Archive for December, 2009

Gens Anglorum and the myth of Angeln

December 30, 2009 3 comments

During the reign of King Ælla of Deira (559/560-588 AD), the future pope Gregory the Great visited a slave market and met two boys for sale: “their bodies white, their countenances beautiful, and their hair very fine.” About 150 years later the Venerable Bede (672/673–735) tells the story in his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum: Gregory the Great (Pope 590-604) created a naming precedence in the christian world that resulted in the prevalence of “Angles” in the clerical nomenclature for addressing the blessed and soon to be converted pagans of Britain. Ever since, according to modern historical insights, the “gens Anglorum” evolved into a unified English nation rather than the representation of a single Germanic tribe.

“Having viewed them, [Gregory] asked, as is said, from what country or nation they were brought? and was told, from the island of Britain, whose inhabitants were of such personal appearance. He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism? and was informed that they were pagans. […]He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation? and was answered, that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an angelic face, and it becomes such to be coheirs with the angels in heaven. What is the name,” proceeded he, “of the province from which they are brought?” It was replied, that the natives of that province were called Deiri. “Truly are they De iri,” said he, “withdrawn from wrath, and called to the mercy of Christ. How is the king of that province called?” They told him his name was Ælla; and he, alluding to the name, said, “Hallelujah, the praise of God the Creator must be sung in those parts.”

However, a supratribal Anglian identity, a “gens Anglorum” that comprises all invading tribes, is an anachronism at the time of Bede. The all inclusive term “Anglo-Saxon” seems to appear in surviving native sources only from the late ninth century on. Anglian and Saxon cultures remained relatively distinct until at least the tenth century. Harris states that “any inquiry into Anglo-Saxon ethnogenesis must still confront the ethnic implications of Bede’s passage which relates the division of Germanic tribes in Britain into Angles, Saxons and Jutes.” According to him the composition of the gens Anglorum should be evaluated in the light of Bede’s “rhetorical strategy” to extend to his audience “a sense of identity” that could be in agreement to Gregory the Great’s nomenclature.

Bede’s purported aim was to spread the Christian faith, and consequently the tribal division in his writings is considered meaningful only within a theological and teleological context. Harris: “Bede’s evidence is best approached not in terms of how it reflects either the actual facts or common opinion, but in how it actively contributes to mythographic or ideological formations.”

The vast majority of Bede’s sentences are not about the Angles as a specific tribe, but as a nation (gens) that “shares constituative ethnic or socially binding characteristics connoted in the name ‘Angle’.” Evidence suggests that Bede was implying “the ultimate uncertainty of his sources” on this ethnical preposition. Describing the pagan advent Bede tells us that either the Angles or the Saxons were invited by a king, “Tunc Anglorum sive Saxonum gens.” The self-inflicted confusion now even seems to extend to the Germanic homelands, where every sense of community is now in doubt and also dismissed by historians as an anachronism.

This “ultimate uncertainty” is remarkable, since the Roman sources are quite favorable to a full identification of continental Angli with the Angrivari, the Saxon core population. Why Bede didn’t exploit this to give the concept of a united “gens Anglorum” more credibility? In his Geography, Ptolomy collected tribal information from primary sources that apparently used different naming traditions, where Angli and Angrivari were synonyms.

Ptolemy’s Geographia, version 1:
Of the people of the interior and those who live inland the most important are the Suevi Angili, who are to the east of the Langobardi extending towards the north and up to the central part of the Albis [~Elbe] river

Ex gentibus introrsum et in media terra habitantibus maximae sunt gentes Suevorum Angilorum, qui ad orientem sunt a Langobardis septentriones versus extenti usque ad mediam Albis fluvii partem

Ptolemy’s Geographia, version 2:
Minores vero etiam interiacent gentes et quidem inter Cauchos minores et Suevos Bructeri maiores, infra quos Chaemae; inter Cauchos maiores et Suevos Angrivarii, deinde Laccobardi, infra quos Dulgubnii; inter Saxones et Suevos Teutonoari atque Viruni; inter Pharodinos et Suevos Teutones atque Avarni.

The identity of Angili as Angrivari and of Laccobardi as Longobardi is hard to miss. Likewise, comparing the location of tribes according to Ptolemy with similar information supplied by Tacitus, we could propose the Chaemae to be identical to the Chamavi and hence identify the Lesser Chauci with the Chasuarians that purportedly dwelled along the Hase river in Germany, what would be a reasonable location.

Tacitus’ Germania:
“The Angrivarians and Chamavians are enclosed behind, by the Dulgibinians and Chasuarians”

More importantly, Tacitus considers the Angli to be among the mighty tribes that surrounds the Longobards and that are all defended by rivers or forests:

“What on the contrary ennobles the Langobards is the smallness of their number, for that they, who are surrounded with very many and very powerful nations, derive their security from no obsequiousness or plying; but from the dint of battle and adventurous deeds. There follow in order the Reudignians, and Aviones, and Angles, and Varinians, and Eudoses, and Suardones and Nuithones; all defended by rivers or forests.”

Bede shared Tacitus’ view on the Angles as a powerful nation: “Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany ­ Saxons, Angles, and Jutes.” A doubtful claim for the Angles, that remain virtually invisible in Roman sources – unless they could be identified as the Saxon Angrivari. However, the location of a Saxon Anglia between rivers or mountains doesn’t correspond to the shores implied by Bede’s “the country which is called Anglia […] between the provinces of the Jutes and the Saxons“. In other words, Bede’s information about the Anglian homelands doesn’t appear to derive from Roman sources nor does his knowledge confirm a Saxon tradition that unequivocally counted the Angles as an important Saxon grouping. That the pagan king of Deira is a namesake of the first king of the South Saxons Ælle is now reduced to mere coincidence. Thus while Angles once may have been a ruling race among Saxons, Bede passed their name to the potential christian “gens Anglorum” of Britain instead, in such a way that the Anglian denomination and rule became all but specifically linked to Saxons.

Bede’s “ultimate uncertainty” taken to the ultimate consequence should even make us wonder why the people he indicated as “Anglian” were so different and spoke a language that was not identical to the Saxonica lingua. He is careful to make the distinction when he defines “From the Angles […] are descended the East Angles, the Midland Angles, Mercians, all the race of the Northumbrians, that is, of those nations that dwell on the north side of the river Humber, and the other nations of the English.” Not his clerical ideology but his contemporary observations were at odds with the sources that defined the Angles rather as an important Saxon grouping. Archeology confirms different burial customs between Angles (inhumantion) and Saxons (cremation). For sure such a different ethnicity deserved a homeland of its own, that was clearly separated from the Old Saxony territories.

