Monthly Archives: May 2016

Children playing

Irish: “Tá na páistí ag súgradh sa tsráid”
English: The children are playing in the street.

In the above Irish sentence the word “súgradh” (pronounced “sugra“) means “(act of) playing, sporting; amusement, flirting, having fun. This is a verbal noun of a verb that has no finite or participial forms. The Irish “súgradh” comes from the Old Irish “súgrad” with the same meaning. The etymology of this word is unknown. This word has no cognates outside of Gaelic (that I know of)…

Now in Serbian we have the word “igra” meaning “play, game”. The verb “igrat”, “igrati” means “to play, to dance, to have fun”. This word comes from the Proto-Slavic jьgra and has cognates in all Slavic languages: 

Belarusian: ігра ‎(ihra)
Russian: игра ‎(igra)
Ukrainian: гра ‎(hra)
Bulgarian: игра ‎(igra)
Macedonian: игра ‎(igra)
Serbo-Croatian: игра (igra)
Slovene: igra
Old Czech: jhra
Czech: hra
Polabian: jagréića
Old Polish: igra
Polish: gra
Slovak: hra, ihra
Slovincian: gra
Upper Sorbian: jhra, hra
Lower Sorbian: gra, igra

The etymology of this word is unknown. This word has no cognates outside of Slavic languages (that I know of)…

Now are these two words related? I think so because in some dialects of Serbian we have another version of the word “igra”: “sigra”. This word also means “play, game”. And the verb derived from this word is “sigrat”, “sigrati” meaning “to play, to dance, to have fun”.

So we have:

Slavic wide: “igra”, “igrat”
Serbian only: “sigra”, “sigrat”
Irish: “súgradh”

All meaning 

“play, game” and “to play, to dance, to have fun”

What do you think? Coincidence?

According to the latest archaeological data, Balkans and particularly the territory of today’s Serbia was a mayor Celtic (Gaulic) stronghold between the 4th and the 1st century bc. I wrote about this in my post “Bran – Vran“. The genetic data from the Balkans is showing that the descendants of these Celts are still living in the Balkans, Slavicised and mixed with many other people into Serbians. Maybe this is why it is in the Serbian language that we find words like “sigra” which is the link between the Irish “súgradh” and the Slavic “igra”…

Curing = Smoking

There is a Serbian proverb which says: “Ko se dima ne nadimi, taj se vatre ne nagreje”. It means: “Who doesn’t get smoked, doesn’t get warm”. The proverb simply states the fact that from the moment people started using fires inside roofed dwellings, the inside of these dwellings looked, pretty much permanently, like this:

Or like this:
The above two pictures were taken recently in Croatia, inside of two traditional houses with a built in hearths used for traditional cooking. Nice and cosy and smoky. 
The problem is that until very recently, houses had hearths and or stoves but didn’t have chimneys.
This is a hearth in a reconstructed Iron Age round house.

This is a 19th century Serbian house from Dinara region:

This is a hearth in a 20th century house in Montenegro.

The smoke created by burning of wood or peat inside of the hearth or the oven had no other way of escaping except through the pores and openings in the roof or through the door. This would have filled the inside of the houses with smoke and would have made the houses from the outside look like they were on fire. You can see the smoke escaping through the roof and the door.
If you for instance approached an Iron Age roundhouse village, or any other village with thatched houses, you would have seen something like this:
Iron age village from “The Romano-British Peasant

The fire in the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age and Medieval houses was pretty much never extinguished. It was constantly smouldering. Preserving of the house fire was one of the most important duties of the housewife. This means that the house was always smoky. Interestingly, the smoke permeating the roof actually protected the roof from rotting as it killed bacteria and moulds. A big problem in these archaeological parks today is that because there is no permanently smoking fire, the roofs rot away very quickly.

During the winter, I would guess, the house doors were shut, so even more smoke gathered inside of the house and slowly drifted upwards towards the roof. And up there, under the roof, on the supporting beams, people hang fish, meat and skins. Why? Well in the same way the smoke killed bacteria and molds in the thatch, it did the same with the bacteria and moulds in meat turning it into smoked meat.

This type of meat curing, preservation is still used today. This is a picture of an inside of the typical private smoke house from the Balkans. The meat is first covered in salt and left to absorb salt from 10 – 20 days and it is only then smoked. This makes the final product much more resistant to bacteria and therefore more durable.

The smoke from the hearths and ovens would also have helped preserve animal skins and turn them into smoked skins (buckskin, leather).

Buckskin is the soft, pliable, porous preserved hide of an animal which is used for making clothes and bedding. In order to make Buckskin from a raw hide, you first need to scrape the hide to remove any flesh remains. Then you need to tan the hide using any emulsified fat, such as egg yolks or the animal’s brain mixed into water. After this you need to stretch and dry the hide which involves continuous pulling and stretching of the hide in all directions, which lubricates the fibers of the hide with the oil of the dressing, and ensures that the fibers stay lubricated. Finally, the dry skin which should now be totally supple and soft, has to be smoked, in order to make it washable and resistant to water.

You can see how this all fits inside of a typical Iron Age roundhouse on this picture:

So it turns out that, probably by chance, people realized that smoking meat and skins preserves them, protects them from rotting. No wonder then that smoke has been used to preserve and flavour food and treat leather since a very long time ago. How long time ago is long time ago? No one knows really, but I would venture to say that the intentional use of smoking for preserving food and skin was probably already used in late Paleolithic, early Mesolithic period of human history.

And here is where we come to linguistics. In English, the word for preserving meat and skin using smoking is “curing”.

When we look up the word “cure” in the English Etymological Dictionary it tell us this:

A process of preservation, as by smoking. In reference to fish, pork, etc., first recorded 1743.”

So what was the process of curing meat using smoke called before 1743 I don’t know. I would be grateful if someone would clarify this for me. Before 1743, the word “curing” was used with the meaning: 

“Act of healing or state of being healed; restoration to health from disease, or to soundness after injury, a method, device or medication that restores good health. first recorded in late 14c.” 

The English word “cure” comes from Old French “curer” meaning “care, cure, healing, cure of souls”, which comes from Latin “cura” ((archaic) coira, coera) meaning “care, concern, thought; trouble, solicitude; anxiety, grief, sorrow, attention, management, administration, charge, care, command, office, guardianship, medical attendance, healing, rearing, culture, care, an attendant, guardian, observer”

But where does this Latin word come from? Well, the English Etymological dictionary says: “a noun of unknown origin“…

Let’s see if we can find the origin of this mysterious word. 

The original meaning of the verb “to care” was “to care for”,  basically “to keep alive”, “to preserve”. We take care of someone or something that is dear to us, precious to us, and which is not able to take care of itself, like a child, a sick or wounded person, a young domestic animal. So what does “caring for” something or someone involve? Well basically it means keeping this something or someone dry, warm, feeding it, cleaning it, sheltering it from wind and rain, protecting it, making sure that nothing bad is done to it and that it doesn’t do anything bad to itself and its surrounding (like wreck the place if what you care for are children or young animals). Basically “caring for” means keeping alive. The “caring for” something or someone is a full time job and requires staying in and around the shelter, house all the time. And this is why the “caring for” was always the job of women. They “cared for” children, sick and wounded and young animals. Men “took care of” jobs that needed to be done, flocks, crops, land, and later towns, states…but with male duties the original meaning of “care for” was gradually lost and was turned into passive “worry” or active “manage”…And this is what we are left with today pretty much. We “care” for so many things, we even occasionally “take care of” as thing or two, but we rarely “care for” anyone or anything. 

