Chapter 10: The DM list and some conclusions

Anyone who has never written a book could be forgiven for supposing that published writing represents exactly what the author intended to say. R. Morris, Churches in the Landscape, 1997, 451.

We have now examined RB, LM, CR, CM, CD, DM and the Fire roots and, though this is just a sample of available roots, they produce a coherent and robust picture of language evolving in response to cultural pressures. The results are very consistent, perhaps too much so. CD is the third root to show a virtually identical breakdown, with words that match all the major categories found in CR and CM and some of the minor ones. But perhaps they are not a representative sample. All these roots start with C, representing Co, the primeval gathering word and any root beginning with Co will naturally have had a great deal to do with hunting, herding reindeer, driving deer and herding cattle.

To get a different view of language I went back to the TEC and its 36 disyllabic roots (table 1.2) and looked for something as different as possible. B and C have common origins in the Heathcote Consonant, and so presumably B roots will produce results similar to C roots - this is something that can be tested out. R and L have already been explored to a limited extent in RB and LM and both have a majority of hunting words and many old religious links. M tends to be assimilated into B. This left D as the most distinct of the remaining consonants and M seemed to be productive in second place (dome, dawn, done, dim…). So I chose DM for this experiment.

The relevant roots are DM, DN, DNg, TM, TN and TNg. They produced 270 words from Gaelic, English, Dutch, Finnish, Czech, Latin and French, and a few more from Scots, Greek and Catalan. There is a risk of listing words with prefixes such as Lat. de- 'away from', Lat. di- 'in two parts', Du. toe- 'with', and G. di, diom-, dim-, a negative participle. An absorbed prefix may explain negative words such as G. donn 'surly, bad-tempered', E. tantrum 'fit of bad temper' and G. domblas 'anger'.

The DM list was very varied and its categories seemed less distinct than those generated by CR or CM. There is no evident way of confirming that the categories used give a true picture but this seems likely, since in the main they are similar to those which worked for CR, CM and CD. There may very well be better ways of dividing up the words but I cannot see that the main outlines can be different. And even so, any other division will have to cope with a range of meanings that is very largely the same in DM, CR, CM and CD.

I have included music as an irrational activity but drumming, piping and singing were originally signals sent to distant hunters which later they were used in fruitless attempts to send a message to a distant deity. The word 'dance' is very widely spread in Europe and the only link I have been able to find is with various words for 'drum'. Now this list has produced G. dan 'poem, song, treasure, work' which suggests that they sang or told stories as they danced, as they still do in Faeroe.

This list, like all wordlists, brings together many similar words from remote places. In many cases their most recent contact was in Palaeolithic Europe.

Categories in the DM list.
Fire and smoke, hunting (general, hunters, hunting grounds, traps, signals, equipment and weapons, the quarry, butchery and food, hunger, deliberate maiming, wild cattle), farming, people and settlement, containers and liquids, inventions, bad temper, irrational belief, music and the arts, and a handful of miscellaneous words.

Fire: The 'brown' words may mean 'toasted, singed' or 'the colour of dried blood'.
dean (G.) 'colour'.
donn (G.) 'brown, singed'.
tan (E.) 'brown (burnt)'.
tani (Cz.) 'thaw'.
tawny (E.) 'red-brown'.
teine (G.) 'fire'.
time (G.) 'heat'.
timheal (G.) 'glimmering or shady light'.
tinder (E.) 'dry flammable material'.
tindre (Nor.) ‘spark, twinkle’. >cinder.
tinsel (E.) 'shiny, sparkling, like fire'.
tintelen (Du.) 'twinkle, sparkle'.