Angeln, situated north of the Danevirke.

The contemporary logic is all too obvious, though the sources are at odds with Bede’s preposition and this must have caused uncertainty. Suddenly the continental orgin of Angles becomes obscure. Harris: “Whereas the tribes of the Jutes and the Saxons (and the Picts and the British Irish, for that matter) are divided between those Jutes and Saxons who make their homes in Britain and those who make their homes elsewhere, Bede notes that Angulus “ab eo tempore usque hodie manere desertus” (“from that time and to this day remains deserted”) and that the Angles are whole, united, and integral.”

Probably Bede referred to the same stretch of land mentioned in Alfred the Great’s 9th century addition to Orosius’ Historiae on Ottar’s voyage:

“And from Sciringesheal, he said that he sailed in five days to the trading-town which they call Hedeby; this stands between the Wends and the Saxons and the Angles, and belongs to the Danes. When he sailed there from Sciringesheal, then Denmark was to the port and open sea to the starboard for three days; and then for two days before he came to Hedeby there lay to his starboard, Jutland, and Zealand and many islands. The Angles dwelt in those lands before they came here to this country. And for those two days there lay to his port those islands which belong to Denmark.”

This region has been identified as Angeln, north of the defensive wall called “Danevirke” in the neighbourhood of Hedeby. According to carbon-14 dating Danish ramparts were build here as early as 650 AD, on the isthmus between the Treene and the Schlei. Thus Angeln was contested borderland between Saxony and Danmark, and as such indeed very likely to be deserted at the time of Bede. Actually, the name “Angeln” may very well reflect the Saxon history of this land before it fell into the possession of the Danes.

The Saxon hegemony in the north finally ended in the Saxon Wars (772 – 804), when Charlemagne subdued them. Most likely this event accelerated a period of dwindling influence in the north, marked by the advance of Danes in the north and Slavic people in the east. The relation of the Saxons with the Danes was ambiguous, though it is likely there were periods of strife and commercial relations that finally resulted in a fixation of the Danish expansion to Schleswig, the subsequent Saxon retreat from Angeln, and the onset of the Daneworks. The Danes could have named their piece of conquered land Angeln for the same reason why Saxon regions in the Netherlands are still littered by placenames like “Engeland“.

The people that Bede indicated as “Anglian” were different from the Saxons of his time. Hines: “In Bede, Saxons usually turn up for military victories, whereas the Angles are often mentioned in matters of religion. The Saxons rather than the Angles are connected with the migrations to Britain.” All the contrary according to Procopius, that didn’t register Saxons at all and “mentions that the king of the Franks had recently sent an embassy to Justinian bringing a few Angles that had emigrated to the Frankish kingdom ‘to estabilish his claim that this island was ruled by him’” (Hines, 1997). Their language was definitely unlike the “lingua Brittaniae” Bede mentions, and to a lesser extend distinct from the language of the Saxons as well. These differences for sure supplied another reason underpinning Bede’s “ultimate uncertainty” that prevented his full understanding or acceptance of the sources. His identification of Saxons as a kind of Angles remained tentative in his first book. Bede, of course, wouldn’t admit the status of “ruling race” to be exclusive for the heathen Saxons through their possible identity with Angles, although taking the sources literally it would have been easy to do so. His agreement on a lost Anglian homeland, exempt from Saxon rule, rather appears to be a concession to the contemporary status quo and “truths” than driven by his religious desire to design a worthy mythology for all. Apparently the Anglian denomination was already “usurped” by the “gens Anglorum” before Bede made his religious efforts. This “gens Anglorum” did not identify themselves with the Saxon invaders at all and their collective memory of a homeland oversea did not agree with the Saxons, that through Alfred even did some efforts of their own to locate the Anglian homeland.

In the Celtic world the Anglo-Saxons usually figure as Saxones or Saeson. Only the Book of Ulster knew Offa, king of Mercia, as “a good king of the Angles”, what could have referred to the treatment of his subjects. However, the Book referred to Bede’s “Anglian” north as Northern Saxonland (“918. The men of Scotland, moreover, moved against them and they met on the bank of the Tyne in northern Saxonland.”). The title Rex Anglorum is used by the East Anglian kings of Rædwald, Aethelstan and Eadmund in their coinage. The East Anglian rulers are normally styled rulers of the East Angle people (Angli Orientales), not of East Anglia (Anglia Orientalis). According to Ranulf, about 800 the West Saxon King Egbert commanded that all the men of the land be called “English”. King Alfred, a West Saxon, issued coins using the title “Rex Anglorum”, king of the English.

To our best knowledge a person’s ethnicity was defined according to his or her birthplace and city of residence, and so are the English. No other examples exist in history of an ethnicity that actually changed its historical name because of the conversion to christianity, neither there is a clear indication they actually did: Procopius already proclaimed in the 6th century – ie. before Gregory! – that Britain was divided between Angili, Phrissones and Britons. The alternative explanation but religion is that “gens Anglorum” was already employed to refer to the pre-invasion population, though they can’t be the Britons. The only ethnicity we know of that abundantly populated the British province in Roman times were the Belgae. If so, their claims for being “Anglians” were semi-native and not derived from or competitive to the invaders, but merely coincided with the Saxon polyethnic constitution.

Several etymologies for the Angles coexist, as well as for the Saxon Angri. Their apparent similarity could easily be understood as coincidental, even in the case of a similar etymological origin. How likely it would be that such etymological similarity wouldn’t necessarily reflect any ethnic unity? According to Julius Pokorny the stem Angri- in Angrivarii and Angl– in Anglii all come from the same root meaning “bend“. However, a geographic explanation that e.g. refers to the Northsea coast bending north at Holstein would be exclusively valid for the Angrivarii, but rendered useless for “gens Anglorum” that are now proposed to be native to Britain. Would there be another possible etymology that may involve a deeper relationship or reminiscent constitution that equally survived on both sides of the Northsea in the institution of a ruling race by the name Angli/Angri?

Maybe the origin of Gens Anglorum is more native to England than any Angrivarii-related immigrants from the continent would ever be. This would lead us to Celts or Belgae. Since Celts can be safely excluded from a significant role in Anglo-Saxon history, we could take a closer look at the Belgae. These people remain largely unknown, except for the fact that their people were either Celtic or Germanic, and that their immigration to England in Roman times has been convincingly attested by archeology. But what British Belgae could have in common with the Saxons that they were acquainted with an honorific title like Angle, synonymous to Angri? The answer may be very simple once the Germanic identity of Belgae is accepted. Like other Germanic people around the Northsea they are likely to have shared the Inguaeonic religion that was current before the Migration Period. Ing- toponyms are quite numerous in Belgic territory. Then Angri as well as Angli are more likely to be both reminiscent of the ancient Ingwaz cult. As a matter of common pre-Migration Period origin, the ruling races of Anglians and Angrivari alike once just happened to represent the god Ingwaz in his earthly realm.


