Saturday, January 28, 2012

Late Prehistoric Kartvelian Contacts with the Altai Region (2011)

                     Late Prehistoric Kartvelian Contacts with the Altai Region

   Timothy P. Grove, Biola University


                        To be published in a volume of Proceedings of the
         International Conference Tao-Klarjeti
          (Tbilisi: Artanuji Publishers, in press)

Personal Information:

Timothy P. Grove, Biola University, La Mirada, California, U.S.A.

Mr. Grove is an Assistant Professor, and has taught English at Biola’s English Language Studies Program and Talbot School of Theology since 1997. He has also taught English in Myanmar and has conducted graduate research in the Republic of Georgia.  He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Intercultural Studies under Dr. Douglas Hayward.  His research interests include Neo-Latin literature, Italian literature, the Western astrological tradition, and the history, literature, culture, and folklore of Georgia and the Caucasus (17th-18th centuries).


The Tao-Klarjeti region is thought to be one of the most ancient habitations of the Kartvelian peoples, and the name Tao is probably connected to the ancient ethnic designations Diauehi and Taochoi used by the Assyrians and Greeks, respectively.            Recent discoveries may enable us to extend our knowledge of the early Kartvelians still further back, into prehistoric times. In the course of my reading over the years, I have come across several lines of evidence suggestive of extremely ancient contacts between the South Caucasus (including Tao-Klarjeti) and regions far to the east, including the Alborz Mountains of Iran and the Altai region of central Asia.
I. Nasidze et al. (2006) present evidence suggesting that the inhabitants of Gilan and Mazanderan (in the Alborz mountains along the south coast of the Caspian Sea) formerly spoke a Kartvelian language and are genetically related to the Kartvelian peoples.
J. Nichols (1992, 1997) also presents linguistic arguments connecting the Kartvelian languages to the region south-east of the Caspian Sea and possibly even further east, to “the vicinity of the eastern steppe or the north Mongolian region.”
T. Sulimirski (1970) mentions the discovery in the Altai mountains of “a Caucasian bronze helmet of the sixth century BC,” and certain passages in the writings of Herodotus and Strabo indicate that the Altai region was an important source of gold and other metals and that trade-routes to the west were already well established in ancient times. Greek writers also record certain cultural practices common to both the Alborz mountains and the Altai region.
Articles by M.V. Derenko et al. (2001) and by M. Reidla et al. (2003) discuss the presence of mtDNA haplogroup X in both the South Caucasus and the Altai region. They associate the diffusion of this haplogroup with a population dispersal around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum. Reidla et al. connect the presence of haplogroup X2 in the Altai region to a relatively recent migration from the South Caucasus.
Both the Caucasus and the Altai region were covered by local ice-sheets during the Last Glacial Maximum, so the evidence for late prehistoric connections between the two regions may be a relic of extremely ancient west-east migrations along an ice-free corridor. According to I. Skrede et al. (2005) and A. Murakami et al. (2006), near-identical strains of a number of plant species, including Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) and Humulus lupulus (wild hops) appear to have survived in these two widely separated glacial refugia.

Late Prehistoric Kartvelian Contacts with the Altai Region

Timothy P. Grove, Biola University, La Mirada, California


The Greeks and Romans designated two nations as “Iberia”—one in Spain and one in the Caucasus. Probably this is no coincidence. The Georgian people themselves have always recognized a special relationship between the “two Iberias”: The French traveler Jean Chardin, writing in the 17th century, reports that the Georgian king asked him to convey his greetings to the king of Spain, “referring to him as ‘my relative.’ Then the Georgian King drank to the health of the King of Spain with a special goblet set with precious stones and made Chardin and the Capuchin monks present at the reception drink the toast.”[1]
According to Strabo, the Turdetanians [Tartessians] (a branch of the western Iberians) “are ranked as the wisest of the Iberians; and they make use of an alphabet, and possess records of their ancient history, poems, and laws written in verse that are six thousand years old, as they assert.” (Geographia III.i.6). This intriguing statement raises the possibility that the mysterious Voynich Manuscript (which appears to have originated in Spain) may in fact preserve an ancient Iberian text.
Numerous arguments have been presented linking the Kartvelians to such ancient peoples as the Trojans, the Pelasgians, the Etruscans, the Minoans, the Aquitanians (Basques), and even the Picts.
These ideas are well known, if somewhat controversial. However, there is also evidence of prehistoric Kartvelian connections far to the East. In the course of my reading over the years, I have come across several lines of evidence suggestive of extremely ancient contacts between the South Caucasus and regions far to the east, including the Alborz Mountains of Iran and the Altai region of central Asia.
The evidence for such connections must be considered in the broader context of the Prehistoric and Early Historic connections between the Caucasus and Central Asia. These include the Scythian routes connecting the North Caucasus to the Altai region (as described by Herodotus); the association of the ancient Hurrians with the Caucasus, with the Alborz mountains of northern Iran, and with Central Asia; and miscellaneous prehistoric connections between the Caucasus and Altai regions.

