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Thread: BMAC Vocabulary in Tocharian: Origins?

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    Cool BMAC Vocabulary in Tocharian: Origins?

    This particular linguistic dilemma has remained, as far as I'm aware, largely unsolved, since Mallory & Mair's summary of the problem in The Tarim Mummies.

    For the uninitiated - Tocharian (B in particular) demonstrates a handful of words of putative BMAC origin (this university presentation summarises them nicely):

    TB iśceṃ* ‘clay, brick’, also in TB iṣcake < *iścke and A *iśk (based on Uigh. išič, išič ‘clay, brick’) < CT *is't'k corresponds to Indo-Iranian, e.g.,
    Vedic ṣṭakā- ‘brick’, Old Pers. išti, Mod. Pers. xišt ‘brick’.

    TB ṣecake A śiśk ‘lion’ and Skt. siṃha- (also siṃhaka-) ‘lion’, Mod. Ch. suānn, Mid. Ch. *swan+NEi, Old Chin. *soo[n,r]+Nee (GSR 46d+873o (873#)) Tib. se.n-ge ‘lion’ vs. Mod. Chin. shīzĭ, Mid. Ch. *srij+tsiX, Old. Chin. *srij+tsə-? (GSR 559a (559#) 964a) ‘lion’.

    TB kercapo ‘donkey, ass’ and Skt. gardabh- ‘donkey, ass’ < *gord(h)ebho-, taking place before the merger of Indo-Eur. *a, *e, *o > *a in Indo-Iranian.
    From memory, Mallory & Mair pontificated that these terms were probably of BMAC origin, but were loans mediated through a variant of Saka (i.e. early East Iranic), following the initial contacts between the early peri-Urals IIr's and the Turanian agriculturalists further south.

    The Tocharian expert, Peyrot, stated the following in a recent publication (Tocharian Agricultural Terminology: Between Inheritance and Language Contact):

    Finally, words of unknown origin are difficult to interpret. It is of course conceivable that they represent in part vestiges of large languages that are completely lost, in particular the languages of the Indus civilization or the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (Pinault 2006). An example of a word presumably from the latter language is Tocharian B kercapo ‘donkey’, which is similar to Vedic gardabh- ‘id.’ without there being an exact reconstruction possible (see Pinault 2008: 392–395). However, obscure lexicon need not be attributable to any known source, and often it is not. There may have been other languages in the Tarim Basin that have disappeared altogether, and this is all the more true of the regions bordering it in the north and in the east. Further, terms for technological innovations may well have travelled farther than usual and Tocharian Agricultural Terminology 247 undergone more changes, and it would therefore be naive to think that the prehistory of the whole semantic field should be recoverable.
    The East Iranic loan hypothesis is further complicated by Franchetti's proposal of the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC):


    Any one of these purported "BMAC" words, in isolation, may be reasonably construed as being a wanderwort (such as "chai"/"tea", which is found in numerous languages).

    However, the associated agricultural package within the Tarim basin circa the Iron Age (mudbrick houses, evidence of irrigation not seen prior to the Bronze Age) does suggest something more substantive than a wanderwort phenomenon.

    The Tocharians almost certainly didn't develop these terms or technologies de novo - Mudbrick houses aren't exactly standard fare on a pastoralist-friendly steppe super-highway, so we'd expect *iscem (and the clay bricks they were referred to as) to be introduced to the Tocharian speakers from a source ultimately situated further south.

    There's quite a few interesting possibilities, in order of chronology (Eneolithic through to the Classical period; my current subjective opinion in italics):