  • Bede, Social Practice, and the Problem with Foreigners – Stephen J. Harris, Essays in Medieval Studies 13 (1998), 97-107, link
  • Bede – Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (HE), link
  • The making of English national identity – Krishan Kumar, 2003, link
  • Tacitus – Germania, link
  • Ptolemy – Geographia, Book II Chapter 1o, link
  • Sharon Turner – The history of the Anglo-Saxons (on Alfred’s additions in his translation of Osorius), link
  • The Voyage of Ottar, link
  • John Hines – The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, 1997, link

Slavs Along the Frankish Border

December 23, 2009 13 comments

Bronze Age skeletons in South Siberia have been sampled for Y-DNA. Christine Keyser did a great job in mapping recent close matches that are stored in the YHRD database. Most were concentrated in Central Europe.

The remains are attributed to the Andronovo Culture (2300–1000 BC), that was centred in Siberia and Kazakhstan. The culture is assumed to be ancestral to Scythians and closely related to the European Kurgan complex and was also proposed as Ugric. Andronovo is considered a prehistoric culture of mixed composition, although virtually all samples were of haplogroup R1a.

Christine Keyser et al., 2009. This graph intends to map the few close matches that were found in the YHRD database with the paleogenetic samples of Bronze Age skeletons in South Siberia, attributed to the Andronovo Culture.

There might be some bias because of the limited number of STR that was used for the correlation, though the matches show a clear division running north to south through Central Europe: the virtual absence of corresponding haplotypes west of this division is as notable and intriguing as the steep decline to the east.

If these concentrations are ancient, then why do they correspond so neatly to the eastern borders of the Frankish empire of Charlemagne?

Boundaries of the Frankish Empire.

Do we see here the remainder of Frankish genocide, or the successful Frankish defense against a powerful, early medieval Slavic advance?

Note that Austria (the Frankish Eastmark) was colonized and (re-?)germanized by the Franks at the cost of Slavic Carinthia. Much of Eastern Germany was overrun by West Slavic tribes. During the Frankish expansion to the north and north-east the Abodrites, speakers of the polabian language, became allies of Charlemagne in his fight against the Saxons and were rewarded with properties in historically Germanic territories.

The western dots in C.Keysers map followed the Frankish borders of the east in a way that suggests a medieval Slavic advance and reinforcements along a fortified zone. However, being concentrated as a fringe that contrasts sharply with both the Frankish territories and the eastern Slavic backlands, the map doesn’t reveal an obvious source in the neighbourhood for this specific set of haplotypes. Any Slavic connotation, however likely, does not correlate to expectations about a single geographic origin of Slavic people.

Then where the haplotype came from inmediately before the event of spreading along the western borders of the Slavic world? The Andronovo culture was already long ago and a related origin has to cope with a gap of thousands of miles running through territories without archeological traces of an ancient proto-Slavic presence. This issue touches the core of the Slavic origin problem. Where and how did Slavs originate?

Possible Slavic homelands.

The main contenders for the Slavic origin are the Zarubintsy culture (“Zarubinec”), the Chernoles culture and the Przeworsk culture. However, the Zarubintsy option, centered by the Pripet river, knew some influential opponents that consequently identified this culture as (East?) Baltic. The C.Keyser graph gives nothing but some superficial support to the Przeworsk culture and none to the Chernoles culture nor the Zarubintsy culture as the origin of the Slavic ethnicity. Earlier Y-DNA studies based on haplogroup frequencies and FST values asserted a genetic origin of Slavs in Ukraine (e.g. Rebala et a., 2006), thus assuming Slavic replacements that never occurred, being too inconsistent with genetic distances and RST values to make this a valid approach and in contradiction with the low R1a1a diversity measured by Underhill et al. (2009). The latter measured a R1a-M458 gradient west to east instead. Though an important new marker that may be congruent with earlier Balto-Slavic expansions to the east, the Slavic match doesn’t extend to the Balkans and thus still can’t account for all important Slavic migrations.

To discover the nature of the genetic patterns described above and a possible association to Slavic expansion, we are forced into an indepth assessment of the Slavic identity.

Departing from the assumption of a genetic relation between Slavic and Baltic languages, the change to Slavic appears to be drastic. The exact location of this change remains inconclusive, though must have been somewhere in the Praque-Korchak-Penkovka triangle. A foreign superstratum could have triggered this change, using a Baltic dialect as lingua franca. This may explain the apparent lack of overall consistency of the genetic signature of Slavic territories compared to any of the proposed geographic homelands. Archeological traces of steppe nomads in Przeworsk territory are less telling than historical references of Alans in the Great Migration period. In the Zarubintsy and Chernoles cultures inmediately to the east this archeological link is easier to discern.

If the assumption of a foreign superstratum holds we should expect a genetic input caused by elite dominance and also a lexical input in some degree that is shared by Slavic languages while being foreign to Baltic languages.

Having this as a working hypothesis I will attempt to identify a possible ethnical candidate that may approximate the unknown superstratum and match the preliminary results of this investigation with a tentative genetic affiliation of this hypothetical ethnicity as a lead to further investigation.

List of numbers in Slavic languages.

One glaring lexical difference between Baltic and Slavic languages can be found in their word for number one. The Baltic versions neatly derive from Proto Indo European *oino in vienas (Lituanian, viens (Latvian) etc., while in Old Church Slavonic “jedinu” the PIE root was only preserved in suffix -inu (van Wijk, 1912, eg. cited by Jadranka Gvozdanović, 1991). The prefix “jed” is exclusively Slavic.

List of numbers in Baltic languages.

Let us assume this Slavic prefix of number one is indeed a lead to the identity of a non-Baltic superstratum that accelerated the development of Slavonic languages from a Baltic substratum language. Where did it come from?
Comparing the languages in the wider region, the best phonetic equivalent I could find that fits the orgin of the prefix in question, is in the Hungarian language. Number one corresponds here to “egy“, pronounced “edj“, whose Uralic origin becomes clear in comparing equivalents in other Uralic languages.

Number one in various Uralic languages.

Interestingly, Indo-Iranian versions of number one appear to come closer to Finnish. This feature won’t unambiguously exclude a direct genetic relationship between the Slavic language group and the Indo Iranian language group, though the genetic transition between both forms seems to be much better documented in Uralic languages. I consider parallel lexical evolution of a single number between different groups of languages virtually inconceivable, and suffice in proposing a separate event that accounts for Uralic contacts much further back in time, i.e. between the forebears of Finnish and Indo-Iranian speakers. However, this possible event is irrelevant for the purpose of this article.