Smoke. Several words reflect the belief that the ghosts of the dead rose in the smoke when their bones were burned. E. shade is both 'dark' and 'ghost'. Smoke was also used to send a signal.
damp (Du.) 'smoke, steam'.
damp (E.) 'moisture, steam'.
dank (E.) 'damp'. A possible link is that damp wood produces smoke.
deimh (G.) 'dark, hidden'.
dempen (Du.) 'extinguish a fire'. This produces smoke and steam if water is used.
dense (E.) 'thick'.
diamhair (G.) 'secret, private; dark'.
dim (E.) 'obscure, dark'.
donker (Du.) 'dark'.
tamas (Skr.) 'darkness'.
tamhasg (G.) 'dwarf; spectre'. A ghost rising from a smoky fire.
tannas (G.) 'a grisly spectre'. Smoke rising from a fire in which bones are burned.
tannasg (G.) 'spectre, ghost'. .
temny (Cz.) 'dark, gloomy'.
tempest (E.) 'violent storm of wind and rain'. This may refer to darkness and rain like smoke.
tenebrae (Lat.) 'the darkness of night, or sleep, or death'.
tiamh (G.) 'darkness'.
ton (Cz.) 'shade'.

damnum (Lat.) 'damage, injury, loss'.
danger (E.) 'risk'.
danndha (G.) 'fatal'.
dany (Cat.) 'damage, loss'.
daon (G.) 'ruin, demolish'.
deannal (G.) 'conflict, onset, contest, stir'. A hunt was always seen as a contest or battle.
den (Cz.) 'day'. Hunting started at day-break.
dent (E.) 'notch'. Perhaps the damage done by a stone weapon.
dimer (Alb.) 'winter'. Most hunting was done in winter.
din (E.) 'continuous loud noise'.
ding (Sc.) 'to bash, beat, thump'.
dint (E.) 'blow, stroke, dent'.
dion (G.) 'shelter, protection, covert, fence'.
domail (G.) 'loss, injury, damage'.
done (E.) 'exhausted, dying'.
taimh (G.) 'death'. Originally of deer, always.
tam (G.) 'rest, repose; plague; death'.
teann (G.) 'packed tightly'.
teen (E.) 'injury'.
teinen (Gr.) 'to strain'. Ropes and nets were used in hunting.
temen (Du.) 'drawl, whine'. Perhaps the noise made by a wounded animal.
temnein (Gr.) 'to cut'.
tendere (Lat.) 'to stretch'; cf G. tonn 'skin, hide'.
tense (E.) 'tightly strained'.
teum (G.) 'bite, sting, wound, cut'.
thanatos (Gr.) 'death'.
time (E.) 'season, due date'.
tine (E.) 'to perish'.
toinn (G.) 'to wreathe, plait, twist, spin'. An image of the hunters closing in on the driven deer.
toinneamh (G.) 'death'.
tomber (Fr.) 'to fall'.
tonc (G.) 'chain'.
tonn (G.) 'skin, hide'. Latin tendere 'to stretch'.
tumor (Lat.) 'to swell'. The image is a growing pile of slaughtered animals.
tump (US) 'to drag'.
tumult (E.) 'rumpus, riot, disturbance'.
tundere (Lat.) 'to beat, pound, stun'.
tunnel (E.) 'animal's burrow'.

daimh (G.) 'affinity, friendship'.
daimh (G.) 'guest, stranger'. Hunters regularly travelled to neighbouring districts.
daimh (G.) 'troublesome'.
dam (Du.) 'king (in draughts)'. This is probably related to G. damh 'stag'.
dan (G.) 'bold, resolute, daring'.
danair (G.) 'stranger, foreigner, guest'.
danar (G.) 'peregrine (hunter)'.
dandy (E.) 'smart person; overdressed fop'. Two views of a hunter?
dian (G.) 'hasty, eager, violent, furious, nimble, brisk, strong'.
dienen (Du.) 'to serve'. As a hunt follower.
dinak (Alb.) 'foxy, sly.'
domhach (G.) 'savage'.
dominus (Lat.) 'lord, master, ruler, commander, chief'.
duine (G.) 'man'. Perhaps 'man of the trap or ambush'.
tana (G.) 'thin'.
temerity (E.) 'fool-hardiness, boldness'.
thegn (A-S.) 'servant, follower'.
timchioll (G.): 'hunting in a circle, a chain of hunters who surround a herd of deer'. Sc. tinchel.
tineach (G.) 'kindred'. Those who responded to the same beacon (G. teine 'fire').
tinne (G.) 'chain'. The chain of hunters.
tomfool (E.) 'a buffoon'. Were hunters liable to exaggerate?

