Monthly Archives: June 2016


St Brendan and his “team”
Both Ireland and Northern Ireland have bombed out of the EURO 2016. But if you are Irish, there is another Irish team still in competition which you can support: Iceland.

“eee what?” I can hear you say… Let me explain:

If you have watched the EURO 2016, you must have seen Icelandic team and supporters doing their amazing “Viking battle chant”. This is a great recording of it performed by the Iceland supporters after Iceland beat England 2:1.

This “Viking battle chant” which has become synonymous with the Icelandic fans at EURO 2016 has become quite a world sensation. But believe or not this chant has nothing to do with the Vikings. It originated in Scotland. Fans of Stjarnan, a Reykjavik based team, fell in love with the chant during a game they played in Motherwell in 2014. The chant has apparently been performed on the terraces at Motherwell Fir Park stadium for years. The Stjarnan supporters adopted the chant as their own and later it was also adopted by the Icelandic national team supporters. They started performing it during the EURO 2016 qualifying campaign and it has since became firmly associated with the Icelandic team. This is a great example of a cultural transfer. 

But this is not the only thing “Vikings” picked up in Scotland and Ireland and took with them to Iceland. 

When the settlement of Iceland got underway some time around 800AD, it seems that there were a lot of Gaelic people among the original settlers. Genetic analysis has shown that a quarter of the men and up to half of the women among the founding population would have been of “Gaelic” origin. 

The study included 181 Icelanders, 233 Scandinavians and 283 “Gaels” from Ireland and Scotland. “Gaelic” was the preferred term in the study, given the fact that the Vikings in 800AD populated both eastern Ireland and also the Western Isles of Scotland. These territories were at that time settled and controlled by the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata

The study showed that between 20 and 25 per cent of Icelandic founding males had Gaelic ancestry, with the remainder having Norse ancestry. These findings match up with earlier study which looked at mitocondrial DNA in the women from the same population groups. The mitocondrial data showed that over a half of Iceland’s founding females were of Gaelic ancestry.

What we don’t know is who these Gaelic people were and how they ended up in Iceland. 

Even though in some cases, the whole established Viking family groups arrived and settled in Ireland and Scotland, most of the time the Vikings bands were ad hoc armies consisting of young men. It is not inconceivable that these young men who had come over from Scandinavia and lived for a time in the British Isles would have taken local wives, and even entered into alliances with their Gaelic in-laws. When for what ever reason some of these Vikings decided to leave the British isles around 800 AD and settle in Iceland, they took their wives with them. They could have even been joined by some of their Irish male in-laws and their families. 

However some of these Gaelic people who ended up in Iceland might have been taken away against their will as it is known that Vikings engaged in slave trade and took away a significant number of slaves from Gaelic territories in Ireland and Scotland. One of the most comprehensive works on the subject of the Irish in Iceland is Gaelic influence in Iceland by Gísli Sigurdsson. Sigurdsson suggests that slaves may have comprised as much as 30–40% of the population. 

But there is something very interesting about the Viking colonization of Iceland. 

Upon the demise of the Roman Empire and the subsequent spread of Christianity across Europe, monks and holy men increasingly undertook perilous sea voyages to remote uncharted waters. These expeditions could have been pilgrimages of sorts, to test their belief in the Lord.  Well that is one explanation. Another one was that the Irish Christian monks followed their kinsmen to the newly discovered lands….

The most famous of these reputed journeys is that of the legendary St Brendan. 

Saint Brendan of Clonfert (c. 484 – c. 577) called “the Navigator”, “the Voyager”, “the Anchorite”, or “the Bold”, is one of the early Irish monastic saints. He was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He is most famous for his legendary quest to the “Isle of the Blessed,” also called Saint Brendan’s Island. 

The first mention of Brendan occurs in Adamnan’s Vita Sancti Columbae, written between 679 and 704. But the first notice of him as a seafarer appears in the ninth century Martyrology of Tallaght. The earliest full version of “The Voyage of Saint Brendan” was recorded around AD 900. In it we read that on the Kerry coast, he built a currach-like boat of wattle, covered it with hides tanned in oak bark softened with butter, set up a mast and a sail. He and a small group of monks fasted for forty days, and after a prayer upon the shore, embarked on their voyage to find the Isle of the Blessed. On their way they pass by the land where “great demons threw down lumps of fiery slag from an island with rivers of gold fire” and “great crystal pillars.” Many now believe these to be references to the volcanic activity around Iceland, and to icebergs.[

While the story is often assumed to be a religious allegory, there has been considerable discussion as to whether the legends are based on actual events. Over the years there have been many interpretations of the possible geographical position of Saint Brendan’s Island of the Blessed. Today the most popular theory is that St Brendan actually discovered America, sailing there via Iceland and Greenland. 

 The Voyage of Saint Brendan belongs to the type of Old Irish stories known as “immram” (Irish navigational story). An immram is a story concerning a hero’s sea journey to the Otherworld (see Tír na nÓg and Mag Mell). They were all written in the Christian era. No surprise here as the Irish only had oral tradition before the Christian monks started writing it down. 

But how come it was the Irish who in the Early medieval time developed the “Sea navigation stories”? Well because at that time, the Irish ruled the north western seas. They invaded and settled Western Scotland and gave it its name. The name Scotland comes “Scoti” which was the old name for the Irish. They invaded and settled Northern Wales, giving the name to the Llŷn Peninsula which was named after one of the Irish tribes, the Laigin. 

You can’t invade, settle and hold the coastal areas unless you are a maritime culture a maritime power. You can’t sail the northern seas around the British isles unless you are an accomplished mariner in a very very good boat. And the Irish seem to have in the early Medieval time been accomplished mariners in very good boats. This explains why the maritime voyage stories were at that time very popular in Ireland. 

This forgotten Irish maritime culture was covered in a great TV series and book called “Atlantean Irish” made by Irish film maker Bob Quinn. The films and book proposed that the Irish, or at least some of the Irish, were part of a common ‘Atlantean’ maritime culture that includes the western seaboard of Europe and North Africa.

Official history tells us that there is no reliable evidence to indicate that Brendan ever reached Iceland, Greenland or America. But it is interesting that the route route Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland is the exact route which we know Vikings took in 10th century or maybe even in the 9th century when they discovered America

Is it possible that the Viking discovery of Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland was actually a rediscovery prompted by the stories about St. Brendan’s voyage that the Vikings heard from their Irish wives and in-laws before 800 AD? Did Vikings then in the time of need decide to follow the described route and check for themselves what lies out west? 

Let’s see. 

Around 800 AD Vikings with their Irish wives, in-laws and slaves sailed from Ireland to Iceland and colonized it. 

But, there is a popular story in Iceland which says that the first humans who set the foot on the shores and volcanic terrain of Iceland were Christian monks from the north-west of Ireland, in the eighth century. The story is based on one written source, the Islendingabok (‘Book of the Islanders’) by  Ari Þorgilsson, written between 1122 and 1133, about 250 years after the first Norse settlements. Even in such established works as The history of Iceland by Gunnar Karlsson the arrival of the monks has become accepted history. Apparently the monks, having initially discovered a stable sea route from Ireland to Iceland, made repeated return journeys over the course of several decades until the arrival of the first Norse settlers. 

There is little to suggest that these monks established any permanent settlements in Iceland. While conclusive archaeological evidence of the presence of monks has been unearthed on the remote Orkney and Shetland Islands, no such proof has ever been found in Iceland and so this story about the Irish monks being the first colonizers of Iceland remains under question. 

But it is interesting that the first mention of St. Brendan as the “Navigator” appears in the 9th century. The same century when the colonization of Iceland begins. The same century when the alleged discovery of Iceland by the Irish monks, which was described in the Icelandic saga, takes place. The first full description of St Brendan’s “alleged” voyage to America, via Iceland and Greenland then appears in the manuscript published around 900 AD. And right after that Vikings from Iceland, who came from Ireland following St Brendan’s route, sail westward, again following St Brendan’s route, and “discover” Greenland and Newfoundland. 
Strange how it all fits together, don’t you think?

Whatever about the uncertainties surrounding the Gaelic arrivals of the eighth century, their presence in the ninth century Iceland is beyond question. The presence of Gaelic people among the first arrivals in Iceland is confirmed by numerous written references in both the Book of Settlements and the Book of Icelanders. In the former is found a comprehensive list of 400 names, of which at least 60 are distinctly Gaelic. 