List of numbers in Indo Iranian languages.

This preliminar investigation above may indicate an Ugric superstratum in the formative stage of Slavic, c.q. an elite that spoke a language that approximated Hungarian. How does this fit within the historical context? The accepted version of Hungarian history is their arrival from the steppes in the Hungarian Conquest (896 AD), being triggered by Turkish pressures of Pechenegs and Danube Bulgars. Before they migrated wholesale to Hungary as a confederation of Ugric and Turkic “Magyar” tribes (On-Ogur, the Ten Arrows), they are reported to have roamed for a while in their mythical homeland Levedia, usually located somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Dnjeper and Don, 7th century AD, where they must have endured a profound Turkic influence. There is no doubt about it that before this episode they had their dwellings further east, in the steppes south of the Ural mountains. Archeological continuity of this area with the Bronze Age Andronovo culture has been suggested many times in literature. The Magyar migration is thus part of a much wider movement of people from that direction, involving Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans and Huns, that already supplied the classical world a complicated succession of invading tribes to worry and write about. More arrivals from the east were still to come.
The Slavs are generally assumed to have started their expansion in the wake of the Migration Period, in the footsteps of the Avars (568-800 AD) when the Huns had already disbanded. The formative stage of Slavic in time and space within the wider Prague-Korchak-Penkovka triangle thus appears to be congruent to the previous Alan expansion on the eve of the Great Migration. Polish Sarmatism may be a reminiscent memory of these events, even though this tradition conveniently forgot about the incorporation of the classical Sarmatians into the Alan might. If the Ugric hypothesis holds, at least one of these nations from the steppes must have been Ugric already before the Magyars appeared on the scene.

According to Nekhleh, Ringe and Warnow (2005), “Baltic is most unlikely to have begun diverging from Slavic by 1000 B.C.E., because Proto-Slavic seems still to have been more or less uniform in the 8th c. C.E., and Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic are so similar that they had probably been diverging for less than two millennia.” Their study did not take into consideration the possibility of an accelerated development due to a foreign substratum, though even like this the development of Slavic from Slavo-Baltic thus fits into the timeframe of historic Scytho-Sarmatian expansions that are recorded since Herodotus (5th century BC).

Building further on the assumption of an originally Ugric superstratum of the Slavic nation that amassed along the Frankish border, the purported central asiatic origin of this elite may now be verified with the genetic results of the Andronovo samples.

Christine Keyser et al. This table gives an overview of the matches that were found in the YHRD database with the paleogenetic samples of Bronze Age skeletons in South Siberia, attributed to the Andronovo Culture.

What if the Andronovo culture, or at least an important part of it, was indeed Ugric, then wouldn’t the arrival of a superstratum from this particular direction match corresponding haplotypes in Europe? Hence I calculated the percentages of the matching haplotypes per country in YHRD.

Country # Samples (YHRD) # Matches % all-over R1a1 freq. % of R1a1
Ireland 155 0 0% N.A. 0%
Austria 715 1 0.14 % 14% 1%
Norway 1766 3 0.17% 18% 0%
Poland 4581 27 0.59% 56% 1.1%
Czechia 2331 13 0.56% 33.7% 1.7%
Slovakia 856 3 0.35% 27% 1.3%
East Germany + Hamburg 900 15 1.7% 15% 11%
Slovenia 180 7 3.9% 38% 10.2%
Ukraine 586 6 1.0% 42% 2.4%
Hungary 116 4 3.4% 20.4% 17%

The Hungarian percentage would drop to 6.5% if the 184 “Romani” (=Roma gypsies) samples are included. Although the Romani samples don’t reflect population proportions because of a sampling bias, the overall matches still result in a significant “Ugrian” (i.e. Hungarian) component, and thus wouldn’t compromise an important Ugrian indication of the Andronovo culture.


  • Christine Keyser et al. – Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people, Human Genetics, Saturday, May 16, 2009, doi: 10.1007/s00439-009-0683-0, 2009, link
  • List of numbers in various languages, Wikipedia, link
  •, link
  • István Fodor – The Main Issues of Finno-Ugrian Archeology, in Ancient Cultures of the Uralian People by Peter Hajdú, 1976, ISBN 963 13 3019 2
  • Pál Lipták – Anthropology of the Finno-Ugrian Peoples, in Ancient Cultures of the Uralian People by Peter Hajdú, 1976, ISBN 963 13 3019 2
  • Luay Nakhleh, Don Ringe & Tandy Warnow – Perfect Phylogenetic Networks: A New Methodology for Reconstructing the Evolutionary History of Natural Languages, 2005, link
  • Underhill et al.- Separating the Post-Glacial Coancestry of European and Asian Y Chromosomes Within haplogroup R1a, 2009, link
  • Jadranka Gvozdanović – Indo-European numerals, 1991, link
Categories: DNA, Indo Europeans

Who were the Mercians?

December 9, 2009 8 comments

As we all know, dialects descending from Mercian eventually succeeded in driving all other Anglosaxon dialects in virtual extinction: including West Saxon, our most copious source of Old English writing, that must have been the southern neighbour of Mercian at the time of king Penda of Mercia. The dialects developed into Middle English and modern English. Kitson (1997):

Accidents of subsequent history […] caused the dialect of an area of the south-east midlands which for a while was in the Danelaw to become the most direct ancestor of modern standerd English. But these were not the areas of prime literary and cultural importance in either Old English or early Middle English. […] The most important for literature, and most standardized, of early Middle English dialects was the so called AB Language […], certainly of somewhere in north Herefordshire.

Important texts for the reconstruction of the evolution of Middle English out of Old English are the Ormulum, the Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group and Ayenbite of Inwyt. The language of the Ormulum (12th century) is an East Midlands dialect; the dialect of Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group is referred to as AB language: The term coined in 1929 by J.R.R. Tolkien who noted that the dialect of both manuscripts is highly standardized, pointing to “a ‘standard’ language based on one in use in the West Midlands in the 13th century.”; Ayenbite of Inwyt was written over a century later in a Kentish dialect (1340).
Chancery Standard, used from the late 14th century onward for administrative purposes, was largely based on the London and East Midland dialects, for those areas were the political and demographic centres of gravity.