The hunting grounds
den (Du.) 'fir tree'. Firs grew in sandy wastes.
den (E.) 'lair of a wild beast'.
dendron (Gr.) 'tree'.
dene (E.) 'sandy tract, dune'. Hunting persisted longest in marginal areas.
din (G.) 'pleasant, delightful'.
domhan (G.) 'world, universe'. The deer forest was the tribal universe.
down (E.) 'hill, dune'. Hunting area.
dun (G.) 'hill, fort, mound'.
tain (G.) 'land, country'.
tammi (Fin.) 'oak'. Gaelic 'oak-wood' is equivalent to hunting forest.
tan (G.) 'ground, country, region, territory'. Related to teine 'fire'.
tom (G.) 'hillock, knoll'. Knolls were used as signal stations.
tump (E.) 'hillock'.
tundra (Lapp) 'extensive plains, between the taiga and the polar ice, grazed by reindeer'.

Traps and ambushes
daingneach (G.) 'stronghold, prison'.
dene (E.) 'small valley'. Probably a name for a deer trap.
dingir (G.) 'custody, incarceration, prison'.
dit (Sc.) 'to stop, block'.
donutit (Cz.) 'compel'.
duin (G.) 'shut'. Enclose, trap.
dump (E.) 'deep hole in river bed'. Perhaps used to trap driven animals.
dumus (Lat.) 'thorn-bush, bramble'. Used to enclose traps and pens.
dun (G.) 'heap, hillock, fort, hedge'. A closed place, deer trap.
temperare (Lat.) ‘to restrain’.
tenax (Lat.) 'holding fast, gripping firmly'.
tenere (Lat.) 'to hold, keep, possess, master'.
tiompan (G.) 'narrow-sided gully'.

Signals. See also Music.
thunder (E.) 'loud crashing noise caused by lightning'. Or by a drum.
donnalach (G.) 'yell; howl like a dog'. A hunting shout or signal.

Equipment and weapons
deimhne (G.) 'edged tools'.
dens, dentis (Lat.) 'tooth'. Probably borrowed from the name of a hand axe.
dome (E.) 'curved structure used as a roof'. Perhaps originally a tent.
don (E.) 'to put on (clothes)'. The link is with G. tonn 'skin, hide'.
don (Fr.) 'gift'. The animal gifted his hide.
tent (E.) 'portable lodge or shelter'.
thong (E.) 'strip of leather, lash'.
tine (E.) 'spike of antler, fork or harrow'.
tanca (Cz.) 'hedge, fence, latch'. Hurdles were used to contain driven animals.
tang (E.) 'barb, point, spike on antler, fork'. A primitive weapon.

The quarry
dama (Lat.) 'fallow-deer'.
damh (G.) 'stag, ox'.
toineamh (G.) 'salmon'.

Butchery and Food
dant (G.) 'morsel, mouthful; portion'.
dian (G.) 'worm'.
dump (E.) 'to deposit rubbish'.
taint (E.) 'corruption'.
taman (G.) 'trunk or body of anything'.
tannaidh (G.) 'inside fat of a bullock or sheep'.
teene (E.) 'to allot'.
tempe (Fr.) 'piece of wood used by a butcher to hold open the abdominal cavity'.
temper (E.) 'to soften'. May refer to meat when hung.
tempero (Lat.) 'to divide correctly'.
tempus (Lat.) 'section, portion, division'.
tender (E.) 'soft'. Used of meat.
tiny (E.) 'very small'. A common complaint.
tomhais (G.) 'measure, survey'.
tommy (E.) 'food, bread'.
tomos (Gr.) 'portion'.
ton (G.) 'anus'. Perhaps 'empty', as Sc. toom.

Hunger. A hunter's lot when the hunt failed.
toom (Sc.) 'empty'.
teinn (G.) 'sickness, misery, strait, hardship'.
dimreas (G.) 'necessity, want'.
doimh (G.) 'poor, needy'.
tinn (G.) 'sick, aching'.
tenky (Cz.) 'thin'.

Deliberate maiming? See the LM list.
dandiner (Fr.) 'to waddle'.
dangle (E.) 'to hang limply; to follow about'.
dither (Sc.) 'to tremble, be uncertain'.
tang (Sc.) 'sea-weed'. cf tangle.
tangle (Sc.) 'any tall limp person'.
tumble (E.) 'to roll, flounder, toss about'.