Those of Gaelic origin integrated quickly into what became essentially a Norse culture. So what, beyond genetics, is the legacy of the Gaelic presence in Iceland? 

Well, as I said already the archaeological evidence is pretty slim. The same could also be said in relation to the Icelandic language. According to Sigurdsson, the limited number of borrowed words may be explained by the fact that the “Gaels did not contribute any new work skills or crafts, carrying their own vocabulary into the mainly Norse controlled society”, coupled with the fact that “the language of the slaves was probably not widely spoken by their masters”. 

But this is a bit dismissive when we know that it is in the Icelandic literature where we find the most important Gaelic legacy in Iceland. 

Icelandic oral and written traditions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were completely unique development in the Nordic world. There have been many theories which aimed to explain this phenomenon, but the one accepted by most British and Irish historians, and indeed Sigurdsson himself, says that the influence of the Gaelic presence in Iceland is a more plausible explanation for the emergence of the Icelandic sagas tradition. In the Gaelic world, oral tradition and the writing of the sagas in the vernacular was highly developed. In fact, Iceland and Ireland were the only countries in Western Europe where sagas of this kind were written down. There are undeniably striking resemblances in the literary output of Iceland and Ireland during the 12th and 13th century not just in form but in content too. In both traditions we find leprechaun-like creatures, Gaelic team game of hurling and boy stalwart heroes like Cú Chulainn from Irish sagas, and Starkaðr (Strong man) from the Icelandic Fornaldarsogur sagas, popular in the early fourteenth century. Both characters in their respective sagas at one point lie naked in the snow searching their clothes for lice. 

The Gaelic influence is even more obvious when we look at the Icelandic family sagas. Sigurdsson claims that the sagas that come from the west of Island have a more powerful Gaelic element than others, which could be explained by the stronger Gaelic presence in this area. How come? The western area of Iceland would have been the exact place where a bout coming from Ireland would have landed. And if the Irish settled permanently on Iceland, that would have been the exact place where they would have done so…Interesting…

Anyway, the most prominent example of this trend is the saga of the people of Laxardal (Laxdæla saga). In this tale one of the characters, Hoskuldr, obtains a slave woman from Norway who turns out to be Melkorka, daughter of a prominent Irish king. Retaining her native Gaelic language, she secretly passes it on to her son Ólafr, who later travels to Ireland to renew family ties and, despite his lowly slave origins, marries well. His son Kjartan becomes the main male hero of the Laxdæla saga. Parallels with the character of Cú Chulainn are again in evidence in a number of the family sagas. Some of his boyhood deeds are mirrored by the character of Kafli in the Kjalnesing saga, and the character of Egil in Egil’s saga. Parts of these sagas, particularly in the case of Laxdæla saga, tend to have a more colourful, exaggerated style with greater attention to detail, perhaps reflecting the Gaelic predilection for such literary affectations.

Slaves alone could have hardly been able to exert such cultural influence. This points to these possibilities:

1. The Irish sailors who discovered Iceland during the early medieval time actually settled in the west of Iceland. They eventually mixed with the Norse settlers who came from the East and who settled the eastern coast of Iceland. 
2. The Viking gang that arrived to Iceland from Ireland around 800 AD was a mixed Norse Irish clan with possibly slaves from other Irish clans. Irish practiced slavery long before Norse arrived. Remember how they “obtained” St Patrick from Wales? Were Irish colonies still on Iceland at that time? Were these people joining their kin in Iceland, or reclaiming the ancestral land?

That kind of mix could have exerted the cultural influence we find in the development of the Icelandic sagas. 

So, let me recapitulate:
1. Iceland was discovered and first colonized by the Irish monks.
2. It was then settled by the mix of Norse and Irish
3. These Irish contributed greatly to the genetics and culture of Iceland 

And so, on Sunday, when Iceland go on the pitch to play France, Irish can stand up and proudly shout:

Come on I(r)celand !!!


South Eastern dialect of Serbian has a peculiar grammatical construct. It uses “na” meaning “on” to express belonging, possession. This construct using the word “na” exists (as far as I know) also in neighboring Macedonian and some Bulgarian dialects, all centered around southern Carpathian or Balkan mountains.

South Serbian:

Q: Na koga je ovo kuče – on whom is this hound (whose hound is this)? 

A: To je kuče na petra – this is the hound on Petar (of Peter)


A: Tova e kuče na Petar – this is the hound on Petar  (of Peter)


A: Toa e kuče na Petar – this is the hound on Petar  (of Peter)

This construct defines possession through physical contact which is the oldest known form of possession. What belongs to me is on me, within my boundary, within what i can grab, hold, wear, carry, protect…

Fernand Cormon, Cain, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

What is interesting is that the Irish language has the same construct. On the page about Hiberno-English (English dialect spoken in Ireland which is hugely influenced by the Irish grammar and vocabulary) we read:

There are some language forms in Hiberno-English that stem from the fact that there is no verb “to have” in Irish. Instead, possession is indicated in Irish by using the preposition at, (in Irish, ag.). To be more precise, Irish uses a prepositional pronoun that combines ag “at” and mé “me” to create agam which basically means “at me, on me”. This is then reflected in Hiberno-English, where the verb “to have” is used, interchangeably with phrases “with me” or “on me” that derive from “tá … agam”. This gives rise to the frequent:

“Do you have the book?” – “I have it with me.”
“Have you change for the bus on you?”
“He will not shut up if he has drink taken.”

My favorite Irish Gaelic expression using this construct is “Tá áthas orm” meaning “I am happy, I have happiness” but literally meaning “There is happiness on me” 🙂

So what language did this construct originate in: Irish or these south Slavic dialects? Remember that the Irish language only has this constrict to express possession. And that this part of the Balkans was once “Celtic central” and is the area where we still find “Celtic” village crosses, like this one from Crna Trava:

And how old is this construct? Is it possible that this is a true linguistic fossil, which comes to us from the time before settled communities and static property? 

And does a similar construct exists in any other language? 

Well it seems that it does. In Finnish of all languages. Finnish doesn’t have a separate verb for “to have”. Instead it uses a different sentence construction, centered around the verb “olla”, “to be”. It’s interesting to note that the “minulla on” literally means”on me there is”. 

Very interesting, because it shows the age of this construct. 

Busy bee

A busy “buzzy” bee busily collecting nectar from flowers. The word “busy” comes from Middle English busi, besy, bisi, from Old English bysiġ, *biesiġ, bisiġ (“busy, occupied, diligent”), from Proto-Germanic *bisigaz (“diligent; zealous; busy”). The etymology of this Proto-Germanic root “*bisigaz” is “unknown”… 

Hmmmm, linguists should leave their libraries and go out more, walk in fields, observe bees busily buzzing around….

Maybe something will click in their heads, who knows… 🙂

Go out. Enjoy summer. 🙂


Few days ago I came across this Irish word:

gúnagown, (woman’s) dress, frock, robe, gown, From Middle Irish gúna ‎(“gown; outer tunic or dress”), a borrowing from Anglo-Norman gune, goune ‎(“fur-trimmed coat, pelisse”).

The Etymological dictionary of English language says that the Anglo-Norman gune, goune ‎(“fur-trimmed coat, pelisse”) from which the English word gown meaning long, loose outer garment is derived, comes from Old French goune “robe, coat; (nun’s) habit, gown,” related to Late Latin gunna “leather garment, skin, hide,” of unknown origin. Used by St. Boniface (8c.) for a fur garment permitted for old or infirm monks. Klein writes that it is probably “a word adopted from a language of the Apennine or the Balkan Peninsula.” OED points to Byzantine Greek gouna, a word for a coarse garment sometimes made of skins, but also notes “some scholars regard it as of Celtic origin.”

Now I wonder what this Balkan language, which is a potential source of the word gown could be and is it possible that at the same time the word is of a Celtic origin???

Let’s see what we can uncover. Literally.

Petar Skok in his “Etimologijski rjecnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika” (Etymological dictionary of the Croatian or Serbian language) says that: “the word gunj has these forms: “gunj, gunja, gunjac, gunjina”, and that the meaning can be:

A long or short heavy coat with or without sleeves which is worn over all other clothes.
A blanket
A carpet
A horse cover
A heavy shepherd cape
A kind of a women’s dress.

The material all these things are made of is either sheepskin, sheep felt, or goat hair.

The word is found in all Slavic languages except  Upper and Lower Lusatian and basically means clothes. 

