Tag Archives: archaeology

Pendant

This is a pendant with an image of a bull and and what looks like seven bees or seven women. It was found in Ryazan area of Russia, and is attributed to Vyatichi, an early medieval Slavic tribe. Pendant, one of many found in Radimich kurgans, is dated to 11th – 12th century AD.  

What does this pendant represent?

The constellation of Pleiades (also known as seven sisters or seven maidens) lies on the neck of the constellation Taurus (bull)…

According to old writers, for instance Virgil book 4, bees only collect honey between the helical rising and setting of Pleiades (May to November). Funnily this period spans 7 months, the same number as the number of stars (bees or maiden sisters) of the constellation of Pleiades…

Banya

In my post “Fulacht fiadh – sweat lodge” I proposed that fulachta fiadh could have been seasonal temporary campaign camps built by Fianna hunting bands, and that they consisted of wigwam type shelters which could have been used as both lodgings and steam rooms.

At the end of that article I said that, there is a place in Europe where we still find a particular type of temporary shelters which are built by soldiers, hunters and travelers on campaigns, which are very similar in construction to wigwams or inipis, which are heated by fire heated stones, and which are used as sweat and steam rooms…

That place is Western Russia, Ukraine, Belarus where the same type of temporary travel “sweat lodges” are still made today and are known as “походная баня” (pokhodnaya banya) meaning “hiking bathhouse”.

This is a type of temporary sweat lodges, very popular among the Russian military, mountaineers, hunters and other people who travel for extended periods in harsh environments. It consists of a stone oven set up in a small makeshift tent. Hiking banyas are usually made near a lakeshore or riverbank where many big, round stones are available to build the banya’s oven and there is plenty of cool water available for bathing. Large stones are made into a dome-shaped circular oven, one meter in diameter and a half to one meter in height so that there is space left on the inside to make a large fire. Firewood is burned for several hours in this improvised stove until the stones on the surface of the pile become so hot that water poured on them turns into steam. Around the pile, a space is tarped to form a small tent and the banya is ready when it becomes very hot inside. Fresh twig tips can be cut from nearby birch or oak trees and a bath broom called venik can be made and used for sprinkling the hot oven stones with water and for massage.

Bathers using banya can take turns cooling off in the ice-cold river or lake water.

Here are some examples of makeshift “hiking banya” sweat lodges. You can see that all they are basically a very flimsy makeshift huts built over a stone oven.

These Russian videos shows how to make banja stone oven from stones found on a beach:

How to make banja video 1
How to make banja video 2
How to make banja video 3 (and how to use it)
How to make banja video 4

On this great web page you can see pohodnaja banya made in the old style with the cover made from evergreen branches:

Couple of things to note. As you can see from the above pictures the “hiking banya” sweat lodges are extremely easy to make and a single person can put one together in less than an hour. Once you have the frame in place you can use whatever you have at hand as the cover: hides, blankets, tarp, plastic sheet or evergreen or broad leaf branches. Once you make the oven that is. This oven is basically a corbelled roof dry stone dome.

If you want to heat large number of stones, this is the most efficient way to do it. Because the fire is burning inside the stone oven, under the stone dome, and because the hot gases produced by the combustion rise, there is no heat waste. Almost all the heat produced by burning wood inside this type of oven gets absorbed by the stones and then is radiated out long after the fire has gone out. A stone oven heated by the burning fire for 3 hours will radiate heat for 12 hours after the fire is note out. This is incredibly efficient way of heating. Compare this with a hearth which becomes stone cold as soon as the fire is out. Also because the fire is completely contained inside the oven there is no danger that it can spread to its surrounding. This allows these ovens to be positioned next to the walls of the huts even if these walls are made of flammable material like wood.

Now imagine if you wanted to make a permanent banya. A village banya. You would instead of a makeshift shelter make a more permanent shelter, a wooden hut maybe, a log cabin. In my post about log cabins i explained that it was Central European Slavs who inherited the tradition of building log cabins from Central European Celts. The Slavs then passed this building tradition to the Scandinavians during the middle ages. So if Slavs wanted to make a permanent banya, they made a log cabin like this one:

And then inside they built a corner stone stove, just like the one from pohodnaya banya. Like this one.

And this is exactly what the oldest and the most traditional type of banya known to have been used in Slavic countries looked like. The original village banyas were detached, low-lying wooden structures (log cabins) heated by a corner stove which was made of large round stones. Once the stones are heated, the fire was put out, the ashes were removed and smoke was let out before the bathing began.  Hence the soot covered blackened interior and the term “black bathhouses” (“chernaia banya” or “Баня по-черному”).

Here is the black bathhouse while the stove is being heated. You can see the smoke bellowing out through the open door.

And here is the interior of the black bathhouse. It’s black 🙂

After the hut was aired, the door was closed. The super heated stones would radiate the heat and the inside of the hut would soon reach temperatures as high as the 90 degrees Celsius. People would come in and would sit naked on benches in the dry heat (sauna) or would splash water on stones creating steam (steam room). They even took stones from the top of the stove and used them to heat water in large wooden throughs which were then used for bathing…

The banya tradition is extremely old in Slavic lands. No one really knows how old. But if we are to believe Radzivill Chronicle, preserved as a 15th-century copy of a 13th-century original, banya was in wide use in Kieavan Rus in the 10th century AD. In this manuscript we find the story of Princess Olga’s revenge for the murder of her husband, Prince Igor. Prince Igor was killed by the Slavic tribe of Drevlians in 945 AD. The leader of the Drevlians had hopes of marrying the widow Olga and sent messengers to discuss the idea. 

“When the Drevlians arrived, Olga commanded that a bath should be made ready for them and said, ‘Wash yourselves and come to me.’ The bath-house was heated and the unsuspecting Drevlians entered and began to wash themselves. Olga’s men closed the bath-house behind them and Olga gave orders to set it on fire from the doors, so that the Drevlians were all burned to death.”

Now a lot of people would here say that banya was probably brought to the Slavic land by the Scandinavian Rus. After all banya is a type of sauna and “everyone knows” that sauna is a Finish invention which was then adopted by the Scandinavians, who then brought this custom with them when they invaded the the Slavic land. Right? I would dare say wrong…

The sauna in Finland is an old phenomenon but it is difficult to trace its roots. Finnish bathing habits were poorly documented until the 16th century. This is substantially later than the above mention of banyas in the Kievan Russ. Did Fins use saunas earlier than the 16th century? Maybe. How much earlier? As early as the 10th century? Maybe but we have no written records of it. However we do have written records that Slavs used banyas much much earlier than the time when first Scandinavians arrived into Central Europe.

An early description of the banya comes from the East Slavic Primary Chronicle of 1113. According to the Chronicle, or as it was called by its authors, The Tale of Bygone Years, the Apostle Andrew visited the territories that were later to become Russia and Ukraine during his visit to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea. The belief was held that Andrew crossed through East Slavic lands from the mouth of the Dnieper River, past the hills on which Kiev would later be founded, and went as far north as the ancient city of Novgorod. He had this to say about the Slavic bathing customs:

“Wondrous to relate,” said he, “I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bathhouses. They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with tallow, they take young reeds and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water, and thus are revived. They think nothing of doing this every day, and actually inflict such voluntary torture on themselves. They make of the act not a mere washing but a veritable torment.”

If this source is to be trusted, Slavs used banyas every day in the first century AD. Now some people will say this is just a fairy tale, but this fairy tale is supported by archaeological evidence.

This is the map of the Prague-Penkov-Kolochin group of archaeological cultures identified with early Slavic populations in the 6th and 7th centuries. Please note that they cover the whole area between the Balkan and Baltic and that they are centered around Carpathian mountains, a land of forests, rivers and lakes, containing all the material one needs for making log cabins with stone ovens….

These cultures are descendants of the Kiev culture, an archaeological culture dating from about the 3rd to 5th centuries, named after Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It is widely considered to be the first identifiable Slavic archaeological culture. It was contemporaneous to (and located mostly just to the north of) the Chernyakhov culture which was a mixed Slavic and Gothic culture.

The settlements of these Early Slavic cultures were no larger than 0.5 to 2 hectares. Settlements were often temporary, perhaps a reflection of the itinerant form agriculture they practiced. Settlements were often located on river terraces. The largest proportion of settlement features were the sunken buildings, called “grubenhäuser” in German, or “poluzemlianki” in Russian. They were erected over a rectangular pit and varied from four to twenty square meters of floor area, which could accommodate a typical nuclear family. Each house contained a stone or clay oven in one of the corners, a defining feature of the dwellings throughout Eastern Europe. On average, each settlement consisted of fifty to seventy individuals.

In the article entitled: “Prague type culture houses, aspects of form, function and meaning” published by Martin Kuna, Nad’a Profantová we can see drawings of the actual Prague culture archaeological sites showing houses with corner stone ovens still standing intact…

On this web page “Как жили и чем питались наши предки” you can see reconstructions of these Slavic houses with stone ovens. Here are two examples of the interiors of these Slavic sunken houses.

