Prehistoric Transatlantic Trade and Lost Civilizations

The kind of stuff inferred in *** [url=“”]What’s up with the “cocaine mummies”?*** is something I and apparently a lot of others have a certain fascination with (which might explain why people are quick to believe it, though I suspect it is tainted evidence). It’s certainly possible that there were ancient civilizations that we know nothing about, there are some we know very little of today.

I personally think that mankind beyond the hunting & gathering mesolithic lifestyle sometime before our warm spell in the current ice age. There’s very little archeological evidence for it, which is a major strike against the idea (though glaciers could have destroyed a lot of evidence), but I think language and culture of modern man raises some suspicions.

Homo sapiens has been around for 300,000 to 500,000 years, depending on who you ask. The modern form, homo sapiens sapiens has been around 150,000-130,000 years. Even those who suport the “Out of Africa” hypothesis (that holds that the ancestors of the modern human first appeared in Africa about 150,000 years ago, and then spread through Europe and Asia, replacing existing populations of archaic homo sapiens) accept that most of the Old World was populated by beings with brains in the same size range as ours (some bigger) for maybe a half-million years, supposedly stuck as hunter-gatherers up until the climate started warming up about 20,000 years ago, when they hunted a couple of dozen species into extinction and then started growing their own food by about 10,000 years ago. Was this really the first time we made that mental leap and became more than primitives? I’d have no problem with the idea (everything has to start SOMETIME) except that all languages seem to have evolved from one language about 40,000 years ago.

That doesn’t make much sense to me. Although hunter-gatherers can move around a lot (pretty much have to) you’d think that there would be dozens or hundreds of ancient languages, divided up into thousands of dialects - people would have to be spread thin, and would only have contact with other tribes along their migration routes. A lot of linguistic drift can happen in 150-500,000 years, and we would see languages so radically different from each other that their common ancestor was untraceable. The rise of civilization 10,000 years ago would not have wiped out all the old languages - it wasn’t the case of one culture developing agriculture and other neolithic technology and conquering the rest of the world, it seemed the ideas spread separate from the culture, river valley civilizations started popping up all over the place, Mesopotamia, the Nile, on the Indus, in the Yellow River valley. Each had their own language and culture, distinct, yet definitely related to one tens of thousands of years earlier, before the last time the glaciers retreated.

This post is getting longer than I planned, there was more I was meaning to say, but anyway, why is it considered a crackpot idea to believe that there may have been fairly advanced civilizations before the ones we know about? Is it because some people associate lost civilizations with Atlantis myths, Von Daniken, and wacko occultists? Is it simply due to the lack of evidence that nobody is seriously looking?

I think that the amount of new age nut jobs who might hold similiar theories put a lot of us off. It pisses me off when someone talks about how the pyramids were built by alien beings or a civilization beyond our technological level. I get peeved because I don’t like taking away credit from those who achieved something so grand. I see the pyramids, and other structures, and a testament to the ingenuity of man. Sure they were primitive but they sure as hell weren’t stupid.

I believe there is evidence to suggest that perhaps civilization is older then is currently believed in the mainstream. If by a “fairly advanced” civilization you mean the Egyptians, Sumarians, or Babylonians then I’ll agree that it is possible but the evidence isn’t so great.

These sites will take you to an article about the Okinawa “ruins” found just off the coast. There’s some doubt about whether or not this structure is man made or produce by mother nature. Although based on the pictures in the second site it sure looks man made to me. But I’m not rock expert.

Here’s a site about the Sphinx in Egypt that many believe is much older then most believe.
I can’t vouch for the accuracy of either sites and I’m not about to claim to be an expert in ancient civilizations. These people who set up the sites I provided could be complete quacks for all I know. However I will entertain the possibility that there may have been human civilizations earlier then we thought.


Are we sure mankind had any linguistic ability before 40,000 years ago? Or perhaps that “primal” language was was the first human tongue?

That’s interesting, that all languages originated from one primal language has biblical implications. Are there experts in linguistics who are led to believe this? Got any references?