Wild cattle
tain, tainte (G.) 'cattle, spoil, plunder'. This refers to wild cattle.
tomhladh (G.) 'cow's milk'. Wild cattle were apparently milked before the introduction of farming.
tionail (G.) 'gathering, anything gathered'.

Farming. The DM contribution to farming is almost entirely pastoral.
daimsir (G.) 'mud'. A hazard of pastoral farming in a wet climate.
dam (E.) 'mother (of an animal)'.
damh (G.) 'ox'.
deamhas (G.) 'sheep-shears'. Some primitive breeds are plucked, not clipped.
dem (Alb.) 'bull'.
deng (Alb.) 'bundle, bale'.
dinidh (G.) 'lamb'.
dionag (G.) 'two-year-old sheep or goat'.
donest (Cz.) 'bring, carry, fetch'.
donkey (E.) 'ass'.
dung (E.) 'excrement'.
tame (E.) 'tractable, not wild'.
tanma (Fin.) 'mare'.
team (E.) 'brood, litter'.
team (E.) 'chain for a plough; a group of people working together'.
tend (E.) 'to watch over, take care of'.
tingeal (G.) 'to plough'.
tom (E.) 'male animal'.
tomen (Du.) 'bridle, check'.
tondere (Lat.) 'to shear, clip'.
tondre (Fr.) 'to shear, clip'.

People and settlement. There was an elite but few signs of authority.
daimh (G.) 'church, house'.
damh (G.) 'learned man'
dandiprat (E.) 'little boy'.
demos (Gr.) 'people'.
dominus (Lat.) 'lord, master, ruler, commander, chief'.
domus (Lat.) 'house'.
tann (G.) 'prince'.
tomb (E.) 'grave'.
town (E.) 'urban settlement'.
tuaim (G.) 'fence'. Fences were invented by hunters.
tuama (G.) 'grave, mound, farm'.
tuin (Du.) 'garden'.

Containers and liquids. Certain of these words suggest attempts to control rising sea levels along the coastal plains of northern Europe using artificial earthen barriers.
dainn (G.) 'rampart, barrier'.
dam (E.) 'earthen wall that holds back water'. cf G. damh 'stag'.
damer (Fr.) 'to pack (earth or snow)'.
dan (E.) 'tub'.
dandy (E.) 'sloop-like vessel'. Or from Dundee (Scotland)?
dinghy (E.) 'small boat'.
ditch (E.) 'trench dug in ground'.
don (G.) 'water'.
tain (G.) 'water'.
taom (G.) 'flow of water'. cf E. teemi.
teem (E.) 'to pour copiously'.
tinct (E.) 'dye, colour', also tint, tinge.
tingere (Lat.) 'to wet with liquid, to bathe; hence, to dye'.
tonach (G.) 'bath'.
tonnach (G.) 'mound, rampart'.
tuanag (G.) 'measure for liquids'.
tun (Cz.) 'pool'.
tun (E.) 'barrel'.

Inventions. They notably include the use of cut lengths of wood for various purposes.
damh (G.) 'beam, joist, mast'.
tan (Fr.) 'oak bark pulverised and used in tanning'.
tanko (Fin.) 'rod, pole'.
teanchair (G.) 'tongs'.
temo (Lat.) 'wooden beam'.
tenen (Du.) 'osier, wicker'.
tengel (Du.) 'lath'.
things (E.) 'clothes'.
timber (E.) 'wood'.
timon (Fr.) 'pole of a cart or wagon'.
tom (E.) 'big bell'.
tonach (G.) 'shirt'.
tong (E.) 'pincers'.
tunic (E.) 'short shirt-like garment'.

Bad temper The link for these words is not obvious.
tantrum (E.) 'fit of bad temper'.
temper (E.) 'rage'.
diomb (G.) 'hatred'.
dom (Du.) 'stupid'.
domblas (G.) 'anger'.
donn (G.) 'surly, bad-tempered'.