They look very much like interiors of black banyas don’t you think? Actually they look exactly like like black banyas. Black banyas are just houses used for bathing, bath houses, as opposed to houses used for living. But the construction was identical. The stone ovens are not just amazingly efficient heaters. They are fully functional cooking stoves. You can bake or roast inside the oven, just like inside a pizza oven.

A pot or a cauldron of water placed on top of the oven will quickly boil and can be used for efficient cooking. Here is a cauldron placed on top of a stone oven inside a black banya used for heating water for washing.

What is a house?

A house is permanent dry warm shelter.
Banya hut is just such shelter. The construction of black banya huts is identical to the construction of the early Slavic houses. They are both half sunken log cabins.
A house has a heating and cooking facilities.
Banya oven is just such facility. Identical ovens were found in every early Slavic house.
A house has place where people can sit during the day and sleep during the night.
Banya has benches built along the walls are just such places. They are used by bathers for sitting or reclining.
Identical benches were built in early Slavic houses for sitting during the day and sleeping during the night.
Basically there is no difference between earlySlavic banyas and early Slavic houses. They are one and the same.

If we look at the Wiki article about Finish saunas we will see that:

“…the ancestral type of finish sauna is the so called “savusauna” (smoke sauna). This is a special type of sauna without a chimney. Wood is burned in a particularly large stove and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire is allowed to die and the smoke is ventilated out. The residual heat of the stove is enough for the duration of the sauna.”

“…One reason the sauna culture has always flourished in Finland has been because of the versatility of the sauna. When people were moving, the first thing they did was build a sauna. You could live in it, make food in the stove, take care of your personal hygiene, get warm, and, give birth in an almost sterile environment due to constant smoking of the interior of the black sauna and a very high temperature.”

Basically Finish saunas are black banyas, which are nothing else then the traditional Early Slavic houses. Now you could say that maybe Fins also had the same traditional houses. But the thing is that during the late iron age, early medieval time, semi sunken log huts with corner stone ovens (black banya, smoke sauna) were exclusively built by Slavs. They were so characteristic for the Slavic culture, that a discovery of these corner stone ovens in an archaeological site immediately classifies the site as a Slavic settlement…So the sentence “When people were moving, the first thing they did was build a sauna.” should actually be “When Slavic people moved into a new area, the first thing they did was build a house, which was of identical construction as a black banya or smoke sauna and which could have been used for living or bathing.”

The article about Finish saunas continues to say that “smoke saunas are still extant not only in Finland but also in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia”. All countries which have been hugely influenced by the neighboring Slavs and their culture.

Now remember “inipi”, the Native American sweat lodge? The translation of Inipi is actually not “sweat lodge”. The actual translation is “The way we live” or “We live” or “A house, and a sweat lodge and a birthing place and a spiritual place and….”.

For Early Slavs, banya was truly “the way they lived”. It was a house, a sweat lodge, a birthing place and a spiritual place, considering that a corner stone oven was the most sacred place for every Slav, the place where the spirits of the ancestors lived and protected the house and its inhabitants….

Still think that sauna was a Finish invention? When even the word sauna is not of Finish origin. In the Wiki article about sauna we can read that “Originally borrowing from the early Proto-Germanic *stakna- whose descendants include English stack, the word sauna is an ancient Finnish word referring to the traditional Finnish bath and to the bathhouse itself. In Baltic-Finnic languages other than Finnish, sauna does not necessarily mean a building or space built for bathing. It can also mean a small cabin or cottage, such as a cabin for a fisherman.” 
The word stack probably originally referred to the stone oven, basically a stack made of stones, which was something completely new and previously unseen by the Germanic and Finish people who used central open hearths, which as I already said are very inefficient heating systems. Those Germanic speaking people, probably Norse, who adopted the Slavic custom of building cornet stone ovens (stack of stones) continued to call every house that had these stone ovens “a stack”…They then passed this custom to Fins…And for the name being used for “a small cabin or cottage, such as a cabin for a fisherman” this is a perfect description of an early small Slavic house with the corner stone oven…

Let me present the chronology here:

The Russian chronicles say that Slavs used banya sweat and steam lodges every day in the 1st century AD.

Archaeological evidence shows that Slavs built “black banya” type objects in the 3rd century AD. We don’t know if these objects were used only as houses or if they were also used as sweat or steam lodges, but we can deduce from the ethnographic data that they were probably used as both.

Kievan Russ, a loose federation of Slavic and Norse Germanic tribes which existed in Central and Eastern Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century, under the reign of the Rurik dynasty. During this time Slavs continued to live in the same “black banya” type houses and to use “black banyas” as sweat and steam lodges.

The word Sauna is of Germanic origin.

The first mention of Finish Saunas dates to 16th century AD.

But was it Slavs who invented banya or did they borrow it from someone else? Is it possible that Slavic Banya is a cultural continuation of fulacht fiadh?

The Etruscan sun

This is Etruscan sun shaped dish from Cerveteri, Calabresi tomb, dated to mid 7th century BC (Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Vatican Museums, Rome). You can see the high resolution image of this object here.

It belongs to the “bucchero” (bukkero) type of ceramics which was produced in central Italy by the pre-Roman Etruscan population, who called themselves Raseni. Regarded as the “national” pottery of ancient Etruria, bucchero ware is distinguished by its black fabric as well as glossy, black surface achieved through the unique “reduction” method in which it was fired.

This is also one of the most important misunderstood objects that I have come across so far. 

Officially the animals represented on it are bulls and rams????

Actually the two animals at the bottom are two lions, you can clearly see that because they have manes. The animal at the top is a bull. The composition represents summer.  

Summer is the sunny, hot part of the year, which is what the blazing sun shape indicates.

The Summer starts on the 6th of May, Beltane, Jarilo day, which falls in the middle of Taurus zodiac sign. This is what the bull symbolizes. Autumn begins on the 2nd of August, Crom Dubh day, Lughnasadh, Perun day. This day falls in the middle of the Leo zodiac sign and this is what two facing lions symbolize. You can read more about this in my post “Two Crosses” and in my post “Ognjena Marija“.

There are also two dogs etched on the sun disc. One dog is standing between the lions, to mark the “dog days”, the hottest period of the summer which also falls in the middle of Leo zodiac sign. The other dog is licking bull’s neck. The reason why dog is licking the bull’s neck is because summer, represented by the bull, is “killed” by autumn, represented by the lion(s). This killing of summer happens during dog days. The dog is licking the bull’s neck because the blood is gushing out of it. The bull’s neck is symbolically slit when harvest begins just like the “necks” of wheat (wheat stalks) are slit by harvesters during harvest… I talked about the link between harvest and slaughtering in my post “Klas“.

Now a question: where else have you seen a dog licking a bull’s neck? Can you remember?

So to conclude. The meaning of this object is: The bull is killed by the lion, summer gets replaced by autumn. Harvest begins. Rejoice…

One more interesting thing:

The lions are eating people, which are etched disappearing into lions’ mouths. Did Etruscans sacrifice people on the first day of Harvest?

Not all salts were made equal

Which salt should you use for salting meat? This seems like a strange question, but as you will see, when it comes to curing meat and fish, not all salts were made equal. 

In my post “Fulacht fiadh – salt extraction facility” I mentioned an article “Extracting Salt from Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass): Continued Investigations into Methods of. Salt Extraction and Salt Utilization in Prehistoric California“. In it you can read that:

Many California tribes extracted salt from plants.

Various plants such as Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass), Petasites frigidus (sweet coltsfoot), Umbelliferae (Celery) were burned to create salty ashes which were then used as salt.
In some regions salt grass was burned on a grating of hardwood sticks which was laid over a pit full of hot coals. The salty sap oozed out of the plants and dropped on the coals, forming lumps which were extracted from ashes after the pit was cooled.
 Another way of extracting salt from salt grass was by drying it on flat rocks and pounding it in mortar holes. The crushed bits were then winnowed using a circular tray which separated the salt from the grass. The resulting salt was then dampened and pressed into balls. The balls were broken as needed for use.
In some cases, the salty plants were were eaten raw.

Sometimes non saline grass was soaked in brackish water and then burned.

But this article contains another passage that is very very interesting indeed:

Native groups in California extracted salt from salt springs, saline soil, rock salt, and saline and nonsaline plants. Salt was so valued by Native Californians that it was the number one trade item. All native American tribes from California either supplied or received salt from other groups, and 11 of the groups both supplied and received salt from different sources. For example, the Western Mono supplied rock salt and the TuleKaweah Yokuts supplied salt from salt grass to the Eastern Mono… 

This is very strange. Why would people exchange rock salt for grass salt and the the other way round? Salt is salt right? Wrong. Native Americans extracted “salt” from various green leaf plants. One of them belongs to the Umbelliferae family, commonly known as the celery, family. Plants belonging to celery family are super rich in sodium nitrates. And sodium nitrates in the meat get converted in sodium nitrites which kill one of the nastiest bacteria that can spoil the meat “C. botulinum” which causes botulism, potentially fatal illness.