Anyway, in the past, apart from caring for children, sick and wounded and young animals, women cared for another very important thing: fire. Fire in the house hearth was one of the most precious things which had to be constantly cared for, and never ever be allowed to die. This behaviour has been recorded by ethnographers everywhere in Evroasia even in the 20th century, and it comes to us straight from the Paleolithic, and maybe even Mesolithic times, when people didn’t know how to make fire. Fire had to be found, a natural fire from a thunder strike or a forest fire, and then carefully preserved by caring for it. The caring for fire was so important that it was elevated to a level of a religious duty. Every household would care for their own house fire, but temples would would also care for the village or town fire which also should never have been allowed to die. Even after people discovered reliable ways of making fire, this belief in sacredness of fire and caring for fire remained in beliefs related to heath fire. 

So how do you care for fire? Well in exactly the same way you care for children, sick and wounded and the young animals. Basically caring for fire means keeping fire dry, warm, feeding it wood, cleaning it from ash, sheltering it from wind and rain, protecting it, making sure that nothing bad is done to it and that it doesn’t do anything bad to itself and its surrounding (like burn the place down). The most important part of caring for fire is feeding it wood, basically keeping the fire alive, keeping it burning. 

In Slavic languages we have a word “kur” which means “to burn, to smoke, to heat”:

Proto-Slavic kur – to burn, to smoke, to heat.
Church-Slavonic: коурити, коурити (kouriti), krada – fireplace, hearth
Russian: кури́ть ‎(kurítʹ) – to smoke (tobacco etc.), to burn, produce smoke by burning something, to distil, куре́ние ‎(kurénije) – smoking, incense
Ukrainian: кури́ти (kuriti) – to burn, produce smoke by burning something
Bulgarian: ку́рна (kurna) – to light up
Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian: ку́рити (kuriti) – to burn, to heat, to kindle, to persuade
Slovenian: kúriti – to burn, heat up
Czech: kouřit – to burn, produce smoke by burning something
Slovakian: kúriť – to burn, produce smoke by burning something
Polish: kurzyć, kurzę – to burn, produce smoke by burning something
Lusatian: kurić, kuriś – to burn, produce smoke by burning something

This word has cognates in:

Lithuanian: kùrti – to kindle, light up, heat up (kuriti, goreti – “to burn” in Slavic languages); kuriù – to heat up (kuri, gori u- “burns in” in Slavic languages); karštas – hot (gori šta – “which burns” in Slavic languages); krosnis – oven
Latvian: kurt – heat (kuri, gori tu (to)- “burns there  (that) in Slavic languages)
Finish: hurja – fierce, fiery (kuri, gori – burns in Slavic languages)
Gothic: haúri – coal (kuri, gori – burns in Slavic languages)
Old Norse: hyrr – fire (kuri, gori – burns in Slavic languages)
Norman, Old French, Middle French: cuire, cuyre – to cook (kuri, gori – burns in Slavic languages)

Latin: cremo – I consume or destroy by fire, burn, I burn something to ashes; cremate, I make a burnt offering (kurim, gorim – I burn in Slavic languages); carbo – charcoal, coal (gorivo – fuel in Slavic languages)
Sanskrit: कृष्ण ‎(kṛṣṇa) – burnt, black

The above Slavic word “kur” to burn is another variant of the Slavic word “gor” meaning to burn, about which I already wrote in my post about warmth, fire, sun. Like the word “kur” the root “gor” also has cognates in other Indoeuropean languages, but it seems to be best preserved in Slavic languages and Irish.

Here is just an example group from this cluster from Serbian and Irish:

goraim -, I heat, warm, burn; bask; hatch.
gorim – warm

gor – warmth

garadh – warm 
goradh –  act of burning; blushing; heat; déan do ghoradh, take a shin heat, incubation, keeping warm
garamhail – useful, profitable, neighborly; warm, snug, friendly;
gorai – place where chicks come out of eggs
gríos – embers, hot ashes; heat; fire; pimples, blotches, spots or rash on the skin;
gríosach – aighe, pl. -acha, f., fire, burning embers; ashes containing small coals of fire; glowing
griosagh – fire


gori – burns; goreti = gori ti = it burns, to burn
gorim – I am burning
gori – burns
grejan, grijan – heated, warm
gorionik – burner, torch
gorešnjak – big heat, hot weather
gorotina – what burns, burned place
gariti – to burn, to rush, to go fast
nagariti – put branches into the fire, feed the fire
garište – place where the fire used to burn
zgarište – something burned down

zgoreljak – something burned

So we have the Indoeuropean root word “cur, gor” meaning “to burn, to make and keep warm”. Compare this to the Latin word “cur, coir” meaning to “care for” Is it possible that these two words are connected? And is it possible then that the verb “to cure” meaning “to preserve by smoking” is related to the word “kur, gor” meaning “to burn, to smoke”? I think so. What do you think? 


People who live below high mountains, see only their side of the mountain. Most people are content with that view and believe that they know the mountain, that their view of the mountain is the mountain…When two people who live on opposite sides of the same mountain meet, they sometimes talk about “their” mountain not knowing that they are talking about the same mountain. And sometimes they even get into a fight over whose mountain is taller, bigger, more beautiful… 

People should hike more…Only through hiking, you can get to understand that even though there are many views of the mountain, and even though they are all different, they are all views of the same mountain…

Ram and Bull

This is zodiac
Have you ever wondered why Aries (Ram) and Taurus (Bull) astrological signs are where they are on a solar circle? 
Aries (Ram) 21 March – 20 April

Taurus (Bull) 21 April – 21 May 

I can hear everyone say: “Because the constellations in the sky at that time look like ram and bull”!

Well wait till you hear this. 

The mouflon is a subspecies group of the wild sheep (Ovis orientalis). Populations of the wild sheep can be partitioned into the mouflons (orientalis group) and the urials (vignei group). The mouflon is thought to be one of the two ancestors for all modern domestic sheep breeds.

The aurochs, also urus, ure (Bos primigenius), is an extinct type of large wild cattle that inhabited Europe, Asia and North Africa. It is the ancestor of domestic cattle. The species survived in Europe until the last recorded aurochs died in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland in 1627.

In the article “The Corsican Mouflon – and the EU Life Nature scheme” we read that the main lambing season for European wild mouflon, starts in March and lasts until May. 
In the article “Characteristic activity patterns of female mouflons (Ovis orientalis musimon) in the lambing period” we read that the wild European mouflon were monitored during their lambing season between the 1st of March to the 20th of April.

This means that the wild sheep main lambing season in Europe ended during the time of Aries (Ram or is it maybe Lamb) zodiac sign 21 March – 20 April. 