I suppose we can’t be sure simply because nobody but Strom Thurmond can remember that far back. I think modern humans date back about 100,000 years. I think that within 60,000 years they would have figured out verbal communication to some extent.


A lot of anthropologists think that hominids probably had a true (yet primitive) language back when we were still homo erectus. Some think that homo sapiens neandertalensis may have been limited in his linguistic abilities because of the way their brain appears to have been shaped, so maybe some of the archaic sapiens weren’t as capable of language as homo sapiens sapiens, but even if we were the first ones with a language, we were around at least a 100,000 years.

Still trying to find cites on the root languages and their ages…finding a lot of stuff on Indo-European, but that goes back around 12-15,000 years, and a lot of Asian and African languages aren’t based on it, though they have enough things in common they think they have a common ancestor further back.

One possible reason why civilization developed so comparatively late is because human population appears to have been comparatively low for most of its history.

High intelligence had to develop for a reason of some sort. My guess is that it was because there were a shitload of predators out there–predators which had no compunctions about taking on a small band of rock-throwing appetizers. Would you and your family want to get surrounded out on the savannah by a pack of hyaenas with nothing to defend yourselves but sticks?

The battle for primacy must have taken thousands of years. Humans take an unusually long time to gestate, and our young rival marsupials as far as self-defense goes. Furthermore, we suffer quickly from inbreeding. Infant mortality was probably just slightly below that of losses replaced for most of our history. And because we seem to find evidence of small groups of humans all over the place, it seems as if we liked to spread out.

Therefore, while I would love to be proven wrong, it seems to me that humans never had a chance to socialize on a large scale until they turned some mathematical population corner and began to ride the hyperbole to the top of the food chain. That corner may only have been turned when the Ice Ages did their work for us to cut down the number of predators we had to contend with–that must have been a time when brains really counted for something.

But then again, I’m talking out of my ass, here. Can anyone point me to some good stuff to read about this subject?

Badtz Maru asks:

As noted by people not entirely committed (or the opposite) of the “Eve” hypothesis, even postulating that there was an “Eve” isn’t equivalent to asserting “there was one human[sup]1[/sup] female at that time”. All other strictly female lineages may have simply. Similarly, even if we assert a “super-Nostratic” hypothesis in linguistics (and it should be noted that the Nostratic hypothesis is one of those ideas that sounds cool, but receives much less regard from scholars than the number of popularizations suggests), we need not assert that every language is descended from Proto-Super-Nostratic, only those that survive. All of the others may simply have been “swamped” (where today do we find the descendants of Etruscan, Tartessian, and Tocharian, to name but a few?).

For an entertaining (but taken no more seriously than Nostratic) hypothesis that assigns the development of language to a fairly late date, look at Julian Jaynes’ Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

Sofa King notes that:

which is pretty close. It should be noted, however, that for a million or so (depending on exact definitions and measurements) years, the human lineage has been far and away the most intelligent creature (and one of the most feared predators) on the planet. Why should humans develop civilization when they were already able to, as it were, reach out and take whatever they wanted? (Many feel that the advantages of agricultural and industrial civilization are obvious (if sometimes outweighed by the disadvantages), but someone actually had to think of not only those advantages, but the physical inventions and mental habits necessary to put them into practice. Having a steady supply of beer is nice, but then someone actually has to do the scutwork of domesticating barley).

Dolni Vestonice and Lascaux, among others, suggest that some progress towards a civilization and culture (although not, perhaps, ones that we would recognize as being remorely related to ours) was being made. Then, however, the environment was radically changed by the end of the last glaciation. The transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic is an example of successful adaptation to that change (there are others). Unsuccessful attempts are occasionally found as bones.

[sup]1[/sup][sub]Or, at least, what passed for human at the time[/sub]

in Yeti pelts, used UFO parts, and Chupacabra delousing soap. :rolleyes: :wally

*Originally posted by Badtz Maru *

The Basque language is one I can think of that predates the Indo-European languages of Europe. Linguists have had a difficult time trying to categorize it.