The dehydrating and oxygen-depriving effect of salt (sodium chloride) in the wet or dry cure is effective against most of bacteria including Salmonella and E. coli. But salt can’t kill C. botulinum. As a matter of fact, C. botulinum (or botulism) thrives in the absence of oxygen, so as the moisture (and dissolved oxygen) are drawn out of the meat by the salt, the dehydrated meat becomes an attractive environment to anaerobic bacteria like botulism.

Nitrates are converted in the food to nitrites. The nitrites are what controls the growth of botulism, by inhibiting certain metabolic processes of the bacteria.

All fruits and vegetables contain nitrates, and some contain significant amounts:

celery (all parts including the juice and the seeds)
beets (especially the beetroot)
carrots
leafy greens like spinach, chard and beet leaves

Ash produced from these plants will contain high level of nitrates. If plants were first soaked in salty water and then burned, the resulting salty ashes will contain both sodium chloride (salt) and sodium nitrate. This type of “salt grass” salt would have much better preservative effects if used as part of the smoking process than pure sea or rock salt, which is almost pure sodium chloride. 

However even just using the above nitrate rich plants in a wet brine will protect from botulism on top of providing flavor to the meat. This is the equivalent of using Prague Powder #1 curing salt, the most commonly used curing salt which contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% table salt. 

Indeed, the addition of celery to the cure is what allows some ‘healthy’ commercially-cured meets to declare they are nitrate/nitrite-free, since what they add is celery. It’s not their problem that the celery provides nitrates.

Interesting don’t you think? Is this why Native Americans extracted salt from “salt grasses” even though they were also able to extract it from brine and sea water and rock salt? And why they traded rock and sea salt for salt extracted from plants? Did they, although probably not knowing why, realize that salt extracted from plants was much better meat and fish preservative than rock, brine or sea salt?

I believe so. 

But what about the ancient Irish? Is it possible that they also, unwittingly, used nitrate rich salt extracted from “salt grass” to cure their meat and fish? I believe so. 

Celery (Apium graveolens), which we have seen is super rich in nitrates, has been cultivated as a vegetable since antiquity. But originally it was a wild plant which originally grew in salty marshlands. The original Wild Celery (Apium graveolens) is a plant of mainly coastal ground growing in salt-marshes or brackish ditches, by sea walls or streams – but it is rarely found inland.

It is quite possible that the ancient Irish, like the native Americans extracted salt from this plant. They definitely knew that the plant tasted salty. They could have burned the plant, and then added the ashes to the brine made in fulacht fiadh either during the salt extraction or during the meat and fish brining process. They could have also boiled chopped fresh leaves and stalks in a pot, using either charcoal piled next to the pot or fire heated stones dropped into it. Boiling extracts nitrates from the plant into the water. Cooled down nitrate rich celery soup could then be added to the brine. Brine enriched in such way would be would have proven to be much better meat and fish preservative to ordinary brine, made with sea salt.

Fulacht fiadh – salt extraction facility?

There is more salt in animal tissues such as meat, blood and milk, than there is in plant tissues. Nomads who subsist on their flocks and herds do not eat salt with their food, but agriculturalists, feeding mainly on cereals and vegetable matter, need to supplement their diet with salt. However the primary attraction of salt in history and prehistory is its use as a preservative. The application of salt to organic material absorbs moisture, inhibiting the growth of bacteria and mold. That fact allowed societies to mass produce food and store it for lean times–a crucial piece of social engineering that made long-term survival through winters and droughts a possibility.

As population grew and the need for better and longer food preservation grew, the value of salt grew too. Eventually, salt became one of the world’s main trading commodities. It is not surprising then that people were willing to put considerable effort into obtaining salt and that salt production was one of the first human activities performed on industrial scale.

You can read more about the role salt played in history in “Archaeology of salt – approaching an invisible past“.

On an industrial scale salt is produced in one of two principal ways: by mining rock salt and by extracting of salt through evaporation of salty water (brine).

Mining rock salt

Before the advent of the internal combustion engine and earth moving equipment, mining salt was one of the most expensive and dangerous of operations, due to rapid dehydration caused by constant contact with the salt (both in the mine passages and scattered in the air as salt dust), among other problems borne of accidental excessive sodium intake. While salt is now plentiful, until the Industrial Revolution it was difficult to come by, and salt mining was often done by slave or prison labor and life expectancy among those sentenced was low. Even as recently as the 20th century, salt mining as a form of punishment was enforced in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

The title “the world’s oldest known salt mine”, is currently held by Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region of Upper Austria. This is based on the discovery of a pick, made of stag horn and dated to 5000 BC, which was presumably used to mine salt. However we really have no proof of any mining going on in the area until about 1500 BC. This is when we find the oldest concrete proof of an organised mining operation. The salt has been mined in the Hallstatt region ever since.

The actual oldest salt mine in the world is actually located in Azerbaijan. Archeologists have recently shown that the Duzdagi salt deposits, situated in the Araxes Valley in Azerbaijan, were already being exploited from the second half of the 5th millennium BC. This is the most ancient exploitation of rock salt attested to date. And, it seems that intensive salt production was carried out in this mine at least as early as 3500 BC.

Salt extraction from salty water through evaporation

Evaporation can either be solar evaporation or evaporation through boiling.

Solar evaporation

In the correct climate (one for which the ratio of evaporation to rainfall is suitably high) it is possible to use solar evaporation of sea water to produce salt. Brine is evaporated in a linked set of ponds until the solution is sufficiently concentrated by the final pond that the salt crystallizes on the pond’s floor.

Evaporation through boiling

One of the traditional methods of salt production in more temperate climates is using boiling in open pans. In open pan salt works, brine is heated in large, shallow open pans. Brine was poured into the pans, and concentrated by the heat of the fire burning underneath. As crystals of salt formed these would be raked out and more brine added. Earliest examples date back to prehistoric times and the pans were made of ceramics known as briquetage, or lead. Later examples were made from iron. This change coincided with a change from wood to coal for the purpose of heating the brine.

In addition to the above means of extraction, in many parts of the world salt was also extracted from plants.

In North and South America and West Africa salt was extracted from palms through burning.

In Japan, moshio salt which is beige in color and has a nice, rich taste, is made from seaweed. The very earliest method of obtaining salt from seawheed was probably burning seaweed and using the resulting ashes for their salt content. The first challenge in salt-making through boiling sea water has always been to find a way to concentrate sea water, which contains only 3 percent salt. So another method of extracting salt from seaweed seems to have involved collecting seaweed and allowing it to dry in the sun until salt crystals formed. The crystals were then washed off into vats of sea water, creating a concentrated brine that could be boiled down to yield salt.

In modern New Guinea, salt is extracted from plants which have been steeped in brine from salt springs. After soaking plant leaves for three or four days, firewood is used to build a square pyre and is set alight. The soaked leaves are stacked on the pyre, and the fire is kept going from the afternoon until the morning of the next day. The result is a large pile of charcoal, ashes, and salt concretions. The salt is picked out and placed on a large wooden platter, then pressed into a rectangular mold, kneaded with brine, compressed, and wrapped. The salt is further dried over a hearth for a week, which forms a “salt stone” or compact block of salt.

In the article “Extracting Salt from Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass): Continued Investigations into Methods of. Salt Extraction and Salt Utilization in Prehistoric California” we can read that:

Distichlis spicata

Many California tribes extracted salt from plants.

Various plants such as Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass), Petasites frigidus (sweet coltsfoot), Umbelliferae (Celery) were burned to create salty ashes which were then used as salt.
In some regions salt grass was burned on a grating of hardwood sticks which was laid over a pit full of hot coals. The salty sap oozed out of the plants and dropped on the coals, forming lumps which were extracted from ashes after the pit was cooled.
 Another way of extracting salt from salt grass was by drying it on flat rocks and pounding it in mortar holes. The crushed bits were then winnowed using a circular tray which separated the salt from the grass. The resulting salt was then dampened and pressed into balls. The balls were broken as needed for use.
In some cases, the salty plants were were eaten raw.
Sometimes non saline grass was soaked in brackish water and then burned.

In the article “Evidence for medieval salt-making by burning Eel-grass (Zostera marina L.) in the Netherlands” we read that during the medieval time in the area of Zealand, the peat from reclaimed land was cut and used for fuel, but due to the high salinity of the peat was also used for salt-making. For the purpose of salt-making, at low tides the clay layer was dug away and the salt-impregnated peat layers were cut into bricks. These were then dried in the wind and burned on the spot. Next, the ashes were gathered and brought to salt sheds (boiling huts), mostly located near towns or villages. In the sheds, the ash was plunged into large drums, preferably filled up with salt water to increase the salt content of the brine, and subsequently heated to evaporate the water. When the peat deposits were exhausted, eel grass was use instead of salty peat for concentration of brine used in salt making.

