The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The birth of the Semites

History in western Syria begins with Ebla, about 2400 BC I think. By then the Semitic languages had already diverged: Ebla is East Semitic like Akkadian, and the ancestors to all the other Semitic languages were already out there, probably along the Med coast and the Jordan. Akkadian, by the way, already existed and had accumulated a written record in Iraq. Akkadian had come in from elsewhere - presumably Ebla. But the roads worked both ways.

The genetics are in. They tell us that, in the west, we may speak of a Levantine genome as usefully as we may speak of an Armenian genome. The Levantine genome was formed much earlier than the Armenians', and certainly before Ebla and Akkad: at the start of the Bronze Age, not at its end. Before that, the Levant was made up of Mediterranean farmers, like the Sardinians today. But another group of farmers existed, wholly unrelated, across the Near East to the east in the Zagros.

At some point in the Bronze Age, the eastern farmers invaded the west. An analogous process happened in England too and the result was near-total population replacement. In Canaan there was much more admixture; so Levantines are about 50:50 west:east.

Razib credits fourth-millennium BC Uruk. I agree that this was the spark, but we needn't propose a direct conquest. For another analogy (I am a Bayesian, I like analogies) mainland Greece was heavily infiltrated by Yugoslavs in the Middle Ages; but the Slavs assimilated to the Greeks and became Greek, and didn't create a new hybrid language like the Armenians did. The Slavic migration was not a bid for a South Bulgaria. So maybe the Gozer worshippers didn't colonise the west themselves; maybe they forced a large north-Iraqi population to flee west.

Either way, to me the the fourth millennium BC Levant looks like 1200 BC Armenia. I would float here a hypothesis, that this migration and admixture is what formed the Semitic language family. The indigenous language was perhaps like Amazigh / Berber (I can't go further than that). The language of the immigrants from the East ... wasn't. I don't know what it was, but we might be able to find out.

posted by Zimri on 08:19 | link | 0 comments

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