The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Tyrrhenian sea

Nowadays all Italians speak an Indo-European language: post-mediaeval Italian dialects, one hardly need mention, and also in some isolated cases Greek. Those languages are today associated with the 3000 BC migration from the Ukraine steppe, allowing for some churn. But non-Neander people were living in Italy before that; so they must have spoken some other set of languages.

New research has pinpointed a 6000 BC migration into Europe from the eastern Aegean, whose DNA is closely related to Oetzi’s in southern Austria (also northern Italy). This implies that they supplied the Tyrolese (and perhaps other mitochondrial “Katrines” like my late grandfather) with their maternal ancestry. Since these immigrants were farmers, and since Europe was very sparsely populated at the time: that they brought their own women makes some sense.

When north Italians first set their comments to writing, it was in a group of languages not known to be related to any others of which we know. This is the “Tyrrhenian” family including Raetic and, more famously, Etruscan to the south. The Etruscans, for their part, told ethnographers that their ancestors came from the eastern Aegean. We already knew they were telling the truth. More to the point – now we know why we hadn’t found an appreciable community of Tyrrhenian speakers outside Italy in the “sea people” migration of 1200 BC. Etruscan memory was longer than that. (We do have Lemnos; but that might have been settled by Tyrrhenians from Italy, not en route to it.)

When I got Larissa Bonfante’s handbook on Etruscan, it struck me that Etruscan looked like an IndoEuropean language but was very variant. The same – I’d argue – holds for the Anatolian languages, sisters to base steppe IndoEuropean. Etruscan never struck me like Hurrian or Hattic or any of the Caucasian languages (let alone like “Afro-Asiatic” or “Desert Belt” or whatever).

I suggest that proto-Tyrrhenian was a third branch of the “indo-hittite” tree. I know, I know: not the most original suggestion. Herodotus rather beat me to it. I do, however, wonder how far west para-Tyrrhenian got. Iberian? (I know Basque is out of the question, they likely preceded even them. For Tartessian I'd look to the Maghreb.)

posted by Zimri on 17:06 | link | 0 comments

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