Marine eelgrass

In the article “London Gateway: Iron Age and Roman Salt Making in the Thames Estuary” we can read that Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve area in Themes valley was during the middle Iron Age (c 400-100 BC) a very important center of salt making. Excavation across the north-western corner of Area A uncovered the remains of red hills, a characteristic feature of long-term salt production on the Essex coast. Other evidence relating to salt production included pits, hearths and briquetage, a coarse ceramic used for making salt-processing equipment, such as cylindrical moulds, troughs, pedestals and firebars. The site continued to be used until late Roman period. The analysis of the content of the red hills revealed that they consisted of fuel ash derived from burnt salt marsh plants and sediment (peat). The plants, harvested still with marsh sediment adhering, were dried and burnt as fuel for hearths, above which brine was evaporated to crystallise salt. A by-product of the fuel burning was a salt-rich ash, which when mixed with seawater, was turned into a highly saline solution. This was filtered, and the resulting brine was then also evaporated above salt marsh plant-fuelled hearths. It was the residue from hearths and filtering that was dumped to create low mounds or red hills.

Strabo reports further methods of brine concentration and salt extraction by European tribes to include  ‘flinging’ or ‘dowsing’ salt brine over hot stones and then collecting and scraping the salt crusts from the stone. “A surprisingly quick process…” The stones were certainly fractured due to the heat gradient in such methods as were the crude sherds found at the red hills.

Another method, used in Gaul and Germany, included dripping brine on to glowing charcoals and using the resulting ash as salt. You can read more about this in “Studies in ancient technology volume III” By R. J. Forbse. The same method was recorded in Philippines and you can read about it in the article “Documenting Bohol’s traditional method of salt production and the importance of salt in the region’s early economy“.

Knowing how valuable the salt was it is also not surprising that large communities grew around sources of salt, and along the salt trading routes. 

The oldest industrial scale salt-works operation in Europe has been discovered at the Poiana Slatinei archaeological site next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neamț County, Romania. Evidence indicates that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture were boiling the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage to extract the salt as far back as 6050 BC. The salt extracted from this operation may have had a direct correlation to the rapid growth of this society’s population soon after its initial production began. The remnants of this salt extraction facility today are giant burned mounds consisting of broken salt extraction pottery and ash.

Salt production was very lucrative. No wonder then that what is now thought to have been the first city in Europe Solnitsata, in Bulgaria, was built next to a salt mine, which provided the area now known as the Balkans with salt since 5400 BC. Even the name Solnisata means “salt works”.

In the article “Neolithic flat-based pots from the Carnac Mounds in the light of Cycladic ‘frying pans’“, we can read about a rare type of pottery, found in four single graves under earthen mounds in the Carnac region of Brittany, and dated to 4600–4200 BC. These vessels are circular, flat-based and with a near-vertical wall. The authors of the article suggest that based on the salt extraction equipment known from elsewhere in the world, it is possible that these dishes too were used for extraction of salt from sea water. The results of experiments using replicas of these dishes demonstrated that these  vessels could have been heated and used to boil brine in the same manner as their ethnographic counterparts.

The same method of salt extraction from sea water was used In England during Bronze Age, Iron Age and into the Roman period. The remnants of these salt works are today known as Red hills.

Red Hill is an archaeological term for a small mound with a reddish colour found in the coastal and tidal river areas of East Anglia and Essex. Red Hills are formed as a result of generations of salt making, deriving their colour from the rubble of clay vessels made from briquetage and used in the salt-making process that have been scorched red by fires used to evaporate sea water to make salt cakes. Briquetage is also known as Very Coarse Pottery or VCP.

These sites contained large water settling pits, where water was left to rest for a period of time to allow impurities to settle to the bottom. The water was then poured into clay pans which were heated over the fire until the water became concentrated enough for salt crystals to start forming. The concentrated salty water (brine) was then poured int crystallization cups. These were then also heated over fire. As the water evaporated the salt crystals would form and settle at the bottom of the vessel. Concentrated salted water (brine) was added to the cups continuously and evaporated until the salt crystals filled most of the vessel. The remaining water was then evaporated and the salt in the cup was dried until it became rock hard. The cup was then broken and the containing “salt cake” was taken out.

You can read more about this in the book “THE RED HILLS OF ESSEX: Salt-Making in Antiquity” by Fawn, A J, Evans, K A, McMaster, I: Davies, G M R

The same or very similar way of extracting salt from sea water was still used in Britain in the 17th century. In her book “Through England on a side saddle” Celia Fiennes describes salt works she saw near Limington.

The seawater they draw into trenches and so into several ponds that are secured in the bottom to retain it, and it stands in the sun to exhale the watery part of it, and if it prove a dry summer they make the best and most salt, for the rain spoils the ponds by weakening the salt.

When they think its fit to boil they draw off the water from the ponds by pipes which conveys it into a house full of large square iron and copper pans; they are shallow but they are a yard or two if not more square, these are fixed in rows one by another it may be twenty on a side, in a house under which is the furnace that burns fiercely to keep these pans boiling apace, and as it candy’s about the edges or bottom so they shovel it up and fill it in great baskets and so the thinner part runs through on moulds they set to catch it, which they call salt cakes’.

The rest in the baskets dry and is very good salt and as fast as they shovel the boiling salt out of the pans they do replenish it with more of their salt water in their pipes. They told me when the season was dry and so the salt water in its prime they could make 60 quarters of salt in one of those pans which they constantly attend night and day all the while the fire is in the furnace, because it would burn to waste and spoil the pans which by their constant use wants often to be repaired. They leave off saturday night and let out the fire and so begin and kindle their fire Monday morning, its a pretty charge to light the fire.

Their season for making salt is not above 4 or 5 months in the year and that is only in a dry summer. These houses have above 20 some 30 more of these pans in them, they are made of copper.

They are very careful to keep their ponds well secured and mended by good clay and gravel in the bottom and sides and so by sluices they fill them out of the sea at high-tides and so conveyed from pond to pond till fit to boil“.

Now what about Ireland? How did ancient Irish get their salt? 

Well we have no idea what the Bronze Age and Iron Age Irish relationship with salt was, but we can presume that that like everyone else in the world, they also used and highly appreciated salt. The situation is a bit better when we come to the medieval time as there are a lot of mentions of salt in Irish medieval manuscripts.

In the “A History of Irish Cuisine (Before and After the Potato)“, we can read that the medieval Irish used salt for seasoning food but also for preserving meat and fish.

The Senchus Mór mentions salt as one of the important articles in the house of a brewy, on which the glossator remarks that it is “an article of necessity at all times, a thing which everyone desires.” It was kept in lumps or in coarse grains; and at dinner each person was served with as much as he needed.

The Críth Gablach mentions salt meat as part of the sick maintenance given to a noble if he is unlawfully injured by another party. You can read more about this on this page of the “Early Medieval Irish Túath” web site.

In the Bretha Crólige, the druid is considered as having the same sick-maintenance as a bóaire, which entitles them to salt meat on his dish every Sunday, as well as extra if they have more property. You can read more about this on this page of the “Early Medieval Irish Túath” web site.

In the “Papers read for the Royal Irish Academy by MacNeill, John, 1867-1945” we can read that the 8th century text Conall Corc and the Corco Luigde records that the Aran Islands paid a tribute of salt to the King of Cashel, their overload.

In the “Irish Hagiographies as Tools for Conversion” we can read that in Saint Columba’s hagiography which was written in the 7th century, Adomnán tells of an instance where Columba had blessed a salt block and given it to a family, who in turn hung it on their wall. The village later burned down, destroying everything except the small section of wall from which the block hung.

And so on and so forth…

But even though we know that the medieval Irish loved and valued salt, we have no clue how they obtained it. Now I can hear people saying: Ireland is an ISLAND in a SALTY sea…Wouldn’t it be logical that they got their salt from the sea?

Well sea water was probably the source of the salt used in Ireland. Even though Ireland has huge rock salt resources they were not discovered until 19th century. These rock salt deposits were discovered by people who were exploring for coal and metals and were located deep under ground, quite out of reach of people with primitive mining equipment. One location where there has been (and remains) a large volume of rock salt is at Kilroot, near Carrickfergus in Co. Antrim. In the 1850s, a surveyor searching for precious metals discovered a thick layer of rock salt under about 600ft of rock. The salt was initially removed by pumping water down shafts and pumping the resulting brine mixture back up, before evaporating the water to leave salt crystals behind. This is not something Medieval, Iron age and Bronze age Irish could have done. So the sea was the only source of salt for the ancient Irish. But how did they extract the salt from the sea water?

We know that there are two ways for extracting salt from sea water: by solar evaporation and by evaporation through boiling. Now in order to extract the salt from sea water through solar evaporation you need to have “the correct climate, one for which the ratio of evaporation to rainfall is suitably high”. Basically you need to have dry sunny hot climate, or at least dry sunny hot summers. Now I have been living in Ireland for over 20 years now, and I can tell you that Ireland does not have “the correct climate”… This is what Irish summer is like:

What Irish people mean when they say summer

What Irish summer looks like on satellite images

What an Irish summer day is very likely to look like at least half of the time (Picture taken in July)

You are not going to be extracting too much salt through solar evaporation in this climate.