    1. A hitherto unknown BMAC colony in the Tarim (I'm not aware of any evidence of settlements existing prior to the Bronze Age, nor an archaeological trail, which we'd expect agriculturalists to leave behind; so very unlikely for now)
    2. Common Tocharian received certain technology via a Afanasievo colony towards Kelteminar; knowledge communicated through a transient, intermittent relay between the Afanasievan site at Karagash (farfetched, but technically feasible through a Sarazm<->Kelteminar<->Karagash<->Afanasievo chain - We do have evidence of an Afanasievo colony deep into Kelteminar, as well as the Yamnaya-reminiscent burial grounds in pre-Andronovo Uzbekistan)
    3. Early (Bronze Age) loans into Tocharian mediated through Saka via the northern route (the semi-mainstream proposal; this remains sensible, though, I question why pastoralist Saka would specifically convey 'mudbrick' terminology and tech to a formerly-pastoralist population?)
    4. More recent (Iron Age) loans into Tocharian mediated through Saka via the western route (i.e. via the Pamirs; Chinese anthropologists describe an IA Saka wave into the Tarim originating from the Pamirs, where the population possessed a characteristically "Mediterranean" appearance, in contradistinction with the "robust Europid" group that preceded them)
    5. Much more recent (late Iron Age to Classical period) loans into Tocharian for select words (not mudbrick as evidence for this existed circa 1000 B.C. via Yanbulaq) via the southern route (namely, Indo-Aryans)

    And, of course, 6) Some uncertain combination of the above.

    This is a highly curious linguistic problem in Tocharian.

    All thoughts and musings welcome.
    Last edited by DMXX; 01-13-2021 at 08:27 PM. Reason: format

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    Do we know who was living in the Tarim prior to IE expansions there? That might support (or not) the idea of a BMAC colony in the Tarim.

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    Quote Originally Posted by davit View Post
    Do we know who was living in the Tarim prior to IE expansions there? That might support (or not) the idea of a BMAC colony in the Tarim.
    There's limited evidence of Mesolithic-era HG's (mostly flint tools).

    Agriculture via the Gansu corridor was, from memory, a slightly later arrival to the basin (after the Xiaohe cemetary ~2000 B.C., which ostensibly either derived from a northern intrusion via the steppelands based on some of the material evidence, or had some material interactions with them*).

    AFAIK, we don't have any archaeological trail linking the BMAC to the Tarim. Instead, we see secondary evidence of BMAC influence via the material items (this is what the BMAC oasis hypothesis is based on).

    Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, which should be emphasised, as much of the Tarim remains to be properly surveyed.

    * Whoever the bodies belonged to, they didn't appear to be locals.

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    So my guess (rough insight) is that the Proto-Tocharians were once the carriers of the afanisevo culture and that they immigrated from the Altai-Sajan area (genetic input from WSHG) to the Tarim basin and mixed with the local population over time, as well as contacts to neighboring cultures (BMAC) and their language is an extinct IE line from the Centum branch (Proto-Tocharian) and which was partly preserved in the later Tocharian B, as well as the eastern Yamnaya offshoot, the Afanisevo culture hardly genetic Having left input in the Central Steppe, I can imagine that the Proto-Tocharians (afanisevo people) lost more and more dominance from an ethno-linguistic point of view and a strong impulse came from Sogdia and thus the Indo-Iranians assimilated them, Culturally and genetically and also linguistically, so Tocharian A moved more and more into focus.

    Today's finds of mummies from the Tarim basin have been attested with R1a1, but I think that you could most likely be positive for Z93, which definitely fits today's eastern Iranian population groups. The mtdna reflects the melting pot of this region. Mitochondrial DNA analysis showed that maternal lineages carried by the people of Xiaohe were mtDNA haplogroups H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T and R, which are most common in Western Eurasia today. Haplogroups that are common in modern populations from East Asia were also found: B5, D and G2a. Haplogroups are common today in Central Asian or Siberian populations: C4 and C5.Haplogroups that were later seen as typically South Asian, M5 and M, you can see the complex development of this region, just like the Tocharians themselves.

    Certainly the people of the Tocharians emerged from this amalgamation and connection and they also practiced regular trade as the region was an important hub for the Silk Road and was influenced by merchants and traders from India. New religious ideas such as Buddhism and Ware and thus Tocharian C functioned as the official trade language with Kharosthi script. And the Uighurs today reflect this genetic diversity of the region, but we need more genetic data from western China in order to draw better conclusions from the history of the Tocharian!