The Scythians

The Scythians, a branch of East Iranians, occupied the Eurasian steppe, an “immense plain which . . . forms a single geographical unit of natural grassland.”[2] The nomadic Scythians were skilled horsemen, accustomed to traveling great distances, and the Scythian domains extended from the Dniester to the Altai mountains, including much of the North Caucasus (where their descendants, the Ossetians, still dwell).
The oldest evidence of Scythian habitation is associated with burials in the Altai region at Pazyryk (excavated 1929) and at the Arzhan-2 site near Kyzyl (Tuva) (excavated 1998-2003). Archaeological evidence suggests that the distinctive Scythian culture arose in that area circa 1000 B.C.
The western branch of the Scythians (including the “Royal Scythians” of Herodotus, among others) appears to have arisen somewhat later (7th century B.C.) in the Ukraine. Although separated by 4000 km, it appears that there were extensive contacts between the eastern and western Scythians.
The Altai mountains were an important source of gold. “There are a few traces of western penetration in the Altai area. A Caucasian bronze helmet of the sixth century B.C. was found in the mountains . . . It is difficult to ascertain what goods were bartered for gold, but the trade was obviously profitable to the western merchants.”[3] E. D. Phillips notes that “A hoard of Pontic coins minted around 400 B.C. was discovered in the north-western Tien Shan.”[4]
Herodotus (Persian Wars iv.24) states that “The Scythians who make this journey communicate with the inhabitants by means of seven interpreters and seven languages.” Herodotus describes the terminus of this great trade route: “their country . . . is all a smooth plain . . .beyond you enter on a region which is rugged and stony. Passing over a great extent of this rough country, you come to a people dwelling at the foot of lofty mountains, who are said to be all—both men and women—bald from their birth, to have flat noses, and very long chins. These people speak a language of their own, but the dress which they wear is the same as the Scythians. No one harms these people, for they are looked upon as sacred—they do not even possess any warlike weapons. When their neighbors fall out, they make up the quarrel; and when one flies to them for refuge, he is safe from all hurt. They are called the Argippaei.” (Persian Wars iv.23)
Based on the account of Herodotus, the Argippaei are most plausibly associated with the Altai region, an extremely important ancient source of gold and other metals. Indeed, the “sacred” Argippaei may have been early practitioners of metallurgy and the custodians of metallurgical secrets: “It has been suggested that the sacred immunity of the Argippaei may be compared with that enjoyed by tribes of African blacksmiths: the Argippaei may have been skilled miners, foundrymen and, above all, goldsmiths who worked for all the neighbouring peoples.”[5] Based on Herodotus’ physical description of them, it appears that the Argippaei were a people of Mongoloid or Uralian race.
To the east of the Argippaei lived the Issedones (see below), and according to Herodotus, “The regions beyond are known only from the accounts of the Issedones, by whom the stories are told of the one-eyed race of men and the gold-guarding griffins. These stories are received by the Scythians from the Issedones, and by them passed on to us Greeks; whence it arises that we give the one-eyed race the Scythian name of Arismaspi, arima being the Scythic word for “one,” and spu for “eye.” (Persian Wars, iv.27)

The Subarians and Hurrians

            Going back still further in time, we find that the Hurrians (Subarians) also had connections to Central Asia. The Subarians were the pre-Sumerian inhabitants of Mesopotamia, and are probably to be associated with the neolithic Halaf culture of northern Mesopotamia (circa 6100-5400 B.C.). The Subarians are noted for their advances in metallurgy; indeed, the Sumerians borrowed their copper terminology from the Subarian language, along with many place-names. The Subarians may also be linked to the later Kura-Araxes culture of the Caucasus (circa 3400-2300 B.C.), which is noted for “a precocious metallurgical development which strongly influenced surrounding regions."[6]
This same ethnic group, better known as the Hurrians, later re-expanded into the Near East from their center in the Khabur valley (circa 2500 B.C.), forming numerous small states and kingdoms throughout Syria, northern Mesopotamia, and Palestine. Some scholars connect the Hurrian language (along with its descendant, Urartian) to the Northeast Caucasian linguistic phylum (where it is considered to be most closely related to the Chechen, Ingush, and Lezgian languages);[7] others connect it to the Kartvelian phylum.[8]
Soviet archaeologist Sergei Pavlovich Tolstov (1907-1976) connected the ethnonym Ḫu-ur-ri (Hurrian) to Khwarezm (Central Asia).[9] Soviet archaeologists eventually unearthed the remains of an important Bronze Age civilization known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC, Oxus Civilization), which flourished in the region circa 2200-1700 B.C.
The Hurrians were skilled horsemen (and may have introduced horses into the Near East circa 2000 B.C.); a famous Hittite text on horsemanship was written by one Kikkuli, a Hurrian. These facts tend to support Tolstov’s theory.
The most important Hurrian state was the empire of Mitanni, which dominated the Near East circa 1450 - 1350 B.C. The Mitanni had an Indo-Aryan ruling class, as demonstrated by the names of their kings and deities—this clearly associates them with Central Asia, lending further support to Tolstov’s theory.
It appears that the Hurrians made use of a long-established trade-route which brought lapis lazuli into the Near East from its sources in Badakhshan (northern Afghanistan) and beyond, in the Pamir Mountains and at the south end of Lake Baikal.[10] This route was in use by 4000 B.C., and passed through Khorasan and along the south coast of the Caspian Sea before turning inland through the Zagros Mountains into Mesopotamia.[11] The Burushaski language, a linguistic isolate, still survives in the Badakhshan region and is likely the remnant of an extinct phylum (“Burushic”) which was formerly widespread in central Asia. It is very interesting to note that John D. Bengtson has argued for a genetic connection between Burushaski and the North Caucasian languages.[12]
It appears from this that there were at least two different ancient routes across Central Asia—a northern route (passing north of the Caspian and Aral Seas), used by the Scythians; and a southern route (passing south of the Caspian Sea), used by the Hurrians. The later “Silk Road” incorporated both of these ancient routes.