Russian: “гуня” (gunja) – three qarter length coat, гу́нка (gunka) – diaper

Ukrainian: “гуня” (gunja) – rough homespun unpainted cloth or clothes made from such clothes

Bulgarian: “гу́ня” (gunja) – cloak made from goat’s hair

Source: “Этимологический словарь русского языка Макса Фасмера

Polish: “gunia” – Male outer clothing worn by Carpathian Highlanders

Czech: “houně, huňa” – Apart from cover, cloth (rarely used), houně in Czech means fur blanket. Also, houně is used to describe thick hair. 

Source: “ABZ online slovník českých synonym

Slovak: “huňa” – smock, “huňatý” – bushy hairy

Source: “Slovar slovaških sopomenk

Slovenian: “cunja” – rag, “gunj” – woolen clothes

Source: “The Dictionary of Standard Slovenian

It is found in Albanian as “güne” meaning “cloak” (My comment: but this is most likely a borrowing from Serbian). 

The word is also found in Hungarian as “gúnya”, again borrowing from Slavic languages:

After the Conquest, primarily through constant contact with Slavic peoples, numerous new elements were added to Hungarian costume, as the vocabulary testifies: ruha (clothes), gúnya (garb), kabát (coat), csuha (cowl), nadrág (trousers or breeches), palást (cloak), szoknya (skirt), harisnya (stocking), kapca (foot rag), posztó (broadcloth), etc….

Hungarian ethnography and folklore” by Iván balassa – Gyula ortutay

Hrvatski jezični portal (Croatian linguistic portal) says that: “gunj, gunja is a coarse cover made from wool or goats hair, or a home made cloak which is three quarter length“. 

Narodna enciklopedija, Srpsko – Hrvatsko – Slovenačka” (Folk encyclopedia, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian), which started to be published in 1924 by Professor Stanoje Stanojević, starts its chapter on “gunj” with:

Gunj is the most important part of the Serbian male attire…“.

It then goes on to say: “gunj is made from home made rough woolen cloth, mostly black, but it could be other colors too. Today it could be long, short, with or without sleeves. In the old time it used to be much wider and longer, in order to cover and protect the weapons. In Serbia gunj is worn over all other clothes and no belt is worn over it. In Montenegro, gunj is worn under a waistcoat and a belt is worn over it. In Duvno area of Bosnia, gunj has woolen catkins from the inside and it is smooth on the outside. These catkins show development of the cloth based gunj coats from sheepskin gunj coats. Gunj also always has a cape which is used during bad weather. It is today also worn by women.”

This engraving or painting by an unknown artist from 1930’s shows the assembly held on the 14th of February 1804, in the small village of Orašac near Aranđelovac, on which the leading Serb leaders decided to begin an uprising against the Turkish rule, choosing Karađorđe Petrović as their leader.

On it you can see several types of “gunj”, both short and long, both with or without sleeves. They are all worn as the top layer of clothing and are not buttoned up.

In the book “Zubun: kolekcija Etnografskog muzeja u Beogradu iz XIX i prve polovine XX veka, Etnografski muzej,Beograd” published in 2009 by Menković, Mirjana, we read that:

The important bit here is: “long coats and cloaks are known as veliki gunj (big gunj), gunja, kabanica (cape), japundža….“.

Mitar Vlahović in his work “Muška nošnja u Vasojevićima” (Male traditional dress from Vasojevići tribe) (1933) provides an interesting description of japundža (kabanica, gunjina) cloaks. He states that “the japundža cloaks worn by Vasojevići clansmen in Naija area were rather broad at the bottom and floor-length and made from white cloth. They were made hairy on the outside to resist water…” Just like the sheepskin shepherd cloaks, which were worn with the fleece outside when it was raining, the lanolin from the wool making them waterproof. These japundža cloaks were later replaced with Skadar gunjs which were “rather broad and knee length and made from gray or black wool with short sleeves and a large hood for covering the head in bad weather. This gunj was made to be hairy on the outside.

This again shows direct developmental line from sheepskin clothing to sheep wool cloth clothing. 

In Bunjevac dialect of Serbo Croatian, gunj gunja means “do kolena dugački ogrtač, obično krzneni” (long cape, down to the knees, usually made from sheep skin or fur)
In “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку, Србија и суседне земље. [Књ. 1]” (Folk dress in 19th and 20th century, Serbia and neighboring countries [book 1]) we read that “in Montenegrian highlands, the winter clothing items included gunj (a fur coat) with sleeves…

So what are we to make of all this? Here is what I think. 

The word “gunj, gunja, gunjina” only exists in Serbian (Serbo – Croatian) language and this is the only “Balkan language” from which this word could have entered medieval Greek and Latin.
I believe that the original meaning of the word “gunj, gunja, gunjina” was not “clothes” but a much more generic “cover”. We can see that from the meanings of the word listed in the Petar Skok dictionary:

A long or short heavy coat with or without sleeves which is worn over all other clothes (covers all other clothes)
A blanket (covers the body or a wall)
A carpet (covers the ground)
A horse cover (covers the horses back)
A heavy shepherd cape (covers the shepherd)

Originally this cover was a sheep fleece or a animal fur. Then people discovered how to make yarn and woolen cloth and the same covers started to be made from woolen cloth. But regardless the design and the purpose remained the same: something you throw over, wrap around as a cover.

Based on the fact the “gunj” capes, cloaks made of wool cloth were made to imitate sheep fleece suggests that the original “gunj” was a hunter gatherer cape, cloak made of fur, and later on when sheep and goats were domesticated, “gunj” was a shepherd cape, cloak made from sheep or goat skin (fleece). This is not surprising. Everyone uses the material most readily available. Both hunter gatherers and shepherds used skins of animals that they killed. What shepherds had were goat and sheep skins. Particularly the sheepskins are ideal for making waterproof cloaks and coats, as natural wool contains lanolin which makes it resistant to water and extremely good thermal insulator in wet conditions. A very important thing if you are a shepherd stuck somewhere on the grass covered highlands with your flock in the middle of a storm.

So no wonder we find these types of capes everywhere in Evroasia since prehistory.

Otzi, the Iceman, who lived around 3300 BC, wore a goatskin coat.

Ötzi’s coat was made of the hide of the domestic goat. On the inner side, numerous signs of scraping are visible, probably marks from the process of cleaning the skin. Scientific investigations indicate that the hides were tanned using fat and smoke. Once tanned, the sections were carefully cross-stitched together. The stitching was done with the fibres of animal sinews. The coat was worn with the fur side out. Darker stripes were alternated with lighter ones to produce a striking pattern. The Iceman probably wore the coat with the front open, as there is no fastener, though he could have kept it closed using  his belt. Nothing remains of the sleeves of the coat. It is therefore unclear whether the coat actually had sleeves.

This is a reconstruction of the coat from the Archeoparc at Schnals valley / South Tyrol. The picture was taken by Wolfgang Sauber.

Archaeological evidence of how widespread these sheepskin cloaks and coats were in antiquity can be seen on one of the famous Urumqi mummies, which date from 1800 BCE to the first centuries BCE, and which have have been preserved for more than two millennia in the extremely dry Tarim Basin (Xinjiang). This woman wears a sheepskin coat over a colorful woolen skirt.

By the time of the Persian empire we find kandys (Κάνδυς), also called candys, kantuš or Median robe. This is a type of three-quarter-length Persian coat. It originally described a leather cloak with sleeves worn by men. You can see this type of coat on this detail of a relief from Apadana of Persepolis, dated to 550-330 BC. It is showing two men (left and right) wearing kandys. 

This coat, eventually evolved into a garment worn by Athenian women. 

It is suggested that the term candys/kandys was probably an Iranian word that was appropriated by the Greeks to describe the Persian garment, which in Old Persian would have been called kandu (cloak). Other Old Iranian terms include kanzu-ka (Median), kan-su-ka (Elamite) and gnjwg (Parthian), all of which correspond with the term cloak. The prefix ‘kan-‘, in such languages, means to cover or to throw, as in a coat thrown round the shoulders.

The earliest evidence of the sleeved kandys is found on a 9th-century BC Iranian bronze stand excavated at Teppe Hasanlu, while garments have been found in 4th and 5th century BC Scythian graves showing that the sleeves were so narrow and placed in such a manner that they could not realistically function as sleeves.