    I think I am wrong with the linguistic chronology of the Tocharers, but we have many in the thread who are very familiar with linguistics and who can explain this to me or us even better in the thread. And I would be happy if someone could go into more detail on genetics, if anyone here knows more or has a different conclusion.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DMXX View Post
    There's limited evidence of Mesolithic-era HG's (mostly flint tools).

    Agriculture via the Gansu corridor was, from memory, a slightly later arrival to the basin (after the Xiaohe cemetary ~2000 B.C., which ostensibly either derived from a northern intrusion via the steppelands based on some of the material evidence, or had some material interactions with them*).

    AFAIK, we don't have any archaeological trail linking the BMAC to the Tarim. Instead, we see secondary evidence of BMAC influence via the material items (this is what the BMAC oasis hypothesis is based on).

    Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence, which should be emphasised, as much of the Tarim remains to be properly surveyed.

    * Whoever the bodies belonged to, they didn't appear to be locals.
    I'm curious if the Mesolithic individuals came from the east or west (WSHG?).

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    https://youtu.be/wZEGBjCB98I

    An interesting documentary about the Tarim Basin and China's history and contact with the West, unfortunately only in German

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alain View Post
    So my guess (rough insight) is that the Proto-Tocharians were once the carriers of the afanisevo culture and that they immigrated from the Altai-Sajan area (genetic input from WSHG) to the Tarim basin and mixed with the local population over time, as well as contacts to neighboring cultures (BMAC) and their language is an extinct IE line from the Centum branch (Proto-Tocharian) and which was partly preserved in the later Tocharian B, as well as the eastern Yamnaya offshoot, the Afanisevo culture hardly genetic Having left input in the Central Steppe, I can imagine that the Proto-Tocharians (afanisevo people) lost more and more dominance from an ethno-linguistic point of view and a strong impulse came from Sogdia and thus the Indo-Iranians assimilated them, Culturally and genetically and also linguistically, so Tocharian A moved more and more into focus.
    Some of the IA and Classical period nomads from Kazakhstan and E-C Asia proper carry some EMBA steppe-era ancestry (i.e. something preceding Sintashta-Petrovka->Andronovo). So there is indirect evidence of Afanasievo leaving some sort of genetic legacy behind (or, a later back-migration from E-C Asia returned such ancestry to the Kazakh steppe).

    We also have the curious case of the Zamanbaba culture near Bukhara, Uzbekistan, which dates to the EMBA period and materially looks like something from the Yamnaya-Afanasievo cultural community (i.e. predates even Petrovka).

    I saw the recent study that tracked Afanasievo ancestry from the BA onwards around the Altai, which determined that such ancestry had pretty much disappeared by the IA.
    This would suggest that the observed persistence in EMBA era ancestry among the later groups probably existed somewhere near lake Balkhash.
    Said lake and the surrounds were pretty abundant, fauna-wise, at the time (link), so it's no stretch to suppose that one branch of Afanasievo habitated near the lake.

    Today's finds of mummies from the Tarim basin have been attested with R1a1, but I think that you could most likely be positive for Z93, which definitely fits today's eastern Iranian population groups. The mtdna reflects the melting pot of this region. Mitochondrial DNA analysis showed that maternal lineages carried by the people of Xiaohe were mtDNA haplogroups H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T and R, which are most common in Western Eurasia today. Haplogroups that are common in modern populations from East Asia were also found: B5, D and G2a. Haplogroups are common today in Central Asian or Siberian populations: C4 and C5.Haplogroups that were later seen as typically South Asian, M5 and M, you can see the complex development of this region, just like the Tocharians themselves.
    Xiaohe (the pred. Caucasoid mummies you're describing) were R1a1a-Z93- according to the author of the peri-2015 paper that assessed them.

    Quote Originally Posted by davit View Post
    I'm curious if the Mesolithic individuals came from the east or west (WSHG?).
    Right now, I don't know. Haven't read up on the specifics.