Prehistoric Connections between the Caucasus and Altai regions

Going still further back, to prehistoric times, we find several lines of evidence which specifically connect the Caucasus (and the Caspian littoral) to the Altai region.

1. Mortuary Cannibalism

The first of these is the cultural phenomenon of mortuary cannibalism. In his description of the Derbīces, an ancient people inhabiting parts of Turkmenistan and the southeast coast of the Caspian Sea, Strabo includes the following statement:

     The Derbīces worship Mother Earth; and they do not sacrifice, or eat,
anything that is female; and when men become over seventy years of age
they are slaughtered, and their flesh is consumed by their nearest of kin; but
their old women are strangled and then buried.  However, the men who die
under seventy years of age are not eaten, but only buried. . . .” (Geographia            xi.11.8)

            St. Jerome makes a similar statement:

     The Derbīces think those persons most unhappy who die of sickness,
and when parents, kindred, or friends reach old age, they are murdered and devoured. It is thought better that they should be eaten by the people
themselves than by the worms. (Hieronymus, Contra Justinianum II.xx)

            According to Herodotus, the Issedones lived just to the east of the Argippaei, apparently somewhere in the Altai region. Herodotus states that the Issedones

are said to have the following customs: when a man's father dies, all the
near relatives bring sheep to the house; which are sacrificed, and their flesh
cut in pieces, while at the same time the dead body undergoes the like
treatment. The two sorts of flesh are afterwards mixed together, and the
whole is served up at a banquet. His skull however they strip of the flesh
and clean it out and then gild it over, and after that they deal with it as a
sacred thing and perform for the dead man great sacrifices every year.
(Persian Wars, iv.26)

            Mortuary cannibalism is a highly unusual cultural practice, documented among only a few of the world’s ethnic groups. These include the Fore people of New Guinea and the Yanomamö, Wari’, and Matsés peoples of the Amazon basin. In ancient times, however, this practice was particularly associated with Central Asia. Herodotus notes its existence there among the Massagetae and Anthropophagi (“man-eaters”), as well as the Issedones. Mortuary cannibalism was still practiced in Tibet as recently as the 13th century (as reported by Willielmus de Rubruquis in his Itinerarium, circa 1260).
            Since the territories of the Derbīces and the Issedones were connected by the ancient “southern route” across Central Asia, the existence of mortuary cannibalism among these two widely-separated peoples may suggest an ancient cultural connection.

2. Ancient Metallurgy

            A second line of evidence which connects the Caucasus to the Altai region may be seen in the development of ancient metallurgy. Bronze Age metallurgists were dependent on two main sources of tin—one in the west (western Spain, Portugal, Brittany, and especially Cornwall); the other in Central Asia (Karnab [Uzbekistan], Mushiston [Tajikistan],[13] and the Altai region, (which was also rich in gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, and iron).[14] It appears that the western sources were not commercially developed until circa 1900 B.C; the Central Asian sources, however, were developed much earlier (circa 3500 B.C.). Ancient workings of tin in the Altai region have been found to contain bronze tools.[15] Thus, it appears that Central Asia may have been the only significant source of tin prior to 1900 B.C., when the Phoenicians began importing tin from the far West. According to Christopher P. Thornton, “Pernicka et al. (2003: 165-7) suggest an importation of tin metal from Central Asia based upon lead isotope data and the excavation of jade and nephrite axes at Troy.”[16]
            It is also highly interesting that all three of the ancient tin-mining regions just mentioned (Karnab, Mushiston, and the Altai Mountains) are located along the same ancient trade-route, the “Southern Route” mentioned above. It appears from this that long before silk became commercially important, there existed an extremely ancient “Tin Road” linking the Near East to sources of tin in Central Asia. It is also significant that the Caucasus, Alborz, and Altai regions were connected by this Tin Road and are all associated with important advances and innovations in metallurgical science.
            It is possible that the metal-workers of the North Caucasus were trading with the Altai region by way of the “Northern Route” across the Eurasian steppe, while those of the South Caucasus were obtaining tin from the Altai Mountains by way of the “Southern Route.” If these two trade-routes were being supplied by two different networks of mines, that might explain why bronze associated with the Bedeni culture of eastern Georgia (circa 2200 B.C.) contains significant traces of zinc, while bronze from the North Caucasus does not.[17]