These Mercian dialects happened to represent the Ingveonic developments on both sides of the Northsea, more than any other Anglosaxon dialect we know. Part of this shared development is documented in Anglo-Frisian runes. Looijenga:

“The early English and Frisian runic traditions used a fuþork of 26 letters, i.e. the common Germanic fuþark extended with two additional runes: [4] and [25]. The new graphemes were obviously needed to represent phonemes developed from the allophones of long and short as the results of Ingveonic soundchanges”

For all we know the changes were analogous in Anglosaxon and Frisian and a unique testimony of shared developments. The divide only started in Period II: “From the 7th century onwards, runic writing in England underwent a separate development”.
Hence, the end of the Anglo-Frisian tradition and the start of a distinct Anglo-saxon runic tradition are dated at about 700 AD.

D. Minkova (2003) admits the abundant use of alliteration in the Anglo-Saxon records is hardly illuminating for the proposed phenemic splits often hypothetized to explain certain “Frisian” linguistic features that only emerge in Middle English. In particular, this involved the transition of Old English ‘k’ into ‘ch’ /t$/. An example is the etymological changes of the word ‘church’, being ‘chirche’ in Middle English while still ‘cirice’in Old English. The Frisian equivalent is ‘tjerke’.

In the philological literature […] positing an early phonemicization of [k’] to /t$/ has seemed an analytical imperative because the need to keep the cinn ‘chin’ set of words distinct from the set of words containing secondarily palatized [k’-], as in cynn ‘kin’ […] The logic is that the phonemicization of [k’-] to /t$/ has to precede I-Umlaut, otherwise cinn and cynn would have fallen together.

[…] indiscriminate alliteration on ‘c-‘, irrespective of the etymology and quality of the following vowel, occurs throughout the entire Old English period, with examples from the earliest texts to [..] The Death of Edward (1065).

The assumption that alliteration in the Anglo-Saxon records is illuminating entails that the split of early Old English /k/ into [k] and [t$] did not occur until the end of the tenth century, or even somewhat later. Within English historical phonology, this is a bold hypothesis, adjusting the record by at least one, and as much as four, centuries, depending on which scholar’s work one believes in.

The development of /t$/ in Middle English is thus a well-understood typological process which various linguistic models can accomodate well. The phonetic and structural naturalness of the change of [k] to [t$], however, is independent of its dating.

Even if the development can be seen as contributing to the stability of the Middle English consonant system, for Old English this argument can be abandoned.

Minkova summarized the conflict between the evidence in Old English verse and the accepted linguistic reconstruction thus:

Early OE Late OE
Alliteration: ‘c-‘ and ‘c-‘ ‘c-‘ and ‘c-‘
Reconstruction: [k] and [k’] /k/ and /t$/

Obviously, nothing changed in the use of Old English alliteration that could backup the accepted linguistic reconstruction of k-affrication. To solve this problem of a credible transition between Old English and Middle English, Minkova proposes the following:

[…] [k’] should be split into two subtypes, [kj] and [k’]. Here is my proposal […]
Hogg (1979) was the first to point out that the chronological ordering of palatalization/affrication of [k’] to [t$] prior to I-Umlaut is not at all straightforward, nor, as I will show below, is it necessary.

500-700 AD: split between [kj] and [k]
700-800 AD: I-Mutation [k] => [k’] and [k]
1000 AD – ME: [kj] => [t$].

Thus, Minkova proposes a phenemic split in Old Englsh that can’t be traced in Old English literature ‘for a reason’, but whose effects would only become current in the first attestations of Midland dialects, commonly attribued a huge influence on the development of Middle English and Modern English. How we can make sure this proposal really applies to the attested body of Wessex Old English literature? The split can’t be attested directly in Old English and moreover has to deal with a “conumdrum” of discrepancies, that one way or the other point to hybridization: of related languages like Norse – or of closely related dialects within the Anglosaxon hemisphere. Minkova was obliged to stress the importance of crossovers in the phenemic transition:

[…] crossovers which must be due to unrecoverable paradigmatic and external factors […] these are the leaky edges of a generally tight filter of constraints […] Some such pairs are care-chary, cold-chill, kettle-chettel (dial.), kirk-church, and, word-medially, the histories of milk – milch, muckle (dial.) – much, seek – beseech, -wick – -wich.

Minkova’s assessment of hypothetized intermediate stages in the process towards k-affrication is interesting

It is well established that the progressive coronalization of the velars and their affrication is a lenition process, and that lenition is positionally determined. The ninth-century data are therefore interpretable straightforwardly as the first step in the process which results in across-the-board phonemic contrast between the voiceless velars and the palatals in the eleventh century.
In comparison, the development of affricates in root-initial positions was slowed down due to the strength of the onset: identity is preserved longest in that position, especially if the onset belongs to a stressed syllable. It is this fundamental destribution privilege which allows all root-initial voiceless velars to continue to be identified as belonging to the same linguistic entity until much later

His assessment is backed up by amazingly few examples:

The earliest scribal evidence of affrication in Old English comes from spellings, as in ‘to fetch'< *fetjan
Hogg (1992) assumes that such spellings, common in late West Saxon, attest to affricated pronunciation, at least for the sequence dental stop + /j/, "by at the latest the beginning of the ninth century."
[note 81: …] but he cites no evidence supporting the assumption.

Unfortunately, this “feccan” example is hampered by the observation that “to fetch” finds cognates in O.Fris. fatia “to grasp, seize, contain,” Dutch vatten, German fassen, that firmly contradict any specific Old English soundchange.

Minkova’s hypothetic phenemic split, however, happened to concur with Looijenga’s Period I of runic inscriptions (until 700 AD) that attest shared developments of an Anglo-Frisian nature.
Indeed, such a shared development would hardly make sense after 715 AD, when Frisian hegemony was already destroyed by the Franks, and Frisian traders for sure didn’t play a major role in the Midlands. Reminiscent contact was bound to vanish altogether with the Vikings, well before the very first attestations of k-affrication in English literature. Additional induction towards this change at any later date is out of the question, and also Post-Conquest loans and formations […] do not go through the same process.

The question arises if earlier ‘Frisian’ northsea penetrations into Mercia thus wouldn’t supply a better explanation. This would have been contemporary to the Anglo-Frisian runic tradition along the English east coast and may have been still traceable in the Mercian history about the time of king Penda and his father Pybba.

Mercia has a remarkable history. It is considered Anglian and Northumbria claimed it as a province, though Penda and his successors spend their lives fighting wars with all of their neighbours. Mercia is thought to derive from an Old English equivalent of “Mark”, probably referring to the borderland between Anglia and Saxon territory, though the Mercians hardly see this as an implicit obligation to represent Northumbrian power and its expansion to the south: Mercia presents itself as more than a breakaway Anglian kingdom, with Penda it adopts an ambitious policy to subdue Britain and fights Northumbians as well as East Anglians and as a declared heathen probably was also dedicated to deal with the last vestiges of Frankish influence. Mercia was without doubt the most powerful kingdom during much of its existence, and still always remained an outsider: none of their powerful kings were ever recognized as Bretwalda.