You’re not going to find any reliable, scientific literature on ancient (meaning pre 10k years before present). My understanding from lurking in linguistics lists and reading on my own is reputable linguists
(a) do not presently think historical linguistic tools can push our information much back beyond 5-7k BP
(b) regard the Nostratic work as deeply flawed from a technical viewpoint
© are divided as to whether there was every any kind of unity on a macro scale in re lang.
(i) meaning there is no reason to suppose language arose once from one source after ability developed, esp. because it developed, biologically speaking, in a step-wise manner
(ii) even if it emerged all at once, homo sapiens (the Hss design has somewhat fallen out fashion now that the trend towards classifying neandertal as homo neandertal and not homo sapiens neandertalis) may have been too spread out for a super-mother language to develop.

So the search for a common ancestor is something of a chimera. The data is lost. I don’t follow your initial train of thought regarding the development of civilizations and languages but I think I detect a number of problems. Notably the idea that the development of civilization and its transmission (to the extent we may not posit seperate development) depends on connections tens of thousands of years old. I see no reason for the presumption.

AGain based on my admittedly limited readings, my understand is that one should note that IE, although the most thoroughly documented language family is a quite recent little baby and largely became widespread just before and concurrent with historical times. It would be a mistake to base an understanding of historical language development on IE, when most world languages have no relation to it and may have utterly different backgrounds in terms of spread and development. If one looks outside the European example, which is recent and deceptive, you will find amazing linguistic diversity historically documented.

(Aside, you seem to question OOA, as far as I can tell this is the sole thoery, in whatever weak or strong flavor you might want, which matches the genetic evidence.)

It’s held to be crackpot because nobody who makes the claim provides serious, hard evidence to back it up.

Every civilization has left something behind. The more advanced they’ve been for the times, the more they’ve left behind. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans in Europe, the Axum in Ethiopia, the Assyrians, Hittites, and Sumerians as well as the early Islam empires in Arabia and Central Asia, the Aryans in India, and the ancient Chinese and Japanese civilizations. Much has been lost to human and natural causes, of course, but much more has been left behind to provide evidence they existed.

Given the fact that even the largest cities at the time of the agricultural revolution were no larger than small villages of today and that we’re finding evidence they existed (I remember some archeological expedition finding the remains of a 4,000 - 6,000-year-old city in the Middle East whose largest population was a mere 100 souls), then it’s reasonable to expect that any older, larger cities built by advanced civilizations which existed previously should definitely leave something behind when they collapsed.

To date, nothing like that’s turned up. There are artifacts whose origins are open to interpretation - the Olmec stone heads, for example, may indicate that some African travellers got to the eastern coast of Central America through luck or accident - but there is nothing definitively proving that there were any advanced civilizations doing the things that advanced civilizations do (like crossing the larger oceans on a regular basis for trade) before the rise of the earliest Mediterranean civilizations, and especially nothing equalling human achievements of the past 500 to 600 years.


I seem to recall some ( or “a” ) scholar attemping to link the Etruscan language both with that of the ancient Hittites ( who may have continued on as the Lydians ) and the modern day Basques. Anyone know if that research/claim went anywhere? Or was it just a fanciful attempt to link together all those European and near-European languages we don’t understand all that well :wink: ?

  • Tamerlane

In my opinion, the “reason” for human intelligence is sociality. We have big brains so we can figure out all the various social relations in a hunter-gatherer band. How many people do you know who are uninterested in science, art, or nature? All they seem to care about is who’s sleeping with who, what Mary said to Carol while they were visiting Rebecca, who has a baby, etc. And of course it’s men too, but then it’s more, “This guy disrespected me, Bill in marketing tried to steal my plan but Steve stopped him…”

Steven Pinker’s idea is that our brains are for predicting the future. But for human beings, the most important environmental fact is other human beings. Our brains are large because we have to figure out the probably future behavior of other large brained creatures. So we create a model of their behavior. But their behavior depends on our behavior. So we must create an internal model of our own behavior to accurately predict their behavior. We call that model “consciousness”.

So, what does that have to do with Ancient Civilizations? Well, it seems to me that our brains are not primarily designed for technological advancement. Yes, we can discover new technology. But 99.9% of human beings never discover any. A few isolated oddballs do, and the rest of us copy them.