3. Presence of Early Man

            A further line of evidence connecting the Caucasus to the Altai Mountains is the presence of early man in both regions. The hominid remains discovered in 1991 by David Lordkipanidze at Dmanisi, Kvemo Kartli (1.8 million years old) are the oldest hominid fossils found outside of Africa.
Neanderthal remains have been found at Ortvale Klde (1973) and elsewhere in the Caucasus (36,000-50,000 years old).
The Neanderthal range is now known to have extended as far as the Altai region,[18] and remains of a new hominid species were discovered at Denisov cave in the Altai region in 2008.[19] It appears that all three species (Homo sapiens, Neanderthal, and the Altai hominid) coëxisted in the Altai region 30,000-48,000 years ago.

4. Glacial Refugia

            Still another, closely-related line of evidence is found in the fact that both the Caucasus and the Altai Mountains served as places of refugial isolation for various plant species during the Last Glacial Maximum (circa 20,000 years ago).
One example of this is the survival of identical strains of Dryas octopetala (mountain avens) in both regions: “The two single populations analysed from the Caucasus and Altai Mountains were most closely related to the Eastern lineage but were strongly divergent from the remaining eastern populations, suggesting survival in separate refugia at least during the last glaciation.”[20]
A further example is Humulus lupulus (wild hops). The haplotypes exhibited by lineages of this species from the Caucasus and Altai regions were found to differ by a single nucleotide. Moreover, “genetic differentiation of European hops was found only in the Caucasus region. A phylogenetic tree based on microsatellite DNA also showed the Caucasus hops to be deeply divergent from a large cluster of European hops. This differentiation could have arisen if the Caucasus region was genetically isolated from other European populations, perhaps as one of the refugia located in southern Europe area during glacial periods.”[21]
The survival of these botanical species suggests that these widely-separated regions may have served as refugia for human populations as well. The concurrent survival of three hominid species in the Altai region also supports this hypothesis.

5. Reports of Алмасты

Another very interesting phenomenon linking the Caucasus and Altai regions is seen in the frequent reports of aлмасты (“wild men”), who are said to inhabit unfrequented mountain areas. References to these wild men are extremely frequent in the folklore of the Chechens and Ingush of the Northeast Caucasus.[22] Such reports are also common among the peoples of the Northwest Caucasus, among whom “It would seem that terms for such a creature are widespread throughout the language family. West Circassian, Abkhaz, Abaza, and Ubykh each have one term. East Circassian has two.”[23] John Colarusso relates that

There were Circassian men in the various communities in Turkey who had
gained great esteem for having gone into the mountains and traded with
this wild man when they were still young men back in the Caucasus. It
seems that at least two men were supposed to have gone as a team to a
clearing on a forested mountain slope. This area was known to be one of
several haunts of the wild man. The men would camp for some time with
their trading goods on the ground in the clearing. After a day or two one of
the wild men would appear at the edge of the clearing . . . The men would
open up their packages of goods and spread them on the ground. The wild
man would then come forward with something, and simple bartering would
take place. Despite several efforts, I was unable to ascertain what the items involved on either side might have been except that the human items were
“trinkets” and the wild man’s contributions were “vegetables and things.” Nothing of any great economic importance, at least to the Circassians,
was supposed to have been involved. The wild man was supposed to have engaged in active dickering, making extensive use of gesture and trying
very inadequately to use a crude, broken Circassian. The dangerous part of
this expedition was supposed to occur when the trading was finished and
the men made their way back through the forest. The wild man trader was
always presumed to be the head of a small band, the other members of
which remained concealed in the underbrush while they watched the
trading. The band would then stalk the men through the brush and would
often attempt to waylay them in order to get any remaining trinkets or
artifacts as well as to take back whatever items they had originally given
the men. The bravery displayed by the men in risking this kind of ambush
was the basis for the esteem which such trading expeditions conferred upon
the participants. . . It was thought that a wild man could kill a man in such
an attack, but that the wild man was not a carnivore or a particularly fierce
or savage creature. On the contrary, the wild man was held to be quite
meek and furtive but inordinately fond of shiny artifacts and willing to use
his cunning and strength to get them. For this reason, efforts were made to
avoid him, and he was considered dangerous.[24]