Encyclopedia Iranica, Candys

The Sogdian, the Choresmian, and the Amyrgian Saka (Saka haumavargā) on the tomb reliefs, as well as the members of Delegation XVII on the Apadāna stairway (Amyrgian Saka), wear a tight-fitting, sleeved coat, cut obliquely at the side to allow ease of movement while riding. It was either made of leather with fur-lined edges or was entirely of fur or skin (similar to the modern pūstīn) and could vary in ornamentation and color. The name of this eastern Iranian coat may have been *gaunaka. Widengren derived the word from Avestan gaona- which means either “color” or “hair.” 

That these sheepskin capes were still worn in Europe during the early iron age, can be seen from the finds associated with a bog body known as “the woman from Huldremose“, who lived between 160 BCE to 340 CE, and whose body was found in a marsh in Jutland 19 May 1879. Her costume consisted of two sheepskin coats, a skirt and a scarf, woven from naturally colored wool. Her fur coats were made from the skins of around 14 sheep.

These sheepskin capes and coats continued to be worn by shepherds through iron age and medieval time.

This is a detail from the fresco from the Serbian monastery Sopoćani which was built in the 13th century. The picture shows a shepherd wearing a sheepskin coat and trousers. 
In the Bible, St John the Baptist is described as wearing “clothes made of camel’s hair”. In Serbian frescoes he is shown wearing something which looks very much like a shepherd’s “gunja” made from sheep skin.

Gračanica monastery,  Built by Serbian King Stefan Uroš II Milutin (r. 1282-1321) in 1310. Fresco St. John the Baptist (Sveti Jovan Krstitelj) painted c. 1318.

Pustinja monastery, which according to local legends was built in the 13th century by king Dragutin. However it is possible that the church was originally built in the 11th century and then rebuilt in the 17th century. 

During the Austro-Turkish war (1683-1699) relations between Muslims and Christians in European provinces of Ottoman Empire were radicalized to extreme, resulting in calls of Muslim religious leaders for extermination of local Christians, and also Jews. As a result of oppression, Serbian Christians and their church leaders headed by Serbian Patriarch Arsenije III sided with Austrians in 1689. In the following campaigns, Turkish forces conducted systematic atrocities against Christian population in Serbian regions, resulting in Great Migration  (ethnic cleansing) of 1690.

This is the picture entitled “Seoba Srbalja” (The migration of the Serbs), painted by Paja Jovanović in 1896, which depicts this migration (ethnic cleansing). In the first plan you can see a man wearing a sheepskin shepherd’s cape with the fleece turned inside.

By the way, kandys is sometimes compared to the rather later 17th-19th century military pelisse as worn by Hussars, in the sense that it was a sleeved jacket or coat worn cloak-style. 

pelisse was originally a short fur lined or fur trimmed jacket that was usually worn hanging loose over the left shoulder of hussar light cavalry soldiers, ostensibly to prevent sword cuts. 

The style of uniform incorporating the pelisse originated with the Hussar mercenaries of Hungary in the 17th Century. The thing is these Hussars were originally Serbian cavalry men who fled from Serbia after it fell under Turkish rule. And pelisse is nothing else but a short “gunj”. So no wonder that Hussars, Serbian cavalry men wear “gunj” type coat, which is, as the Folk encyclopedia, Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian states: “the most important part of the Serbian male attire…“.

Painting by Milana Dvornić: “Čoban (pastir) u opakliji okrenutoj za kišovito vrijeme” (Shepherd in opaklija (gunja) turned inside out for wet weather)

Here is a male shepherd’s sheepskin “gunj” cape from Pljevlja, Montenegro

Opaklija, gunja, Muzej Žeravica, Novo Miloševo, Serbia
Opaklija, gunja, Muzej Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia

And the same type of sheep skin capes worn by Albanian shepherds:

On this picture entitled “Peasants of Hadad – Transylvania” by Stephen Catterson Smith the Elder (1806–1872), you can see shepherds wearing sheepskin capes, both with the fleece turned inside and outside.

These shepherd’s cloaks, made of several sheepskins are still worn by shepherds in Romania. They can be with or without sleeves and  are called sarică or bituşca
In Hungarian this shepherd cloak is called “suba” or “bunda”.

This is the other side of the “suba” cloak, which is worn during the nice weather, while the fleece side is worn during the bad rainy or snowy weather, because it is a waterproof due to the lanolin in the raw sheep wool.

This picture by L. Benech done in 1888, shows a shepherd from Bohinj area in Slovenia, with the sheep skin cape. Does anyone know what the name of this type of capes is in Slovenian?

And here is an engraving by Jean-Francois Millet (1814 – 1875) – “Shepherd Tending his Flock”, depicting a shepherd from France wearing a sheepskin cape.

This painting by Niko Pirosmani (1862–1918) – “Shepherd in a Sheepskin Coat on a Red Background”, depicts a shepherd wearing the same type of sheepskin cape in Georgia

And this photograph taken in Georgia by George Kennan. 1870-1886 – shows a man in the same type of a sheepskin cape and sheep skin hat, holding a rifle

Does anyone know what the name of these sheepskin capes is in Georgian?

The problem with these capes is that they are great if you don’t need to move fast and work with your hands. If you do, you need to either take the cape off, have it tied with a clasp or rope around your neck and then move it to your back, in order to free your hands. This will basically choke you, because of the weight of the cloak, cape. The solution for this problem is to cut two openings in the sides of the cape, through which you can stick your hands out when you need to use them. This basically resulted in the development of sheep and goat skin sleeveless coats and waistcoats. 

In Serbia “ćurčija” is a craftsman which makes clothing items from leather and sheepskin. The name comes from the word “ćurak” which means a waistcoat made from sheepskin with wool turned towards the inside. In southern parts of Serbia this type of sheepskin waistcoat is known as “gunj”, and sometimes as “kožuh, kožuv” meaning lather coat

And if today you ask people in Serbia what is “gunj” most people will tell you that it is a waistcoat made out of sheepskin with the wool on the inside. 

These types of sheepskin waistcoats were also worn in other Balkan countries. 

These are Montenegrians wearing embroidered “gunj” sheepskin waistcoats taken from the website, “Immigration Archives” – Our Foreign Born Citizens – Immigrant Types.

The same website contains the picture of Romanians wearing the same type of the sheepskin waistcoats, except that in Romania this type of sheepskin waistcoat is called “bondiţa” and not “gunj”.

This type of waistcoats can also be made with the wool on the outside, like this “gunj” waistcoat from Lika, Croatia

The same type of sheepskin waistcoat with the wool turned outside was also worn in Albania. This is a picture of an Albanian shepherd, from “The Immigrant Tide, Its Ebb and Flow” by Edward A. Steiner.

And this is another picture of an Albanian shepherd boy from the collection of old photographs from the first photo studio in Albania, Fototeka MARUBI   ( Marubi Photo Collection ), with an archive with 500 000 photos from 1858 until 1959.

I don’t know what the name for these waistcoats is in Albanian so I would be very grateful to anyone who can give me that information, so that I can update my post.

And here is a photograph showing the same type of shepherd’s sleeveless coat, this one probably made from goat’s skin. This Slovenian gunj looks almost identical to the ancient Otzi coat. 5000 years of cultural continuity in the Alps.

And here is painting by Ancely, René (1847 – 1919) – Pyrénées – Pâtres de la Vallée d’Aran, Bagnère de Luchon, showing two shepherds wearing the same type of sheepskin waistcoat with the wool turned outside.

I don’t know what the name for these waistcoats is in the local french dialects so I would be very grateful to anyone who can give me that information, so that I can update my post.

The long version of this type of coat is of the exactly the same cut as the coat worn by Otzi, meaning that this clothing item did not change for over 5000 years. The reason for this is that this is a very effective body cover, which is very easy to make by even unskilled persons.

At some stage a short sleeves were added to these sleeveless coats, in order to cover the shoulders. An example of this type of sheepskin coats is this shepherd sheepskin cape, coat from the Landes region of southwest France

Eventually full length sleeves were added and the sheepskin cape developed into a sheepskin coat.

This is “Huňa”, gunj from Slovakian highlands:

A Greek shepherd wearing gunja, 19th century

These two pictures depict Romanian peasants, from Tarani-din-Maramures, photo by Kurt Hielscher (1881 – 1948), wearing sheepskin coats with the fleece turned outside.

Here is a picture of a Romanian shepherd, taken by Augustus Sherman from the collection of Portraits from Ellis Island, wearing a full length sleeves sheepskin coat.