So how could this political situation exist? Probably we need an assessment of who the Mercians really were. However, this question can’t be resolved without an assessment of the Anglosaxon identity.
According to Harris Bede’s Gens Anglorum is “not about the Angles, but about a tribe who shares constituative ethnic or socially binding characteristics connoted in the name “Angle.

In asking about the actual composition of Bede’s gens Anglorum, we ought to consider Wolfram’s caution, which comes in the shape of a definition too broad to be of any practical use. In his History of the Goths, he notes, “A gens is . . . a fraction of a tribe as much as a confederation of several ethnic units.” Considering, then, that Bede’s gens Anglorum might not actually refer to an ethnically homogenous group, we may conclude that ethnic or tribal identity, rather than being a material or physical quality, belongs instead to the realm of received or proffered myths and names.
Thus, it appears the name “Anglian” already achieved a political connotation at the time of Bede, that included the whole island as a nation rather than being a tribal entity. This whole circumstance puts the powerful Mercian outsider in a whole different context.

Harris: Wormald claims that the term gens Anglorum is an ecclesiastical designation, ultimately borrowed from Gregory the Great’s letters to Augustine: What this meant was that, from Theodore’s arrival at the latest, all Anglo-Saxons were exposed to a view of themselves as a single people before God a people who, though they lived in “Britannia” or “Saxonia” and though they called themselves Saxons as well as Angles, were known in Heaven as the “gens Anglorum.”

Whereas the tribes of the Jutes and the Saxons (and the Picts and the British Irish, for that matter) are divided between those Jutes and Saxons who make their homes in Britain and those who make their homes elsewhere, Bede notes that the Angles are whole, united, and integral.

The interpretation of Harris is that all invading tribes thus must have been “Angles” according to Bede. However, the opposite may be true as well: that none of the invading tribes were necessarily considered a constituent part of “gens Anglorum”, since Bede considered this an ecclesiastical designation. The heathen Mercian least of all.

The position of Mercians as heathen antagonists was confirmed by the presumably 7th century hoard found in Staffordshire, captured from their opponents. Religious strife was already attested at this early period by the inscription that was translated thus: “Rise up O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.” The question of who is who within the early Anglosaxon world, and what differences between germanic culture and the Roman heritage really entail, seems to be more complicated than thought.

Thus being distinct from other Anglosaxons, who were the Mercians?

Few if any archeological remains are available to give clarity on their precise ethnic affiliations. Nearby Birmingham seems to be founded by “Beorsma’s people”, that probably belonged to the same group. Beorsma, it is funny that anybody in the Netherlands would associate such a name directly to typical Frisian surnames: Boersma, Bouma, Beetsma to name just a few. Would it be fruitful to link Mercia to the Anglo-Frisian North-Sea runic tradition, and investigate the feasability of Frisians sailing up the Trent to become the forebears of Mercians?

It is noteworthy that, despite the formulaic claim to descent from Woden, some suggest that none of the names of Penda, his father Pybba and his son Peada have very convincing Anglo-Saxon etymologies.

Is there any relation to the Frisian-Frankish tradition to employ simplified nicknames? Pibe is a Frisian name and strongly reminds to Pipin, the name of several important Frankish dukes including the father of Charlemagne (also derived from a nickname). I wonder if employing such kind of nicknames (compare also nicknames like Pacho in Spanish ~Francisco) could be classified as English at all.

In the northeast the midland dialects follow the dividing line of unexploited wetlands in the Humber valley. The dialects of Kesteven and Holland belong to the Midland dialect group whereas north Lincolnshire belongs to the North England group. Even though from there the road to Mercia followed the only route through dry land, wetlands were exploited in the Midlands. Like southern Lincolnshire and East Anglia, the Midlands has brooks and worths and probably terp-like structures along the rivers as well. How likely it would be that Tamworth just refers to the Old English meaning of “enclosure” when it was build along the river Tame that is susceptible to spectacular flooding at the village of Hopwas between Tamworth and Lichfield during periods of heavy autumnal rain? Etymologically, the worth enclosure derives from woven wood. According to De Vries, Old English “wer” was also dam in a river made of woven branches reinforced with earth. Compare the “wet” connotation in Old Norse “ver”, a place for fishing along the coast. The name Tamworth thus is consistent to the view that people talking a dialect similar to Frisian found their way from the wetlands of Holland (England) and the surroundings of Loveden Hill to the early centers of power in Mercia.

The Humber estuary and Trent river happen to be close to the source of the earliest runes that attest Friso-Anglian soundshift in a new rune (‘ac“). Looijenga: “In England the oldest attestation of ac may be Loveden Hill hlaw, 5th or 6th c.”. They come from a pot that is linked directly to the continent, though some features also point to affinities with Kent and a “Jutish connection”.

Would there have been a “Frisian” route to Mercian Tamworth/Birmingham that passed through Loveden Hill? This location is at Hough-on-the-Hill (north of Grantham), within 2 kilometers of Frieston. Between Grantham and Tamworth, where the core of the Tomsaetan settled and once capital of Mercia, you’ll find Frisby-on-the-Wreake just before Leicester, that by the way is just west of another Frisby. It may be true that the Frisians left few topononyms, though here the concentration is remarkable high. On the other hand, Hough-on-the-Hill and nearby Hougham may suggest the involvement of their Chauci neighbours as well. The first terps already turn up in Holland e.g. in Pinchbeck, about 20 miles away from Loveden Hill, or even closer in Gosberton and Quadring.

Also genetically a strong Frisian connection to the Mercian Midlands could possibly make more sense:

[…] Y chromosome haplotypes in a sample of 313 males from seven towns located along an east-west transect from East Anglia to North Wales. The Central English towns were genetically very similar, whereas the two North Welsh towns differed significantly both from each other and from the Central English towns. When we compared our data with an additional 177 samples collected in Friesland and Norway, we found that the Central English and Frisian samples were statistically indistinguishable. (Weale et al, 2002)

More recently, a new subclade of R1b-U106 was found defined by mutation L257, whose members – five presumably geographic clusters have so far been identified – have the tendency to pop up in regions that may tell a specific Frisian story. Without being deluded by the scanty evidence, paper trails show that L257 most probably was already firmly rooted in Scotland (1000 AD), the Netherlands (1500) and Switzerland (1400). It is too early to decide this mutation may be typical as well to regions without some sort of Frisian tradition.