            A similar creature has been reported in the Altai Mountains (indeed the word aлмас is of Mongolian origin). A famous illustration of this creature appears in a trilingual medical manuscript (Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese) dated to the 18th (or 19th) century. “The book contains thousands of illustrations of various classes of animals (reptiles, mammals and amphibia), but not one single mythological animal such as are known from similar medieval European books. All the creatures are living and observable today.”[25]
            It is very interesting that these reports (associated with the Caucasus, Pamir, and Altai regions) correspond fairly well to the known range of the Neanderthal. If there is any truth at all to these stories, the most plausible explanation may be that small numbers of Neanderthal still survive in isolated mountain regions.
            Both the Caucasus and the Altai regions were covered by local ice-sheets during the Last Glacial Maximum, so the evidence of late prehistoric connections between the two regions may be a relic of extremely ancient West-East migrations along an ice-free corridor.

Kartvelian connections to the Altai region (circa 4000 B.C.)

            Now that the broader context has been established, it is possible to consider the specific evidence presented in a number of sources which suggests some sort of connection between the Kartvelians and the Altai region during Late Prehistoric times (circa 4000 B.C. and earlier).
My intention here is simply to present this information in the hope of stimulating further discussion and study of this question.

1. Kartvelian Linguistic and Genetic Associations with the Alborz Mountains

            The Alborz Mountains along the south coast of the Caspian Sea are a region of great cultural and historical importance. The languages of this region include Gilaki and Mazandarani, as well as the Tatic group (including Talysh). These North-Western Iranian languages are highly divergent from others in that family: “The Gīlakī vowel system sounds radically different from other Iranian languages and seems quite elusive.”[26] In another article, Donald Stilo states that  “. . . the border between [the Gilaki and Talyshi] languages is clear and abrupt. There are not transitional dialects between them and they are for the most part not mutually intelligible. They coincide, however, in the greater part of their phonological systems, if not all, and share many grammatical patterns, some of which are uniquely characteristic to them and do not exist in Iran outside of this geographic area. One possible explanation is that these common unique features are the result of a mutual influence from a previous substratum language.”[27] Later in the same article, Stilo identifies this substratum language as “pre-Indo-European.”[28]
            According to Ivan Nasidze et al. (2006),

It has been suggested that their ancestors came from the Caucasus region,
perhaps displacing an earlier group in the South Caspian. Linguistic
evidence supports this scenario, in that the Gilaki and Mazandarani
languages (but not other Iranian languages) share certain typological
features with Caucasian languages. . . Based on mtDNA HV1 sequences,
the Gilaki and Mazandarani most closely resemble their geographic and
linguistic neighbors, namely other Iranian groups. However, their Y
chromosome types most closely resemble those found in groups from the
South Caucasus. A scenario that explains these differences is a south
Caucasian origin for the ancestors of the Gilaki and Mazandarani,
followed by introgression of women (but not men) from local Iranian
groups, possibly because of patrilocality.”[29]