Irrational belief
dame (Fr.) 'lady'. cf G. damh 'stag'. Originally the Lady.
damsel (E.) 'unmarried lady', perhaps the Maiden.
Dana (G.) 'the Devil'.
deamhan (G.) 'devil, demon, evil spirit'.
demon (E.) 'evil spirit, devil'.
doimeag (G.) 'slut, slattern'. A typical epithet for the Goddess as fertility symbol.
don (G.) 'defect, want, mischief, evil'.
Donas (G.) 'the Devil'.
donum (Lat.) 'gift or offering to a god'.
doom (E.) 'judgment, condemnation, destiny'.
tamhasg (G.) 'dwarf; spectre'.
tannas (G.) 'a grisly spectre (a smoky fire)'.
tannasg (G.) 'spectre, ghost (smoke from a bonfire)'.
temenos (Gr.) 'sacred precinct, holy place'.
temere (Gr.) 'by chance'.
temor (Cz.) 'fear, dread'.
templum (Lat.) 'an open place for observation, marked by the augur with his staff; circuit; sanctuary''.
tender (E.) 'to offer'.
tenho (Fin.) 'enchantment'.
thank (E.) 'gratitude'.
time (G.) 'fear'.
timid (E.) 'lacking courage, afraid'.
tomhail (G.) 'terror, fright'.

Music and the arts
dan (G.) 'poem, song, treasure, work'.
dance (E.) 'to move rhythmically esp. to music or a drum; to spring'.
duan (G.) 'poem, song'.
dunet (Cz.) 'rumble, roll, thunder'.
tambour (E.) 'drum'.
tamtam (Hindi) 'drum'.
timbre (Fr.) 'type of bell; originally a type of drum'.
tingle, tinkle (E.) 'to vibrate, ring'.
tinnere (Lat.) 'to ring'.
tiompan (G.) 'musical instrument; cymbal, drum, harp'.
tonare (Lat.) 'to thunder'.
tone (E.) 'musical note'.
tune (E.) 'melody, air'.

dein (G.) 'clean, neat; strong, firm'.
dink (Sc.) 'neat, trim'.
dumb (E.) 'silent'.
tamach (G.) 'slow'.
ten (E.) '10'.
thumb (E.) 'the opposing digit'.

Where culture goes, words follow

In all the long lists, and even in the short lists examined so far, the main contribution, as much as half the total, has been made by words that refer to hunting, hunters, weapons, traps and similar matters. The categories used are open to dispute but it is evident that our modern lexicon can be traced, very largely, to hunters. Spoken language was first used by hunters more than 1.4 million years when certain anatomical adaptations to the brain become visible in the fossil record. Broca's area controls speech production and understanding language. Whether our ancestors 1.4 million years ago had ten or ten thousand words at their disposal, they were already able to talk, using recognisable words. All the human species since then have continued to use the words they grew up with, as well as any new ones created in their lifetimes for new objects and new ideas. There must have been great extents of time when language, like the tool-kit, did not change in any detail.

What did they talk about over this long period? There were two main topics: fire and hunting. Fire I will discuss in the next chapter. Its importance to human culture and to human language cannot be overstated. But mankind lived by hunting from perhaps two million years ago until he became a farmer, at most ten thousand years ago. It is likely that most of the words borrowed by farmers would have been used first by hunters. It is also likely that these words survive with the same or a related meaning. The biggest expansion of European culture - which produced hearths, houses, clothing, new weapons, art, music, religion and metaphorical thought - was not in the Neolithic but in the Upper Palaeolithic, fifty thousand years ago, at the start of the colonisation of Europe.

As I have said already, all languages are equally old but some words are older than others. When we sort the segment of language represented by a wordlist, the 'fire' words are probably the oldest words in terms of length of use with the same meaning. At the other end of the timescale more recent categories include words for farming, transport, pastoral life, social evolution and urban life. Between these two extremes comes hunting. The largest contribution, in terms of number of words and the variety of their meanings, to every list so far examined, is made by words which refer to the hunt. These words were borrowed to provide farming and other cultural advances with their vocabulary and are still in use today. In most cases we have looked at, there are relatively few words whose sense is restricted to farming and which were certainly first used by farmers.

The figures given below are no more than approximations, as it is impossible to standardise the content of these lists but they allow us to compare the structure of the DM list with that of the CR and CM lists. The number of words is shown in brackets.