Knee length sheepskin cojoc, with dark fur edging, and embroidered decoration from Romania. The word cojoc is a borrowing from Serbian. Original word is kožok, kožuk, kožuh meaning leather coat and is still used interchangeably with gunj in Serbia and other Slavic countries. The root of this word is koža meaning skin and leather. Romanian word for leather and skin is “piele”…

Please note that they still don’t have buttons. Once the buttons were added we ended up with the well known sheepskin coat, like this one:

Or like this one worn by a shepherd from Serbia.

Eventually these shepherd capes, cloaks started to be made from rough woolen cloth.

Here is a brilliant picture showing two shepherds from the Landes region wearing both versions of the shepherd cape, the sheepskin one and the woolen cloth one. And did I say that the shepherds from this region minded their sheep on stilts?

I don’t know what the name for these shepherd capes are in the local dialects, so I would really appreciate if anyone can let me know, so I can update my post.

In the book “Скривени свет балканских жена : женска одећа за улицу на крају XIX и у XX веку” (The hidden world of the Balkan women: female street clothing from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century ) by Менковић Мирјана, Бајић Светлана, we can see this picture of a wagon driver from Užice, Serbia, wearing kabanica (gunja) overcoat, 19th century

This is an examples of kabanica (gunjina) cloak from Stari Vlah from the book “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку, Србија и суседне земље. [Књ. 1]

And this is a cape, gunja, koporan from Western Serbia

And a cape, gunja, koporan from Knjazevac, Stara Planina, Eastern Serbia

And here is another shepherd from the Landes region of southwest France with a felt cape
These are well known capes which were worn by shepherds, monks and travelers everywhere in Europe. 

The same happened with sleeveless, short sleeves and long sleeves coats, which also started to be made from wool cloth.

This is a picture of the winter clothing, including “gunja” cape from Vranjska Pčinja, Serbia, from the book “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку. [Књ. 2]” (Serbian folk dress in 19th and 20th century [book 2])

These are examples of “gunj” coat from Srem, Serbia from the book “Народне ношње Срба у XIX и XX веку, Србија и суседне земље. [Књ. 1]

This is a kabanica, coat with cloak, made from coarse woolen cloth, from Turopolje, Croatia

And one from Hungary worn by a shepherd

This is a long sleeveless “gunj” from Kučevište, Skopska Crna Gora

In this picture from the book “The Land of the Black Mountain” published in 1905 by Gerald Prance and Reginald Wyon Weik, you can see a typical Montenegrian “gunj”. You can see that it is worn under a waistcoat in Montenegro

Here is the same male “gunj” felt coat.

Female gunj from Pecurice, Montenegro

And here are two short, “city” gunj coats from Serbia, the blue male one and black female one, which eventually became the main objects with which the word “gunj” was associated.

So this was quite interesting. We can clearly see how winter top cover clothes developed just by looking at all the things named “gunj, gunja, gunjina” in Serbian. These items have been found wherever we find shepherds for at least last 5000 years, but only in Serbian, of all the Balkan languages are they called “gunj, gunja, gunjina”. So if there is a Balkan language from which the word “guna” entered medieval Greek and Latin, it must have been Serbian.

But what is the etymology of this word in Serbian? Well I am still not sure.

All I know is that the Serbian word “gunj, gunja,  gunjina” has these interesting potential cognates:

Avestan “gaona” meaning “hair, wool, hair color, color”
Ossetian “хъуын” ‎(qwyn) meaning “hair”
Sanskrit “गुण” ‎(guṇa) meaning “thread, cord”
Khotanese (Eastern Saka) “gguna” meaning “color, hair”

References for the translation of the Avestan word “gaona” as “hair, wool, hair color, color”:

Основы иранского языкознания. Древнеиранские языки.Москва“, 1979 г. Изд. “Наука”, Глава “Скифо-сарматские наречия”, В.И.Абаев, Словарь скифских слов, стр. 290

Gauna – “fur”-> gun, авест. gaona – “color” , осет. ğun – “fur”:
~ σακυνδακη “Scythian clothes” = sak-gun-dak, осет. sag-ğun-dag – “Clothes made from deer skin (fur)”, см. aka (осет. sag) – “deer” and tag, dag – “tread” which in Ossetian gives in тканей zæl-dag = “silk”, kættag = (из kaen-tag) – “cloth”

A Dictionary of Tocharian B” by Douglas Q. Adams

The Tower of Babel, An Etymological Database Project

Avestan: Base Form Dictionary” by Jonathan Slocum and Scott L. Harvey

Hrvatski jezicni portal

I think that the prefix “kan” (“can”) we find in Iranic languages is the same as gunj. The word “gunj”, according to its use in Serbian, mean exactly that, cover. So gaona, caona, can…= “gunj”

Is this the origin of the Serbian words “gunj, gunja,  gunjina”? And if so, how did this word enter Serbian? Is this a remnant of the Scythian vocabulary in Serbian language?

Or is there some other root for this word?

Is the root, like “some linguists claim” Celtic?

This is the Brythonic word for woll: “*gwlan” and its descendants:

Middle Breton: glan, gloan
Breton: gloan
Old Cornish: gluan
Middle Cornish: glan, glawn
Cornish: gwlan
Old Welsh: gulan
Middle Welsh: gwlan
Welsh: gwlân

This is the Slavic word for wool: “vьlna” which in some Slavic languages including Serbian morphed into “vuna”.

Is it possible that in Serbian we had the following metamorphosis of the word for wool which happened because of the mixing of the Celtic and Slavic languages in the Balkans:

 “gwlan, gwolna. gvuna, guna” – wool, fleece, sheepskin, sheep wool cloth, any cover made from this material

Or is the root Serbian, Slavic?

In Serbian we have these words:

koža – skin (covers the body)
kosa – hair (covers the body)
kora – bark (covers the tree)
krzno (korzno) – fur (covers the body)
kostret – goat’s hair

None of the above words have proper etymology. But the root of all these words seems to be the root “ko”. So what is the meaning of the root “ko”? Is it possible that it has the same meaning it has today in Serbian: ko, koj, koji = which, who, that, it?

koža = ko + ža = ko + ži + ja = that which  + alive + i am = skin keeps things neatly inside 🙂
kosa = ko + sa = ko + ža + sa = skin + with = that which comes with skin? (not sure about this one. It could be also ko + sss = that which + the sound that stroking the hair makes sssss)
kora = ko + ra = ko + rapav = that which + rough (rrrr the sound of scratching)
k(o)rzno = ko + krzano = that which + scraped (exactly what we do go get fur, we scrape it off the body)
kostret = ko + str = that which sticks out, pricks (goat’s hair is very sharp compared to human and sheep hair)

So was guna originally kuna, kona = ko + na = that which + on, over = what you use to cover things? Or even better ko + unj + na = that which + in + on = what you get in, put on = cover, clothes, exactly what the meaning of the word “gunj” is…
Or does gunj, gunja come from “go (neuter), gu (feminine), ga (masculine)” a South Serbian dialectic variant meaning also which, who, that, it . So in that case go, gu, ga + unj + na = that which + in + on, over = that which is i go in, put on, that which is used as a cover?

Is gunj related to all these words, considering that k and g are interchangeable letters which often morph into each other? We can see this from Slavic cognates: gunja, cunja, houně, huna and we can see this from the Iranian gaona, caona, can. So I think that these words are all related and come from the same, Slavic root. Now what this could mean is that the Iranian words are borrowing, very early borrowing…And that is very very interesting…

But I am still not sure. 

I have been wrecking my brain for a week now to figure this out. What do you think?


Who gets slaughtered at the end of summer, gets buried at the end of autumn, gets resurrected, reborn at the end of winter, becomes young and fertile at the end of spring, becomes mature at the end of summer just to be slaughtered again…so that the cycle can be repeated again, year after year after year…???

Ripening wheat, Serbia. Photographer: Branko Pantić

Dun, Tun

It is widely accepted that the word “dunum” is another typically Celtic element in European place-names. It was, as far as I am aware, based on the sources that I have found, first recorded in the first century BC. If anyone has any example of an earlier record of a place name which contains word “dunum”, please let me know, so I can update my post. 

Anyway, place names containing “dunum” were recorded from Ireland to Ukraine. 

Here are some examples:

Ireland: Two places marked as dunum on Ptolemy map of Ireland. 
France: Lugdunum (Lyons), Virodunum (Verdun)
Switzerland: Minnodunum (Moudon), Eburodunum (Yverdon)
Netherlands Lugdunum (Leyden)
Great Britain: Camulodunum (Colchester), Brandunum (Brancaster)
Spain: Donobria (Dumbría), Moridunum (Morodon), Estledunum (Estola)
Germany: Cambodunum (Kempton), Carrodunum (Karnberg), Lugidunum (Liegnitz)
Serbia: Singidunum (Belgrade)
Croatia: Carrodunum (Virovitica)
Romania: Noviodunum (Isaccea)
Ukraine: Carrodunum (?)
Poland: Carrodunum (Krakow)

Apparently the root “dunum” is actually the Proto-Celtic “*dūnom” meaning stronghold, fort, rampart.