In the book “Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour of Wild Cattle: Implications for Conservation” by  Mario Melletti, James Burton we read that the main calving season for European wild bison starts in May with 80% of calves being born by the end of July and the rest being born by the end of September.
In the article “Strontium isotope tracing in animal teeth at the Neanderthal site of Les Pradelles, Charante, France. ” by Tegan Kelly we read that wild aurochs calving occured in May-June. 

This means that the wild cattle main calving season in Europe started during the time of Taurus (Bull or is it maybe Calf) zodiac sign 21 April – 21 May.

Today, lambing season starts in January and lasts until April and calving season is all year round, but this is not a natural thing. We people changed the natural cycles of animals through domestication because it suited us. 

The first lunisolar calendars were created by our henge building Central European ancestors 7000 years ago. The reason for the creation of the lunisolar calendar is because it allows a reliable way of marking cyclical yearly events that happen in nature, particularly the events linked with agriculture. To be able to do this you need a static point on a solar circle, a point within the solar year, that you can reliably determine and which doesn’t change. Once people were able to precisely determine the winter or summer solstice, they had that static point on the solar circle, and now they could plot all natural events that occur during the yearly cycle. 

I am sure that they soon noticed that the lambing season and the calving season always happens at the same time and they simply marked these periods with a lamb and a calf. And hey presto, Aries and Taurus were born…

I can hear you asking: “What about the stars”?

Well I believe that constellations were added much much later. But basically, when the constellations were chosen, they were chosen to look like already existing zodiac signs of Ram and Bull, and not the other way round. And when I say look like, I mean vaguely, very vaguely look like (or not at all) look like… 🙂

Here is the constellation of Aries:

Here is the constellation of Taurus:

See what I mean?

Neat don’t you think? What do you think?


This is honey.

Honey is a sweet food made by honey bees using nectar from flowers.

The English word honey comes from Middle English hony, honi, which comes from Old English huniġ, which in turn comes from proposed Proto-Germanic *hunagą. The words for honey in all the other Germanic languages as well as in Finish and Middle Welsh come from this root. The last two are probably borrowing from Germanic languages. Where does this root come from is a mystery, considering that pretty much all the other Indoeuropean languages have words for honey which are based on the two phonetically very similar proposed PIE roots: medu and melid.

Words for honey derived from the proposed PIE root medu:

Latvian: mȩdus
Lithuanian: medus
Old Prussian: meddo
Slavic: *mȇdъ
Ossetian: mud, myd
Sanskrit: mádhu
Hindi: madhu
Urdu: madhu
Malay: madu
Telugu: madhuvu
Romani mol, mod, mou
Tocharian B: mīt

The Indo-European word for honey was prehistorically borrowed into Finno-Ugric, compare Finnish and Estonian mesi, Hungarian méz. Also possibly borrowed into Chinese: 蜜 (OC *mit > mì, “honey”), possibly via Tocharian languages.

Words for honey derived from the proposed PIE root mélid:

Albanian: mjaltë
Hittite: militt, malitt
Luwian: mallit
Old Armenian: mełr
Breton: mel
Cornish: mel
Welsh: mêl
Irish: mil
Manx: mill
Scottish Gaelic: mil
Ancient Greek: méli
Latin: mel. You can see the words for honey languages descended from Latin here.
Gothic: miliþ

On top of all of the above honey words we have these words which mean mead or wine. Mead, an alcoholic drink created by fermenting honey with water is one of the oldest if not the oldest alcoholic drinks made by man. Mead predates wine by millenniums and this is why we find that the word for wine in many languages is derived from the root “med(u)” meaning honey which is found in Slavic, Baltic and Sanskrit and Sanskrit derived languages.

Slavic: med / miod , which means both “honey” and “mead”
Baltic: medus “honey”, midus “mead”
Sanskrit: madhu – means both honey or sweet. It also means mead and alcohol.
Old Irish: mid – mead
Irish: miodh – mead
Gaulish: medu – mead
Breton: mez – mead
Cornish: medh – mead
Welsh: medd – mead
Ancient Greek: méthu – wine
Avestan: maδu  – wine
Bactrian: molo – wine
Persian: mol – wine
Old Persian: *madu – wine
Middle Persian: may – wine
Persian: mey -wine
Scythian: madu – wine
Sogdian: maδu – wine

Germanic: *meduz – mead. You can see the words for mead in Germanic languages here. How did Germanic languages acquire the word “mead” is a bit of a mystery considering the Germanic words for honey. Maybe this word was introduced through Gothic which borrowed it from Slavic languages during Chernyakhov culture period. Or maybe the word was borrowing from Celtic word for honey “medh”, which funnily enough, again have the same root as the Slavic word for honey “med”.

There is also an English word meadow. A meadow is a field or pasture; a piece of land covered with wild or cultivated grasses, usually intended to be mown for hay;

According to the etymological dictionary the word “meadow” comes from Old English mædwe “meadow, pasture,” originally “land covered in grass which is mown for hay”. This is an oblique case of the Old English mæd, Anglian med “meadow, pasture,” from Proto-Germanic *medwo (cognates: Old Frisian mede, Dutch made, German Matte “meadow,” Old English mæþ “harvest, crop”), from PIE *metwa- “a mown field,” from root *me- “mow, cut down grass or grain”

But is it possible that the word meadow is somehow related to the Slavic and Celtic word for honey: med?

This is a meadow. What do you see on the picture below? Lots and lots and lots and lots of wild flowers. Where there are wild flowers, there are bees, collecting nectar to make honey, med. It is basically the meadows that give material for honey, and hence that give honey, produce honey. In Archaic Serbian “gives honey” is “med dava” = “medava” = meadow = the place that give us honey?

Is it possible that the Germanic word for mowing was derived from the word for grassy area and not the other way round? I would suggest that the word for a piece of land covered with grass developed before people invented scythe and started to mow grass…

Back to the Indoeuropean words for honey. Where do they come from? What are they derived from? Well officially the above two Proto-Indo-European roots are not linked. And we don’t know what are they derived from.

Now what I would like to propose here is that there are actually no two PIE roots for honey but only one from which both of the above two roots are derived from. I would also like to propose here that this original single rood for all the Indoeuropean words for honey (except for the English and German one that is) is the Proto-Indo-European root “*h₁ed” meaning “to eat”. This root is extremely old and have produced the verb “to eat” in all the old Indoeuropean branches:

Sanskrit  अत्ति ‎(atti), अद् ‎(ad) – to eat
Avestan ad – to eat
Latin edō ‎- I eat
Ancient Greek ἔδω ‎(édō) – I eat
Hittite (e-id-mi) – I eat
Old Armenian: ուտեմ ‎(utem) – to eat
Proto-Germanic *etaną (English to eat comes from this root) ‎- to eat
Old Church Slavonic eсти ‎(jasti) – to eat

Now in Serbian we have several different versions of the word for food which is derived from the verb to eat:

(j)edenje, (j)edja, (j)ed, (j)elo, (j)el, (j)estivo, (j)estija

But what does this have to do with the PIE root words for honey “melid” and “medu”?

