2017-11-07 - Anatolian cereals

A survey on Anatolian early farming,
by Giampaolo Tardivo

In this brief, some analytical data on the early civilization in Anatolia and its farming development, also its expansion on neighbouring places. How cereals and their lexical denomination bound together a very wide area.

Keywords: Pre-Greek, Hurrian, North Caucasian, Hattic, Anatolia, Anatolian, Caucasus, farming, cereals

Egyptian pyramids and Sumerian ziggurat still are in our mind since then. Both places (Egypt and Mesopotamia) are considered the pillars of civilization. No one dare to diminish their relevance as part of human development. Beside those two geographical areas, another place has drawn thr attention of scientists: Anatolia. 

Anatolian civilizations could be more ancient and no less developed than their Egyptian and Mesopotamian counterpart. There are all the prerequisite elements to start with, and historically speaking, several substrata languages that deserve our attention. Unfortunately, written record is so scanty, that is why a lot of elaboration needed. However, there is no reason to be afraid of. There are a lots of good reasons to look at the Anatolian plateau, especially when GRAIN – and CEREALS in general – domestication had its birthplace. 

Lexically, cereal cultivation is a key factor, nevertheless, it explains how close languages could be. Such perspective is evident in Sagona & Zimansky:

Some of the latest ideas on the Neolithic have responded to the question of whether language moved with the first farmers. This is an issue that has engaged not just archæologists, but linguists and geneticists too. With regard to Anatolia and Europe it specifically concerns the matter of whether the Indo-European family languages spread with the first farmers. Despite some earlier strident views, there appear no consensus.1

The main problem is “what language early farmers spoke at the time”, and it is a very crucial point. After the decipherment of Hittite, scholars were focused on Indo-European family whilst other ænigmatic question appear on their eyes. Further, it not less relevant that, as Cook wrote: 

In particular, it can provide crucial evidence as to whether a given plant or animal was domesticated once and once only, or at variety of times and places One case where genetics establishes a unique domestication as a variety of wheat known as einkorn. Domesticated einkorn was already being cultivated in what is now southeastern Turkey in the ninth millennium B.C. A comparison of the DNA of numerous lines of domesticated and wild einkorn is monophyletic – in other words, that all lines of the domesticated form go back to a common ancestor that sets them apart from the wild forms. This is enough to establish that einkorn was domesticated only once. The second thing shown by the genetic study of einkorn is that the domesticated form is closest to the wild lines found in a specific region to the west of the city of Diyarbakir. This gives us a bonus: we now have a good idea where einkorn was domesticated. Barley is a similar case. Here too it turns out that domesticated barley is monophyletic (though the analysis is complicated by the tendency of cultivated barley to cross with local wild forms). And here again identifying the closest form of wild barley helps to locate the domestication, though less precisely – this time in the region of Palestine. […] In wild wheat and barley a process of “shattering” causes the seeds to fall to the ground as they ripen, thus impeding effective harvesting by humans. In domesticated forms, by contrast, mutation in one or two genes are enough to solve the problem to mutual satisfaction. […] It was through being clever that humans adapted to those plants and animals with which they struck up relationship: it is clever to harvest grain, clever to dig storage pits, clever to sow seed at the right time of the year, and so forth.2

It is not a coincidence that southeast Anatolia correspond to Hurrian settlements, or at least, to Hurrian area. It is crystal clear now, an investigation on Hurrian lexical item could promote a legacy between two sides of Anatolia region: the Ægean sea and Caucasus mountains.

In Hurrian language there was a word with an unspecific meaning: gangaduḫḫi ‘nom d’une préparation culinaire / a kind of food’, and the first element to spot in is the ending in -uḫḫi [adjectif dérivatif de kangadi], like:

ašte ‘woman’,
aštuḫḫi ‘feminine, female’

The first step is to split up kangadi < * kan-gadi < * kan(V)-gadi. From this perspective, the second element (* -gadi-) appear more clear, simply because kade ‘grain’ is already attested. Further, dgate-e-na [PLUR., KUB XLV 47 III 8] is ‘attribute de Nikkal / Nikkal’s attribute’.

Such form is pretty common both in time and space, it probably is the same of Hattic kait [gait] ‘Getreide / corn, grain, cereals’, and in this case, two aspects would be considered:

  1. Palatalized consonant [kjat], or 
  2. A very archaic form. 
Nevertheless, a well preserved form is seen all around Anatolia region, starting from northern Caucasian languages, as shown in the scheme:

Lezgian & Tabasarangad (gatu, gata, gatar)corn
Agulk’et’ear of corn
Tsakhurkate / k’et’ulybread with fillings
Lezgian: “OBL. base *k:[ɨ]ta- (cf. Tsakhur gɨte). 3rd class in Tsakhur, but 4th class in Rutul. In Agul there occurred an assimilation in glottalisation. Vocalism is not quite clear.”.

