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The Hypothesis Concerning The European Origin Of The Aryans


Source: Teutonic Mythology

In the year 1854 was heard for the first time a voice of doubt. The
sceptic was an English ethnologist, by name Latham, who had spent many
years in Russia studying the natives of that country. Latham was
unwilling to admit that a single one of the many reasons given for the
Asiatic origin of our family of languages was conclusive, or that the
accumulative weight of all the reasons given amounted to real evidence.
He urged that they who at the outset had treated this question had lost
sight of the rules of logic, and that in explaining a fact it is a
mistake to assume too many premises. The great fact which presents
itself and which is to be explained is this: There are Aryans in Europe
and there are Aryans in Asia. The major part of Aryans are in Europe,
and here the original language has split itself into the greatest number
of idioms. From the main Aryan trunk in Europe only two branches extend
into Asia. The northern branch is a new creation, consisting of Russian
colonisation from Europe; the southern branch, that is, the
Iranian-Hindooic, is, on the other hand, prehistoric, but was still
growing in the dawn of history, and the branch was then growing from
West to East, from Indus toward Ganges. When historical facts to the
contrary are wanting, then the root of a great family of languages
should naturally be looked for in the ground which supports the trunk
and is shaded by the crown, and not underneath the ends of the
farthest-reaching branches. The mass of Mongolians dwell in Eastern
Asia, and for this very reason Asia is accepted as the original home of
the Mongolian race. The great mass of Aryans live in Europe, and have
lived there as far back as history sheds a ray of light. Why, then, not
apply to the Aryans and to Europe the same conclusions as hold good in
the case of the Mongolians and Asia? And why not apply to ethnology the
same principles as are admitted unchallenged in regard to the geography
of plants and animals? Do we not in botany and zoology seek the original
home and centre of a species where it shows the greatest vitality, the
greatest power of multiplying and producing varieties? These questions,
asked by Latham, remained for some time unanswered, but finally they led
to a more careful examination of the soundness of the reasons given for
the Asiatic hypothesis.

The gist of Latham's protest is, that the question was decided in favour
of Asia without an examination of the other possibility, and that in
such an examination, if it were undertaken, it would appear at the very
outset that the other possibility, that is, the European origin of the
Aryans--is more plausible, at least from the standpoint of methodology.

This objection on the part of an English scholar did not even produce an
echo for many years, and it seemed to be looked upon simply as a
manifestation of that fondness for eccentricity which we are wont to
ascribe to his nationality. He repeated his protest in 1862, but it
still took five years before it appeared to have made any impression. In
1867, the celebrated linguist Whitney came out, not to defend Latham's
theory that Europe is the cradle of the Aryan race, but simply to clear
away the widely spread error that the science of languages had
demonstrated the Asiatic origin of the Aryans. As already indicated, it
was especially Adolphe Pictet who had given the first impetus to this
illusion in his great work Origines indo-europeennes. Already, before
Whitney, the Germans Weber and Kuhn had, without attacking the Asiatic
hypothesis, shown that the most of Pictet's arguments failed to prove
that for which they were intended. Whitney now came and refuted them all
without exception, and at the same time he attacked the assumption made
by Rhode, and until that time universally accepted, that a record of an
Aryan emigration from the highlands of Central Asia was to be found in
that chapter of Avesta which speaks of the sixteen lands created by
Ormuzd for the good of man, but which Ahriman destroyed by sixteen
different plagues. Avesta does not with a single word indicate that the
first of these lands which Ahriman destroyed with snow and frost is to
be regarded as the original home of the Iranians, or that they ever in
the past emigrated from any of them. The assumption that a migration
record of historical value conceals itself within this geographical
mythological sketch is a mere conjecture, and yet it was made the very
basis of the hypothesis so confidently built upon for years about
Central Asia as the starting-point of the Aryans.

The following year, 1868, a prominent German linguist--Mr. Benfey--came
forward and definitely took Latham's side. He remarked at the outset
that hitherto geological investigations had found the oldest traces of
human existence in the soil of Europe, and that, so long as this is the
case, there is no scientific fact which can admit the assumption that
the present European stock has immigrated from Asia after the quaternary
period. The mother-tongues of many of the dialects which from time
immemorial have been spoken in Europe may just as well have originated
on this continent as the mother-tongues of the Mongolian dialects now
spoken in Eastern Asia have originated where the descendants now dwell.
That the Aryan mother-tongue originated in Europe, not in Asia, Benfey
found probably on the following grounds: In Asia, lions are found even
at the present time as far to the north as ancient Assyria, and the
tigers make depredations over the highlands of Western Iran, even to the
coasts of the Caspian Sea. These great beasts of prey are known and
named even among Asiatic people who dwell north of their habitats. If,
therefore, the ancient Aryans had lived in a country visited by these
animals, or if they had been their neighbours, they certainly would have
had names for them; but we find that the Aryan Hindoos call the lion by
a word not formed from an Aryan root, and that the Aryan Greeks borrowed
the word lion (lis, leon) from a Semitic language. (There is,
however, division of opinion on this point.) Moreover, the Aryan
languages have borrowed the word camel, by which the chief beast of
burden in Asia is called. The home of this animal is Baktria, or
precisely that part of Central Asia in the vicinity of which an effort
has been made to locate the cradle of the Aryan tongue. Benfey thinks
the ancient Aryan country has been situated in Europe, north of the
Black Sea, between the mouth of the Danube and the Caspian Sea.

Since the presentation of this argument, several defenders of the
European hypothesis have come forward, among them Geiger, Cuno, Friedr.
Mueller, Spiegel, Poesche, and more recently Schrader and Penka.
Schrader's work, Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte, contains an
excellent general review of the history of the question, original
contributions to its solution, and a critical but cautious opinion in
regard to its present position. In France, too, the European hypothesis
has found many adherents. Geiger found, indeed, that the cradle of the
Aryan race was to be looked for much farther to the west than Benfey and
others had supposed. His hypothesis, based on the evidence furnished by
the geography of plants, places the ancient Aryan land in Germany. The
cautious Schrader, who dislikes to deal with conjectures, regards the
question as undecided, but he weighs the arguments presented by the
various sides, and reaches the conclusion that those in favour of the
European origin of the Aryans are the stronger, but that they are not
conclusive. Schrader himself, through his linguistic and historical
investigations, has been led to believe that the Aryans, while they
still were one people, belonged to the stone age, and had not yet become
acquainted with the use of metals.

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