And yet there are numerous place names along the Irish coast which have the word salt as their root, indicating that these places were salt production areas. For instance Lough Salt in Co. Donegal (which may have had salt pits or deposits nearby, rather than being a salt-water lake); Salt Island on Strangford Lough; the Saltee Islands off the coast of Wexford; Salters Grange in Armagh; Salthill in Co. Galway; and Saltpans townland in Co. Donegal, among many others. Based on this there is a widespread belief that the medieval Ireland was a big producer and exporter of salt. In “A smaller social history of ancient Ireland” we read that in 1300, salt was one of the commodities sent from Ireland to Scotland to supply the army of Edward I. This seems to confirm that Ireland was indeed large producer and exporter of salt.

But in “The Archaeology of Medieval Ireland” by Terry B. Barry we can read that at the same time when salt was sent from Ireland to Edward I, salt together with iron was imported into Ireland from France through ports such as Drogheda…So was the salt sent to Edward a tribute in rare commodity rather than export?

Similarly in the “Ireland before the Normans” by Donnchadh Ó Corráin we can read that the medieval Irish laws have mentions of vessels loaded with cargoes of iron, salt, hides, nuts, honey and wine, and they lay down certain provisions for the landing of cargo ships and the liabilities which they may incur. There are, in addition, numerous references in the literature to the import of wine, salt and iron and to the export of hides and wool.

In “The Economy of Early Medieval Ireland” we can read that  although salt is mentioned in the early eighth-century Críth Gablach, there is no evidence for native salt production prior to the late twelfth century, and all Irish place-names associated with salt production are ultimately English in derivation.  An example of one of the earliest references to “salt pans” in Ireland is found in the Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland for June 1258, where a land dispute is mentioned between John de Verdon and the Abbot of Mellifont over “three carucates of land in Mulygadaveran and Thulachalyni, and five carucates xcepting three acres used in salt works“.

Now this is very strange indeed. You saw the pictures of what the Irish summer looks like. How the hell is it then possible that the medieval Irish were able to use solar salt pans for the extraction of salt from sea water? Well the answer is something called “The Medieval Warm Period (MWP), Medieval Climate Optimum, or Medieval Climatic Anomaly“. This was a time of warm climate in the North Atlantic region lasting from about 950 to 1250. It was followed by a cooler period in the North Atlantic and elsewhere termed the Little Ice Age. Temperatures in some regions matched or exceeded recent temperatures in these regions, and it is believed that temperatures in the north of Europe were on average 2 degrees higher than they are today. But were summers in Ireland during that period sunnier, less rainy? Very likeley. And if so that would explain the confusion about Ireland being described as salt exporter and salt importer, and all the English place names with salt as their root. Basically prior to 900 the climate in Ireland was too damp to extract salt from sea water using solar evaporation. So salt was imported into Ireland and this was recorded in all the early Irish records. The start of the change of the Irish climate into warmer and drier climate coincided with the Viking and then Norman invasion of Ireland. During that time we see emergence of salt pans along the coast with place names with salt as their root, and salt production and export. Then before 1300 the Irish climate starts changing for the worst and starts getting colder and wetter. And the salt production industry disappear from Ireland and the salt is imported into Ireland once again which was recorded in the late medieval records. Then the climate starts warming again in the 18th century and hey presto salt works appear again along the Irish coast. 

Now during the Medieval Warm Period the climate in Ireland was probably the same like the climate we find today in England. Summers were probably much warmer and drier. That allowed the salt to be extracted from salt water using the same method of partial solar evaporation and partial evaporation through boiling, which was until recently still used in England, and which I already described above. Sea water was concentrated in open salt pans and maybe, depending on how severe the climate change during the Medieval Warm Period was. If the water could not have been evaporated completely using solar evaporation it was then boiled in metal pots, which have by this time replaced coarse clay pots (biquetage).

But what about salt production in Ireland before this time? Was climate in Ireland ever as good as during the Medieval Warm Period thus making salt extraction possible? Well yes it was. It seems that the climate in the North Atlantic region oscillates quite a bit, and has extreme high temperature peaks roughly every 1500 years with smaller high temperature peeks in between. At least this is what the available data for last 5000 years is showing us.

The Greenland Ice Cores provide a temperature record for the last 5,000 years. Clearly manifest are three temperature peaks which correspond with the archaeologically and historically documented Warm Periods in the North Atlantic region: Minoan Warm Period 1450–1300 BC, a Roman Warm Period 250 BC – 0 AD, the Medieval Warm Period 800–1100 AD. On the chart you can also clearly see the well documented extreme cold period known as the little Ice Age 1350 to 1850 AD.

In “The Bronze Age climate and environment of Britain” by Tony Brown we read that there was an abrupt climate change around 900 BC which resulted in much colder and wetter climate. This climate change ended what is known as “The Bronze Age Optimum (1500—900 (800) year BC)”,  the period of warm and dry weather in north Atlantic region. This period fallowed The Middle Bronze Age Cold Epoch which was a period of unusually cold climate in the North Atlantic region, lasting from about 1800 BC to about 1500 BC.

Now on the above chart you can see that “The Bronze Age Optimum” starts with the sudden sharp rise in temperature during the Minoan Warm Period which started right about 1500 BC. How warm was Atlantic northern Europe during the Minoan Warm Period can be discerned from the fact that during the Minoan warm period, millet was grown in southern Scandinavia. Today Millet is grown in tropical and subtropical regions, it is an important crop in Asia, Africa and in the southern U.S.. The average annual temperature in Mississippi and Alabama where millet is grown today is about 10 degrees, which should be compared with today’s average annual temperature in Denmark, which is 8 degrees.

The temperature after the Minoan Warm Period drops and has another minimum around 1200 BC rising to another maximum around 1000 BC. After that it oscillates around relatively stable low value until it suddenly starts to rise around 250 BC. This is the beginning of the Roman Warm Period

“The Roman warm period started quite suddenly around 250 BC. Some studies in a bog in Penido Vello in Spain have shown that in Roman times it was around 2-2.5 degrees warmer than in the present. The Roman warm period is amply documented by numerous analyses of sediments, tree rings, ice cores and pollen – especially from the northern hemisphere. Studies from China, North America, Venezuela, South Africa, Iceland, Greenland and the Sargasso Sea have all demonstrated the Roman Warm Period. Additionally, it has been documented by ancient authors and historical events.

How warm was Northern Europe during the Roman Warm Period can be seen by the fact that during the culmination of the Roman warm period olive trees grew in the Rhine Valley in Germany. Citrus trees and grapes were cultivated in England as far north as near Hadrian’s Wall near Newcastle.

The temperature then has a sudden drop during the first century AD but it then rises as suddenly and stays stable high until the end of the fourth century AD when it suddenly drops to an extreme low level. It then suddenly rises to extreme high during the Medieval Warm Period….

You can read more about this in “History of Earth’s Climate 7. – Cenozoic IV – Holocene“.

Now what is very interesting is that the oldest red hills (burned mounds consisting of briquetage and ash) salt extraction sites found in England date to right about the beginning of the Minoan Warm period.

In “The English Coast: A History and a Prospect” by Peter Murphy we read that the early evidence for salt production in east England comes from a Red Hill Bronze age site in Fenn Creek, Essex, dated to 1412 – 1130 calibrated BC. The site continued to be used through Iron age and was abandoned during the late Roman period. Translated the last sentence means that the site was used during warm peek periods between the beginning of the Minoan Warm Period and the end of the Roman Warm period when we have such cold and wet climate in England that the solar extraction stopped.

Now there are no red hill type burned mounds in Ireland. But guess what appears in Ireland right about the time of the Minoan Warm Period: our old friends fulachtai fiadh burned mounds. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the majority of fulachtaí fiadh were constructed during the mid to late Bronze Age (1500 – 500 BC), though some Neolithic examples are known. However, some were still in use up to medieval times. This is very very interesting, don’t you think? Were fulachtai fiadh used for salt extraction? Well I believe, like most other researchers today believe, that fulachtai fiadh were multi purpose facilities used for many different things involving liquids and heat. But I definitely believe that some of them were used for salt extraction. 

So how would you use fulacht fiadh for salt extraction? 

Well the simplest way would be to build your fulach fiadh anywhere where the forest grows all the way down to the the seashore. That way you will have easy access to sea water and wood. You would then need to collect lots of round hard rock pebbles from river beds and beaches. You would fill the through with seawater, and heat the stoned in the fire. Then you could proceed in one of two ways.

Do you remember what Strabo reported about methods of brine concentration and salt extraction used by “European tribes” which included  ‘flinging’ or ‘dowsing’ salt brine over hot stones and then collecting and scraping the salt crusts from the stone. “A surprisingly quick process…” Salty water would be kept in the through from where it would be scooped using cups and then poured over a pile of super heated stones, in the same way water is poured over sauna hot stones. Once the stones have cooled down, the salt would be scraped from their surface and the stones would be put back into the fire to be reheated. A new pile of hot stones would be made and the process would be repeated. The stones were certainly fractured due to the heat gradient in such methods as were the cracked stones found at fulach fiadh sites. 