The direct descendants of this Proto-Celtic root are:


    Old Irish: dun
    Irish: dún
    Manx: doon
    Scottish Gaelic: dùn

Brythonic: *din

    Old Breton: din
    Breton: din
    Middle Welsh: din, dinas
    Welsh: din
    Cornish: dyn

All meaning fort or town.

In Ireland, and in parts of Scotland once occupied by the Irish, there are still many place names which contain the Irish word “dún”. 

Ireland: Donegal (Dún na nGall), Dungannon (Dún Geanainn), Doonbeg (Dún Beag), Doonally (Dún Aille), Dunowla (Dún Abhla), Dún Laoghaire…You can find more “dún” place names from Ireland in the database of the Irish place names.

Scotland: Edinburgh (Dùn Èideann), Dinnet (Dùnaidh), Macduff (An Dùn), Dundee (Dùn Dè), Dunnichen (Dùn Neachdain), Dunbeg (An Dùn Beag)…You can find more “dún” place names from Scotland in the database of the Scottish Gaelic place names.

In Wales we have a lot of place names which contain the word “din” meaning fort:

Din Sylwy, Dinmoyle, Carmarthen (Caerf jrrddin), Pendine (Pen- din), Dinas Emrys, Dinorwig, Dyserth (Dincolyn). You can find more “din” place names from Wales in “The place-names of Wales“. 

But in Wales we also find place names which contain the word “tyn” which is actually a derivative of the Old English word “tun” meaning “enclosed land, farmstead, town”. Such place names are Axtyn, Estyn, Golftyn, Mertyn, Mostyn, Prestatyn, Cychtyn. You can find more about these names in “The place-names of east Flintshire“. 

In the English place names which originally had Old English “tun”, the ending “tun” have later morphed into “ton” like in Elston, Tunstead, Warrington, Brighton, Coniston, Clacton, Everton, Broughton, Luton, Merton, Bolton, Workington, Preston, Bridlington, Stockton-on-Tees, Taunton, Boston, Kensington, Paddington, Crediton, Honiton, Hamilton, Northampton, Southampton, Paignton, Tiverton, Helston, Wolverhampton, Buxton, Congleton, Darlington, Northallerton…This is actually by far the most common place name type in England. 

The Old English word “tun” is said to come from a proposed Proto-Germanic root “*tūną”  meaning “fence”.

The direct descendants of this Proto-Germanic root are:

1. Old Norse “tún” meaning “a hedged plot, enclosure, courtyard, homestead”
2. Old English “tūn” meaning “an enclosed piece of ground, an enclosure or garden, the enclosed ground belonging to an individual dwelling, the group of houses on an area of enclosed land, a homestead, a large inhabited place, a town”
3. West Frisian “tún”, Old Saxon “tún”, Dutch “tuin” meaning “garden”
4. German “zaun” meaning “fence” 

I am not sure how many place names in Brittany have the element “din”. There are several place names beginning with “din” that I have found in “Breton Settlement Names: A Geographical View“: Dinan, a town whose castle is figured on the Bayeux tapestry (11th century), could mean ‘little fortress’ (-an diminutive). D.inard, for a long time a fishing village in the parish of St. Enogat, could be ‘the high fortress’. Dineault, the name of a parish in Finistere, in Breton Dineol, is pronounced as if it included the name of the sun (heol).  If anyone knows of any other ones please let me know. 

I am not sure about the Norse, West Frisian, Dutch settlements with “tún” in their names, or German place names with “zaun”. I would love if someone would help me update the post with this data.

But I can tell you that there are a lot of place names with the word “din”, “tin”,” tun” in the Balkans.

Many years ago professor Ranka Kujić who once taught at the Belgrade University and who was also a member of the Welsh academy, published a book “Crveno i Belo, Celtsko – Srbske paralele” (Red and White, Celtic – Serbian parallels).

Crveno i belo book cover

In this book she lists the toponyms from the areas of the Balkans which are now or were once inhabited by Serbs, and which are based on the suffixes “din”, “tin”,” tun” meaning stronghold, fort, settlement, enclosure.

Apatin, Bajatun, Batin, Bitin, Bitina, Blagotin, Bradina, Bradina, Bratun, Bratunac, Bršadin, Butin, Cetina, Cetingrad, Cetinja, Čokordin, Kovin, Čordin, Dekutince, Deretin, Divostin, Dobrotin, Gorčin, Gojčin, Dradina, Gradetin, Knin, Kratin, Kratina, Kutina, Laktin, Martin, Mazin, Medine, Mislodjin, Morkin, Molin, Mišorin, Motina, Negotin, Neradin, Neštin, Nikodin, Nin, Paraćin, Petrovaradin, Pomeždin, Porodin, Pretin, Priština, Pundina, Radetin, Rastina, Ratin, Severin, Slatina, Svilartin, Surčin, Sutina, Tutin, Uzdin, Varaždin, Vidin, Vitina, Vlasotince

Her proposal is that these place names are all based on the Celtic suffixes “dun”, “din”, “tin”,” tun” meaning stronghold, fort, settlement, enclosure. This is not a surprise considering that Balkans was once a Celtic stronghold

But interestingly we also have a Proto-Slavic root “*tynъ” meaning ‎“fence”. Is it possible that the above place names have been derived from this Proto-Slavic root meaning “fence” rather than the Proto-Celtic root meaning “fort”?

The thing is, there is really no difference between these two roots. What is a fort? Well, it is a piece of land, which is surrounded, enclosed with a fence so that people can protect themselves within it. Without a fence there is no fort. Have a look for yourself:

This is an Iron age fort from Britain

This is a Slavic early medieval fort

When you see a fort, what you see is a fence. When you think of forts you think of a space within the fence, the space enclosed by the fence, the enclosure. So it is easy to see how a word for a fence and the word for a fort are basically inseparable.

Fences are of course built not only around forts. They are built around:

Farmsteads, like this reconstructed Iron Age farmstead from Butser, Hampshire

Or this present day one one from Serbia

Sheep pens, like this one from Scotland

Sheep pen, Scottish highlands

Or these ones from Serbia

Sheep pen, Serbia

Sheep pen Serbia

Or a vegetable gardens

Basically fences are built around anything that needs to be protected, like people, sheep, vegetables creating fenced off enclosures (forts, farmsteads, sheep pens, gardens).

A reconstruction drawing of an early Irish Medieval Ring-fort by Philip Armstrong

I actually believe that the original meaning of the word “dun, din, tun, tin” must have been “something fenced of, an enclosure, an enclosed space surrounded with a fence” and that the meaning fort is a later derived one. I believe that this is confirmed by the meaning of the Proto-Germanic root “*tūną” and Slavic root “*tynъ” which both mean fence. 

Even the Irish word “dún” shows that the original meaning of the Proto-Celtic “*dūnom” must have been “enclosure”. The word does mean “fort, fortress” but it also means “place of refuge, haven, haven for ships, secure residence, house” and as a verb it means “to close, to shut”. 

The proof that the original meaning of the Irish word “dun” was “enclosure” are places like this ceremonial enclosure, on the hill of Cnoc Ailinne in County Kildare, Ireland, which is called Dún Ailinne, even though there was never any fort here, just a space enclosed with a ditch, a separated place, an enclosure.

Dún Ailinne

In the end we also find the same root “tun” in Armenian, meaning “house, habitation, home, construction, building (like palace, church), room, chamber; tent, pavilion, floor, land, country, region, inhabitants of the house, household, family, race, nation”

Old Armenian: տուն ‎(tun)
Armenian: տուն ‎(tun)

Again we can see that the meaning is “enclosed place”.

So  no wonder that when we look at the etymology of the Proto-Celtic root “*dūnom” which means stronghold, fort we find that it comes from the PIE root  “*dʰuHnom” ‎meaning “enclosure”. Fort is just an enclosure whose perimeter is defined by a fence. 