On the other side of the Anatolian peninsula, specifically in the Ægean area, a couple of words shows striking relationship, like ἀγαθίς, -ίδες · σησαμίς, γατειλαί · οὐλαί. Even from synchronic analysis, it is correct to address ἀ- > Ø-. Despite some botanic differences between (οὐλαί) ‘barley’ and (σησαμίς) ‘sesame’, both them could be grouped as ‘grain (in ὐ general)’. This is strong indication that cereal cultivation spread out from specific area, and then it stretched from Caspian to Ægean sea. About Crete, according to Saro Wallace:

 “Cereals (predominantly barley, emmer, and einkorn) appear at a number of Late Bronze age sites, indicating common use in the diet, Bread wheat (Tritticum æstivum), despite its long history in Crete, appears more rarely – including in a pure deposit from Late Minoan II Knossos – suggesting it was a specialised crop for which particular zones of land were set apart […]. It would have demanded more nutrients from the soil than some of the other cereals in use: the practice of crop rotation might have helped to get the best out of land supporting” 3 .

From the beginning, cereals played an important role, starting with the famous ‘harvester vase’; and then in Mythology with (Attic) Δημήτηρ, (Doric) Δαμάτηρ and her annual festival (Eleusinian mysteries), and a lots more. For a phonological analyses, there are no substantial variation within consonants:

voiced: g, d
voiceless plosive: k’, t’
voiceless: k, t

Meanwhile vocalic traits underwent to some development: a, e, ə, ɨ, and -e, -a, -u. Such feature led to labialization; and a protoform in *katu is very probable. To complete the explanation of gangaduḫḫi, it is gan(V) that waiting for an agreement. Even in this case, Hattic could be helpful with ḫana [ḫanal, ḫanail, ḫanau] ‘Essen, Speise (?) / food (?)’, unfortunately, with no secure translation. Starostin’s Proto-North-Caucasian reconstruction is unreliable, except for Central languages, as shown in the scheme below:

Chechen keŋ (Uslar) oats
Ingush ken
Tsakhur ginej, gɨnej , gnej bread
Karata ɣane, ɣanol
Andi ʁan
Botlikh ʁani cookie
Chamalal ʁãː

Starostin’s comment on Central group:
Nakh: “5th class in Chechen, 6th class in Ingush. Cf. also Chechen (in the Ingush-Chechen
dictionary) kena (6th class) ‘oats’.”
In Ægean area, a related word appear: ἀχαίνη ‘large loaf, baked by the women at the Thesmophoria’. The Thesmophoria was a festival and part of Eleusinian mysteries in honour of Δημήτηρ. It is not by chance, either in synchronic and diachronic system: 

ἀγαθίς, -ίδες · σησαμίς
γατειλαί · οὐλαί

The initial vowel ἀ -> Ø-, and it is more clear from Hurrian and Caucasian languages (see both schemas). Its use is not known yet, but there is a strong indication for grammatical purpose. Even for -αί- > single vowel, see Beekes 2007 (Pre-Greek. The Pre-Greek loans in Greek [PDF]). As result, all languages and group of languages: 

Hurrian: k (< g) 
Pre-Greek: χ 
Caucasian languages: k, g, ʁ, ɣ [+Velars +plosive / +Uvulars -plosive +fricative] 

Nasal sound remain unchanged, that includes nasalized vowel in Chamalal. Vowel system throughout languages is also unchanged: a, e, ɨ in middle position. It is remarkable how vowel aspect is quite stable in all occasions:

Hurrian gan- -gad- -uḫḫi
Pre-Greek ἀχαίνη ἀγαθ-ίς
Tsakhur ginej, gɨnej , gnej gɨt’y

To  resume:

Rule #1

Pre-Greek: ἀ-, Ø- 
Hurrian: Ø-
Caucasian languages: Ø-

Rule #2

Pre-Greek: -α-, -αι-
Hurrian: -a-, -a
Tsakhur: -i-, - ɨ -

Considering all possible translations, Hurrian gangaduḫḫi shows ‘a kind of food’ made out of Cereals et sim. (oats, (ear of) corn, malt, sesame, barley) or its final process (bread (with fillings), cookie). Another Hurrian word which deserve attention is warini (wa-ri-ni) ‘boulanger / baker’. First of all, the ending in -i-ni was used as NOMINA AGENTIS. A glimpse to some other words: urbarinni ‘butcher’ < urb- ‘to slaughter’ wuú-ta-ri-ni ‘pot-maker’ < wuút- ‘pot’ waa-an-ta-ri-ni ‘cook’ < waantar- ‘to cook’. After this consideration, it is possible that *warV- bear the meaning of ‘bread – or – cereal product’; and it should be not confused with verbal root waa-r- ‘to go (to), to walk’.

