Back to Babel: Did Europeans and Asians Once Speak a Common Language?

Tower of Babel 2 S

The idea of a universal human language goes back to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis. 

Now a group of researchers have developed a theory that people living in Europe and Asia 15,000 years ago may have spoken a common language. Of course, other researchers disagree. Which, I guess, will set off years of debate. 

An article describing the common language theory was published May 6 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It claims that the researchers in question have traced “echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age.” 

The idea of a common source to language is an interesting one for linguists to explore. Right now, their estimates of when this common language emerged are too indefinite to be meaningful. 

I find the discussion intriguing. However, I’ve been around animals enough to believe that language in a rudimentary form is almost ubiquitous among the more intelligent mammals. I realize that’s a somewhat radical statement. But I am using a definition of language that is a bit broader than words and more focused on the ability to communicate. 

Also, I live in a bilingual neighborhood. I’ve seen first hand that a pet who has lived in a Spanish-speaking household will stare at you blankly when you speak English. Then, if you switch to Spanish, they respond, and they do it appropriately. That’s completely unscientific, but it has convinced me personally that these pets understand more of our languages than we admit. 

This article from LiveScience.com describes the research in a common language among early humans:

The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests.

Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as “mother,” “to pull” and “man,” which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucuses or the modern-day country of Georgia. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.

“We can trace echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age,” said study co-author Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Tower of Babel

The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. [Image Gallery: Ancient Middle-Eastern Texts]

But not all linguists believe in a single common origin of language, and trying to reconstruct that language seemed impossible. Most researchers thought they could only trace a language’s roots back 3,000 to 4,000 years. (Even so, researchers recently said they had traced the roots of a common mother tongue to many Eurasian languages back 8,000 to 9,500 years to Anatolia, a southwestern Asian peninsula that is now part of Turkey.) (Read the rest here.) 

Robert Ballard Claims He’s Found Evidence for Noah’s Flood

The guy who found the Titanic wants to find Noah’s flood.

Stories about Robert Ballard’s search for proof of the Biblical flood that put Noah in his ark were all the rage back in early December.

I ignored them then because I had other things on my mind. The reason I got interested now is that I’ve just finished reading the Noah and his flood story in the Bible.

I try to read through the Bible on a regular basis. I’ve looked at those “read through the Bible” reading schedules that you find on various websites and even in the backs of some Bibles themselves. But that is way too complicated for me.

I usually pick up a Bible and just start reading at the first and keep going until I read “May the spirit of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” I change the translation almost every time I read. I find it interesting to compare the way the different translations handle the text. This year, I’m reading one of those one year Bibles called My Daily Catholic Bible.

I read about Sodom and Gomorrah last night, and a few days before that, I re-read the story of Noah and his ark. That made Robert Ballard’s new quest to find the flood swim into focus for me.

Mr Ballard theorizes that the flood resulted from a confluence of events. The main event he points to is the sudden release of huge amounts of water when the ice melted at the end of the last ice age.

It’s difficult for us today to imagine what the world was like during the ice age. Huge parts of what we now know as temperate areas were under hundreds of feet of ice. The way things usually happen in nature is that there is a trickle and then a gush and finally things just give way suddenly in a flood or an explosion or a collapse. Fires smolder, volcanoes smoke and floods send off rivulets. Then, they burst through in a conflagration or flood.

Mr Ballard is basing his flood theory on this kind of sudden giving away, coupled with topography that led to a huge rise of waters in one area of the world. This was a flood where, in his words, “the waters came up and stayed up.”

He thinks he’s found such an area. He’s used underwater exploration to find a lost civilization from that time which he says underscores his theory.

It’s a tantalizing idea.

Is he right?

All I can say is that Robert Ballard’s track record requires us to consider what he says and think about it. He’s done the undoable and found the unfindable too many times to ignore him out of hand.

An ABC News article about Robert Ballard’s search for Noah’s flood reads in part:

Evidence Noah’s Biblical Flood

Happened,Says Robert Ballard

This ark, located an hour south of Amsterdam, is a replica of Noah’s Biblical boat. Underwater archaeologist Robert Ballard is in Turkey, looking for evidence that the Great Flood happened. (ABC News)

ABC News By JENNA MILLMAN, BRYAN TAYLOR and LAUREN EFFRON (@LEffron831)

The story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood is one of the most famous from the Bible, and now an acclaimed underwater archaeologist thinks he has found proof that the biblical flood was actually based on real events.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for ABC News, Robert Ballard, one of the world’s best-known underwater archaeologists, talked about his findings. His team is probing the depths of the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey in search of traces of an ancient civilization hidden underwater since the time of Noah.

Ballard’s track record for finding the impossible is well known. In 1985, using a robotic submersible equipped with remote-controlled cameras, Ballard and his crew hunted down the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic.

Now Ballard is using even more advanced robotic technology to travel farther back in time. He is on a marine archeological mission that might support the story of Noah. He said some 12,000 years ago, much of the world was covered in ice.

“Where I live in Connecticut was ice a mile above my house, all the way back to the North Pole, about 15 million kilometers, that’s a big ice cube,” he said. “But then it started to melt. We’re talking about the floods of our living history.”

The water from the melting glaciers began to rush toward the world’s oceans, Ballard said, causing floods all around the world.

“The questions is, was there a mother of all floods,” Ballard said.

(Read more here.)


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