One possibility is the Scottish cluster of L257 is reminiscent of the Roman-Frisian presence along the Hadrian Wall, as archeologically attested by Housesteads Ware finds. This pottery has a strong relationship to contemporary pottery found in the northern part of the Netherlands. Jobey (1979) published about its relationship to “Frisian pottery” in Frisia, Groningen and Zuid Holland. New finds in Noord Holland can be added: Schagen, Uitgeest, Assendelver Polders, possibly the island of Texel. It has been dated between the first and fourth century AD, sometimes identified by the name Tritsum pottery that is a subdivision of what in Dutch is known as “Streepband-aardewerk” (something like “stripe strip pottery”), that by this name has been found all over along the Dutch coastal areas. The “oldest” Swiss/Dutch cluster of L257 (defined by U106*-like DYS464X=cccg) was found in the neighborhood of Aargau, northern Swiss. A peculiar Swiss tradition has it that Swiss was populated in the Migration Period by a considerable contigent of Frisians:

[…] in a chronicle written by one John Pfintiner of Uri, about 1414. In the Waldstetten the ethnographical legend of that chronicle
(which has perished) found, of course, ready credence and great favour. It was soon improved by Johann Friind, State Secretary of Schwyz, who composed an enlarged and embellished version of it. This official annalist gave most liberal details of the emigration of the Waldstetten people from Sweden and Frisia, and derives the name of Swiz, subsequently changed into Schwyz, from one of their leaders called Swyterus. (Buchheim 1871, p.xlvii)

A third cluster is also present in the Netherlands (where we could expect a presumably Frisian SNP), while the fourth has an undefined distribution in England. The fifth cluster, however, is specifically linked to one surname, Waters, that originates in Shropshire, Mercian territory.

Any Frisian legacy in Mercia may be against the “gut feelings” of those searching for the same trivial ethnical “family-traits” that may be so much easier to discern in other apparent Frisian relatives: just think about the unfamous Dutch/Swiss/Scottish “thriftiness”, Calvinism or other typical attitudes of the kind. However, in Mercia the hypothetized impact of this ethnic component, at the onset and in the aftermatch of the Migration Period, would appear rather attenuated. Notwithstanding the genetic results of Weale et al. (2002), Celtic influence on English was recently found to be greater than previously thought:

Although Laker’s investigation did reveal that Celtic influence on English was stronger than expected, such influence was not found in all regions of Britain. Very little influence was identified in dialects of southern England, namely in those varieties that were most influential to the formation of southern standard English pronunciations. By far most Celtic influence was identified in traditional northern English dialects (Universiteit Leiden News, 2010)

Major groupings in between include East Anglian English and Midlands English. The genetic cline east-to-west may be indicative of another Celtic substrate maximum in the western Midlands in particular, potentially able to supercede the importance of reminiscent continental influences.


  • Dennis Freeborn – From Old English to Standard English: a course book in language variation, 1998, link
  • Donka Minkova – Alliteration and sound change in early English, 2003, link
  • Steven Bassett – Anglo-Saxon Birmingham, 2000, link
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. (1929), “Ancrene Wisse and Hali Meiðhad”, Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association 14: 104–126
  • Robert van de Noort – Where are Yorkshire’s ‘Terps’? Wetland exploitation in the early medieval period, 2000, University of Exeter, link
  • J.H. Looijenga – Runes around the North Sea and on the Continent AD 150-700; Texts & Contents, 1997, University of Groningen, link
  • Stephen J. Harris – Bede, Social Practice, and the Problem with Foreigners, Essays in Medieval Studies 13 (1998), 97-107, link
  • Peter R. Kitson – When did Middle English begin? Later than you think! – Studies in Middle English linguistics/edited by Jacek Fisiak (1997), link
  • Michael E. Weale et al. – Y Chromosome Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration, 2002, link
  • L257, A North Sea Tribe – Y-DNA Profiles
  • C.A Buchheim – German Classics: Lessing, Goethe, Schiller. Volume II – Wilhelm Tell, a Drama by Schiller, 1871, link
  • Stephen Laker – British Celtic influence on English phonology, 2010, link

Dmanisi Man and the Out of Africa fairytale

December 8, 2009 2 comments

On exposition in the Naturalis Museum of Leiden, Netherlands 29 november 2009 t/m 28 februari 2010: the Dmanisi Man of Georgia.
A special exposition of the original skull of the earliest humanoid ever found outside of Africa. The find of this skull in Georgia raises a lot of questions all over the world on the evolution of mankind. The high age of 1.8 million year as well as the small braincapacity and the location outside Africa don’t fit into the current theories on the migration of our forebears. For the first time the skull will leave the safe of the National Historic Museum in Tbilisi, Georgia, to be exposed to the public.

The D2700 skull from Dmanisi.

I had a quick visit to the Leiden exposition of Dmanisi Man. The information was really very basic since “the book” still has to be written. Who ever said that Dmanisi is old news? Let him send me the articles everybody agrees upon. In short, three competing theories were mentioned. No evaluation, the visitors of the exposition are required to decide for themselves.

1. Out of Africa : according to this view Dmanisi Man should somehow fit within the framework of an African exodus of early humans that was theorized to have happened between 1.5 -1 million years ago. However, since Dmanisi Man was about 1.8 million years old he doesn’t fit in this scenario. So do other fossil hominins, BTW (from the start this Out of Africa was a fairy tale).

2. Earlier Out of Africa : Human (? not proven) artefacts are known from 2.6 million years ago onward. This theory proposes that the earliest humans thus could have left Africa a lot earlier and reached Asia from 2.6 million years ago onwards. New human species developed in Asia that also reached Europe. Not a word about backmigrations (a weak point).

3. Back and Forth : At any time of history humanids or early humans left Africa, developed into more advanced species and then returned to Africa.

Obviously the third option is less compromised by Afrocentrism, but I could not find additional information: what species left Africa? Were they necessarily human? Should this explain why Homo Erectus could coexist next to Homo Habilis as a separate species for so long in Africa, while previously Homo Habilis was considered the ancestor of Homo Erectus? Does the same apply to Homo Habilis in relation to Australopithecus? Of course few can be said, since no African Homo were found between the first artefacts of 2.6 million years ago and the first unequivocal remains of Homo Habilis dated 1.8-1.6 million years ago. Maybe those artefacts were not human at all and rather belong to Australopithecus? There is no evidence, only conjecture.

About the skull: the last molars (wisdom teeth) did not develop yet, so Dmanisi was a teenager. This could explain some about the outrageous low brain capacity. Possibly this skull is the best evidence we can get to prove that the human adolescent growth spurt was already a feature of the very first Homo.
At least superficially it looks quite similar to Homo Habilis. It has a horizontal brow ridge and more protruding zygomatic facial bones in common with Asiatic samples of Homo Erectus, against the V-shaped brow ridge and weaker zygomatic facial bones among the African/European samples. Unfortunately, no dentals were preserved so nothing can be said of this sample about shoveling.

