Wednesday 14 December 2022

Feminists rewrite prehistory


'What seems obvious to the general public — that prehistory was a bloody mess of invasions, migrations, battles and conflict — is not always a commonplace view among researchers. Worse, the idea that ancient peoples organised themselves among clear ethnic and tribal lines is also taboo. Obvious statements of common sense, such as the existence of patriarchy in the past, are constantly challenged and the general tone of academia is one of refutation: both of established theories and thinkers and of disagreeable parts of the past itself.

'Added to this is the ever-present fear that studies and results are being used by the wrong kind of people. In a 2019 journal article, entitled “Genetics, archaeology and the far-Right: An unholy trinity”, Susanne Hakenbeck expresses grave concern that recent genetics work on the early Bronze Age invasions of the Indo-European steppe are needlessly giving oxygen to dangerous ideas — namely that young men from one ethnic group might have migrated from the Pontic-Caspian grasslands and violently subdued their neighbours, passing on their paternal DNA at the expense of the native males. This narrative, fairly well-supported in the genetics literature, is for Hakenbeck deeply unpleasant and wrong:
'“We see a return to notions of bounded ethnic groups equivalent to archaeological cultures and of a shared Indo-European social organisation based on common linguistic fragments. Both angles are essentialist and carry a deeply problematic ideological baggage. We are being offered an appealingly simple narrative of a past shaped by virile young men going out to conquer a continent, given apparent legitimacy by the scientific method.”
'That war-like young men might have invaded a nearby settlement is apparently a troublesome statement, something that, again, most lay people simply wouldn’t find difficult to contemplate. Yet others have gone further still. Historian Wolf Liebeschuetz and archaeologist Sebastian Brather, to pick on just two, have both firmly insisted that archaeology must not, and cannot, be used to trace migrations or identify different ethnic groups in prehistory. To quote from Liebeschuetz’s 2015 book, East and West in Late Antiquity: “Archaeology can trace cultural diffusion, but it cannot be used to distinguish between peoples, and should not be used to trace migration. Arguments from language and etymology are irrelevant.”'

The elite who will rule Europe and North America in 2040 are being taught this (if they study prehistory).


  1. Typical of the woke take-over.

    It's true that languages can spread with little population movement - but in that case, there would generally be a conquering elite, or else the language might be a trading lingua franca.

    Also, since language changes quite quickly, when we get back to pre-history, the similarities often do consist of 'fragments' of shared vocabulary - and vocabulary is very easily borrowed, so arguments from language about the nature of I-E culture, or the flora and fauna of the homeland, are rather tentative.

    The best evidence is from the similarities in core vocabulary such as numbers. These aren't always very obvious, with the different languages changing in different directions over long periods of time - that's why it took so long for all the relationships amongst the Indo-European languages to be noticed and worked out. Attempts to go even further back, and link I-E to Hamito-Semitic, for instance, have to work with very sparse and very degraded evidence.

    So to that extent, the nouveau archaeologists have an argument for caution in interpretation, though not for throwing out a whole body of knowledge.

    They can't quibble away genetics, though.

  2. This lasting imposition of the conqueror's language is fascinating. On one hand Celtic, Iberic, Illyric, and Dacian languages disappeared after the Roman conquest. But on the other hand the Frankish, Burgundian, Lombard, and Visigothic languages, despite being the languages of the conquerors, disappeared as well and the conquerors absorbed the language of the conquered peoples. The same happened to the Vikings in Russia. The opposite happened in the lands occupied by the Turks, South Slavs or Hungarians. The Romans occupied Dacia de jure for 165 years (but they probably lost control of it de facto after 235 AD), slightly more than the French occupation of Algeria and about the same duration as the English occupation of Malta. While neither the French language in Algeria nor the English language in Malta will disappear in the 50 years to come, my impression is that they are eroding. Malta is maybe the only country in the world in which old people speak better English than the young. The Franks adopted Latin but the Angles and Saxons did not. And the Roman occupation of a part of Britain lasted much longer than the occupation of Dacia. I can't really see the hidden variables in this model.