Honey is made by bees. The bees found in Evroasia belong to the type known as western honey bee. Honey bees use caves, rock cavities and hollow trees as natural nesting sites. Members of other subgenera have exposed aerial combs. The nest is composed of multiple honeycombs, parallel to each other, with a relatively uniform bee space. It usually has a single entrance. Western honey bees prefer nest cavities approximately 45 litres in volume and avoid those smaller than 10 or larger than 100 litres. Western honey bees show several nest-site preferences: the height above ground is usually between 1 metre and 5 metres, entrance positions tend to face downward, South-facing entrances are favored, and nest sites over 300 metres from the parent colony are preferred. Bees usually occupy the nests for several years. Here is a typical entrance to the western honey bee nest built inside a hollow tree.

Now lets for a second put ourselves back into the position of our ancient Paleolithic ancestors. Even if they new about the existence of a bees nest in a tree trunk high above the ground or in a side of a cliff, they would have stayed as far away as possible from it. Why? Have you ever been stung by a bee? How about 100 bees? I have. NOT NICE 🙂 Even if their curiosity would have led our ancestors to try to see what was inside these buzzing holes, they would have soon lost all enthusiasm for further investigation. Bees get very angry when someone starts poking around their nest, and angry bees have no problem in getting rid of nosy humans…Anyone who was bitten by bees, will stay away from bees. And will teach other people that bees are dangerous and that they too should stay away from bees. And people probably stayed as far as possible from bees nests as they could. Until they discovered honey that is. But how did our ancestors discover honey if they stayed away from the bee nests? The answer is bears.

Bees nests, positioned meters over the ground in thick tree trunks, with very narrow entrances and full of angry bees, would have, as I already said, made it quite difficult, if not impossible for our inquisitive ancestors to explore them. But none of the above made much problems to bears. Bears are great tree climbers. They also have very strong sharp claws, with which they can relatively easily widen the bee nest entrance. And they have a very thick skin and fur which protects them from bee stings.

An inquisitive bear would soon discover that bee nests contain lots of tasty larvae and something else, which is very much worth hard work of climbing the tree and scratching at the tree bark in order to enlarge the entrance into the nests, as well as a few (or even a lot) bee stings: honey.

Bears are omnivores like people. They will eat animals, insects and plants including fruits. Some of the wild fruits are deliciously sweet and flavorsome indeed, like wild berries. But honey…Among the wild foods, honey is in a league of its own. There is nothing really that compares to the taste of honey, nothing that comes even close to it. And the first inquisitive bear that tasted it would have become hooked on it straight away. And would have started actively looking for it. And would have taught his cubs how to find it and get it. And soon all the bears in the area and then all the bears in Evroasia would have learned how to find the bees nests, how to get into them, and how to get their paws on the honey. And would have become honey experts.

Now our inquisitive ancestors may not have been very interested in poking bees nests themselves, but being hunter gatherers, they would have seen bears fussing over them, clambering trees, scratching the hive entrance to make it wider and then scraping honeycombs full of larvae and honey and gobbling them up. After the bear would leave, at least one of our inquisitive ancient ancestors would have gone to the bees nest tree to see what was all the hullabaloo about. And there, he, or she would have found bits of honeycomb with traces of honey on it. And would have slowly and gingerly put this sticky sweet smelling stuff into his or her mouth. And…..

mmmmmmmmm“. This is a universally recognized sound which expresses pure physical pleasure. Two main things that trigger the “mmmmmm” reaction are sensual physical contact and food. When it comes to food triggered “mmmmmmm” reaction, there is nothing more “mmmmm” than the sweet food. Now imagine that you were this inquisitive ancestor of ours, who had just tasted his first honey. Until then his or hers choice of sweet food was quite limited. Few sweetish roots and fruit. And then honey. The ultimate prehistoric “mmmmmmmmmmm” food. Compared to other sweet foods available to our prehistoric ancestors, honey was so much more “mmmmmmmmm” that, as I already said, it was actually in the league of its own. Honey is so sweet it is intoxicating. And guess what. Our ancestor, just like the bear, was hooked on it straight away. 
Now what did our inquisitive ancestor do after the initial honey shock? Well he stuffed his face with every single bit that the bear missed. And then he clumbered the tree and stack his hand into the bees nest to get more of this magical sweet “mmmmmmmmmmmm” food. And he probably got stung few times, but what the heck, its honey we are talking about, who cares about few stings….
And then he or she would have gone home to his village and would try to tell his family and kinsmen what he or she has just discovered. And he or she would have tried to find the word which best described this new magical sweet intoxicating food. And he or she would have rubbed his belly and would have smacked his lips and would have smiled and would have probably said something like:
“I found “mmmmmmmmm” food! I found “mmmmmmmmm” food! I found “mmmmmmmmm” food!” 
Because really, there is no better way to describe honey but as “mmmmm” food. 
Now do you remember the Serbian words for food: (j)edenje, (j)edja, (j)ed, (j)elo, (j)el, (j)estivo, all descendants from the PIE root “*h₁ed”? Well I believe that the actual root was “*h₁e” with three variations: “*h₁ed” (jed, jedi, jedja, jedenje in Serbian), “*h₁el” (jel, jelo in Serbian) and “*h₁es” (jes, jesti, jestivo, jestija in Serbian) . 
What happens when we try to say “mmmmmmmmm” food in PIE using the above three derived roots “*h₁ed”, “*h₁el” and “*h₁es”? 
“mmmm” + “*h₁ed” (mmmm + jed, jedja, jedenje in Serbian)
“mmmm” + “*h₁el” (mmmm + jel, jelo in Serbian)
And what we get is:
“mmmm” + “*h₁el” (mmmm + jed) – “m(j)ed(u)” – medu
“mmmm” + “*h₁ed” (mmmm + jel) – “m(j)el(id)” –  melid
Basically what we get are the exact two PIE roots for Indoeuropean honey words, basically both meaning “mmmmmm” food, “mmmmmm” eating…
The rest is history. People started actively looking for the “mmmmm” food, mjed, mjel, and what best way to find honey, but to learn from the honey experts: bears. They knew how to find bees nests, and how to get the honey out. And guess what is the Serbian (and all Slavic) word for bear? It is “medved”. The word medved consists of two roots: “med” meaning honey and “ved” meaning  knowledge, wisdom, teaching. So “medved” literally means “honey sage”… Interesting don’t you think? It seems that Slavs are the only ones who in their languages preserved the memory of the time when bears served as honey guides to people of Northern Hemisphere. The role of honey guides was played by honey guide birds and honey badgers in Southern Hemisphere.  
Eventually people started looking for bees nests and raiding them without the help of bears. They used stone tools to hack at the bees nest entrance to widen it. They used gourds, baskets and pots o collect honeycomb. We don’t know when this honey madness started, but we have evidence for hunting for honey from at least 8,000 years ago. A cave painting in Valencia, Spain shows two honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee nest. The figures are depicted carrying baskets or gourds, and using a ladder or series of ropes to reach the wild nest which is inside of a hollow tree trunk.