Another possible way in which fulachtai fiadh could have been used for salt production was as a salt pan for evaporating salty water through boiling inside the through heated with super heated stones. You would fill the through with salty water, heat the rocks in the fire and drop them into the through. They would heat the water to the boiling point and eventually after many reheated stones were dropped into the through all the water would be evaporated and you would be left with the layer of salt covering the bottom of the through. 

Believe or not, this exact method of salt extraction through boiling salty water in pits heated by super heated stones was used by Native Americans in the Eastern USA. In the article Historic importance of salt on the website of the Louisiana department of culture, recreation and tourism, we can read that Native Americans in Eastern North America used salt as a condiment and highly regarded it. The DeSoto expedition which explored today’s South Eastern USA in the 15th century observed four ways in which salt was produced. It was gathered in a free state (rock salt),  extracted from the ashes of plants and salt-impregnated sand, but it was most commonly extracted from brine water at salines. The principal artifact identified with the prehistoric salt industry in Eastern North America is the salt pan which was used for extracting salt from the brine. Fragments of these shell-tempered vessels have been found at most salines. This is a complete vessel from Bone Bank site at  Posey County, Indiana.

In the article “Methods for calculating brine evaporation rates during salt production” we can read the detailed description of how these salt pans were used:

“Thick-walled ceramic ‘‘pans,’’ most in association with salines, have been found with capacities ranging from 40 to 400 L. The enormous size and weight of these vessels when filled with brine would have made them practically immovable and suspension over a fire seems equally unlikely. It is suspected that these salt pans were placed in basin-shaped ground depressions (pits) and heated stones from nearby fires were dropped into the pan to facilitate evaporation. The lack of exterior discoloration from fires on many pans and the occasional find of stones inside pans lend support to the conclusion that stone boiling was at least one method utilized by Native Americans to evaporate brine.”

Now this is very interesting. In North America we have clay lined pits heated with hot stones. In Ireland we have stone or wood lined pits heated with hot stones. The capacity of North American pits is 40 – 400 L. This means that the dimensions of the biggest ones are 2 meters long by half a meter wide and half a meter in depth. Guess what. The size of fulacht fiadh throughs varies a great deal from site to site, from rather small pits lined with stones to pools approximately a meter wide by 2 meters long and maybe half a meter or more in depth.

The article “Methods for calculating brine evaporation rates during salt production” then explains how the hot stones were used to evaporate the water from from the salt pans:

“When the hot stones are dropped into the pan, the heat transferred from the stones raises the temperature of the brine up to its boiling point. Any additional heat released by the stone serves to evaporate water and concentrate brine. After about 2 minutes the brine is concentrated to a maximum value of about 29.0 wt% at its boiling point with further evaporation resulting in the formation of salt crystals. The salt crystals forming continues until the stone and brine reach thermal equilibrium. Placing additional hot stones into the pan would continue the evaporation process. Depending on the size of the pan and the amount of hot stones used, the evaporation process can take up to several hours.

From the short timescales involved to obtain salt, it seems this method would clearly be effective in evaporating brine. Unlike suspension of a pan over a fire, stone boiling releases all of its internal heat directly into the brine. However, there may be practical limitations for manipulating large volumes of very hot stones. Stones heated to high temperatures often shatter and large stones would be difficult to transport from a fire to the brine pan. Smaller stones would make handling easier, but would require more repeated firings to achieve the same evaporation as large stones. The smallest salt pan found at the Kimmswick site near St. Louis had a volume of approximately 40 L. Assuming a scenario similar to that outlined above, emplacement of 25 vol% stone into the salt pan would translate to 26 kg of extremely hot stone(s) that would have been manipulated. This seems to suggest that stone boiling may actually require a tremendous amount of human labor to achieve significant quantities of salt…” 

But it seems that Native Americans thought that this effort was worthwhile because salt was such a valued commodity. Considering that the people world over had the same opinion about salt, I would suggest that the ancient Irish would probably also think that the effort involved in extracting salt using fulacht fiadh was worthwhile. 

Interestingly in “The A to Z of Ancient Mesoamerica” by Joel W. Palka we read that in Yucatan and Guatemala the process of evaporating and refining salt was also carried out by pouring salt water into wooden throughs which were slowly drained, leaving the salt behind. An Irish fulacht fiadh trough dug into as well drained, particularly sandy soil and lined with wooden planks, would be even more efficient salt extraction vessel than the clay lined North American salt pit. This is because water would be removed from the through both through evaporation and draining. 

On average sea water contains about 3% salt. This means that if you evaporate 100 liters of seawater you would be left with 3 kilos of salt. Several hours of hard work for 3 kilos of “white gold”? Definitely worth it. Now there is a way to make this process even more worthwhile.  

To do that you would need to built your fulach fiadh next to a salt marsh or a salty shallow lagoon which would fill only during the very high tides. The sea water caught inside the marsh or a lagoon would slowly evaporate over time and get more and more concentrated and salty. You would then boil this partially concentrated salty water in your fulacht fiadh. 

If the weather was particularly sunny and windy the water in these lagoons could get so concentrated (29%) that salt crystals would start forming in the water on their own. But even if the concentration of salt was increased to 6 percent that would mean that the salt yield for the same amount of work would double. 

This is exactly the process that was used in Bronze Age salt extraction facilities in England now known as red hills burned mounds. 

But there is a way to increase the salt concentration in salty water processed in fulacht fiadh even more. By using seaweed. I already mentioned that in Japan people used seaweed to increase the salinity of water which was boiled for salt. They collected and dried seaweed in the sun and wind until salt crystals formed. They then washed the crystals off into vats of sea water, creating a concentrated brine that could be boiled down to yield salt. Irish coastal waters are extremely rich seaweed growing grounds and you can see that this method of increasing the salinity of seawater could easily have been used in fulach fiadh throughs.  I also mentioned another method of increasing the concentration of salt in seawater using seaweed. In England and Netherlands they used ashes of dried seaweed which was burned to heat the salt pans. The ashes which contained a high concentration of salt were mixed into seawater thus greatly increasing its salinity. Now in Irish fulachai fiadh it was the stones which were heated, but it is entirely possible to heat the stones using dry seaweed or a combination of wood and dry seaweed. The resulting ashes could then be mixed into the seawater to increase its salinity. 

That seaweed was used in Ireland in salt production process was first suggested based on linguistic evidence. In “Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. Vol. 1;Volume 2” we can read that in Old Irish one of the terms used for salt was “murluaith” =  “muir + luaith” which means “sea ash”. Now the meaning “sea ash” was taken as proof that originally it was seaweed ash which was used as salt. That is possible as we have seen that Native Americans used salt grass ash as salt. But if seaweed ash was used in the process of salt production in ancient Ireland it was most likely used just like it was used in England, for concentrating seawater into brine before boiling. Interestingly the word “luaith” from “murluaith” has another meaning in Old Irish. It means simply “dust”. The picture below shows a rock pool which was filled with seawater during a very high tide or storm and in which subsequently all the water had evaporated, leaving behind white “sea dust”, salt. Collecting salt from this type of rock pools could be the oldest way ancient Irish obtained salt. Hence the name “muir luaith” = “sea dust” could be the oldest word for salt in Irish, the current word “salann” being later import. 

So….

What do you think? I think that the Bronze Age Irish used and highly valued salt, just like the Bronze Age English. And I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t have used a method of extracting it by boiling a concentrated brine solution in a very similar way the Bronze Age English did it. Or by just dripping the salty water on hot stones, a “very effective method” which Strabo reports was used by the “Europen tribes”. Now I am not saying that all the fulachtai fiadh were used for salt extraction. A fulacht fiadh built on top of the hill in the center of Ireland certainly wasn’t. But those built next to the seashore could have been used as very cost effective salt extraction facilities…

The salt extracted in these fulachai fiadh was then used as condiment, for meat and fish curing and for another very important process: wool dying and hide tanning… And guess what, fulacht fiadh could also have been used in these two processes. But I will talk about this in one of my next posts. 

Fulacht fiadh – a cooking pit?

fulacht fiadh or fulacht fian is a type of archaeological site found in Ireland. In England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man they are known as burnt mounds. They commonly survive as a low horseshoe-shaped mound of charcoal-enriched soil and heat shattered stone with a slight depression at its center showing the position of the pit.

Radiocarbon dating indicates that the majority of fulachta fiadh were constructed during the mid to late Bronze Age (c.1500- c. 500 BC), though some Neolithic examples are known. 
Originally it was thought that fulachta fiadh were still in use up to medieval times. But in the paper entitled “Medieval fulachtai fia in Ireland? An archaeological assessment” by Alan Hawkes, published in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Hawkes concludes that it is unlikely that the burnt mound tradition continued into the medieval period. Fulachta fiadh are the most common archaeological sites in Ireland, with over 4,500 recorded examples, of which some 2,000 are found in County Cork. Permanent structures are rarely found near to fulachtaí fiadh, but small hut sites are common and it is unknown whether early sites were built by permanent settlements or nomadic hunters.

