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It was a perfect cool and sunny Canberra afternoon. Some of the Wednesday Lunch Linguists wanted to avoid spending it on marking. And so we headed off to Peter Bellwood's seminar at ANU, Early farmers and the spread of languages in South Asia. This was partly based on a paper he gave at the Harvard Kyoto Roundtable in 2005 [1]. Prehistorians can tell grand stories, and this was grand by their standards - wheat, barley, rice and the linguistic history of the whole of India and Pakistan.

Bellwood painted a picture of Indo-Aryans sweeping into northern India from Iran with cattle, domesticated cereals, mother goddess figurines, and copper technology from about 3500 BC. But not as horse-mounted hordes. Dravidians came in about the same time but from slightly further south, with Neolithic technology, cereals (no wheat or barley) and they developed cattle corrals. And about 3000 BC Munda speakers came in from the east, with rice-cultivation techniques and cord-marking pottery that resembles that found in China.

The basic lines of argument are that if we want to explain the distribution of language families, then we have to consider that:
2. People move, languages don't move (much... people need a reason to shift languages), and scatterings of language families means the ancestors of the speakers must have moved to different places.
3. People need a reason to move. Conquerors, world religions, colonialism are all irrelevant in these early moves.
4. In the material culture record in India there are differences: lots of Neolithic sites in Dravidian heartlands, copper in Indo-Aryan areas, corded pottery in possible Munda areas, and so on. And there are dates for the appearance of different cereals in different areas. Rice came from India, wheat and barley from West Asia.
5. So Bellwood links speakers with technologies and farming techniques, and thus the spread of these, and direction of spread, with the spread of the language families. He didn't spell it out, but I suppose the assumption is that hunter gatherer peoples don't learn farming techniques unless a whole bunch of farmers moves in, and in that case they might as well learn the farmers' language as well.
6. This results in much earlier dates for Indo-Aryan than linguists usually give (ours are often linked with the hypothesised composition of the Rig-Veda ca 1500 BC).
7. So in Bellwood's view, if you have evidence of material culture change, and of language family spread, then you try to link the one with the other. Thus the approach ignores the possibility of spread of languages by hunter-gatherers, because there is little material culture evidence that could be used to prove or disprove such a hypothesised spread.

The upshot for linguists is that Bellwood's hypothesis makes it important to reconstruct terminology sets for the relevant material culture and farming and pastoralism technologies for the language families. Do the Munda languages share obviously old words for rice? But it also forces us to think about what the reasons could be for language spread in hunter gather societies, such as pre-colonial Australia, and where one would look for evidence for to prove or disprove them.

[1] BELLWOOD, PETER. 2006. Early farmers: issues of spread and migration with respect to the Indian subcontinent. Proceedings of the Pre-symposium of RIHN and 7th ESCA Harvard-Kyoto Roundtable, ed. by Osada Toshiki and Noriko Hase, 58-72. Kyoto: Research Institute for Humanity and Nature.


Good stuff. Jane is doing us all a service here. But I infer from her account that she feels Bellwood is inserting, perhaps even justifying, methodological bias in favour of agriculture, and against the random walks of hunter-gatherers. Indeed, if people had such a good life in the uncluttered days of HG-ing, perhaps they would have time and motivation to indulge a spirit of adventure, and just head off over the horizon, whenever the spirit moved them. The agriculturalists, after all, are settlers by nature - usually, at least for a year at a time.

I bet it was not the spirit, but thirst, hunger and quarrels with the family that often were the main motivators. But there's something inspiring about Warlpiri people's enthusiasm: 'Let's get moving, let's go to fresh country.'

Methodologically - yes- since we need explanations for why there are language families across the hunter gatherer societies of Australia, similar explanations could have accounted for spreads of languages in South Asia before the arrival of agriculture.

I've never understood the "people move, languages don't move" argument. It's clearly not right as a universal, or at best vastly simplistic. For example, there was a 6,000 year old peat bog man found in the West of England with enough DNA preserved to test for descendants, and a great match was found in the village a mile from the swamp! Now no one claims that English was spoken in Cheshire 6,000 years ago.. How about the Damara(Ethnic Bantus who speak Khoekhoegowab)? It's not at all clear to me that "languages don't move" is a viable general principle. After all, population movement is also a complex business...

"Now no one claims that English was spoken in Cheshire 6,000 years ago..." Don't be too sure of that. Certainly something like that is implicit in Oppenheimer 2006 - see
and http://www.amazon.co.uk/Origins-British-Genetic-Detective-Story/dp/1845291581/sr=1-1/qid=1163682552/ref=sr_1_1/026-7535216-9574055?ie=UTF8&s=books
and indeed, when you come to think about it, there's no reason that Germanic speakers should have been less sea-faring between Ice Age and Roman conquest than the Celts.

