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The Afroasiatic Urheimat is the hypothetical place where speakers of the proto-Afroasiatic language lived in a single linguistic community, or complex of communities, before this original language dispersed geographically and divided into separate distinct languages. This speech area is known as the Urheimat ("original homeland" in German). Afroasiatic languages are today distributed in parts of Africa and Western Asia.

The contemporary Afroasiatic languages are spoken in the Near East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahara/Sahel. The various hypotheses for the Afroasiatic Urheimat are distributed throughout this territory;[2][3][4][5] that is, it is generally assumed that proto-Afroasiatic was spoken in some region where Afroasiatic languages are still spoken today. However, there is argument as to which part of the contemporary Afroasiatic speech area corresponds with the original homeland.

Date of Afroasiatic

The earliest written evidence of an Afroasiatic language is an Ancient Egyptian inscription dated c. 3400 BC (5,400 years ago).[6] Symbols on Gerzean pottery resembling Egyptian hieroglyphs date back to c. 4000 BC, suggesting a still earlier possible date. This gives us a minimum date for the age of Afroasiatic. However, Ancient Egyptian is highly divergent from proto-Afroasiatic (Trombetti 1905: 1–2), and considerable time must have elapsed in between them. Estimates of the date at which the proto-Afroasiatic language was spoken vary widely. They fall within a range between approximately 7,500 BC (9,500 years ago) and approximately 16,000 BC (18,000 years ago). According to Igor M. Diakonoff (1988: 33n), proto-Afroasiatic was spoken c. 10,000 BC. According to Christopher Ehret (2002: 35–36), proto-Afroasiatic was spoken c. 11,000 BC at the latest, and possibly as early as c. 16,000 BC. These dates are older than dates associated with most other protolanguages. Culturally this falls within the period of the Halfan culture which may have been proto-Afroasiatic.

Urheimat hypotheses

Levant theory

Supporters of a non-North or north East African origin for Afroasiatic are particularly common among those with a background in Semitic or Egyptological studies,[2] or amongst archaeological proponents of the "farming/language dispersal hypothesis" according to which major language groups dispersed with early farming technology in the Neolithic.[7][8] The leading linguistic proponent of this idea in recent times is Alexander Militarev. Arguments for and against this position depend upon the contested proposal that farming-related words can be reconstructed in Proto-Afroasiatic, with farming technology being widely thought to have spread from the Levant into North Africa and then the Horn of Africa.

Militarev, who linked proto-Afroasiatic to the Levantine Natufian culture, that preceded the spread of farming technology, believes the language family to be about 10,000 years old. He wrote (Militarev 2002, p. 135) that the "Proto-Afrasian language, on the verge of a split into daughter languages", meaning, in his scenario, into "Cushitic, Omotic, Egyptian, Semitic and Chadic-Berber", "should be roughly dated to the ninth millennium BC". But an Asiatic origin need not be associated exclusively with the migration of agricultural populations: according to linguists, words for dog (an Asian domesticate) reconstruct to Proto-Afroasiatic[2] as well as words for bow and arrow,[9] which according to archaeologists spread rapidly across North Africa once they were introduced from the Near East i.e. Ounan points.[10] A scenario that also fits the linguistic evidence is one in which Afroasiatic languages were introduced into Africa together with advanced hunting techniques before the subsequent introduction of agriculture.

Red Sea/Horn of Africa theory

The Horn of Africa, particularly the area of Ethiopia and Eritrea, has been proposed by some linguists as the origin of the language group because it includes the majority of the diversity of the Afroasiatic language family and has very diverse groups in close geographic proximity, sometimes considered a telltale sign for a linguistic geographic origin. Within this hypothesis there are competing variants.

Red Sea coastNear East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahara/Sahel. The various hypotheses for the Afroasiatic Urheimat are distributed throughout this territory;[2][3][4][5] that is, it is generally assumed that proto-Afroasiatic was spoken in some region where Afroasiatic languages are still spoken today. However, there is argument as to which part of the contemporary Afroasiatic speech area corresponds with the original homeland.

The earliest written evidence of an Afroasiatic language is an Ancient Egyptian inscription dated c. 3400 BC (5,400 years ago).[6] Symbols on Gerzean pottery resembling Egyptian hieroglyphs date back to c. 4000 BC, suggesting a still earlier possible date. This gives us a minimum date for the age of Afroasiatic. However, Ancient Egyptian is highly divergent from proto-Afroasiatic (Trombetti 1905: 1–2), and considerable time must have elapsed in between them. Estimates of the date at which the proto-Afroasiatic language was spoken vary widely. They fall within a range between approximately 7,500 BC (9,500 years ago) and approximately 16,000 BC (18,000 years ago). According to Igor M. Diakonoff (1988: 33n), proto-Afroasiatic was spoken c. 10,000 BC. According to Christopher Ehret (2002: 35–36), proto-Afroasiatic was spoken c. 11,000 BC at the latest, and possibly as early as c. 16,000 BC. These dates are older than dates associated with most other protolanguages. Culturally this falls within the period of the Halfan culture which may have been proto-Afroasiatic.

Urheimat hypotheses

Levant theory

Supporters of a non-North or north East African origin for Afroasiatic are particularly common among those with a background in Semitic or Egyptological studies,[2] or amongst archaeological proponents of the "farming/language dispersal hypothesis" according to which major language groups dispersed with early farming technology in the Neolithic.[7][8] The leading linguistic proponent of this idea in recent times is Alexander Militarev. Arguments for and against this position depend upon the contested proposal that farming-related words can be reconstructed in Proto-Afroasiatic, with farming technology being widely thought to have spread from the Levant into North Africa and then the Horn of Africa.