DM (270) CR (801) CM (810) CD (140)
Fire 10% 2% 4% 9%
Hunting 47% 50% 43% 50%
Farming 8% 3% 22% 13%

Hunting is by a considerable margin the largest category in all four lists. Words defining traps, weapons, butchery, hunger and other sub-categories are no longer specific to hunting but by default they were first used by hunters. Farmers continued to use these words, with their original meaning or a new one, and we still use them today, but they were first coined by hunters to express some new idea or object. The first farmers, after all, had grown up as hunters.

With the exception of the CM list, which apparently reflects the spread of arable farming in southern Europe, words that relate specifically to farming make a very small contribution to the lists we have looked at, suggesting that the Neolithic revolution changed very little in most parts of Europe. Farming in most areas appears to have been limited to a pastoral revolution, where herding the newly-domesticated cattle, sheep and goats replaced hunting wild species.

The emphasis varies from list to list but all the roots or sectors investigated so far contain most of these aspects.

  • Hunting, rounding-up, violent death, pleasure and plenty.
  • The tribal forest as wilderness, marginal land, or the world.
  • The kindred or tribe of men who hunted there.
  • Their leader or chief (G. Righ an Domhain 'King of the World').
  • The individual hunter: his heroism, foolhardiness, stupidity, greed and poverty.
  • The quarry and hunting methods.
  • Weapons and equipment.
  • Hunger and small portions.
  • The Lady as mother, maiden, hag and whore.
  • Butchery.
  • Division of the spoils
  • Types of signal: drum, music, singing, fire, smoke.

Other categories are more varied but include the arts, design concepts, urban evolution, social evolution (centralised authority, permanent homes), transport by land and sea, religion, and recent inventions (drainage, carpentry, books).

There is no way of proving that these categories match the reality of lexical evolution. It is possible that a completely different division is possible which would correspond to a different reality. However that the match is realistic can be measured by the relative ease with which several hundred assorted words from languages as diverse as Finnish, Gaelic, Latin, Czech, Albanian and Dutch, have fitted again and again into the major categories of fire, hunting and farming and have, quite often, produced new categories, such as the preoccupation of CR with the colour of blood and of DM with water and drainage. None of this was evident when I embarked on the first long lists for CR and CM. The surprise was the range and depth of the meanings that came to light but their categories were easy to recognise without any stretch of the imagination. A greater surprise was the recognition that CR and CM had virtually parallel structures, despite being entirely different in many other ways. DM was different but responded to the application of similar logic and the LM and RB lists have added their own insights into skin clothing and hunting methods. The test of any kind of thesaurus or index is that as few words as possible should remain homeless at the end of the exercise and this has certainly been achieved.

The categories rest ultimately on the principle that where culture goes, words follow. A society which does not evolve materially or intellectually will not evolve lexically as it will have no need for new words for innovations or new ways of expressing its thoughts. Our word-lists are unanimous in showing our ancestors as hunters who used fire, designed tools, exploited and improved the landscape. Apart from words for fish and sea-weed (famine food?) there are no words referring to gathering or foraging (or scavenging) before the organised cereal growing revealed by the CM list. Other than a few tree names plant names are notably missing from these lists. This confirm a fact often overlooked by archaeologists who know more about the San than the Saami: most of Europe is too far north for wild plants to have any dietary importance.

The desirable food in prehistory was red meat with abundant fat. All the lists have many references to butchering fresh kill and dividing it up. Nowhere is there the slightest hint that scavenging - eating the meat of animals which have been killed by another predator or which have died from other causes - played any part in the survival of our ancestors at any time. In Africa the idea is absurd: fresh meat is fought over by hordes of animals designed for the job with teeth, claws and beaks. Whatever is left is rotten within a few hours. If we look at the word 'scavenge', the only references are to medieval urban life. E. scavenge comes from Du. schauwen ‘to inspect’, which is cognate with E. show 'to make visible', which is already remote from living on second-hand meat. E. scavage was ‘a toll formerly levied in burghs on goods offered for sale by outsiders'. This no doubt entailed their showing what they brought in to the burgh. When they left they apparently dumped the leftovers as scavage also means 'street refuse’, hence scavenger ‘a street-cleaner’. From this also we get O.Du. schaffen ‘to scrounge food, to eat in a rough and ready manner’ which shows us a poor urban class subsisting on refuse. There is no hint of scrounging for food among the hunting words, though the DM list came up with 'taint' and 'to dump rubbish'. Nothing written by people who have survived in the wild by hunting supports the idea that scavenging could play any part in their survival. In the wild every scrap of fresh meat has an owner; nothing is left lying around for men who are, in any case, equipped with the language, intelligence, fire, and weapons to catch their own.