    Would be nice if you could have a read if time permits and discuss further here.
    Last edited by DMXX; 01-15-2021 at 06:53 AM. Reason: line

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    So I have been thinking about the possibilities that there were pre-Indo-European populations in the Tarim Basin, both hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists and imo the most likely candidates are Central Asian hunter gatherers and their pastoralist, Turanian farmer admixed descendants. Aside from proximity of the region, one major reason is that some of those Shirenzigou have a lot of WSHG-like ancestry, and when you use something like the bronze age samples from Aiyghyrzhal as a reference, you have significant contributions with one sample even having close to 50%.

    A reminder is is that those Shirenzigou samples were from the eastern end of the Dzhungar basin, practically in western Gansu. So the question would be then if that ancestry came by way of Indo-Iranians who had already assimilated such populations as they entered the Tarim Basin through the west, or if it came from Pre-IE populations which lived on the eastern side of the Tian Shan and ventured further.

    And then you also have the Qiemu'erqieke samples which came from the Mongolia-Xingjiang border. They could've have gotten their Turanian farmer ancestry from the more conventional sources on the western side of the Tian Shan, but maybe not. Who knows?

    Concering the topic of the thread, isn't it perhaps possible that some loanwords commonly considered to be 'BMAC loanwords' are rather Central Asian hunter-gatherer/pastoralist loanwords?

    I always found it strange that camels, with a wild range going up to Central Kazakhstan (and perhaps even west of the Urals in the neolithic) were proposed to be a BMAC loanword for example. Personally I think it has an IE etymology but if they loaned it from someone it would be from the native Central Asians if anything.


    Also DMXX since you are well read on these topics, what is the evidence which shows that Khotanese and Thumshuqese were actually the languages of the Saka conquerors in the southern Tarim, and not the languages of the Pamir-like Indo-Iranians who have habitated the Southern Tarim Basin since the LBA/EIA?

    Because to me it seems like a Tocharoi - Tocharian situation. You know the language of a sedentary Tarimian population being named after cool nomad boys.

    We know that Saka migrated here through the Pamirs, and a much of the populations represented in the relevant regions seemed quit Pamir-like based on physical anthropological remains. But how do we know that they imposed their Iranic languages on the larger general population, leading to their 'Saka language' being the common language spoken in places such as Khotan? AFAIK Khotanese texts do not refer to themselves as Saka, we only have a few texts from various sources indicating that Saka lived there. The languages themselves are also only attested 800/1000 years after the Saka migrated into the southern Tarim.

    When we look at similar events, the Yuezhi - Kushan ordeal or the Parni - Parthians, both nomadic entitities ended up being culturally and linguistically assimilated into the other Iranian entities they ruled over. Perhaps a similar thing happened with the elite of the Kangju, assimilated into the Sogdian populations they ruled over. Even with the various Iranian huns this pattern occured. so why would the Saka of Khotan be any different?

    Then linguistically it also happens to be quite interesting that the language which seems to have the closest affinities to Khotanese and Thumshuqese is Wakhi, either through a strong relation with, influence from or descent from Khotanese "Saka".
    Last edited by CopperAxe; 03-08-2021 at 10:36 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by CopperAxe View Post
    So I have been thinking about the possibilities that there were pre-Indo-European populations in the Tarim Basin, both hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists and imo the most likely candidates are Central Asian hunter gatherers and their pastoralist, Turanian farmer admixed descendants. Aside from proximity of the region, one major reason is that some of those Shirenzigou have a lot of WSHG-like ancestry, and when you use something like the bronze age samples from Aiyghyrzhal as a reference, you have significant contributions with one sample even having close to 50%.

    A reminder is is that those Shirenzigou samples were from the eastern end of the Dzhungar basin, practically in western Gansu. So the question would be then if that ancestry came by way of Indo-Iranians who had already assimilated such populations as they entered the Tarim Basin through the west, or if it came from Pre-IE populations which lived on the eastern side of the Tian Shan and ventured further.

    And then you also have the Qiemu'erqieke samples which came from the Mongolia-Xingjiang border. They could've have gotten their Turanian farmer ancestry from the more conventional sources on the western side of the Tian Shan, but maybe not. Who knows?

