The Problem of the Homeland of Afro-Asiatic (2) and the origin of agriculture

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In order to explain where the homeland of the Afro-Asian (or Afrasian) is located, we need a general explanation about the spread of agriculture.

The spread  of Afro Asiatic in Africa and Arabia

The spread of Afro Asiatic in Africa and Arabia

Origin  and Spread of Agriculture

Agriculture was born approximately 12,000 years ago in Southeast Anatolia and the North of Syria and Iraq. From there it spread in multiple directions. Europe was one of those directions. A route that was followed here was the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. Seaworthy boats were used. Cyprus was first populated by humans around 11.750 years ago from northern Syria or Lebanon. Via Greece or the Bosphorus farmers travelled to the North. It would take thousands of years before agriculture reached Ireland and Scandinavia.
A second major direction was to Central Asia, a third to Iran, the Indus Valley and further in India to the southernmost point of the subcontinent and then to Ceylon.

A fourth trek went to Arabia. Along the Western side farmers travelled to the South. In Yemen they found a favorable climate for agriculture. Yemen is poorly researched but at last five thousand years ago, agriculture flourished there. Yemen was known in the antiquity of the Middle East it is mentioned both in the Old as in the New Testament.

A fifth expansion went from Southwest Asia to Egypt and along the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea in North Africa to Morocco and later even further to the Canary Islands. All these migrations left from the agricultural centre that Southwest Asia was with plants, domestic animals such as goats and sheep, the first domesticated animals after the dog. They traveled pretty quickly with the first spreading farmers before pottery was invented in this part of the world.

Once South-West Asian farmers had invented pottery, their knowledge catched up with the farmers that had left first. The same happened after cattle (Bos taurus) had been domesticated. Cattle reeding spread along the routes that had been trevelled.

Farmers had a high productivity in comparison with hunters and gatherers. They could produce more food and therefore raise more children. In comparison with hunters and gatherers the number of farmers increased quickly, they spread their genes. They also intermixed with hunters and gatherers but in many places they replaced them partially or almost completely. Sometimes their advance stalled when they reached other climate zones and crops had to adapt to wetter and/or colder weather, or vice versa dryer and warmer weather. This could delay advance for a long time. Farmers could in many cases domesticate local plants and animals. The Zebu (Bos indicus) was e.g. domesticated in India. It was better suited than South-West Asian cattle to live in a hot climate.

Dissemination of farmers and their languages

Since the number of farmers increased easily, chances were that they spread their languages with their agricultural techniques. Human groups living in the same area that speak different languages need a lingua franca. Hunters and gatherers spoke languages that had had a lot of time to grow apart. Farmers spoke languages that spread fast and diverged little. An important advantage to be adopted as a common language of farmers and different groups of hunters and gatherers.

A second wave of expanding farmers could inundate a first. The Celts had spread their language and habits from Italy to Austria up to Ireland and Spain. They would be overwhelmed by a next wave, the Germans and the ancient Italic people (Indo-Europeans invading Italy) and finally only survive on the fringes of Western Europe.

However, the language of the farmers did not always win. Sometimes they spreading farmers collided on a border where people would retain their own language. We do not know which language the first European farmers spoke, proto-Afro-Asian, proto-Caucasian or language related with that of Lemnos and Etruscan but it did not conquer conquer the western edge of the Pontic-Caspian steppe (north of the Black Sea) where people spoke a precursor of proto-Indo-European.

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The Problem of the Homeland of Afro-Asiatic (1)

The Problem of the Homeland of Afro-Asiatic (1)

Afro-Asiatic languages

Afro-Asiatic languages

In the world there are only a small number of large language families. In Africa, for example, there are four, Khoisan, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo and Afro-Asiatic. In Europe there are three and if you count South Caucasian there are also four.

Afro-Asiatic is the language group to which e.g. the Semitic languages are classified. Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and so on are part of the Semitic branch of Afro-Asiatic. In North Africa old Egyptian or Coptic and the various Berber languages that were spoken in oases between eastern Egypt and Morocco are part of Afro-Asiatic. Tuareg is also a Berber language. One of the questions concerning Afro-Asiatic, is where it originated. Researchers differ strongly on this point. Some think that its origin was in the Eastern Sahara, others that it originated in East Africa, Egypt or Southwest Asia.

The question is interesting due to the emergence and spread of agriculture and cattle breeding. Did they arise independently in East Africa or were they brought here from Southwest Asia where agriculture first emerged, 13,000 years ago? Many African plants were domesticated in East Africa such as ensete (a root), teff (a grain) and noog , (an oil plant). The donkey, an African animal, was also domesticated here. Except for wheat and barley, few South-West Asian plants were grown in East Africa. Southwest Asian animals here were sheep, goats and cattle. However, it is not clear whether the East African package there was earlier than that from South-West Asia. If we would know where Afro-Asiatic originated this could contribute to the solution of the question of whether agriculture and cattle breeding were independently developed in East Africa.

In Africa there are several large Afro-Asiatic language groups: Tchadic in Central Africa, Omotic, Cushitic and Beja in East Africa. These groups count each dozens to more than 200 languages. These languages often differ greatly from each other which points to a very great antiquity. These Afro-Asiatic languages in African differ more amongst themselves than the Semitic that was spoken in Asia but also in Ethiopia and Eritrea. No one doubts that Semitic in Africa was imported from Yemen. The hypothesis that Afro-Asiatic was born in East Africa is mainly based on the observation that languages spoken in Central and East Africa show a much greater variety, and thus old age.

The linguists who state this thesis, however, hardly connect with what is known from history. Why would Afro-Asiatic have spread from here to North Africa and Southwest Asia? Such a big expansion cannot have accidental. It had to be based on advantages: further developed techniques, bigger fertility rates, better organization, better weapons. None of these points can be indicated for a possible extension of Afro-Asiatic from East Africa.

Today we have DNA analyses that have exposed the great migrations of people. In the past of this time frame little or no East-African DNA travelled to Southwest Asia. Some was found in Egypt and Yemen but in both cases, it is clear that this DNA travelled recently, mainly in the last three thousand years. The reverse however is true. South-West Asian DNA came to East and Central Africa spread quickly to West Africa. (Part two in the near future)

 Marc.Vermeersch@gmail.com

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The Problem of the Homeland of Afro-Asiatic (2) and the origin of agriculture