22 Şubat 2011 Salı

Luwians: the first inhabitants of western Anatolia and possibly the Aegean region

Türkçesi Luviler. Batı Anadolu'nun ve muhtemelen Ege Denizi bölgesinin ilk sakinleri

The Hellenes were certainly neither the first Anatolians nor the first group in the region. Even when one limits the issue with the coast of western Anatolia, we know that the place they came to and settled down later was not empty. In fact, the discourse of Anatolians versus Hellenes owes its existence to this information. We also have an idea, to a certain extent, about how to name these groups that were in this region right before the Greeks. They go by the name Luwians.    

It seems that the Luwians had settled in this land, region, before the Greeks did. Of course, one needs to ask which Hellenes these were. Are we talking here about only the Ionians, Dorians and Aeolians or are we going as far back as the first Greeks, those who we today call Mycenaeans but they appear as Ahhiyawans, Argives, Achaeans and Danaois in history? However, in both cases, one comes across the Indo-European speaking groups as one of the oldest groups in this area; and the Luwians are not alone, either. The Anatolian branch to which they belonged has other branches named Palaic and Hittitian. The Palaians were in the northwestern section of Anatolia, close to the Black Sea, a region called Paphlagonia, whereas the Hittites were in Central Anatolia.

We do not know what languages were being spoken in Anatolia before the Luwians and their other linguistic relatives and in which language family this pre-Indo-European stratum should be considered. In fact, since the Anatolian is the first branch of the Indo-European language family separated from it, it may be difficult to place the Anatolian languages that preceded this sub-family within one of today’s widespread language families. However, we know this: there have been people living in this land since the Paleolithic.

 Since various dates are given for the arrival time of the Luwians, usually between 3000s and 2000s (and there are also those who see a connection between these groups, the Indo-Europeans, and the site of Demircihöyük in northwestern Turkey) and since the beginning of the Neolithic in Anatolia goes back much further than this, it is not difficult to say there were others in Anatolia, but it is difficult to say what languages these ‘others’ living here were speaking. For example, we know that there were Hattians, those who gave their name to the Hittites, and according to an argument still debated, they spoke a language placed by today’s researchers within the language family of Caucasus, the same family that includes the present day Circassian languages. Since it is an older language family (according to some, though there are those who disagree), this argument seems plausible; but then there might have been some other language or languages that did not leave any trace and therefore we do not know anything about them. To sum it up, since we do not have much to go on with, reaching definite conclusions does not seem possible, at least for now.
Restricting ourselves with the region of western Anatolia for now, yes, we do see the Luwians in this area before the arrival of Greeks. However, before losing ourselves in more details, we need to explain what we mean by the term western Anatolia, how we define it, and whether or not this term is sufficient by itself to help create an historical discourse that makes sense. If we define western Anatolia in terms of how it is understood today, we may be distorting, whether intentionally or not, the past of this particular region right from the beginning. We either need to discard the concept of western Anatolia and find another one more comprehensive for our purpose, such as the Aegean region, or we will handle this geographical area, the Western Anatolia, with its natural extension, that is, the Aegean Sea. We cannot apply today’s political borders and ethnic geography to the past; this would lead to the historical distortion mentioned above. Therefore, one needs to take up the history of the Western Anatolia with its natural extension that obviously politically and culturally existed at that time, namely, the Aegean Sea and its opposite coast, the Greek mainland. For, regardless of how we may approach this subject, a mutually formed world, a net of relations, connections, is obviously the case during this period. 

Now, if we return to our original subject, before the first Greeks, the groups speaking Luwian languages had already settled down in at least along the western section of the Aegean region and possibly the Greek mainland as well. It is possible that there were groups who spoke different languages, but the historical sources do not say anything about them. In fact, the same sources are very much silent with regard to the Luwians, too. Therefore, beyond a certain point, the past of this region is without ethnic identities. Nevertheless, there is an important civilization in this region during this time, even though we have no information on the language they spoke: the civilization we today call the Minoans.    

The issue of from where the Minoans came to Crete, a Greek island to the south of the Aegean Sea, has not been resolved yet. But at least according to a recent genetic study done on Crete (Differential Y-chromosome Anatolian Influences on the Greek and Cretan Neolithic), whereas the samples coming from the neolithic sites of the Greek mainland show genetic affinity with the Balkans, the Cretan ones show affinity with the Central and Mediterranean regions of Anatolia. Moreover, again according to this study, one observes a similar separation in the case of the bread wheat as well. While one sees Triticum aestivum in the Neolithic Anatolia, Crete and Southern Italia, the same is not the case in the Neolithic mainland Greece.     

The Minoans were one of the politically and perhaps culturally dominant groups of the Aegean region until the Greeks. The civilization they founded was definitely this region’s single most conspicuous civilization during the 3rd and 2nd millennia. If there was anything in the western Anatolia section (for example such as Troya), these were not as radiant as the Minoan civilization.

It is very difficult to determine the ethnic geography of this period without sufficient resources. We may approach the issue as ‘those are from us, the others are from them or those are Greek descendants, and these are Anatolian’, but not without serious methodological problems. Although we tend to extend the ethnic identities with which we define ourselves today back thousands of years in the process of building them on certain biological connections that we consider correct, the ethnic identities or origin discourses are always formed in such a way as to make sense in their own times. If we want to get to the true ethnic picture of this period or if we ever get lucky enough one day to get to such a picture, we will most probably come across a much more complex and different sight than our presently too simplified version.

The term Luwian actually refers to a language or rather a sub-branch, one that extended from Greece all the way to nearly Syria; perhaps a Luwian linguistic region would be an apt term for this area. This of course does not mean that everyone in this region spoke the same language or rather the dialect; nor should we assume that they all considered themselves in the same ethnic group. Furthermore, if we accept that the Luwian speakers spread out to the Aegean sea and even mainland Greece and Crete, then it would not be right to see them as the original Anatolians, either. In fact, I believe, inventing a discourse of Anatolians that will cover this period as well and extending this historical construction, which rather reflects today’s wishes and demands, to the past, is, judging from the present findings, absurd as well as wrong. Nevertheless, the Luwian speaking groups (and those Palaic- and Hittite-speaking groups from the same language family, too) are the oldest groups we know of from this region. There are of course those who came before them, whether or not they spoke Indo-European languages, but we can only talk about insofar as the material remains they left behind and this presents a situation even more ambiguous than that we encounter in the case of the Luwian speaking groups.           

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