Now people were of course attacked by bees during this honey acquiring enterprise. The pesky, buzzing, biting honey makers – bees. 
Eeeee, guess what the word for honey bee is in Serbian (and other Slavic languages)?
Serbian word for bee is “pčela” pronounced pchela. This word comes from the Proto-Slavic – bьčela
The etymology of this word is uncertain. There are two proposed option: 
The first proposed etymology says that the Slavic word for bee comes from bučati ‎(“to make noise, roar”) which produces *bъčela. A bee is, therefore, the one that makes noise. True. But a wasp (osa) also makes noise. A bumble bee (bumbar) makes even more noise. And hornet (stršljen) makes the most noise. And none of them is called the noisy insect. 
The second proposed etymology says that the Slavic word for bee comes from the North-West Proto-Indo-European *bʰi-kʷe- ‎(“bee, stinging insect”), which is an extension of the Indo-European root *bʰi- ‎(“to hit, strike, beat”). This is the same root that the English word “bee” comes from. But again wasp (osa), bumble bee (bumbar), hornet (stršljen), mosquito (komarac), fly (muva), flee (buva) also sting, bite, but they are not called biting insects.

I believe that the etymology of the Slavic word for bee is this:

(mpb)zzzz + el – buzzing + food = the buzzing thing, insect, that makes food. Have a listen to the sound of bees. It is a sound that sounds the most like (mpb)zzzz. And bees are the only insects that make food.

Another word for bee that makes the maker of food is the Greek word for a honey bee: “μέλισσα” (melissa). This word  comes from the word”μέλι” (meli) meaning “honey” and also means the maker, the producer, the giver of mmm food, honey. Let me explain why I believe that this is so.

In Serbian one of the words for sweet is “milo”. The word “milo” comes from Proto-Slavic “*milъ“, from Proto-Balto-Slavic *meiʔlos, from Proto-Indo-European *meyl. The words descended from this root are found in all Balto Slavic languages with the same meaning “nice, deer, sweet”, and in Latin “mītis” ‎meaning “mild, mellow, mature, ripe; sweet, juicy, succulent” and Greek meília (couldn’t find this word anywhere, so if anyone knows what this word is please let me know).

I believe that the word “milo” comes from the root mmmmm + jilo = mmmmm + food = honey = sweet. In some dialects of Serbian and Croatian the sound “e” in je, jes(ti), jel(o), jed(ja) becomes “i” (pronounced like ee in English). So we get ji, jis(ti), ji(lo), ji(dja). So the word mmmm jelo = mjelo = honey becomes mjilo = honey = sweet. This eventually becomes milo becuse this is easier to pronounce together. So this word is also descended from the same root as all the words for honey and mead we already discussed. Example of the honey words descended from the “mil” root instead of the “mel” root are Gaelic and Western Asian (Hittite and Luwian) words for honey, which all have root “mil”:

Hittite: militt, malitt
Luwian: mallit
Irish: mil
Manx: mill
Scottish Gaelic: mil

Interesting link between Hittites, Irish and Western Balkans…Again.

In Serbia we have lots of names which are based on the root “mil” meaning “sweet: Milan, Milojko, Milosav, Milivoj, Milča, Milenko, Mila, Milica, Milena, Milka, Milosava..All of them basically mean sweet, cute, pretty and would have the same meaning as calling someone honey, sugar, sweetie.  Two most common names from this cluster are Milan (male) and Milica (pronounced Militsa, female). 

Now, as I already said, the Greek word for a honey bee “μέλισσα” (melissa) which comes from “μέλι” (meli) meaning “honey”.

However I believe that “μέλισσα” (melissa) was originally melida = meli + da = honey + give, honey + giverr, producer and that development went from M(e)ilida –> M(e)ilitsa (Serbian) – M(e)ilisa…

The proof that this was probably the case is the fact that the word “μέλισσα” (melissa) has another version “μέλιττα” (melita). I believe that this was the original version of the Greek word for bee, which then became melisa through mispronunciation.

That there is a direct link between Serbian and Greek words based on the root words for honey preserved in Serbian, we can see from the Serbian word “melem” meaning “balm, balsam”, something that is put on wounds to help them heal. In Serbian there is an expression “Kao melem na ranu” meaning “Perfect solution for a problem” but literally meaning “Like a melem on a wound”. 

In Ancient Greek we have words “μελέτη, μελέτα” (melete, meleta) meaning  care, attention and “μέλημα” (melima) -meaning “object of care, beloved object, darling, concern”. I believe that all these words come from “μέλι” (meli) meaning “honey”. Why? Well the etymology for these Greek words will not tell you this. But the reason is because honey was once used as medicine, given to sick people who were cared for. Honey was even until the discovery of antibiotics also used for treating of wounds, so as a balm, balsam. So the link between the Greek word for honey and the Greek word for care seems to be preserved through Serbian word for balm, balsam…

On the “World wide wounds” page we read:

“Honey is an ancient remedy for the treatment of infected wounds, which has recently been ‘rediscovered’ by the medical profession, particularly where conventional modern therapeutic agents are failing. There are now many published reports describing the effectiveness of honey in rapidly clearing infection from wounds, with no adverse effects to slow the healing process; there is also some evidence to suggest that honey may actively promote healing. In laboratory studies, it has been shown to have an antimicrobial action against a broad spectrum of bacteria and fungi. However, further research is needed to optimise the effective use of this agent in clinical practice.”

That the word for honey is directly derived from the word for food and eating, and that that word is very very old, can be seen from the fact that many words for honey from “Non Indoeuropean” languages also seem to come from the same old root “jed, jel, jes” meaning food, eating. 

In Basque the word for honey is “ezti“, “eztia”. In Serbian (and in other Slavic languages) this word means “to eat, food” (jesti, jestija in Serbian). 
In Sudanese the word for honey is “madu”. Sudan is the place where we find a lot of R1b people, descendants of the Indoeuropean speaking invaders. No wonder that the word for honey is based on the same old “mmmm+ed” root.  
In Tajik: asal, Arabic: aslja, asal, Swahilli: asali all mean honey. Do they come from jes + slad = food + sweet?

In Turkish: bal, Mongolian: bal, Kazakh: bal, Azerbaijani: bal all mean honey. Do they come from mmmm + jel = sweet + food?

And how about this: These are Egyptian hieroglyphs for honey bee and honey:

The word used for both is the same: bjt (or bit). Now is this basically the shorthand of the same construct found in Slavic “pčela”: bzz + je (i) + da = buzing + eating + gives (alternatively t – feminine ending in old Egyptian)? How come we find these Indoeuropean roots in Egyptian language? R1b people again i would suspect. 

Apparently this Egyptian word could be related to Latin “apis” ‎(“bee”) for which the etymology is uncertain. The proposed root for apis is from Proto-Indo-European “*a(m)pi” meaning ‎(“stinging insect; bee”). From this same root apparently also get the Proto Germanic root “imbijaz” meaning “bee, bee swarm”….Is it possible that the root here  again is: je + mmmm + bzzz  (or bi) = eat + mmmm + buzzing or stinging = stinging insect that makes yummmmmmmy food?

