Chapter 8: Comparing the CR and the CM lists

It is possible that further additions to the CR and CM lists will change their shape but two samples of more than 800 words each, drawn from the same sources by the same researcher, would seem to provide valid grounds for comparison.

The most remarkable finding is that the CR and CM lists have a very similar structure (Table 8.1). Until CM was adopted by farmers in the Neolithic, they run in parallel, suggesting that the evolution of language is not a random process but follows certain rules. Although CR and CM are separate portions of the pie, their internal layers are almost identical. In both cases they include fire, hunting, farming, and transport and have lesser contributions relating to authority, a design concept (symmetry in CR and curves and hooks in CM) and religious belief. The CR and CM ‘hunting’ words also have a very similar internal structure (Table 8.2) and both lists furnish names for a variety of more recent developments. The convergence in the hunting words suggests that both of these roots remained in common use in Europe throughout the Palaeolithic and up to the introduction of cereal farming, after which we can detect regional variation. The main difference is in the importance of farming.

Table 8.1 Breakdown by main category.

By category CR % CM %
Fire 18 2% 33 4%
Design concepts 60 7% 45 5%
Hunting 400 50% 347 43%
Farming 21 3% 176 22%
Authority 7 1% 72 9%
Transport 190 24% 63 8%
Irrational behaviour 55 7% 24 3%
Other categories 50 6% 48 6%
TOTAL 801 808

Fig. 8.2 Breakdown of the hunting category.

Hunting CR % CM %
The hunt or round-up 58 14% 90 26%
The hunters 47 12% 26 8%
The hunting grounds 23 6% 18 5%
Traps and ambushes 47 12% 22 6%
Signalling systems 9 2% 22 6%
Equipment and weapons 61 15% 30 9%
The quarry 32 8% 5 1%
Butchery 57 14% 56 16%
The colour of blood 17 4% 8 2%
Distribution of the spoils 11 3% 48 14%
Complaints ,31 8% 17 5%
Hunger 7 2% 5 1%
TOTAL 400 347

There are also a number of quite consistent differences. The most notable is the insignificant part played by farming in the CR list (3%) compared with the CM list (22%). This in itself is enough to suggest a preference for CR in the north and a corresponding preference for CM in the south, where an innovating farming culture has borrowed abundantly and creatively from the preceding hunting lexicon. This pattern suggests CR words were used by northern cultures which remained dependent on hunting. The differential use of these roots within these languages and the content of these words show that the CR root spread within a hunting culture which made very little progress towards agriculture. CM also spread within a hunting culture – this is axiomatic since the first men to use language were exclusively hunters – but the CM culture, which can be distinguished on the basis of this difference, converted from hunting to farming and borrowed its terms from existing CM hunting language.

A north-south divide can be shown in another way. Arabic, Greek, Hebrew and Latin, all of them southern languages, contribute a total of 230 words to the CM list but only 98 to the CR list, while the northern languages Gaelic and Finnish contribute 173 to CR but only 86 to CM. This is particularly the case with Finnish. This picture is tentative but it appears to distinguish between southern 'Neolithic' and northern 'Mesolithic' languages. Thus we find that specific aspects of CM vocabulary spread in Europe with agricultural improvements, notably as arable farming and patriarchal villages were established.

Fig. 6.3 CR and CM words in southern and northern languages

Arabic Greek Hebrew Latin Gaelic Finnish
CR 17 38 1 42 100 73
CM 77 63 19 71 76 10

The large CM vocabulary in Gaelic appears to be anomalous but it refers to pastoral farming, not to arable farming. It may show immigrant influence, coming in to Scotland with improved cows, for the CM people were farmers, even in Highland Scotland.

This analysis so far might suggest a progression from hunting to herding but in fact almost every ‘herding’ word could equally well describe the activities of hunters. Another test is to combine words relating to hunting, traps and butchery (categories 3.a, 3.d and 3.h) into a single category relating to the management of herds of animals, wild or domesticated. The CR list has 162 such words while the CM list, despite its farming bias, has 168. This suggests that despite the novelties that herald the arrival of the Neolithic way of life – the permanent settlements, the pottery, the crops, the centralising of authority – there was much that did not change. Men were not rapidly reconciled to surviving on a mess of lentil pottage. Their main objective, as it had been since time immemorial, was to ensure an adequate supply of fresh meat. The persistence of the hunting lexicon with what appear to be its original meanings suggests that the techniques used to round up domesticates and drive them into a pen were exactly the same as the hunting techniques used to round up deer and drive them into an ambush. Lexically and technologically there was no distinction between hunting and herding. The terms which served when driving deer into an ambush continued in use when deer were replaced by cows or sheep. We may imagine that domesticated animals are more tractable than their wild ancestors but we still use dogs, sticks, gates, walls, ropes and nose-rings to control them.

Another fact which points to a substantial degree of lexical continuity from the Mesolithic into the Neolithic is that hunting and herding coexisted for a long time in Europe. With one exception, all of the cultures which make up the European Neolithic retain a substantial hunting aspect, as shown by the persistent use of Mesolithic weapons and the consumption of wild meat by settled families. Only at Nea Nikomedia in Greece do we find the complete Neolithic package with no sign of local admixture.