Militarev, who linked proto-Afroasiatic to the Levantine Natufian culture, that preceded the spread of farming technology, believes the language family to be about 10,000 years old. He wrote (Militarev 2002, p. 135) that the "Proto-Afrasian language, on the verge of a split into daughter languages", meaning, in his scenario, into "Cushitic, Omotic, Egyptian, Semitic and Chadic-Berber", "should be roughly dated to the ninth millennium BC". But an Asiatic origin need not be associated exclusively with the migration of agricultural populations: according to linguists, words for dog (an Asian domesticate) reconstruct to Proto-Afroasiatic[2] as well as words for bow and arrow,[9] which according to archaeologists spread rapidly across North Africa once they were introduced from the Near East i.e. Ounan points.[2] or amongst archaeological proponents of the "farming/language dispersal hypothesis" according to which major language groups dispersed with early farming technology in the Neolithic.[7][8] The leading linguistic proponent of this idea in recent times is Alexander Militarev. Arguments for and against this position depend upon the contested proposal that farming-related words can be reconstructed in Proto-Afroasiatic, with farming technology being widely thought to have spread from the Levant into North Africa and then the Horn of Africa.

Militarev, who linked proto-Afroasiatic to the Levantine Natufian culture, that preceded the spread of farming technology, believes the language family to be about 10,000 years old. He wrote (Militarev 2002, p. 135) that the "Proto-Afrasian language, on the verge of a split into daughter languages", meaning, in his scenario, into "Cushitic, Omotic, Egyptian, Semitic and Chadic-Berber", "should be roughly dated to the ninth millennium BC". But an Asiatic origin need not be associated exclusively with the migration of agricultural populations: accor

Militarev, who linked proto-Afroasiatic to the Levantine Natufian culture, that preceded the spread of farming technology, believes the language family to be about 10,000 years old. He wrote (Militarev 2002, p. 135) that the "Proto-Afrasian language, on the verge of a split into daughter languages", meaning, in his scenario, into "Cushitic, Omotic, Egyptian, Semitic and Chadic-Berber", "should be roughly dated to the ninth millennium BC". But an Asiatic origin need not be associated exclusively with the migration of agricultural populations: according to linguists, words for dog (an Asian domesticate) reconstruct to Proto-Afroasiatic[2] as well as words for bow and arrow,[9] which according to archaeologists spread rapidly across North Africa once they were introduced from the Near East i.e. Ounan points.[10] A scenario that also fits the linguistic evidence is one in which Afroasiatic languages were introduced into Africa together with advanced hunting techniques before the subsequent introduction of agriculture.

The Horn of Africa, particularly the area of Ethiopia and Eritrea, has been proposed by some linguists as the origin of the language group because it includes the majority of the diversity of the Afroasiatic language family and has very diverse groups in close geographic proximity, sometimes considered a telltale sign for a linguistic geographic origin. Within this hypothesis there are competing variants.

Red Sea coast

Christopher Ehret has proposed

Christopher Ehret has proposed the western Red Sea coast from Eritrea to southeastern Egypt. While Ehret disputes Militarev's proposal that Proto-Afroasiatic shows signs of a common farming lexicon, he suggests that early Afroasiatic languages were involved in the even earlier development of intensive food collection in the areas of Ethiopia and Sudan. In other words, he proposes an even older age for Afroasiatic than Militarev, at least 15,000 years old and possibly older, and believes farming lexicon can only be reconstructed for branches of Afroasiatic.[11][12][13][14] But, the appearance of linguistic terms such as dog, bow, and arrow[15] in Proto-Afroasiatic makes a date earlier than 9,500 BC (coinciding with the end of the Younger Dryas) highly unlikely since dogs only appear at the earliest in the archaeological record after 12,000 BC in the Near East,[16] and arrowheads only appear after 9,500 BC in Africa[10] as a result of introduction from the Near East.[10] At Lake Turkana microlithic arrowheads appear in southern Africa (71,000 BP) and the Aterian culture (30,000 BP) suggesting that arrowheads may have been an invention originating in Africa and taken into the Near East by a pre-Afroasiatic late glacial migration. At the site of Nataruk in Turkana County, Kenya, obsidian bladelets found embedded in a skull and within the thoracic cavity of another skeleton, may suggest the use of stone-tipped arrows as weapons.[17] After the end of the last glacial period, use of the bow seems to have spread to every inhabited continent, including the New World, except for Australia.[18] However, these finds predate by far any proposed date for the evolution of Afroasiatic.

In the next phase, unlike many other authors Ehret proposed an initial split between northern, southern and Omotic. The northern group includes Semitic, Egyptian and In the next phase, unlike many other authors Ehret proposed an initial split between northern, southern and Omotic. The northern group includes Semitic, Egyptian and Berber (agreeing with others such as Diakonoff). He proposed that Chadic stems from Berber (some other authors group it with southern Afroasiatic languages such as Cushitic ones).

Roger Blench has proposed Southwestern Ethiopia, in or around the Omo Valley. Compared to Militarev and Ehret he proposed a relatively young time-depth of approximately 7,500 years. Like Ehret he accepts that Omotic is Afroasiatic and sees the split of northern languages from Omotic as an important early development, but he did not group Egyptian or Chadic with any of these.

North Africa theory