sparked a lively debate on the tools that early Man may have developed before the Rift Valley diaspora.

Similarly, there are several images of what appear to be mouflons in a non-hunting context, suggesting that they may have been domesticated much earlier than the c. 8,000 BCE date previously theorised, perhaps owing to the local geography and micro-climate at the time and the protection offered by the size and depth of the cave complex.

Long duration of settlement and relative prosperity and security may also have fostered more complex forms of social organization not re-created until after the last Ice Age; this may explain the apparently formally-arranged groups of humans in some of the images. One of these shows such a group gathered around a flock or herd, possibly for the purposes of division, which may have been unequal, seeing the crown or helmet on one of the figures. Alternatively, it may have been to do with some form of treatment, since the co-habitation of man and animal promotes diseases and pests.

It is possible, therefore, that one of the compound words found beside this image may either have a purely literal meaning or, as Professor Strumpfhosen has controversially suggested, be the world's first example of metaphor: "poli" (many) and "tics" (bloodsucking insects). As the Professor remarks, some things never change.


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