The same article goes on to state that these “Mazandarani and Gilaki groups . . . are particularly close to the South Caucasus groups—Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanians,”[30] and that “. . . overall the Y chromosome data do indicate a closer relationship of the Mazandarani and Gilaki with South Caucasian groups than with Iranian groups.”[31]
The authors offer a very interesting explanation of these genetic and linguistic data: “Given that both mtDNA and language are maternally transmitted, the incorporation of local Iranian women would have resulted in the concomitant replacement of the ancestral Caucasian language and mtDNA types of the Gilaki and Mazandarani with their current Iranian language and mtDNA types.”[32]
In the Alborz Mountains are found numerous pre-Islamic pagan temples and other ancient archaeological sites, the most important of which is Marlik Tepe, which “apparently represents the royal cemetery of a culture that first settled in the highlands of the northern slopes of the Alborz mountains in the mid-2nd millenium B.C.E. and flourished there for several centuries. This highly developed culture, especially notable for its bronze industry, covered the southern zone of the Caspian Sea and the northern slopes of the Alborz mountains, and exerted a strong influence that spread throughout the ancient world.”[33] According to Negahban, the Marlik Tepe site shows clear cultural associations with the Hurrians.[34] Subsequently, “the Gelae (Gilites) seem to have entered the region south of the Caspian coast and west of the Amardos River (later Safīdrūd) in the second or first century B.C.E. Pliny identifies them with the Cadusii previously living there. More likely they were a separate people, coming perhaps from the region of Dāḡestān, and superseded the Cadusii.”[35]
If, along with these data, we consider the arguments for a Kartvelian substratum underlying the Armenian language,[36] it appears that Kartvelian-speaking areas may have formerly extended southeastward from the Caucasus, reaching the Caspian Sea in the vicinity of Lenkoran; and extending from there far southward and eastward along the Caspian littoral and deep into the Alborz Mountains. Gernot Windfuhr identifies several of the ancient peoples of the region as speakers of South Caucasian (Kartvelian) languages, including the Caspii, the Cădūsii, and the Gelae.[37] Even if Madelung is correct in regarding the Gelae as a later intrusion from Daghestan, Windfuhr’s hypothesis links the Marlik Tepe site to prehistoric Kartvelians.
Alongside these Kartvelian (or “para-Kartvelian”) languages, a belt of Northeast Caucasian languages appears to have extended intermittently from Chechnya and Daghestan into the Alborz Mountains, continuing still further east to the Gulf of Astarabad and beyond, into Khorasan and Turkmenistan.[38] These included the languages of the Amardi [Mardi], the Tapyrii [Tapyri, Tapuri, Tapyrrhi], the Hyrcāni, and the Derbīces [Derbiccae, Derbecii, Derbii, Derbissi], as well as the languages of the Mătiāni of western Azerbaijan and (possibly) the Mannaeans of Kurdistan.[39] All of these “may have belonged to the sometimes postulated North Caucasian-Central Asian continuum of languages, which was erased by the Iranians. The earlier name of Gorgan [Astarabad] was Khnanta, whose initial /khn/ is phonotactically non-Indo-European.”[40] Windfuhr posits that this “Caucasus-Central Asian continuum . . . would have met the western (South Caucasian) Caspians somewhere between Mazandaran and Gilan.”[41]
            The implication of these arguments is that a patchwork of both Kartvelian and Northeast Caucasian languages once extended throughout the Alborz Mountains, and from there (in the case of the latter phylum at least) deep into Central Asia. These languages were eventually replaced by Indo-Iranian languages.
            In light of the clear evidence of the involvement of both Kartvelians and Northeast Caucasians with metallurgy and the associated trade-routes, it is possible that linguistic enclaves belonging to both of these phyla were formerly found all the way across Central Asia to the Altai Mountains.

2. Kartvelian Linguistic Connections to Central Asia

            According to Johanna Nichols, “. . . Kartvelian (South Caucasian), . . . may be a survivor of a pre-Indo-European spread along the route from Central Asia to Anatolia. Kartvelian, with its personal pronouns *me(n)- ‘first singular’, *šen- ‘second singular’, belongs to the dozen or so north Eurasian stocks with what can be called “me” – “thee” pronoun systems. Kartvelian is the sole exception to the generalization that stocks with such systems can be traced to proto-homelands in the vicinity of the eastern steppe or the north Mongolian region. If Kartvelian survives from a pre-Indo-European expansion, then it has spread from the usual center along the usual route, its pronouns reflect the usual type of the original center, and the generalization about pronoun systems in northern Eurasia is without exception.”[42]
            In a later article, Nichols writes, “Kartvelian seems to have moved to the southern Caucasus sometime after the IE [Indo-European] dispersal, by which time the westward trajectory of languages had certainly begun to operate. Kartvelian is therefore likely to have emanated from somewhere to the south-east of the Caspian, where it was in a position to be pulled into the desert trajectory of language spreads, thus to spread westward to its present location. The locus of PIE [proto-Indo-European] was farther east and farther north, so that it spread to the steppe as well.”[43]
            Thus, surprisingly, Nichols posits an eastern origin for the Kartvelian language phylum (contra Windfuhr, whose arguments appear to imply that Kartvelians expanding from the west into the Alborz Mountains encountered Northeast Caucasians coming from the east).