Extrapolating from the Back and Forth model, I can easily imagine Homo Habilis to be from the same stock as the inmediate ancestors of Dmanisi. However, though Asiatic Homo Erectus features are clear and documented, I think the age and intermediate characteristics of Dmanisi do not support a role of this specific human type in the backmigration of Homo Erectus. Maybe rather of Homo Ergaster?

We may even reconsider the human origin completely and remind Von Koenigswald, that located the origin of humans in India. He was already familiar to Homo Modjakertensis and postulated that our predecessors were apes like Dryopithecae, Rampithecae, Sivapithecae that all seem to have either predominantly or exclusively a northern non-African distribution. The question whether or not Australopithecus should be separated completely from the humanoid line would need another evaluation, as well as the position of Afarensis within the Australopithecus family that may be invalid. Maybe the earliest bipeds arrived in a first migration wave from the Eurasia, together with the precursors of Chimpansees and Gorillas, while Lucy (Australopithecus Afarensis) and Homo Rudolfensis/Homo Habilis were the result of subsequent migration waves from Asia?

Assumptions towards an African monopoly on human origins are not getting better, and supply an ever less self-explicatory setting for the Recent Single Origin hypothesis. Its prime assumption that early hominids elsewhere but Africa are ultimately irrelevant, offers an all too easy way out of complexity and thrives on circularity: all hominids originate in Africa, thus all observed characteristics of hominids elsewhere should be assumed to originate in Africa as well. Well, did they?

Such an important assumption should be verified with available evidence. Where is the proof that Homo Erectus of the Far East derives from Homo Habilis? Homo Modjakertensis as intermediate form does not attest a straightforward evolution at all. The Dmanisi find has characteristics in common with Homo Habilis, Australopithecus and Homo Erectus of eastern asia. We should expect Homo Habilis to have evolved to Dmanisi and to Homo Modjakertenis and subsequently to Homo Erectus. In Africa we miss these kind of intermediate forms, the change or development from Homo Habilis to Homo Erectus is thus not assumed straightforward and “treelike”, but “bushlike”. However, the set of Homo Habilis characteristics is even contrary to the assumption of being ancestral: together with Homo Modjakertensis they share the intermediate position between Australopitecus and Homo Erectus having a semicircular ear canal morphology, though they fail to show the “simian gap” what would suggest an advanced development in relation to the earliest Homo Erectus that is not supported by their age.

The controversal features of the Homo Modjakertensis catalogued as “Sangiran 4” – projecting canines and precanine diastemata – are recently confirmed, and even deemed rather ‘pongid’, ie. derived from Asiatic apes rather than African apes:

This analysis shows that the Sangiran 4 palate is not unique, and shares several of these putative pongid traits with other Javan hominid fossils as well as recently described hominid specimens from Dmanisi, Georgia. These results suggest that the evolution of the earliest Asians was more complex than has previously been appreciated. — The enigma of the Sangiran 4 palate revisited, Arthur C. Durband (2008).

However, the set of characteristic of Homo Habilis against Dmanisi and/or Homo Modjakertensis also includes some that are not transitional to all modern humans. The most notorious being the shovel-shaped teeth of 80% of mongoloid people. Like Homo Erectus, these can’t be derived unequivocally from Africa and it is hard to imagine that Asiatic food required shovel-shaped teeth already for millions of years and thus to assume parallel evolution. If this comes out this would be a bad day for Asiatic restaurants all over the world, and good news for orthodontists.

The African origin of shovel-shaped teeth among Homo is precarious to say the least, although Australopithecus was reported to have them. The two Homo Habilis mentioned by Tobias for having shovel teeth are suspect finds: the position of OH6 is contested and OH16 was found completely shattered. Hardly convincing for universal currency among all early hominids. Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus coexisted for hundreds of thousand years in Africa, so maybe some evidence became mixed up, or maybe they just mixed. And what happened next?
Trinkhaus 2007: African Middle Paleolithic Modern Humans (MPMH) have chisel teeth. Archaic humans and Neanderthal, that grossly comprise all the rest in this period, have shovel-shaped teeth. Maxillary incisor shoveling remains in the Gravettian among Early European Modern Humans. The wave of chisel teeth thus only took effect much later in Europe.
Moreover, apparently ‘African’ chisel teeth never conquered Asia! The disproportionate presence of shovel teeth in asiatic populations and the preservation of this characteristic among native americans within a European civilization is a strong argument for a genetic component above “domestication”.
A relevant African Origin question: Were the “modern” chisel teeth a new evolutionary adaptation that spread from a single source in Africa, or is the chisel shape reminiscent of Homo Habilis and indicative for a minor influence of the mainstream evolutionary line that rather pertains to Homo Erectus? Could we presume continuity? Or if Homo Habilis can now be discarted as an ancestor, and Homo Erectus was an immigrant in Africa: where and how did the shovel teeth of Homo Erectus originate?

For the record, Dmanisi Man should not have come as such a surprise. We already knew of 2 million year old tools in Pakistan and Homo Modjakertensis was already dated in the same range half a century ago. So why ‘Out of Africa’ was ever proposed at all to explain Homo Erectus? The facts show the hypothesis isn’t even overdue: it was all made up from the start.

Evidence ignored for so much time is bound to make sensation today, or tomorrow for that sake. Maybe disproportionate importance of Anglosaxon scientists and their public caused undue acceptance of an Out of Africa hypothesis? Just imagine Indonesia would have been a British colony, and some kind of Leakey would have discovered those few now forgotten Homo Modjokertensis fossils. And so much evidence would have been shoveled aside by the international scientific community if Kenia simply would have been a Dutch colony instead, and Von Konigswald an anthropologists that happened to find a few bones in Kenia, after all truly just a shadow of the contemporary finds in Indonesia. In such a world of reversed political reality Dmanisi would now have been the rightful confirmation of what daring scientists already knew for over a century.


  • Erik Trinkaus – European early modern humans and the fate of the Neandertals, 2007, link
  • Arthur C. Durband – The enigma of the Sangiran 4 palate revisited, 2008, link (paysite)
  • G.H.R. von Koenigswald – De eerste aapmensen in Azië, 1981, ISBN 90 70157 20 9 (Dutch)
  • M. Martinón-Torres et al. -Dental evidence on the hominin dispersals, 2007, link
  • Christian R. Nichol et al. – Variation in the convexity of the human maxillary incisor labial surface , 1982, link (paysite)

Naturalis: exposition link.

Categories: Paleoanthropology