Is this all just a coincidence? If not, how old are these words? How and when did they develop if we find them in all these Non Indoeuropean languages? Well I obviously don’t think that this is all a coincidence. As for the age of these words, I would propose that they come to us from at least Mesolithic or early Neolithic, from the time when people started collecting honey for the first time. The words were probably developed by the then forest dwellers of the Balkans and Western Asia possibly during the last glacial maximum. The same population then preserved these words until today, passing them on to everyone they came in contact with. Was this I2a or R1 population? Not sure, but definitely was one of these two because this would explain the existence of all these ancient roots in Slavic and particularly South Slavic languages. I believe that here we have a true linguistic fossil. Again 🙂

So this is it. What do you think? Interesting? I think so. But believe or not it gets even better. In my next post I will discuss the link between the bees and the development of the first human civilizations which organizationally strangely resemble beehives. And who venerated the Mother Earth in her Goddess of love incarnation, Venus, as the bee goddess….

Until then, have fun…


“…the souls of our ancestors shine every morning from Iriy…” – “The book of Veles

Ireland. Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

Éire“,is Irish for “Ireland”, the name of an island and a sovereign state. It evolved from the Old Irish word Ériu, which was the name of a Gaelic goddess. Ériu is generally believed to have been the matron goddess of Ireland, a goddess of sovereignty, or simply a goddess of the land.

There are two theories that try to explain the origin of this word.

The first one says that the name Ériu is derived from the name other people gave to the island of Ireland. The second one says that the name originated in Ireland and was the name by which the Irish called their own land. They both have their proponents.

Ireland, the western most land theory

The first theory, which was proposed in the 19th century, and for which we read that it “does not follow modern standards of etymology”, derives the name from Scottish Gaelic. According to this etymology, the origin of “Ériu” comes from ì (island) + thairr (west) + fónn (land), which together give ì-iar-fhónn, or “western isle”. This is similar in meaning to the Norse name for Irish people, “west men”. If we look at the map of Northern Europe, we can see that indeed Ireland is the land lying directly westward, looking from Scotland and from the Baltic sea, from which both Northern Slavic, Baltic, Norse and Danish mariners would have come to Ireland.  So Western Isle and West Men makes a lot of sense, but as we are told it “does not follow modern standards of etymology”…

Ireland, the fat, full, abundant land theory

The second theory, which apparently “follows the modern standards of etymology” says that the origin of “Ériu” comes from Proto-Goidelic “Īweriū” or “Īveriū” which comes from Proto-Celtic “Φīwerjon”, which comes from from Proto-Indo-European “piHwerjon”, which is related to “piHwer”, which is supposed to mean “fat, full, abundant”. This would suggest that the meaning of the word Ériu is “abundant land”. The whole root chain here is reconstructed, meaning that we think the words in the chain might have existed, and might have the meanings we propose, and might have been related to each other, but we actually have no idea if this is true or not. On top of this, we don’t know if the meaning “fat, full, abounding” is correct. Ireland is certainly not especially abundant compared to England or the rest of Europe. The land in Ireland is not in any way fatter or more fertile and more suited for agriculture, crop growth. In fact the opposite is the case which you can see from this map of land use in Europe.

You can see the distribution of the arable farmland (yellow), forest (dark green), pasture (light green), and tundra or bogs in the north (dark yellow). It is plain to see that Ireland does not deserve to be the only place named “fat, full, abundant land”. The description of the quality of the Irish soil is best summarized on the web page called “Soils in Ireland” where the first sentence is “The general consensus is that Irish soil quality is good overall”. So good, not great, not amazing. One thing that I would like you to note on the above picture is that Ireland is mostly light green, which is the color of pasture. The data found on the “Crops and Livestock Survey” for 2015 is (in thousands of hectares):

Area farmed 4,429.5
Total crops, fruit and horticulture 359.7

Total cattle and sheep production related land over 4,000
This means that most of the Irish agricultural land is used as pasture land. The reason why this is so is because the combination of the Irish climate which is wet and cold and the Irish soil which is acidic, makes Ireland best suited for growing grass, not agricultural crops. And hence Ireland is basically one huge grass field full of grazing cattle and sheep with few cold climate crops fields, forests and bogs strewn around. 
Anyway 🙂
One of the proponents of this modern scientific “fat, full, abundant land” theory is John Koch. In his work “Celts, Britons, and Gaels—Names, Peoples, and Identities” he provides a detailed discussion on the subject, which is intended to prove the theory. Here is what he says:

…The Irish as ‘them’ are first recorded as Latin derived from Greek Iernoi Īernī. Later, is recorded more correctly as Iouernoi Īuernī. The first occurrence of Īernī probably goes back to a Coastal Itinerary of Marseille of the sixth century BC. In both instances, the name of the people Īuernī is derived from the place-name found in classical sources as Īueriō. Īueriō is none other than the Primitive Irish forerunner of Old Irish Ériu, Modern Éire. The etymological sense of the word is ‘the Fat’ or ‘Fertile Country’. Ériu, genitive Érenn, corresponds to Welsh Iwerydd ‘Irish Sea, Atlantic’ and Iwerddon ‘Ireland’. The ancient Celtic forms behind these are the nstem nominative *Īweriū, genitive *Īwerionos. In the Antonine Itinerary, a Latin source of the early 3rd century AD, we find Insula Clota in Hiverione. Dative Īveriōne implies nominative Īveriō ‘Ireland’, thus directly reflecting the Primitive Irish nom. *Īweriū. Thus the Indo-European preform would have been  *piHwerjōn ‘The Fertile Land’. I proposed that the ethnonym Īuernī proves that Irish—or the Celtic language that was to become Irish was spoken in Ireland already at the time that the Greeks first heard of the place in the 6th century BC. More recently, Patrick Sims-Williams has doubted this conclusion. Instead, he argues that Īueriō and Īuernī could have been names in use by Celtic speaking peoples on the European mainland for an Ireland that was not yet itself Celtic speaking.  I do not think that this alternative is plausible, for the following reasons. Not only were Īueriō and Īuernī in use in what was Ireland’s Final Bronze Age or Dowris II and not only are they Celtic names, but they have also survived in the Irish language of literate, historical times. Īuernī, the name that the Greeks borrowed, survives as Old or Middle Irish Érainn, a name which not only exists in Irish, but exists in no other Celtic language except Irish. In medieval Irish literature Érainn is used for tribal and dynastic groups in Munster and elsewhere. The groups in question are marginal within historical times, but credited with having ruled the prestigious royal site of Tara in remote antiquity; so the name is stratified deeply within Irish-language Irish tradition itself and occurs nowhere else in the Celtic world. Furthermore, the place-name Ériu has, as a byform, a common noun Old Irish íriu, meaning ‘earth, land’. There is no corresponding word from Brittonic or Continental Celtic. In other words, Ériu is explicable has having arisen out of the semantics of Irish in particular, rather than Celtic in general. Furthermore, names derived from the same root as Ériu have survived prominently as submerged eponyms in the Irish origin legends of Lebar Gabála and related texts. These include the prominent Milesian invaders Iär and Íth. The latter’s name simply means ‘fat’. The connection of the name Iär to Éire and Érainn is not at all apparent within the literate period. But *Īueros, the pre-form of Iär, would have been an obvious eponym for Īueriō in the Primitive Irish of prehistoric times… Īueriō was known to mean the ‘Fat Land’, which was no longer so for the writers of Lebar Gabála….