Fulachtaí fiadh generally consist of three main elements: a mound of stones, a hearth used to heat the stones, and a trough, often lined with wood or stone. Troughs may be cut into subsoil or, more rarely, into bedrock.

The site may contain the remains of structures such as stone enclosures or even small buildings, and sometimes multiple hearths and additional, smaller pits. A number of the fulachtaí fiadh pits are approximately a meter wide by 2 meters long and maybe half a meter or more in depth. However, size can vary a great deal from site to site, from rather small pits lined with stones to pools conceivably large enough for people to bathe in.

The exact usage of these sites and even the exact meaning of the word fulacht is still debated. So lets see if I can help this debate in any way. 

The name

In “Lapidibus in igne calefactis coquebatur: the historical burnt mound ‘tradition’” which was written by John Ó Néill and printed in the Journal of Irish Archaeology Vol. XII/XIII, 79-85 we read that:

Many commentators suggest that the Irish word “fulacht” denotes a pit used for cooking. “Fiadh” in Old Irish meant something like “wild”, often relating to animals such as deer. However, all commentators acknowledge significant difficulties in deriving a genuine etymology for the word “fulacht”. As some historical references clearly use the term “fulacht” to describe a cooking spit…the word probably carries a deliberate reference to the Irish words for blood (fuil) and meat (feoil)….Further corroborating evidence that in the Irish antiquity pits dug in the ground were used for cooking, is found in Geoffrey Keating’s early seventeenth century history of Ireland, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, which describes a pre-Christian tradition of hunters boiling meat in earthen pits, and a late medieval ecclesiastical biography of the Irish St. Munnu, describing the boiling of porridge on fire heated stones

In the “Early Irish Farming: A Study Based Mainly on the Law-Texts of the 7th and 8th Centuries Ad” by  Fergus Kelly we read that:

The early Irish literature also shows that the word fulacht is not only applied to a water filled pit for boiling meat but also to an outdoor cooking pit where meat was roasted on a spit or over an open fire

The cooking

In legend, fulachta fiadh were the cooking place of the Fianna. As they were lead around the country by Fionn MacCumhal, the band of young warriors would feast on wild boar and deer. It had been suggested that the term ‘fulacht fiadh’ meant ‘cooking place of the Fianna’ and indeed on earlier maps the sites are sometimes called ‘fulachta Fian’. 
Now considering that fulacht fiadh consists of a trough (a pit) and a mound of burned and cracked stones, archaeologists suggested that the cooking was done in the trough, with the water being heated by hot stones which were heated in the hearth and then dropped into the trough….

The Ballyvourney reconstruction of fulacht fiadh included successful attempts at heating the water and cooking meat in this manner. In the experiment it took about half an hour to bring 450 L of water to the boil and four hours to cook a 4.5 kg leg of mutton.

Impressive some would say. And the proof that fulacht fiadh were indeed used as cooking pits.

But one of the people who took part in these cooking experiments had this to say about it:

..having used a fulacht fiadh for a day down in Wexford in the way it’s described in the books in Ireland, I have no doubt that the books are wrong. It took a good few hours of constant work by a team of us to maintain the fire, keep the stones going into the water and maintain that boiling water for long enough to cook a joint of meat…So I don’t think that fulachts were used for cooking. There are a lot of much easier ways to cook a joint of meat…“.

The reason why pit boiling is extremely unlikely usage for fulacht fiadh is that its dimensions are all wrong for a cooking pit. They have much larger surface area compared to their dept. Now meat cooking requires reaching and maintaining a boiling temperature in the trough for the duration of cooking. But “the heat loss due to evaporation of water from a surface of an open tank is totally dominant at higher water temperatures“. What this means is that at boiling temperature, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the water in the shallow trough with the large surface boiling for long enough to actually cook the meat. You have to constantly feed the fire in order to heat the stones. You have to keep adding new heated stones into the trough and take the cooled ones out, while engulfed in a cloud of steam for 4 hours. Because of the wide surface and shallow dept the heat will try to escape straight up through the surface which means that you have to constantly stir the water in order to spread the heat. This is a lot of hard work for cooking some meat, and this is exactly what the above participant in the fulacht fiadh cooking experiment concluded after the “successful” fulacht fiadh cooking experiment. It is possible to use fulacht fiadh to cook, but why would anyone bother doing it when we know that there were other much easier ways of cooking large quantities of meat which were available to the Bronze Age builders of fulachta fiadh?

So what other easier procedures could the Bronze Age Irish use for cooking large quantities of meat? Well depends how they wanted to cook the meat.

Boiling

What is the most efficient way to boil water? When you heat water, the hot water rises. So if you heat the vessel containing water from the bottom, the bottom layer of water will be the hottest and will rise, while the cooler water layers from the top will sink only to be heated and to rise…This natural heat convection means that you don’t have to stir the water to spread the heat. If your vessel is narrow but deep, this heat convection will create a powerful mixing flow which will result in very quick heating of the whole volume of water. Now remember that I said that the heat loss due to evaporation of water from a surface of an open tank is totally dominant at higher water temperatures. Major heat loss can be avoided only by covering the surface. And at the same time the heat loss through insulated walls can be almost neglected.

So if you want to quickly and efficiently bring to boil and keep boiling a large volume of water, you want to put it in a vessel which is the exact opposite of the fulacht fiadh trough. You want something that is narrow, deep, and covered. Something like a cooking pot.

This is why cooking pots used for high temperature high volume cooking have been shaped in the same way since they were invented in late Mesolithic. They are deep and narrow, which minimizes the evaporation surface relative to the volume. This is a 15,000 year old pot from Jomon culture, an early acorn eating culture from Japan,

This is a 6000 year old cooking set from Europe. You can see that the shape of the pot is still the same.

And this is the same type of high temperature, high volume cooking pot still used for high volume cooking in Serbia today. You can see that the only addition to the original design is the heavy lid. These are extremely efficient cooking utensils which require a small amount of wood to cook large amount of food.

This is a great picture showing the size of  these pots relative to the human body. You can see that you can use them to cook over a hundred kilos of food, in this case sour kraut and smoked pork (Serbian bacon and cabbage).

We know that these types of pots existed in Ireland at the time when fulachta fiadh were made. Here are some burial pots found in Ireland dated to 1900-1300BC. They belong to the “food vessel” type funerary vessels found in Irish early bronze age Wedge Tombs and pit and stone cist burials like this one at Bunnamayne, County Donegal. If people were able to make these kind of pots for burials, they were surely able to make them for cooking too (hence the name “food vessels”). The one on the left looks particularly suitable for cooking and very similar to the above cooking pots from Serbia.

So in order to cook hundreds of kilos of meat and veg, in the pots like these, you need to chop the meed and veg and fat, put all in the pot, add water, herbs, salt (sea water), pile hot charcoals near the bottom edge of the pot, and then sit and wait until it is cooked….No hours of hard work necessary.

So why would anyone who was able to make these types of cooking pots torture themselves by cooking in fulachta fiadh? Well they probably didn’t use fulacht fiadh troughs for cooking. 

The cooking hypothesis is rendered even less convincing by the near absolute lack of animal bone or plant material within the troughs. Moreover, the location of many burnt mounds on marshy upland terrain makes the notion of cooking somewhat unlikely: the prospect of carrying large quantities of food to such inconvenient areas seems unappealing. Proponents of this view have argued that the lack of animal material is likely due to preferential decay associated with elevated soil acidity, which is a key feature of burnt mound sites. Now in these marshy areas a hole dug into the ground would quickly fill with water. Acidic marshy water. A very very bad water for cooking food. No normal person would cook food in water like that. Imagine the taste of meat cooked in such water. Now if the fulacht fiadh trough was cut into a bedrock or into a clay rich soil next to a clean stream, we could pour clean fresh water into it and use it for cooking (if we could be bothered going through the torture of the whole procedure), but then we would have had some traces of meat and plant residue, which again were not found. 

So I believe that we can safely discard fulacht fiadh trough as a cooking pit. But there are other cooking pit types which are still used around the world, specifically for large ceremonial feasts where large amounts of meat need to be cooked at once. And they produce a lot of burned cracked stones.

Pit ovens

In wrote a whole article about pit ovens. In short, an earth oven or cooking pit is one of the simplest and longest used cooking structures. It is  also the oldest oven type used by people. The earliest ones were found in Central Europe, and dated to 29,000 BC. They were situated inside mammoth bone yurts and were used to cook mammoth meat.

So how do you make an earth pit oven?