So far so good. But, I would like to propose something here. 🙂 

I would like to propose that both Germanic and Slavic words are older than the Celtic words, and the the root of the whole cluster is “tun” which means fenced off place, enclosed space. Now the official linguistics is saying the opposite. It says that the original word is Celtic dunum meaning fort, from which Germanic “tun” meaning fence, enclosure is derived. Slavic “tyn” meaning fence is then derived from the Germanic “tun”…This comes from the old “population replacement” theory, which states that originally the whole of Europe was inhabited by Celts. Then the Germanic people came in from the East and replaced the Celts while borrowing some Celtic words, like the one for fort, and then using it for everything that is fenced off…. Then the Slavic people came in from the East and replaced the Germanic people while taking the Germanic word for fenced off place and using it as a word for a fence…

This replacement theory has been completely destroyed in recent years by genetic studies. There was no population replacement in Europe in the Iron age. Just migrations and mixing. So when we are talking about Celts, Germanics and Slavs, we can only talk about ever changing and evolving cultures, tribal alliances and linguistic horizons.  And this makes it perfectly possible that the word “dun”, meaning “fort”, one specialized type of an enclosure was actually derived from the word “tun” meaning “any enclosure”.

But what is the root of the word “tun”? Is it possible to construct this word from smaller parts whose combined meaning is “enclosure, enclosed space”? I believe it is. 

In archaic dialects of Serbian we have these words:

to – that
tu – there
u – in, into
v – in, into
n, nj – to, in boundary, it
u nj, n, v nj – in it
tu + u + nj, n – there, that + in + it, boundary = within,  inside – tuunj – tuun – dun
tu,to + v + nj, n = there, that + in + it, boundary = within, inside – tu(o)vnj – tu(o)wn

tu + u + nj,n = tuunj = tuun – inside the enclosed space, enclosure

If indeed the word “tun” is derived from this phrase, the above process must have happened a very long time ago.  It definitely predates the first record of the words “tun”, “tin”  meaning “enclosure” and “fence” and “dun”, “din” meaning “fort”. By the time these words were first recorded, the phrase was already fused into a single word. This fused word has been preserved in archaic Serbian as well. In Serbian villages you can still hear people saying “tun”, “tune”, “tuna” meaning “there”, but more specifically “in there, in that specific place, on that specific place”.

One other interesting thing. In Serbian the word for inside is “unutra”. tu + unutra = tu + un (otra) = there inside (inside). Apparently an old form of “v” “u” meaning “in” is attested which is “vn” “un”. So the word unutra = un + utra = in + inside… This is another proof that the construct “tuun” can be short for tu un and that modern Serbian tun, tune, tuna can be a a remnant of this phrase.

The meaning of the the word tun, dun would then be “place of”, “place containing, harboring, protecting”. Dún Aonghasa = There in is Aonghasa= Place of Aonghasa….

Is this just a coincidence? 

Maybe, but this etymology then explains this English word perfectly:

Tun – large cask, barrel, vat. From Middle English tunne, tonne (“cask, barrel”), from Old English tunne (“tun, cask, barrel”), from Proto-Germanic *tunnǭ, *tunnō (“tun, barrel, cask”), of unknown origin. Cognate with North Frisian tenn (“tun, barrel, cask”), Dutch ton (“tun, barrel, cask”), German Tonne (“tun, barrel, drum”), Danish tønde (“barrel”), Swedish tunna (“barrel, cask, tun”), Icelandic tunna (“barrel”). Compare also French tonne, tonneau (“ton”, “barrel”), Medieval Latin tunna (“cask”), Middle Irish tunna (“cask”), Welsh tynell (“tun, barrel”). It is uncertain whether the Germanic or the Celtic forms are the original.

Barrel, cask, vat, “tuno, tune, tuna, tun” is a circular enclosure made of wood, which you use to put things in, to enclose them. tu u nj = tuun = there in that = where you put things in to protect them, preserve them. 

This word, just like all the above words for enclosures, fences, describe something that you can use to enclose something else, a container, something that you can put something else in for protection. 

“tun” = “tunj” = “tuunj” = “tu u nj” = “there in it” = “where you put things in, where you enclose things to protect them”…

What do you think? 


In my post about the Montenegrian tumuluses, I argued that the Irish annals contained true historical accounts about the migration of the Partholon and his people from the sea of Azov, via Anatolia, Montenegro, Sicily, Iberia into Ireland which happened in the mid 3rd millennium BC. The Irish annals were originally oral histories which were only written down in the medieval time. And so the main complaint that I got about my Partholon theory was that it is impossible that oral histories can be preserved for so long.

Well we now seem to have proof that some oral histories could be as much as 45,000 years old if not even older…

In a genetic study in 2011, researchers found evidence that the ancestors of the Aboriginal population split off from the ancestors of the European and Asian populations between 65,000 and 75,000 years ago. These Aboriginal ancestors migrated into South Asia and then into Australia, where they stayed, with the result that, outside of Africa, the Aboriginal peoples have occupied the same territory continuously longer than any other human populations. These findings suggest that modern Aboriginal peoples are the direct descendants of migrants who left Africa up to 75,000 years ago.[2][3] The same genetic study of 2011 found evidence that Aboriginal peoples carry some of the genes associated with the Denisovan (a species of human related to but distinct from Neanderthals) peoples of Asia. Examining DNA from a finger bone excavated in Siberia, researchers concluded that the Denisovans migrated from Siberia to tropical parts of Asia and that they interbred with modern humans in South-East Asia at some stage before 45,000 years ago, before Australia separated from Papua New Guinea. [4] They contributed DNA to Aboriginal Australians along with present-day New Guineans and an indigenous tribe in the Philippines known as Mamanwa. This study makes Aboriginal Australians one of the oldest living populations in the world and possibly the oldest outside of Africa, confirming they may also have the oldest continuous culture on the planet.[7]

Now when did these ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians move into Australia is uncertain. But it is possible that this happened sometime between 45,000 and 40.000 years ago. This is supported by the archaeological finds of human remains near Lake Mungo.

Lake Mungo is a dry lake located in south-eastern Australia,in the south-western portion of New South Wales. It is at the Lake Mungo where a so called “Mungo Man and Mungo Lady” remains were found. Mungo Lady is particularly interesting. Mungo Lady, a partially cremated female body, was discovered in 1969 by Dr Jim Bowler from the Australian National University (ANU). Mungo Lady was only partially cremated before the remainder of her bones were crushed. She was initially estimated to be 25,000 years old, although a more recent multi-university study in 2003 determined that she was probably closer to 40,000 years old.

Mungo Man was also discovered by Dr Bowler, on 26 February 1974. The remains were covered with red ochre, in what is the earliest known incidence of such a burial practice. Red ochre is commonly used in burials for ritualistic purposes. The site was dating using OSL dating, or luminescence dating. The site is dated to be 60,000 years ago. If the fossils are actually from 60,000 years old, the fossils would be that of archaic Homo sapiens.

The different years for which artifacts and the remains were found puts into debate the actual time in which Australia was inhabited. If it was inhabited 60 thousand years or over, it puts in question the theory that all civilizations derived from Africa. If, however, Mungo Man and Mungo Lady truly are evidence that Australia has only been inhabited for about 50,000 years, the theory of Africa is stronger than ever. This would put Mungo Man and Mungo Lady’s civilization in the same time frame as other cultures that were just beginning to settle outside of Africa.[5]

But regardless, it seems that at some stage between 65,000 and 40,000 years ago the Aboriginal Australians crossed into Australia, and have been isolated there from the rest of the world until the first Chinese and European explorers reached the continent not more than 500 years ago.

During that time they have been carefully preserving their beliefs through a complex set of rituals and stories which are today known as “Dreamtime”. But it seems that the “Dreamtime” stories are not just mythologies, but are a mix of mythological stories and actual histories accumulated and preserved over who knows how many thousands of years.

The term Dreamtime is based on a rendition of the indigenous (Arandic) word “alcheringa”, used by the Aranda (Arunta, Arrernte) people of Central Australia. The word actually has a meaning closer to “eternal, uncreated” or “so old that it seems that it has been here forever”. In “Dreamtime” an individual’s entire ancestry exists as one, culminating in the idea that all worldly knowledge is accumulated through one’s ancestors. This is extremely good description of the accumulated  memories which were passed through direct contact from generation to generation through stories and rituals. 

And as I said, some of the Dreamtime memories could turn out to be actual ancient histories.  

The flood

“In the beginning, as far back as we remember, our home islands were not islands at all as they are today. They were part of a peninsula that jutted out from the mainland and we roamed freely throughout the land without having to get in a boat like we do today. Then Garnguur, the seagull woman, took her raft and dragged it back and forth across the neck of the peninsula letting the sea pour in and making our homes into islands.”