When we look at Neandertal technology, we find incredible stasis. For hundreds of thousands of years Neandertals used, not just stone points, but stone points made with exactly the same Levallois technique.

Or agriculture. Every hunter-gatherer society knows that plants grow from seeds. So why don’t they all start gathering seeds and planting them and begine agriculture? Well, because it’s too much trouble. Why would anyone want to do all that work? The only reason agriculture prevailed is because agricultural societies produced so much surplus population that they swamped the conservative societies. But it seems to me that your average hunter-gatherer had a much better life than your average subsistence farmer.

I think we need to abandon the idea that ancient humans were always on the cusp of industrial revolution, and instead view them/us as hypersocial chimpanzees that happen to use lots of tools as a side interest. For most people, for most of human history, technology has simply been a fact of nature. “This is the way we plant. This is the way we make tools. This is the way we treat disease.”

So, if we discard the notion that humans are innovative tool makers, the failure to invent advanced civilization isn’t surprising.

Brilliant. Lemur, an excellent, clear-headed analysis. I don’t fully agree, but well done.

I lurk a lot around linguists. I have only heard that all attempts to link Basque have failed. (Hittite is an I-E language by the way, if memory serves.)

Tamerlane asks:

Ever since Herodotus recorded the Lydian claim that the Etruscan aristocracy emigrated from Lydia to Etruria, there have been those who claim that the Etruscan language came from the eastern Aegean. It is now generally accepted that Etruscan is not an Indo-European language, and that Lydian is (although descended from Luwian, a close relative of, but not identical with Hittite[sup]1[/sup]). There’s some inscriptional evidence of something very close, if not identical, to Etruscan, on Lemnos, but that is thought to be evidence of Etruscan trading visits to Lemnos, not of a proto-Etruscan substrate in the Aegean.

I haven’t heard of any findings as to an Etruscan-Basque connection but I believe that Etruscan and Basque are both viewed as pre-IE languages that didn’t get swamped in the initial flood of IE languages into western and central Europe.

[sup]1[/sup][sub]The whole nomenclature of Brone Age Anatolia is hopelessly screwed up. Suffice to say that what we now call the Hittite language is different from what we now call the Luwian language.

Ahh, thank you gentlemen :slight_smile: .

  • Tamerlane


I always liked the connection between the Etruscan language and the Lemnos inscription because it put a little history on the Trojan War refugee story. But instead of Aeneas founding the Roman people, he founded the Etruscans. (Etruscans were probably indigenous Indo-European speaking Italiots plus descendants of pre-Indo-European Italian neolithic people plus an originally eastern Aegean (can I say Trojan?) military aristocracy.

I always figured that Basque was the descendant of the original Neolithic language of Europe, the one spoken by the Cave Painters. What is the relationship between Basque and Lapp? (who are good candidates to be the descendants of the neolithic Reindeer Hunter culture.) What about the relationship between Basque and the original Canary Island language?

Mipsman: Why do you assume that there was “an original Neolithic language of Europe”? When we look at Europe, we see lots of linguistic unity. But when we look at other places such as New Guinea, the Americas, etc, we see huge linguistic diversity. At a neolithic technolgy level it is not uncommon for each valley to have it’s own particular language. So what happened? Why are almost all European languages related? Because Europe was invaded by indo-european speaking people. But this is not the norm.

Before that, Europe probably had dozens of language families. There were probably hundreds of small isolated languages like Basque. But all of them were destroyed and their speakers assimilated into indo-european languages. Basque is simply the only one left. You find groups like the Basques all over the world…ethnic minorities who speak languages totally unrelated to the majority population. Well, these languages once had relatives, but the relatives are gone.

Finnish and Hungarian are both non-indo-european languages derived from central asian languages. They are related to each other, but are completely unrelated to Basque.

It seems to me that we absolutely cannot assume that neolithic europe had any sort of cultural homogeneity. If we look at highland New Guinea we can see extreme linguistic variation even though every village has pretty much the same tools, the same culture, the same society.