Convinced? Lets have a look at the highlighted parts. 

Ériu, genitive Érenn, corresponds to Welsh Iwerydd ‘Irish Sea, Atlantic’ and Iwerddon ‘Ireland’…

If you are in Wales and you look directly westward, what you see on a clear day is: Ireland. So Ireland is the land in the west. And after Ireland, further west is the Atlantic ocean, the western sea. Or maybe the Irish sea and Atlantic got their name from Ireland.

….Īueriō was known to mean the ‘Fat Land’, which was no longer so for the writers of Lebar Gabála…. “

Ok, this is strange. Īueriō is a word with an unknown meaning and so we proposed that it means “Fat Land” based on a completely derived etymology linking it to the derived PIE root “piHwer” which is supposed to mean “fat, full, abundant”. Now it is ” known to mean Fat Land”? The old Irish “íriu” which was supposed to have been derived from Īueriō, means “land, earth, soil; the earth, the world”. Not “fat, full, abundant land”. And if the meaning “fat, full, abundant land” was not known to the users of the word “íriu” in the Irish annals, maybe it is because this word never actually meant “fat, full, abundant land” but just “land, earth, soil; the earth, the world”….

But this part is the most interesting.

“…Érainn, a name which not only exists in Irish, but exists in no other Celtic language except Irish….Furthermore, the place-name Ériu has, as a byform, a common noun Old Irish íriu, meaning ‘earth, land’. There is no corresponding word from Brittonic or Continental CelticIn other words, Ériu is explicable has having arisen out of the semantics of Irish in particular, rather than Celtic in general…

Maybe the word “íriu” doesn’t exist in other Celtic languages, but it exists in Slavic languages.

Iriy, Irij or Vyriy (Russian: ирий, ирей, вырий) is a mythical place in Slavic mythology where birds fly for the winter and souls go after death, sometimes identified with paradise. The term was first mentioned in the writings of Vladimir II Monomakh. During the Christianization of Kievan Rus’, people were able to imagine heaven and hell based on the idea of Iriy. By the way Viriy is just v + iriy = in, into + iriy. Question: where do the souls of the dead people go? V Iriy = Into Iriy.

I know what you will say. This Slavic Iriy can be any place and surely the words similarity is a coincidence. But there is more. Slavic mythology tells us more about Iriy in the story about Jarilo: 
Up until the 19th century in Russia, Belarus and Serbia, folk festivals called Jarilo were celebrated in late spring or early summer. Early researchers of Slavic mythology recognized in them relics of pagan ceremonies in honor of an eponymous spring deity. In Northern Croatia and Southern Slovenia, especially Bela krajina, similar spring festivals were called Jurjevo, nominally dedicated to St. George, and fairly similar to the Jarilo festivals of other Slavic nations.

All of these spring festivals were basically alike: processions of villagers would go around for a walk in the country or through villages on this day. Something or someone was identified to be Jarilo or Juraj: a doll made of straw, a man or a child adorned with green branches, or a girl dressed like a man, riding on a horse. Certain songs were sung which alluded to Juraj/Jarilo’s return from a distant land across the sea, the return of spring into the world, blessings, fertility and abundance to come.

Jarilo was a son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, his lost, missing, tenth son, born on the last night of February, the festival of Velja Noć (Great Night), the pagan Slavic celebration of the New Year. On the same night, however, Jarilo was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead, where he was adopted and raised by Veles, Perun’s enemy, Slavic god of the underworld and cattle. The Slavs believed the underworld to be an ever-green world of eternal spring and wet, grassy plains, where Jarilo grew up guarding the cattle of his stepfather. In the mythical geography of ancient Slavs, the land of the dead was assumed to lie across the sea, where migrating birds would fly every winter. This land of the dead was by Slavs known as Iriy, Irij or Vyriy (Russian: ирий, ирей, вырий).

With the advent of spring, Jarilo returned from the underworld, that is, bringing spring and fertility to the land. Spring festivals of Jurjevo/Jarilo that survived in later folklore celebrated his return.

So…Wet, ever green land of eternal spring, full of cattle which lies across the sea and is called Iriy…

This is a typical picture from Ireland. What do you see on it? Ever green land of eternal spring, full of cattle, which lies across the sea. Is there better description of Éire, Ireland?

I have been living in Ireland for past 21 years. It snowed properly once. And we had one proper summer month. The rest of the time it was a perpetual wet spring. 

So is Īueriō, Iriu, Éire Slavic Iriy? I believe so, because believe or not there is actually no other place in Europe that fits the description. It is Ireland’s unique position in the north of Europe and in the middle of the Golf stream that gives it unique climate ideal for growing grass and which makes it a paradise for cattle herders. 

And this is why the ancient Irish society was based around cattle. Cattle was wealth, cattle was currency, cattle was what people fought for. Even the main Irish heroic myth, “Táin Bó Cúailnge” is a description of a cattle raid…

Now interestingly the god that stole Jarilo, the young sun, and who took him to the land of the dead, Iriy, was called Veles, but who was also known as Volos. In Serbian, the word Vo, Vol means bull. So Volos would actually be “Cattle god”. A very good name for a good that rules over Iriy, Īueriō, Iriu, Éire…Funnily enough in Irish the word for cattle is Bó which in Serbian means to stab, like with a horn. There is a whole cluster of words based on this root in Serbian and Irish. But not just the words for cattle are the same in Serbian and Irish. Serbians from Bosnia managed to preserve ancient bull fighting described in “Táin Bó Cúailnge“. 

Bull fighting, Bosnia

I wrote about the common Irish and Serbian words and customs related to cattle in my post “Bó – Vo

The obsession with cattle and viewing cattle as the main source of wealth was also the same in Serbian and Irish society. In Serbian language one of the old words for cattle was “blago” which literally means “treasure, wealth”. So a green land, where grass never stops growing, ideal for growing cattle, must have looked like paradise for cattle herders. And guess what. The word for paradise in Slavic languages is “Raj” (pronounced ray), which is very very similar to the word for otherworld “Iriy”. As a matter of fact we can get the word Iriy (which has no known etymology) from Je Raj (pronounced ye ray) meaning “is paradise”. 

Slavic word “raj” meaning paradise comes from the Proto Slavic: “rajь” – paradise. This is an ancient word because the cognates include 

Avestan, Old Persian: ‎”rāy” – paradise, wealth and 
Sanskrit: रयि ‎(rayi) – rich, property, goods, possessions, treasure, wealth, house, stuff, materials

Proto-Italic: “reis” – thing, matter. Originally, the noun was a “regular” i-stem, and would have been *rēj- before vowels (genitive *rējes, dative *rējei etc.), and *rēi before consonants and word-finally (nominative *rēis, perhaps originally disyllabic). In the former, -j- was regularly lost, while in the latter the diphthong was shortened before another consonant, due to Osthoff’s law.