Yeah, except we have evidence from Tacitus, etc, that that area was Celtic-speaking in the meantime.

You ask for written evidence, from Tacitus, that these people were Celtic-speaking? I can't speak for Cheshire specifically (perhaps the area of the Cornovii) but in their brief comments on the British, both Julius Caesar and Tacitus note a significant difference in type between coastal and inland British populations. Julius Caesar writes (de Bello Gallico, v.12)
"The interior of Britain is inhabited by those of whom they say the tradition is that they they were indigenous to the island; the coastlands by people who had crossed from the Belgae’s territory for plunder and war; almost all these tribes kept their original names when they settled down after the war…"
As to the Belgae, Caesar had also remarked (de Bello Gallico, ii.4):
"When Caesar asked the Remi what states were under arms, their power and military capabilities, he was told that most of the Belgae were of German origin, and having early crossed the Rhine, had settled there on account of the richness of the land, and had expelled the Gaulish inhabitants…"
Tacitus adds (Agricola xi):
"Who were the original inhabitants of Britain, whether indigenous or foreign, is as usual among barbarians, little known… The red hair and large limbs of Caledonians (in modern Scotland) indicate a German origin. The dark complexion of the Silures, their usually curly hair … are evidence that Iberians anciently crossed over to settle here. Those who live nearest to the Gauls are also like them… The language differs but little."
No ancient author recognized the major linguistic divide between Gaulish and Germanic languages, so this last could be taken as evidence that Belgae in Britain’s south-east spoke a Germanic language, like their cousins on the continent. In the absence of almost any written evidence in the languages spoken by the non-Roman population, we must accept that the invaders could have found already sizeable Germanic, i.e. proto-English, communities settled in the eastern and southern parts of the island, and perhaps even further north.

Thanks Nick, I was remembering Latin classes from the rapidly retreating past.
But even if there were "Proto-English" speakers before the Roman conquest, 6,000 years ago is much earlier (but several thousands of years) than one would normally date proto-Germanic to, let alone a proto-English.

Agreed. You were talking 6000 years, and I 3000 at the outside. But who knows what could have happened in those previous 3000 - perhaps as full of complex event (if undocumented) as the partly recorded history of the latter 3000? Ignoratio elenchi strikes again. Ironically, I'd have thought that your palaeo-Australian expertise would give more insight than Europe can into peoples' and languages' movement or permanence in that sort of long term. But it doesn't take such long-term examples to make your original point: the ancestors of all Romance-speaking western Europe (except Latium) were speaking something different as recently as 2500 years ago. Roman soldiers and matrons can't be the only ancestors of every continental Western European. So I think it's quite clear that some languages do move, above and beyond errant populations.

John Raciti's Belgae Modal: Gallo-Belgic (Bello Gallico)


Gallic-Belgae - Belgae - The Belgae shown in south central England were related to the Belgium tribes on the continent. These peoples are believed to have crossed the channel about 75 BC. The most numerous tribe of the Belgae in Britannia at the time Agricola was governor (78-84 AD) were the Catuvallauni. The Catuvallauni of Britannia had skirmished with Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 BC when Caesar raided southern Britannia to punish the tribes aiding their kin on the continent as Caesar conquered Gaul.

I am a Dravidian and I speak two Dravidian languages fluently and other two I can understand. I felt a lot of similarity between Dravidian languages and Indigenous languages and also their culture and beliefs.

Re:Detective work solves a genetic mystery

My Story:

Subject: Belgae DNA Modal & Nordic-Celtic Project

Belgae DNA Modal & Nordic-Celtic Project

I have come up we this - Belgae DNA Modal through my Nordic-Celtic DNA project (1008 members).



Investigating the contribution that archaeology has made to accounts of human evolution

Accounts of human evolution usually revolve around well-publicised discoveries of the bony remains of our ancestors. These do allow us to piece together our family tree and to paint - at least in broad outline - a picture of the ancestors who appear on that tree. But it is the archaeological record that preserves actual traces of our ancestors' activities and intuition suggests that these ought to be fundamental to our accounts of human evolution. However, this is far from being the case and this project is designed to explore why this is so.

This is a link to my Research:


My research looks at - to what degree of social assimilation occurred between native European groups of people throughout the history of Australia and the western world - through dna?

The focus of the project is to gather a representation of evidence and interest in Native Scandinavians and Native Celtic-Iberians found in ‘all’ parts of Australia and where we came from Europe.

[...] 27, 2008 by Gershom Gorenberg To continue a conversation with Haim about politics and physics: Faux pas, shmaux pas. In physics, action and reaction refer to motion. In Israeli-Palestinian relations, [...]

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