Chapter 6: CLUES IN ANCIENT WRITING
Place names can give valuable clues for locating ancient sites. By taking seriously a place name given to him by Arab companions, Nelson Glueck rediscovered an important copper mining site in the Negev from the time of King Solomon, 3000 years ago. The Arabs kept referring to the place called Khirbet Nahas, which means "Copper Ruin."
Nelson Glueck observed that the most ancient geographical names are faithfully reflected in modern designations. As examples he cites the following from the Jordan Valley: Eriha is the word Jericho; Beisan is old Beth-shan; Damieh is biblical Ad amah; and Tell Abil is Abel-beth-maachah. When the explorer or the archaeologist is searching for an ancient site it is crucial for him to pay attention to the modern place names in the area he is searching (Horizon, 2:2, November 1959, p. 10; Glueck, 1968, p. 16-17).
Another value of word study is shown by the following. Based on lexical analysis, Semites must have lived together in an original land of rivers and no mountains. There is evidence that the land was in the Arabian Desert before it became desert. Rawlinson observed that linguistic evidence showed the early existence in Arabia of at least two races: one in the north and central of Semitic peoples, and the other in the south, which was non-Semitic. The latter possessed a language resembling the dialects of aborigines in Ethiopia (Custance, 1964, p. 31; McClure, 1971, p. 31).
Support for this analysis was reported by McClure. An extraordinary discovery was made in the Arabian desert - ancient rock carvings of tall black cattle people just like the Watusi-Masai of today in Africa. He suggests the possibility that the people of East Africa may very well be living descendants of the ancient ones who lived in Arabia when it was a fertile, well-watered land (McClure, 1971, p. 80).
From the above reference to rivers we can infer another point to be emphasized later, that we have clues to a golden time before a catastrophic event created the desert we now know in that region.
We can learn something about the sophistication of a culture and other insights of their life from the texts which have been preserved. Cyrus Gordon analyzed many ancient texts and believed he had identified ancient cryptograms of great interest. These are messages within messages (Science Digest, April 1972, p. 60).
An old Mesopotamian language, Akkadian, was no longer in use after 1500 B.C. The fact that they had a word for iron, as well as words for tin, copper, lead, gold, silver, and bronze, says a great deal about the culture of these people at that time in history. It is especially Interesting to note their familiarity with Iron centuries before the Iron Age began, although it is possible they knew only meteoric Iron at that time (Victoria Institute, 23:303). We must grant the possibility, however, that "meteoric Iron" is simply a convenient explanation. We know almost nothing of the earliest development of the use of Iron.
Baring-Gould mentions the tradition in England that some of the counting-out rhymes, such as are found in nursery rhymes, may be relics of formulas used by the Druids in choosing human sacrifices (Baring-Gould, 1962, p. 12). It is entirely possible that similar rhymes served as mnemonic or memory devices for ancient mariners in plotting their voyages by the movements of constellations, each of which had an easily remembered common name.
Just as the Arab has a great many words for camel which show almost every imaginable state and condition, and the Eskimo does the same with words for snow, so the Egyptians used at least 37 terms for our word heaven and more than 370 specific astronomical terms. There is no way we can translate many of these terms accurately. This is a good example of how differently ancient man viewed the universe around him. There can be little doubt that the Egyptians and other ancients could read valuable information out of the stars, particularly with respect to navigation and other travel (de Santillana, 1969, p. 73).
Albright speaks too of the values of word and language studies for the historian in tracing interacting continuities, and in providing useful and sometimes unique evidence of otherwise indiscernible ethnic and cultural relationships far back in time. Further, he notes that the analysis of personal names is a powerful tool for tracing various ethnic elements in an old population. This study, for example, showed the surprising presence of Indo-Europeans in Syria and Palestine during the Late Bronze Age. The continued presence of Indo-Europeans is clearly noted in the Amarna Letters (thought of as from the 14th century B. C.). Often we are dependent on personal and place names as our only source for an entire language. Albright makes the very interesting observation that although Egypt was not within the Semitic language family, there are few grammatical features which could be considered alien to Semitic languages, which may suggest a close relationship or other early interaction between the two (Albright, 1966, p. 3-14).
There are curious links between ancient languages. Albright comments on the fact that Sumerian, the oldest known literary language of man, showed a remarkable breakdown in the phonetic structure of individual words and compounds which are quite comparable to that which now exists in Chinese. There were so many syllables that had the same sound that Albright concludes they had to distinguish them by tones in the Chinese manner. While there is no direct evidence, he can draw no other conclusion. Similarly Sayce states that Sumerian is related to the language of China, and the first Chinese emigrants and the pre-Semitics of Chaldea were related linguistically and racially (Albright, 1966, p. 26-27; Custance, 1961, p. 9).
Albright speaks with amazement about the mobility of ancient languages
(as though world-wide travel were a common thing) and he speaks confidently
that scholars will soon locate Old World sources of elements of the oldest
American cultures (Albright, 1966, p. 3-12).
The historical links between different areas in the ancient world and a further suggestion of widespread land and sea travel are illustrated by the strange duality of place names. Musri, north of Assyria is the same as Musur or Misir, which is Egypt. Cush was an area in Cappadocia and later Cush became the name for Ethiopia. The place names of Makan and Meluhha in Babylonia were the same as names of districts far to the southwest, probably in the Sinai region. Akkad was the name for both Armenia and for the northern part of Babylonia (Victoria Institute, 25:91).
Ur of the Chaldees has been located in Sumer by a general consensus of scholars for many generations. From early studies of Ebla tablets it is beginning to dawn on scholars that Abraham probably came from another Ur many hundreds of miles to the northwest of Sumer. The point of interest is that man apparently traveled very widely. When he did so, he left clues behind in the form of place names and loan words to other languages.
We can infer at least some hint of catastrophic events in the past from clues left in the language. In actions we do not really understand, ancient writers give every appearance of describing a suddenly changed world. In a highly sophisticated age. Aristotle still referred respectfully to the grave testimony of the ancient writers. It is more than a bit significant that in the very earliest writing, the writers behave like worried and doubting commentators. They tried to explain a dimly understood tradition and half forgotten words once of great significance.
Neither in ancient Egypt nor in old Sumer could the ancients explain
the origin of the star lists, the constellations, or even the names of
their greatest gods. Every appearance Is given of a world which had undergone
significant, even radical change. (de Santillana, 1969, p. 119-120).
Similarly in Homer the art of writing is associated with peril, and among many peoples writing was too sacred a thing to fall into the wrong hands, so sacred books were handed down orally from generation to generation even though writing for other common purposes was used (Whatmough, 1956, p. 14-15).
One final example will be given to show how clues to the ancient past
might be derived from ancient writing. Already more than a century ago
it was observed that much of mythology - a form of coded history in the
minds of many scholars - relates scriptural happenings. Thus Jove may be
but a corruption of the name Jehovah (Victoria Institute, 6:261).
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