This is a paraphrase of an Aboriginal story about the origin of the Wellesley Islands, a group of islands off the coast of north Queensland in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria:

This story has parallels along every part of the coast of Australia. Along the coast, Aboriginal stories written down early in colonial times talk about the ancient time when these areas were dry, a time when people hunted kangaroo and emu there, before the water rose and flooded them, never again to recede.

In a recent paper [8] presented at an indigenous language conference in Japan, Nick Reid, Associate Professor, School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England and Patrick D. Nunn, Assistant Director, Sustainability Research Centre; Professor of Geography, University of the Sunshine Coast analysed 18 stories from around Australia’s coast.

They found that all stories tell tales of coastal flooding and argued that these stories recall coastal inundation as sea levels started to rise after the last Ice Age.

During the coldest time of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, the sea level around Australia stood about 120 metres below its present level. When the ice started to melt, a few thousand years later, huge masses of ice that had built up on the land, particularly in the northern hemisphere, began melting. Water poured into the world’s oceans, raising their levels in ways that are now well understood. By about 13,000 years ago, sea level had risen to around 70 metres below its present level. One thousand years later, it had risen to about 50 metres below present. These dates give us a ballpark for how old the Aborinial stories of flooding may be. Could they have reached us from 13,000 years ago?

I already mentioned the story about the Wellesley Islands. The local tribes from the Cairns area claim that they once lived “where the Great Barrier Reef now stands”. Their story states that the Fitzroy Island was once part of the mainland. 

And that the offshore Green Island was four times larger. 

The story describes several named landmarks with remembered historical-cultural associations that are now underwater.

During the last ice age this whole area which today lies between the Great Barrier reef and the Australian coast, would have comprised broad floodplains and undulating hills with a range of subsistence possibilities, bordered in most parts by steep cliffs plunging down to the narrow shore.

The Great Barrier reef has an average depth of 35 meters in its inshore waters, while on outer reefs, continental slopes extend down to depths of more than 2000 meters. Based on these depths, the above stories about the flooding of the reef might date from as much as 12,000 years ago. A more conservative interpretation, based on a sea level just 30 meters lower than today, would place the age of this story at around 10,000 years ago.

Similar stories come from Spencer Gulf in southern Australia. 

Those from the Narrangga people of Yorke Peninsula recall the time when there was no Spencer Gulf, only “marshy country reaching into the interior” lying just above the ocean surface and dotted with “freshwater lagoons” where birds and other animals flocked.

One day the sea came in, perhaps through the breaching of a natural barrier, and the area has since been submerged. If these stories refer to flooding across the outermost lip of Spencer Gulf, which today lies around 50 metres below present sea level, then they may have originated 12,000 years ago. Even if they refer to inundation of the central part of the Gulf, they are likely to be more than 9,000 years old.

How sea levels changed after the ice ages around Australia is now well known. So if these stories are accepted as authentic and based on observations of coastal flooding, it is clear that they must be of extraordinary antiquity.

But believe or not these are not the oldest Dreamtime stories which could be actual ancient histories. 

The palms

This is Central Australian Cabbage Palm (Livistona mariae). 

How the only native palm tree in Australia got to an isolated Palm Valley in the center of the country has long been a mystery.

Recent research findings seem to back up Aboriginal legend on origin of these palms. Several years ago Tasmanian ecologist David Bowman from University of Tasmania, did DNA tests on palm seeds from the outback and near Darwin. The results led him to conclude the seeds were carried to the Central Desert by humans at some stage between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. What is interesting is that after he published his findings, Professor Bowman read an Aboriginal legend recorded in 1894 by pioneering German anthropologist and missionary Carl Strehlow, which was only recently translated, describing the “gods from the north” bringing the seeds to Palm Valley.

Professor Bowman said he was amazed. 

“We’re talking about a verbal tradition which had been transmitted through generations possibly for possibly 30,000 years,” he said.

“Just an amazing coincidence that we’d independently concluded that the seeds had been transported and then subsequently we discover an Aboriginal legend is exactly what we found scientifically.

“The concordance of the findings of a scientific study and an ancient myth is a striking example of how traditional ecological knowledge can inform and enhance scientific research.

“It suggests that Aboriginal oral traditions may have endured for up to 30,000 years, and lends further weight to the idea that some Aboriginal myths pertaining to gigantic animals may be authentic records of extinct megafauna.”

This is amazing. A 30,000 years old oral history??? But this is nothing compared to the Dreamtime story which explains the origin of the black swans. 

The swans

The Dreamtime story of the black swans tells how two brothers were turned into white swans so they could help an attack party during a raid for weapons. It is said that Wurrunna used a large gubbera, or crystal stone to transform the men. After the raid, eaglehawks attacked the white swans and tore feathers from the birds. Crows who were enemies of the eaglehawks came to the aid of the brothers and gave the black swans their own black feathers. The black swan red beak is said to be the blood of the attacked brothers, which stayed there forever.

This is truly an amazing story. Evidence suggests that swans evolved in Europe or western Eurasia during the Miocene (23.03 to 5.332 million years ago), spreading all over the Northern Hemisphere until the Pliocene (5.333 million to 2.58 million years ago). 

The swans are generally found in temperate environments, rarely occurring in the tropics. 

Four (or five) species occur in the Northern Hemisphere (all white).

One species is found in Australia and New Zealand (black).

And one species is distributed in southern South America (white with black neck).

The swans are absent from tropical Asia, Central America, northern South America and the entirety of Africa. This is the map that shows the natural distribution of swans in the world. 

Now you can see that there we have black swans in Australia ans white swans in the Central and Northern Asia. But no swans of any kind in the huge area between China and Australia. As we have seen from the evidence found in the lake Mungo site, Aboriginal Australians have crossed into Australia at least 40,000 years ago. We have also seen that the scientists believe that the mixing between the Denisovans and modern humans, which produced the ancestors of today’s Aboriginal Australians, happened in the tropical parts of Asia at some stage before 45,000 years ago. 

Now there are no swans in tropical South East Asia, and the only swans that live in Australia are black swans. This means that the only swans Aboriginal Australians could have seen for over 45,000 years have been black swans. So where and more importantly when did they last see a white swan? Well somewhere on their way from Africa to South East Asia, at some stage between 75,000 and 45,000 years ago. This means that this Dreemtime story is more than 45,000 years old and could be as much as 60,000 years old….

How’s this for the resilience of the oral tradition? What is measly 5000 years, which is how old I believe the story of Partholon’s migration from the Irish Annals is, compared to the age of the Australian Dreamtime stories?

Why and how did Australian Aboriginal cultures achieve transmission of information about real events from such deep time? Professors Nick Reid and Patrick D. Nunn who wrote about the Aboriginal Australian flood myths suggested that: 

The isolation of Australia is likely to be part of the answer. But it could also be due to the practice and nature of contemporary Aboriginal storytelling. This is characterised by a conservative and explicit approach to “the law”, value given to preserving information, and kin-based systems for tracking knowledge accuracy. This could have built the inter-generational scaffolding needed to transmit stories over vast periods.

And this is exactly the kind of environment that was found in Ireland. A close knit clan based community living for a long time in a relative isolation at the edge of Europe. No wonder that the Irish managed to preserve such old myths, legends, beliefs and histories  in Europe. 

I also believe that some European myths are much much older and come to us from Mesolithic and maybe even Paleolithic times. But more about this later…Until then stay happy and sweet dreams…


1. “Outback palms were planted”, David Bowman, University of Tasmania
2. “An Aboriginal Australian Genome Reveals Separate Human Dispersals into Asia”, Rasmussen, Morten; et al.
3. “The first Aboriginal genome sequence confirms Australia’s native people left Africa 75,000 years ago.”. Australian Geographic. 23 September 2011.
4. “First Aboriginal genome sequenced”, Callaway, Ewen. Nature.
5. “Pleistocene human remains from Australia: A living site and human cremation from Lake Mungo, western New South Wales”, J. M. Bowlerab, Rhys Jonesab, Harry Allenab & A. G. Thorneab, World Archaeology

6. ” Ducks, Geese and Swans. Bird Families of the World. “, Kear, Janet, ed
7. “DNA confirms Aboriginal culture is one of the Earth’s oldest”. Australian Geographic.
8. “Ancient Aboriginal stories preserve history of a rise in sea level“, Nick Reid and Patrick D. Nunn