3. Genetic Associations with the Altai region involving mtDNA haplogroup X2e

            The recent study of human genetics has revealed that mtDNA haplogroup X is relatively rare but widespread. Its subclade X2 appears to be associated with the expansion and dispersal of human populations at around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (20,000 years ago), and is most strongly represented in the Near East, the Caucasus, and the Mediterranean. Particular concentrations appear in Georgia (8%), the Orkney Islands (7%), and among the Druze community (27%). From time to time, I have come across a claim (in non-academic sources) that concentrations of X2 as high as 9.1% have been found among the remains of ancient Basques.
The strong representation of haplogroup X in Anatolia supports suggestions that the Kartvelian and Etruscan languages may be connected (since the Etruscans migrated from Asia Minor). Its presence among ancient Basques (if confirmed) would support the “Basque-Caucasian Hypothesis.” According to Classical sources, Tartessus (Tarshish) was founded in the year 1100 B.C. by refugees from Troy—another link to Anatolia.            A strong representation of haplogroup X in the Orkney Islands suggests an association with the ancient Picts (who apparently spoke a non-Indo-European language), and may be related to the exploitation of British sources of tin.
This supports Theo Vennemann’s hypothesis that Vasconic [Basque-like] languages were formerly spoken throughout much of western Europe.[44]
The findings of Reidla et al. (2003) are extremely pertinent to our discussion of the prehistory of the peoples of the Caucasus region: “Clades X2e and X2f encompass the majority (87.1%) of the sequences from the South Caucasus area and show coalescence times (12,000 ± 4,000 YBP and 10,800 ± 5,000 YBP, respectively) consistent with a Late Upper Paleolithic (LUP) origin and a subsequent spread in the region. We found significant differences between the haplogroup distribution between the North and the South Caucasian samples, a result that indicates a major geographical barrier between the two regions.”[45]
While nearly absent from Asian populations, mtDNA haplogroup X is found in the Altai region. Reidla et al. connect the presence of haplogroup X2 in the Altai region to a relatively recent migration from the South Caucasus: “Clade X2e . . . encompasses all haplogroup X sequences in the Altaians . . . under the assumption that these sequences are a random sample of the Altaian haplogroup X, an extimated ρ value <0.33 (P<.05) was obtained. This value corresponds to a time depth of <6,700 years, and it would suggest that Altaians have acquired haplogroup X2 only relatively recently.”[46] The editors of Wikipedia provide the following summary of these findings: “The Altaian sequences are all almost identical (haplogroup X2e), suggesting that they arrived in the area probably from the South Caucasus more recently than 5,000 years ago.”[47]
These findings comport very well with the other lines of evidence for some sort of late prehistoric connection of the Kartvelian peoples to the Altai region, and the time-depth estimated for the spread of X2e to the Altai region clearly associates it with early developments in metallurgy and the associated trade-routes.
            In the New World, subclades X2a and X2g are found in North America among the Algonquian peoples (25%), the Siouan peoples (15%), the Nootka (Wakashan phylum] (11-13%), the Navajo [Na-Dene phylum] (7%), and the Yakama [Penutian phylum] (5%).[48] All of these Native American nations have some association with the Pacific Northwest.
Surprisingly, X2a is also found among the Yanomamö of the Amazon basin (12%).[49] X2a has also been identified in the bones of a chief of the extinct Beothuk nation of Newfoundland,[50] and in Florida burial sites from circa 6000 B.C.[51] This might explain its occurrence among the Yanomamö; the (extinct) Timucua language of Florida has been connected to the Warao language of Venezuela, suggesting migration between the two continents by way of the Antilles.[52]
The presence of mtDNA haplogroup X in the New World is hard to interpret. The prevailing opinion is that it entered North America by way of the Bering Strait, but its presence in the Americas has also been seen as evidence of an independent migration from Europe by way of the Greenland Ice Sheet (the so-called Solutrean Hypothesis). Statements by Derenko et al. (2001) tend to support the former position: “the Altaian X haplotypes occupy the intermediate position between European and American Indian haplogroup X mtDNA lineages.”[53]
            In light of recent rapid advances in DNA research, it appears likely that within a very few years, most of the hypotheses mentioned in this paper will be either confirmed or laid to rest.