Apparently these are the only descendants of the Proto-Indo-European *reh₁ís ‎meaning “wealth, goods”

If for our ancestors “raj” paradise was a place of wealth, and the greatest wealth was cattle, then the land of cattle was indeed a paradise “je raj” = “iriy”. 

Was that paradise Īueriō, Iriu, Éire? Was the original meaning of the word “land rich in cattle” rather than “fat land”?

There are two worlds, the world of the living and the world of the dead. The sun spends the day in the world of the living and the night in the world of the dead.
And there are two gates that stand on the border between these two worlds: the eastern gate and the western gate. 
Every morning the eastern gate is opened by Danica, the day star, which is in the morning called Zornjača, the morning star, and the sun comes from the world of the dead into the world of the living. 
And every evening the sun goes from the world of the living into the world of the dead through the western gate, which is then closed behind him by Danica, the day star, which is in the evening called Večernjača, the evening star. 
The souls of the dead follow sun to the western gate, which is where the entrance into the land of the dead is. 
And there they enter Iriy, the ever green land of eternal spring, full of cattle, raj, paradise. And every morning, when the eastern gate of the world of the dead is opened, they smile on us…

New material on Bullaun stones

Archaeologist David Eitam said in his comment about multi hole bedrock mortars: “It seems that making flour, was in the past a collective activity. The reason for that was that acorn or cereal grinding was done using grinding stones. This was hard monotonous work which was best endured if done in company.  We can easily imagine the lively group of women covering the large bedrock and the sound of grinding and chat among the crowded millers.”

We know from the ethnographic data from North America, that grinding acorns was at least in some cases a communal activity. You can find more info on this in the article “The Distribution and Function of Bedrock Mortars in California“.  We also know from the archaeological data from Europe, that grinding cereal was also a communal activity. We can actually see it on this clay model depicting collective grain grinding from Cyprus, from Iron Age settlement at Tel Dor. You can find more details about this site in “An Iron Age I Canaanite/Phoenician Courtyard House at Tel Dor: A Comparative Architectural and Functional Analysis” 

The easiest way to make communal grinding areas was to cut the mortar holes in the bedrock, creating bedrock mortars. Like these ones at Indian Grinding Rock State Park:

I already wrote abut bedrock mortars in my article on Bullaun Stones. In that articles I compared the yet unclassified European bedrock sites with classified North American bedrock mortar sites. I then asked whether the European  should be also classified as bedrock mortars, considering that they are functionally identical to the North American ones. 
In this article I would like to present some new (to me 🙂 ) evidence that supports my hypotheses that a lot of the European bedrock stones with large and deep cups could be (yet) unclassified bedrock mortars. 

I will start with the bedrock mortars used by the Chalcolithic communities from Central Israel (4,500–4,000/3,900 BCE). The grinding holes were cut into a bedrock with different profiled holes used for grinding different type of material, like grain (and possibly acorn), olives, grape (?). These are examples of the bedrock mortars from the Gassulian (Ghasulian) culture

You can find more info about these grinding bedrock mortars in the article “Cereal in the Ghassulian Culture in Central Israel: Grinding Installation as a Case Study. Israel Exploration Journal 59,1: 63-79

This is the picture of the bedrock holes from the Ghassulian Horbat site. 

The picture was taken from the article “Excavations at Horbat ‘Illit B: A Chalcolithic (Ghassulian) Site in the Haelah Valley“. However these holes are in this article classified as flint excavation holes. This is based on the fact that a piece of flint was found at the bottom of one of the holes. 

I wander why would anyone make such smooth narrow round holes to excavate flint? Why not just continue to break bedrock to the left and right of the flint peace to see if there is more hidden in the bedrock? I believe that these are instead bedrock mortars. And this particular one was abandoned when the grinding exposed the hard flint at the bottom, rendering the mortar hole useless. But that is just my opinion. 

From the above two articles it is plain to see that there is still no consensus on the issue of the classification of these bedrock holes. 

But a lot of work has been done lately on collecting and classifying all the available data related to bedrock sites. This is a good article that explores this issue: “Late Epipalaeolithic Rock-Cut Installations and Groundstone Tools in the Southern Levant. Methodology and Classification System“.

Now, bedrock mortar type of utensils start to appear in 13000 BP and their use peaked in 6000 BP (Late Chalcolithic) and continued in rural MBII sites. 

Here are some Natufian bedrock mortars from Mount Carmen site dated to 12500 BP. You can find more info on this site in the article “3D Characterization of Bedrock Features: A Natufian Case Study“.

This article entitled Article “Experimental Barley Flour Production in 12,500-Year-Old Rock-Cut Mortars in Southwestern Asia” presents result of the experimental archaeology experiments at a Natufian site in the Southern Levant documents for the first time the use of 12,500-year-old rock-cut mortars for producing wild barley flour, some 2,000 to 3,000 years before cereal cultivation. 

Considering that we have evidence of the use of acorns as food in the south western Asia in late Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Early Neolithic time, I would suggest that these mortars could also have been used for grinding acorns, and that that was their original intended use. But once you develop a suitable grinding technology for grinding acorns, it can be applied, with slight modifications to grinding of any similar type of material, like wild grains.  

But Natufians also used single hole boulder mortars, as I already said in my post “Acorns in archaeology“.

So obviously grinding was not always communal. This is the situation found in all the other areas where we find multi hole bedrock mortars. So why did people make multi hole bedrock mortars? You can do communal grinding using multiple single boulder mortars. But they are more difficult to make. So maybe multi hole bedrock mortars are older? Or maybe they were located near a source of food, like oak forest or wild grain field, or source of metal ore or pigment, and were used for industrial scale grinding?

These are the large cup holes from the hillside boulders at Gobelkitepe, dated to (7560–7370 bc). The hillside is apparently covered in cupping holes all about 500mm – 600mm, big enough to be acorn or grain grinding holes like the ones found on Bullaun stones in Ireland and the North American grinding boulders and on the above Natufian bedrock mortars. 

As I said above, once you develop a suitable grinding technology for grinding acorns, it can be applied, with slight modifications to grinding of any similar type of material, like wild grains. Or ore. We know from the ethnographic and historical records that almost identical types of mortars were used for grain, spices, pigments and ore grinding. So it is no surprise to find bedrock mortars used for ore grinding. 

This is the Pino del Oro Mining Zone (ZoMiPO) is located straddling the Duero river, within the Arribes Natural Park, in the western part of Zamora province, and adjacent to the Portuguese border. It involves a group of very peculiar gold mining structures dating from the Roman period (1st-2nd Centuries). These are grinding mortars cut into the bedrock and used for grinding ore. Were they originally used for grinding cereal and before that for grinding acorn?

I believe that this new evidence adds a bit more support for my theory that Bullaun stones from Ireland and the similar stones with large deep cup marks, were made to be used as mortars for grinding probably originally acorns, and then wild grain, grain, tubers and even ore…

So what do you think, could the Irish Bullaun stones, like this Clonmore Triple Bullaun Stone be actual bedrock mortars?

The debate will undoubtedly continue. Great. 🙂