    Concering the topic of the thread, isn't it perhaps possible that some loanwords commonly considered to be 'BMAC loanwords' are rather Central Asian hunter-gatherer/pastoralist loanwords?

    I always found it strange that camels, with a wild range going up to Central Kazakhstan (and perhaps even west of the Urals in the neolithic) were proposed to be a BMAC loanword for example. Personally I think it has an IE etymology but if they loaned it from someone it would be from the native Central Asians if anything.


    Also DMXX since you are well read on these topics, what is the evidence which shows that Khotanese and Thumshuqese were actually the languages of the Saka conquerors in the southern Tarim, and not the languages of the Pamir-like Indo-Iranians who have habitated the Southern Tarim Basin since the LBA/EIA?

    Because to me it seems like a Tocharoi - Tocharian situation. You know the language of a sedentary Tarimian population being named after cool nomad boys.

    We know that Saka migrated here through the Pamirs, and a much of the populations represented in the relevant regions seemed quit Pamir-like based on physical anthropological remains. But how do we know that they imposed their Iranic languages on the larger general population, leading to their 'Saka language' being the common language spoken in places such as Khotan? AFAIK Khotanese texts do not refer to themselves as Saka, we only have a few texts from various sources indicating that Saka lived there. The languages themselves are also only attested 800/1000 years after the Saka migrated into the southern Tarim.

    When we look at similar events, the Yuezhi - Kushan ordeal or the Parni - Parthians, both nomadic entitities ended up being culturally and linguistically assimilated into the other Iranian entities they ruled over. Perhaps a similar thing happened with the elite of the Kangju, assimilated into the Sogdian populations they ruled over. Even with the various Iranian huns this pattern occured. so why would the Saka of Khotan be any different?

    Then linguistically it also happens to be quite interesting that the language which seems to have the closest affinities to Khotanese and Thumshuqese is Wakhi, either through a strong relation with, influence from or descent from Khotanese "Saka".
    Tarim basin Iranics did not call themselves or their languages "Saka". It is a modern assumption because many scholars assumed Saka must be dominant in the Tarim basin, which I very much disagree with. Looking at Pamiri very close to the region like Sarikoli and so we don't see Saka Y-DNA or (significant) autosomal DNA and the Pre-Turkic substrate of Uyghurs looks very Pamiri-like sometimes even more southwestern (could be Islamic era geneflow from the west) so Uyghurs cluster often with Hazara and Uzbeks. Also linguistically Khotanese seems to be closer to Pamiri languages and Pashto than to more Saka-related languages like Ossetian and even Sogdian. Wakhi, Pamiri languages and Pashto all seem to descendants of Iranic groups of the LBA/EIA settling in BMAC regions long before Saka the same is probably true for Khotanese and Thumshuqese

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coldmountains View Post
    Tarim basin Iranics did not call themselves or their languages "Saka". It is a modern assumption because many scholars assumed Saka must be dominant in the Tarim basin, which I very much disagree with. Looking at Pamiri very close to the region like Sarikoli and so we don't see Saka Y-DNA or (significant) autosomal DNA and the Pre-Turkic substrate of Uyghurs looks very Pamiri-like sometimes even more southwestern (could be Islamic era geneflow from the west) so Uyghurs cluster often with Hazara and Uzbeks. Also linguistically Khotanese seems to be closer to Pamiri languages and Pashto than to more Saka-related languages like Ossetian and even Sogdian. Wakhi, Pamiri languages and Pashto all seem to descendants of Iranic groups of the LBA/EIA settling in BMAC regions long before Saka the same is probably true for Khotanese and Thumshuqese
    Where we can definitely speak of a Saka influence is the Ordos Plateau, the Iranian groups in western China, I am also of the opinion that it is more about sedentary Iranians made of bacteria and I hope that at some point we will know more about the early Tocharians , I think that they came from the Afanisevo culture with a WSHG admixture, but unfortunately, as I said before, the mummies in the Tarim basin are certified on R1a M417 and probably Z93 + and I hope for a surprise that some mummies will possibly be positive on R1b Z2103
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