Wherever we have started, and our starting points have been assorted, we have turned up evidence for communal hunting. The most basic ‘drive them over a cliff and pelt them with stones’ technique was known in Scotland, as was the 'drive them into a bog and pelt them with stones' variant. Both are effective if wasteful techniques which were already in use in Africa. The motor control hypothesis of C.D. Darlington (1975) and W.H. Calvin (1983) attributes the notable increase in brain size, which began 2.5 million years ago and which is linked to no comparable change in the archaeological record, to a steady improvement in our ability to throw stones.1 This is indeed something we are very good at. Even quite small boys are very good at throwing stones. This ability can only be of such primordial importance if it enabled us to live for longer and have more children who were good at throwing stones - in other words, if it made us more effective hunters. This is compatible with Mark Baldwin’s thesis that visible evolutionary change - here the increase in brain size - follows invisible change in behaviour by favouring individuals who are already most able to take advantage of the change. The advantage in this case was that a man (and it is primarily a male attribute) who could throw stones accurately and with power could more effectively defend himself against other predators and kill his own prey.

A successful hunt also depends on the terrain and the availability of prey. Larger groups do better than small ones or individuals. Recent research has shown a link between brain size in social mammals such as primates and wolves and the size of their social group. Humans have the biggest brain/body ratio of all primates and live in the largest groups.2 The figures suggest a tribe of 150 individuals;3 Oppenheimer would go as far as 400 but the difficulty of feeding so many and communicating among them must reduce the value of such a large group.4 This can be compared with the organisation of the modern army which reflects that of a hunting clan. A battalion has 400 men while an infantry company of three platoons and support structure has 150. A platoon of 50 is divided into operating sections of 10, in which we may see the men of a township and their extended families. The deciding factor is the tribe’s ability to muster sufficient men to be able to exploit the local terrain. In very rough country it is unlikely that there are fewer but larger groupings but in Scotland such terrain is exploited by regular joint hunts in which several tribes collaborate. Modern hunter-gatherers are not relevant to European prehistory for at least two reasons: they live in regions in which vegetable resources are relatively important, and they have been pushed by land-hungry farmers into marginal areas where scarcity of food forces each family to forage separately.

Putting this together, the growth in brain size which began 2.5 million years may relate directly to throwing but this was of specific value in communal hunting. Groups which could throw well could kill more prey, produce more food, and increase in size. This can also be deduced from the large size proposed for the human social groups. The great advantage was to increase the size of territory which could be exploited when one had an adequate number of adult men. Women and children too small to participate stayed near the tribal hearth and looked after the fire which protected them from other predators. This fire-protected home base provided a safe place to raise the slow-maturing infants that are another feature of our species. Men dragged their prey home on skins, on branches, on hurdles, and finally on wooden sledges. A cart is a sledge to which an axle and two wheels have been added but wheels were of limited use without roads.

Our word-lists tell us very little about domestication and do not distinguish between hunting and pastoral farming. This can only be because domestication was not a new departure but a long-established way of conserving natural resources.

Fire is omnipresent and when we follow the lexical trail (in the following chapter) we can see that from fire comes all human achievement. Its earliest inventive use was in hunting Fire is now largely invisible inside our boilers and engines, but we still depend on it every time we travel by car, switch on a light, turn up the central heating or plough a field but it made its main contribution to human society, culture and language long ago.

The invention of clothes has been traced to the cooler weather brought by the Toba eruption 70,000 to 75,000 years ago, the incidental benefit being our ability to colonise colder latitudes. Mark Stoneking and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, applied the molecular clock technique to human lice and found that body lice (which live on clothing) diverged from head lice some 75,000 years ago.5

In the following chapters we will find out just how complete is the link between fire and language.

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