Another pointer is the discrepancy in the names for animals in the two lists. It is not certain that the animals named are wild or tame but, as it stands, the CR list has 32 words which could apply to wild animals and only 3 which certainly apply to domesticates whereas the CM list has 4 words for wild animals and 19 for domesticates, albeit an odd assortment. The horse is ambiguous as it could be the wild animal hunted throughout Palaeolithic Europe for the fat in its bones, or the same animal tamed. I have assumed that the CR horse was wild and the CM horse tame which no doubt distorts the results but it reflects the actual history of the horse in Europe and is reflected in Fr. carne ‘meat of poor quality; an old horse’. I have made the same assumption in the case of pigs and cows where again hunted breeds were ancestral to domestic breeds.

A further distinction between the CR people and the CM folk is in the names they had for hunters. It is compatible with the rest of the picture that the CM folk, as invasive farmers, should describe hunters in derogatory terms as a starving, ragged, disreputable rabble. No doubt, as farming disrupted the old hunting grounds, these terms were accurate enough. However to describe a hunter as a thief or robber was not in fact an insult since, as hunters saw themselves in poetic terms as stealing from the goddess, or from nature. The two lists also provides a different view of the hunting grounds. The CR people describe the land around them while to many of the CM folk the hunting grounds are described as distant place, defined by a compass direction: Siberia comes from Ru. seber ‘north’ and was a region where hunting continued. Ar. shamaal ‘north’ perhaps defined a region of hunting or herding. Hind. sumal ‘north’ is cognate with Himalaya, and was again perhaps a wild region noted for its hunting.

If the CM root contributed generously to the lexicon of arable farming, CR made its mark with transport, being used to name all manner of unwheeled sledges and wooden frames, as well as wheeled vehicles, baskets and other small containers, and a variety of large and small ships, seen as floating containers. The wheeled car has entertained the young bloods of northern Europe for 5,000 years without losing any of its appeal. That it was a northern invention we know: the Romans learned all they knew about wheeled transport and draught horses from the tribes living beyond the Alps. The car did not entirely escape the bondage of heavy loads but for most of its existence it has been a frivolous vehicle, light and fast, drawn by two horses and serving to transport elite hunters and other carefree folk from A to B and back again. St Columba travelled across the plains of Ireland in a two-wheeled jaunting-car or jarvey. Said to be from St Jarvis, whose emblem is a whip, but which came first? If recorded language is any guide, the many fashionable variations on this theme have always been carefully distinguished.

In contrast, the CM wordlist shows quite strikingly the lack of mobility endured by farmers. CM ‘transport’ words refer to heavy loads of agricultural produce and invoke low slow wagons, long slow boats, burdened pack-animals, and considerable human effort. As never before, man became a beast of burden when he was reduced to farming. Even his meat animals were pressed into service. Ar. jamal is specifically the male of the species, ridden, used as a pack-animal, and eaten when necessary. Ar. naaga or nuwg, the female camel, is kept for breeding and for milk.

There is a sign that in learned society both roots were in use at the same time in the same place, for ‘quarter’ is a CR word while CM contributes words for the unit, the half and the method of calculating to base 2. Both are part of the old method of division which was simply to allocate a single pile of objects alternately to two piles and to repeat the process as often as required. Applied to land units in the West of Scotland this process of sub-division was capable, at least in theory, of dividing a measure of land into 128 equal parts (2 raised to the power of 7). The CM ‘half’ also offers a sophisticated decimalised count to base 6 (60, 360) which is discussed elsewhere.

Words for authority again provide a remarkable contrast. The CR folk lived in autonomous groups which were governed by mutual consent. Their only words for superior authority are a handful of mainly northern terms for ‘leader’, by which we may understand a hunt master or judge. The corresponding CM words provide a wearisome picture of sanctimonious oppression. Abuse of power appears to be a collateral feature of centralised settlement.

Finally there is a telling difference in the realm of irrational belief. Perhaps unexpectedly, it shows that northern hunters were more religious than southern farmers, though it does not seem as if irrational activity was very important to either group. The Car folk worshipped a primeval female being who is seen as a beautiful maiden, a generous mother, or a terrible death-crone with a black face and blood-stained teeth. In all these forms she represents the productivity of the herds and a reliable supply of red meat. Hunters made sure she heard them and understood them by singing loud and explicit songs and to make their intention even more clear they mimed the encircling movements of the hunt, the death of the stag, and his activities at the rut. All the arts contributed to these revels and as their expectations were regularly fulfilled, their image of the Goddess was one of ‘grace, favour, generosity and kindness’. On a more rational and no doubt older level, the curée is addressed to the dead animal and is a ceremonial expression of sorrow at his death and gratitude for his contribution to life.

The CM farmers lived in a harder world. Settled farmers have left much more for archaeologists to find but in their personal lives they appear to have had much less use for religious belief. Their religious terminology also shows different themes. Farmers continued to sing hymns of thanksgiving, supplication and atonement and they still danced. But much had changed. They had been taught by a learned intermediary to address their old hymns to a new god, son of the old Goddess. Their lives were hard and uncertain but this new god did not inspire them with affection or confidence. Becoming restless, they were tamed by new and inventive concepts of sin, shame, and expiation which make the new god even less attractive but which give his priests greater powers to demoralise and blackmail. However the beautiful Maiden of the wild places was not forgotten. She no longer strides across the mountains to appear in her glory out of the morning mists but she lingers among the tame herds and flocks and is glimpsed now and then by shepherdesses.

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