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[1]Natela Sturua, “On the Basque-Caucasian Hypothesis,” Studia Linguistica 45:1-2 (1991), 164-175.
[2]Tamara Talbot Rice, The Scythians, 2d ed. (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1957), 33.
[3]Tadeusz Sulimirski, The Sarmatians (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1970), 70.
[4]E.D. Phillips, “The Legend of Aristeas: Fact and Fancy in Early Greek Notions of East Russia, Siberia, and Inner Asia,” Artibus Asiae 18:2 (1955), 175.
[5]Sulimirski, 70.
[6]James P. Mallory, "Kuro-Araxes Culture,” in Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture (1997), 341-2.
[7]Muriel Tsaroieva, Racines mésopotamiennes et anatoliennes des Ingouches et des Tchéchènes (Paris: Riveneuve editions, 2005), 303-305; Johanna Nichols, “The Origin of the Chechen and Ingush: A Study in Alpine Linguistic and Ethnic Geography,” Anthropological Linguistics 46:2 (2004), 140; Amjad M. Jaimoukha, The Chechens: A Handbook (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2005), 29.
[8]Wikipedia, s.v. “Hurrians.”
[9]С.П. Толстов, Древний Хорезм (Москва: Изд-во МГУ, 1948).
[10]Georgina Herrmann, “Lapis Lazuli: The Early Phases of Its Trade,” Iraq 30:1 (1968), 28.
[11]Andrew Sherratt, “Trade Routes: Growth of Global Trade. The West-Eurasia World System, 3600-1400 BC,” (2004), in ArchAtlas, 4th ed. (2010), (accessed: 22 September 2010); Wikipedia, s.v. “Lapis Lazuli.”
[12]John D. Bengtson, “Ein vergleich von buruschaski und nordkaukasisch,” Georgica 20 (1997), 88-94.
[13]Jan Cierny and Gerd Weisgerber, “The Bronze Age Tin Mines in Central Asia,” in Alessandra Giumlia-Mair and Fulvia Lo Schiavo (eds.), The Problem of Early Tin (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2003).
[14]J. Magens Mello, “The Dawn of Metallurgy,” Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute 23 (1890), 285.
[15]C.E.N. Bromehead, “The Evidence for Ancient Mining,” The Geographical Journal 96:2 (1940), 106.
[16]Christopher P. Thornton, “Of Brass and Bronze in Prehistoric Southwest Asia,” in Metals and Mines: Studies in Archaeometallurgy (London: Archetype Publications Ltd., 2007), 129.
[17]Thornton, 130.
[18]Johannes Krause et al., “Neanderthals in Central Asia and Siberia,” Nature 449 (18 October 2007), 902-904.
[19]Johannes Krause et al., “The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia,” Nature 464 (8 April 2010), 894-897.
[20]Inger Skrede et al., “Refugia, differentiation and postglacial migration in arctic-alpine Eurasia, exemplified by the mountain avens (Dryas octopetala L.),” Molecular Ecology 15:7 (2006), 1827.
[21]A. Murakami et al., “Molecular Phylogeny of Wild Hops, Humulus lupulus L.,” Heredity 97 (2006), 66-74.
[22]Muriel Tsaroieva, Mythes, légendes et prières ancestrales des ingouches et tchétchènes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2009), passim.
[23]John Colarusso, “Ethnographic Information on a Wild Man of the Caucasus,” in Manlike Monsters on Trial: Early Records and Modern Evidence, ed. Marjorie M. Halpin and Michael M. Ames (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1980), 258.
[24]Colarusso, 257-258.
[25]Myra Shackley, Wildmen: Yeti, Sasquatch and the Neanderthal Enigma (London: Thames & Hudson, 1983), 98.
[26]Donald Stilo, Encyclopedia Iranica, s.v. “Gilan (Languages)” (2001).
[27]Donald Stilo, “The Tati Language Group in the Sociolinguistic Context of Northwestern Iran and Transcaucasia,” Iranian Studies 14:3/4 (1981), 143-144.
[28]Ibid., 162.
[29]Ivan Nasidze et al., “Concomitant Replacement of Language and mtDNA in South Caspian Populations of Iran,” Current Biology 16 (2006), 668.
[30]Nasidze et al., 669.
[31]Nasidze et al., 671.
[32]Nasidze et al., 668.
[33]O. Negahban, Encyclopedia Iranica, s.v. “Gilan (Archaeology)” (2001).
[34]O. Negahban, “The Seals of Marlik Tepe,” JNES 36:2 (1977).
[35]Wilferd Madelung, Encyclopedia Iranica, s.v. “Gilan (History in the Early Islamic Period)” (2001).
            [36]Kevin Tuite, “The Rise and Fall and Revival of the Ibero-Caucasian Hypothesis,” Historiographia
Linguistica 35:1 (2007), 36 n. 23.
[37]Gernot Windfuhr, Encyclopedia Iranica, s.v. Iran vii. Non-Iranian Languages” (2006).
[38]The Derbīces appear to have been intrusive to the region, having recently expanded into the Caspian littoral from their territories in Margiana.
[39]For the consideration of comparative linguists, I have indicated vowel-lengths for several of these ethnic designations as they appear in the Lewis and Short Latin English Lexicon.
[42]Johanna Nichols, Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 313 n. 3.
[43]Johanna Nichols, “The Epicentre of the Indo-European Linguistic Spread,” in Archaeology and Language I: Theoretical and Methodological Orientations (New York: Routledge, 1997), 128.
[44]Theo Vennemann, Europa Vasconica – Europa Semitica (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2003).
[45]Maere Reidla et al., “Origin and Diffusion of mtDNA Haplogroup X,” American Journal of Human Genetics 73:5 (2003), 1178-1190.
[47]Wikipedia, s.v. “Haplogroup X (mtDNA).”
[48]Michael D. Brown et al., “mtDNA Haplogroup X: An Ancient Link between Europe/Western Asia and North America?” American Journal of Human Genetics 63 (1998), 1852.
[49]Ruth D. Easton et al., “mtDNA Variation in the Yanomami: Evidence for Additional New World Founding Lineages,” American Journal of Human Genetics 59:1 (1996), 213.
[50]Melanie Kuch et al., “A Preliminary Analysis of the DNA and Diet of the Extinct Beothuk: A Systematic Approach to Ancient Human DNA,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 132 (2007), 594-604.
[51]Robert L. Kelly and David Hurst Thomas, Archaeology, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2010), 255.
[52]Julian Granberry, A Grammar and Dictionary of the Timucua Language, 2d ed. (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1993), passim.
[53]Miroslava V. Derenko et al., “The Presence of Mitochondrial Haplogroup X in Altaians from South Siberia,” American Journal of Human Genetics 69:1 (2001), 237-241.