At its simplest, an earth oven is a pit dug in the the ground. A fire is lit at the bottom of pit and let to burn until only hot coals are left behind. The pit walls and the stones placed in the fire absorb and then radiate the heat back towards the center of the pit. This heat is then used to bake, smoke, or steam food inside of the pit. To make the earth ovens more efficient you can line them with stones as they are much better at absorbing and radiating back heat than the ordinary dirt. The food is placed inside the pit, either directly, covered in clay, wrapped in grass or leaves and then the whole contraption is covered with dirt, sealing the heat inside the pit. The stones slowly release the heat and cook the food. after several hours, when the food is cooked, the food is uncovered and taken out of the pit. The cracked stones are discarded on the burned mound and the intact ones are reused. The type of stones used, granite and sandstone can on average be reheated few times before they crack and have to be discarded. If you want to cook a whole large animal like a deer you need to make a fairly large pit and use a big fire and a lot of stones. So if the same cooking pits were used year after year, and we know from ethnographic data the they were, they would relatively quickly produce big piles of burned cracked stones…

An example of cooking pits used for large-scale cooking producing large “burned-rock middens” can be found in Central Texas. 

Is this what the Irish histories meant when they talked about the “cooking pits”? Again this is much much easier way of cooking large amounts of meat than using stone heated large troughs. Possibly, but only on dry well drained grounds. On marshy waterlogged grounds these pit ovens suffer from the same problem that the cooking pits suffer from: seeping marsh water. The seeping water would quickly extinguish any fire lit up in the pit. But there other surface stone ovens, which can be used for cooking of large quantities of meat, which also produce burned mounds and which are not affected by the soil drainage. I will talk about these ovens in my post about stone ovens.

As for boiling using heated stones, don’t get me wrong. Stone water heating was used for cooking all over the world, and particularly for porridge cooking, just as the biography of the Irish St. Munnu describes it. We know that from the ethnographic data collected in United States where hated stones were used for cooking acorn porridge. I wrote about this in my post about eating acorns.

Stone boiling was used when available cooking vessels were baskets or some other type of watertight but not fire resistant container, such as wooden bowls or containers. 

In California,the hot stone cooking was done in this way by the local Native American people. Hot rocks the size of tennis balls were heated by fire. Then, they were put into baskets or wooden bowls or containers filled with water and acorn meal. The stones were stirred in the baskets gently and slowly with a wooden paddle or looped stirrer. When the mixture began to boil it was cooked, exactly like when you make a cereal porridge. The stones were then removed from the basket with wooden tongs. 

Stone Boiling was also used by plain tribes. A bowl-shaped pit would be dug into the hard earth. It would then be made watertight by pushing a fresh buffalo hide, fleshy side up, into the bottom of the pit. The pit would then be filled with water. Large heavy cobbles would be heated in a nearby fire until they glowed red. They would then be carried on a forked stick to the pit. By continually replacing the rocks as they cooled with hot rocks, the water would get very hot. Food would then be added and cooked. The material stacked up on the right is buffalo dung (commonly called buffalo chips). Since trees tend to be scarce on the Great Plains, dried buffalo dung was the standard fuel used by the Plains Indians. This type of cooking was used for cooking things that could not have been cooked in pit ovens which was preferred way of cooking buffalo meat. For instance this type of cooking was used for extracting bone marrow from broken bones.

There is an old story called “Stone Soup“. The story involves a stranger coming to a village, building a hearth and placing a pot of water over it. He (or she) puts in stones and invites others to taste the stone soup. The stranger invites others to add an ingredient, and pretty soon, Stone Soup is a collaborative meal full of tasty things. Not to mention a stone or two. 

So stone cooking was used, and could have been one of the oldest cooking methods ever used. But look at the dimensions of the basket on the picture above. It is again narrow with the dept the same as the diameter, and relative size much closer to the size of the hot stones being dropped in. This means that the water in the basket will be heated to boil and kept boiling much easier then if the cooking vessel was a gigantic hundreds of liters fulacht fiadh trough. O one other thing. This method of cooking was abandoned for cooking in earthen pots heated from the bottom whenever they were available because cooking with hot stones is much harder and time consuming.

Now remember that the early Irish literature also shows that the word fulacht is not only applied to a water filled pit for boiling meat but also to an outdoor cooking pit where meat was roasted on a spit or over an open fire. Cooking pits can also be used for spit roasting.

Cooking spits

In Serbia and in the rest of the Balkans, no major celebration can be imagined without a roasted pig or lamb on a spit. Where I come from, the roasting process always started with digging of a ditch, an oval shaped pit. The pit was then filled with slow burning hardwood which was burned and turned into a charcoal. Once the pit was full of the smoldering charcoal, the spit was put over the ditch and the roasting would start. Basically the pig was a spit roasted over a pit oven.

Again this is a very easy way to cook a very large amount of meat. Actually the easiest. In Serbia they roast whole cows on spits, so a deer or a wild boar wouldn’t be very difficult to cook at all. No wonder this remained through the ages the most favorite method from cooking large quantities of meat.

So if fulacht fiadh or fulacht Fian really was a place where members of Fianna cooked their food using pits, spits and open fire, then pit ovens are the best match. Not only that you can use them for steaming (boiling) and roasting of large quantities of meat in the pit, but you can also use them to cook the same large quantities of meat on a spit positioned over the pit. And if the cooking is done in the pit, the pit ovens produce large quantities of burned cracked stones and particularly charcoal-enriched soil. 

So I think that we can safely say that fulachta fiadh were not used in the way the mainstream archaeology suggest they were used:  for cooking large amounts of meat in troughs full of water heated by hot stones. The Bronze Age people who built fulachta fiadh had much more efficient ways of cooking large quantities of meat at their disposal. But what about the troughs? Every fulachta fiadh had a trough, so they must have been used for something. But if not for cooking, what were they used for? Particularly the ones built on the marshy boggy acidic terrain. I will talk about this in my next few posts.

Clay balls – Stone balls

Carved Stone Balls are petrospheres, usually round and rarely oval. They have from 3 to 160 protruding knobs on the surface. Their size is fairly uniform at around 2.75 inches or 7 cm across, they date from the late Neolithic to possibly as late as the Iron Age and are mainly found in Scotland, but also elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. They range from having no ornamentation (apart from the knobs) to extensive and highly varied engraved patterns. A wide range of theories have been produced to explain their use or significance, without any one gaining very wide acceptance. Carved Stone Balls are up to 5200 years old, coming from the late Neolithic to at least the Bronze Age.
Nearly all have been found in north-east Scotland, the majority in Aberdeenshire, the fertile land lying to the east of the Grampian Mountains. A similar distribution to that of Pictish symbols led to the early suggestion that Carved Stone Balls are Pictish artefacts.
Here are some examples of the so called “carved stone balls” from Scotland:
At least 1000 years earlier, in Serbia, people from Vinča culture made very very very similar objects from burned clay which they wore as amulets.
This one is from Vinča Beli Breg settlement near Belgrade
This one is from Vinča Jakovo Kormadin settlement near Belgrade
These amulets are from different localities, non published before they appeared in the publication entitled “Vinčanski amuleti” (Vinča amulets) by Ivana Pantović. 

This is extremely interesting and significant. It points to the possibility that the origin of the Scottish so called “stone carved balls” could be found in the clay amulets from Serbia. The fact that the Vinča artifacts were made of clay, whereas the Scottish artifacts were made from stone is also very interesting. This is not the only type of artifacts which were first found in Vinča cultural layers in the Balkans, small and made of burned clay, only to be found later in Britain much larger and made of stones. Progressively bigger and bigger stones. 
It looks like the British Megalithic culture could be in a way the continuation of the Vinča culture. Vinča culture which somehow got to Britain and there went Megalomaniac and Megalithic. 
I was just made aware of a very interesting discovery made under the Mound 1 at Knowth, in the Boyne Valley which adds support for my theory that this is an example of the Balkan – Britain cultural transfer in the late Neolithic. 
Two tiny beads, made from fired calcareous clay, were found there in 1981. This is the picture of one of the two miniature carved stone ball bead from Knowth. Maximum thickness: 14.3mm. (Photo by K. Williams for Excavations at Knowth 6: The Neolithic Archaeology of the Large Passage Tomb 1 at Knowth, Co. Meath, by G. Eogan)
They were published in 1986 (Eogan 1986, fig. 21) but their significance has not been appreciated until 2011 when professor Alison Sheridan, during her visit to Dublin, saw them and realized that they were miniature versions of a very distinctive type of artefact well known from Neolithic Scotland – the carved stone ball 🙂 Professor Sheridan published a paper linking these clay ammulets from Knowth with Scottish carves stone balls under title “Little and large: the miniature ‘carved stone ball’ beads from the Eastern tomb at Knowth, Ireland, and their broader significance“. This is very very very very very 🙂 interesting…
What do you thing of all this?
References: 
Vinčanski amuleti” (Vinča amulets) by Ivana Pantović 
Life in Clay, Neolithic Art on the Territory of Belgrade” by Bisenija Petrović, Miloš Spasić

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:
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

Serbian: 

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? 

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?

mmmmmmmm

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…