In Pre-Greek, according to Beekes:

βάραξ, -κος [m.] a kind of cake (Epil.). βήρηξ (Ath.; H. also βήραξ); πάραξ (Test.Epict.); βάρακες · τα προφυράματα τῆς μάζης ‘dough kneaded in advance for a cake’. Ἀττικοί δε βήρηκας · δηλοῖ δε και την τολύπην ‘it also designates the ball-shaped cake’ (H.). Typically Pre-Greek: variation β / π, suffix -ακ-.4

There are good chances here to associate war-ini with βάρ-αξ [*bar- or *war-] et sim. For a systematic combination between product and maker, an analyses in Akhwakh (Daghestanian language, Andi group) reveal that: ĩgʷara bižida ek’ʷa ‘baker’, lit.: ‘bread baking man’; apparently igʷara ‘bread’ could be related to the theme, since labio-velars gʷ > b, d ; but i- becoming problematic for phonological reason, and it is better to abandon this hypothesis. However, the equation ‘baker ← bread [maker]’ still is valid.

Last word does not involve Hurrian or any other Anatolian language. Starting with Beekes introduction:

βασυνίας ‘kind of sacrificial cake’.

from the island of Hecate, near Delos (Semos, 3). Furnée (1972: 245) adduces the variant βασυμνιάτης ‘baker of βασυνίας’, which proves Pre-Greek origin; note the suffix -υν- / -υμν- and the variation it displays.

Something similar it still is in some Daghestanian languages:

Chamalal bóʃuⁿ пирог / pie
Dargwa (Chirag) but͡s’uk’a хлебное изделие сначинкой
bread withfilling
Inkhokvari buʃne
Pre-Greek βασυνίας a sacrificial cake
A further note in Dargwa (Chirag): полукруглое / of semicircular shape.

What is relevant here, the bilabial at the beginning, and then, a labial vowel in middle position might affected the first vowel.


Even with three samples, all aspects are quite clear. Phonological Rules are applied in full, apocope as seen in other occasions, it is regular:

Pre-Greek: ἀ-, Ø-
Hurrian: Ø-, Ø-
Caucasian languages: Ø-, Ø-.
From an historical point of view, some questions may arise:

Pre-Greek Hurrian N. Caucasian languages
Sample n. 1
* * *
Sample n. 2
* *
Sample n. 3
* *

As seen in the scheme, there are some gaps in the word-lists, a lack of progressive continuity in two occasions. This is perfectly conceivable in any linguistic family (see R. Lass in “Historical linguistics and language change”), where preservation or innovation is dictated from external factors; conversely, there is no interruption in time and space with the first sample.

The idea of borrowings, due to languages contact (trading, war, third parties), has no support on the following ground: Alexander the Great's expansion never reached Caucasus, nor there are evidence of contacts between north Caucasian people and Greeks earlier in time; all those Greek words lacking of an etyma. It is difficult to explain βασυνίας ~ bóʃuⁿ by chance similarity, also war-ini ~ βάρ-αξ, when gangaduḫḫi theme bound together all three groups (Pre-Greek, Caucasian, Hurrian).

In this case, it is conceivable to consider Anatolia farming techniques as part of the most advanced civilization at the time, thus, their knowledge let them to expand to other areas, such as Crete and Caucasus, and obviously, lexical denomination still are preserved when and where it was possible. In this way, it is now possible to harmonize different disciplines, like archæology, palæobotanics, mythology, linguistics on the same subject. It is possible now to trace it back their common roots.
Considering grain (einkorn) domestication as crucial element, lexical denominations can not be
separated from.


  1. Sagona, & Zimansky, Ancient Turkey p. 41
  2. Cook pp. 30-33
  3. Saro Wallace, p. 35
  4. Beekes 2014, pp. 94-95


  • Beekes, R. S. P. 2007, Pre-Greek. The Pre-Greek loans in Greek
  • Cook, M., A brief history of the human kind, London 2003.
  • Кибрик, А. Е, & Кодзасов С. В., Сопоставительное изучение Дагестанских языков (Vol. 1. Глагол. Vol. 2. Имя. Фонетика). Москва 1990.
  • Sagona, A. & Zimansky, P., Ancient Turkey, New York 2009.
  • Starostin, S. A. & Nikolaev, S., North Caucasian Etymological dictionary, Moscow 1994.
  • Wallace, S., Ancient Crete, from successful collapse to democracy alternatives, twelfth to fifth centuries BC. Cambridge university press, Cambridge 2010.