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Sunday, September 12, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Blog on Arimaspai and Almases [part 1 and 2]

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/columnist/vergano/2010-06-18-ancient-legends_N.htm

Ancient legends once walked among early humans?

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Wild, hairy, folks who fought griffons and nomads — have paleontologists unearthed mythic figures of folklore?
Siberia's Denisova cave held the pinky bone of an unknown early human species, a genetics team reported in March. The Naturejournal study, led by Johannes Krause of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, offered no answer for what happened to this "archaic" human species, more than one million years old and living near their human and Neanderthal cousins as recently as 30,000 years ago.

But at least one scholar has an intriguing answer: "The discovery of material evidence of a distinct hominin (human) lineage in Central Asia as recently as 30,000 years ago does not come as a surprise to those who have looked at the historical and anecdotal evidence of 'wild people' inhabiting the region," wrote folklorist Michael Heaney of the United Kingdom's Bodleian Library Oxford, in a letter to The Times of London.

Wild people?

Herodotus, the father of historians, wrote about these human cousins, the "Arimaspians," around 450 B.C. They were "strong warriors, good horsemen rich in flocks of cattle and sheep and goats; they are one-eyed, 'shaggy with hairs, the toughest of men'," according to John of Tzetses, a writer of the Byzantine era. They also fought griffons, mythical winged lions with eagle's faces, for gold, according to Herodotus and his contemporary Aristeas, who clearly knew their stuff when it came to spicing up historical writing.

Heaney notes that legends of hairy wild people, or almases, have been standard fare in the Russian steppes for centuries. "The reports of wild men, although having typical mythic overtones, do often reflect what we know of primitive hominins," Heaney says, by e-mail. "The presumed Almases of Central Asia could be any one of a number of pre-(homo) sapien ancestors."

What about their gold-mine-guarding griffon foes? In a 1993 companion piece to a look at the Arismaspians by Heaney, Stanford historianAdrienne Mayor, author of The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times, suggested their legend sprang from dinosaur bones unearthed by nomads in their travels across the steppes of Western Mongolia.

"That region could well be Bayan-Ulgii aimag (province) in western Mongolia and environs, where I have wandered many long days and have seen ancient and contemporary small gold mines," says archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball of the Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, who calls a dinosaur-bone origin for griffon stories reasonable. But as for Arimaspians being the same as the newly-discovered archaic humans, Davis-Kimball has pretty strong doubts.

"We have excavated Bronze Age hunters and gatherers and small villagers along the Eurasian rivers — these were the people that precede the nomads by a 1,000 or maybe even many more years. I've seen lots of skeletons from many locales in my travels from Hungary to Mongolia, but none that correlates with this new hominid line or with the one-eyed Arimaspians," Davis-Kimball says, by e-mail. "It's too difficult for me to believe that hominids living 1,000,000 years ago could be perpetuated in a myth to the time of Herodotus or about 450 BC."

Another explanation came in a 2008 Archaeology Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia journal study by Dima Cheremisin of the Russian Academy of Sciences who looked at the ancient Pazyryk tribe of Siberia, an Iron Age tribe whose burial mounds dot the Altai Mountains. "The mythical griffon is the most popular figure in Pazyryk art, suggesting that the Pazyryk people maybe identified with the 'griffons guarding gold,' mentioned by Aristeas and Herodotus," Cheremisin noted.

And cryptozoologists, who make a study of legendary creatures, have offered similar archaic human explanations in the past for sightings of the Yeti or Bigfoot. Bernard Heuvelmans, the father of modern cryptozoology, theorized in the 1980's that such sightings of the wild people could be based on ancestral memories of Neanderthals.

Of course, it does turn out that people seem to have interbred with Neanderthals, according to a May Science magazine report led by Svante Pääbo, a long-time ancient genome researcher who also was a co-author on the Denisova Cave discovery report. More than 50,000 years ago, most likely in the Near East, intermingling of early modern humans and Neanderthals led to modern-day Europeans and Asians typically having a genome that is 1- 4% Neanderthal, according to the study.

Such interbreeding is another staple of old stories. Hercules, the hero of Greek myths, walked around in a lion skin with a club over his shoulders and was wondrously strong, a bit like a Neanderthal, due to half-divine parentage.

Even the Old Testament contains references to Nephilim, "giants," who married people and had children.

"These stories go back millennia, but they don't go back that far," says biblical archaeologist Robert Cargill of UCLA. "There's no way that the author of the Book of Genesis had in mind Neanderthals." Most likely, ancient people were trying to explain the origin of tall people, Cargil says, and pointing back to a time when things were so bad that even semi-divine creatures were misbehaving.

Of course, it's fun to speculate. After all, researchers in 2003 discovered another human species, Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbits" for their puny stature about three feet tall, who died out perhaps 12,000 years ago in Indonesia.

So we have hobbits, giants, and possibly cyclopean wild men, running around in prehistory. It's not quite The Lord of the Rings, but we can certainly forgive Herodotus for some of his taller tales.


As a mater of fact, I have identified a replica of an Almas skull from Mongolia and it is definitively Neanderthal and of historical-period origin. The presumably "divergent line" is very likely conspecific with the Neanderthals as well, and both other legends and possible relics are of midieval date, only a few thousand years old. There can be no doubt that the Almases were Neanderthals and that they persisted up until the modern period.























(RIGHT) Representation of Mongolian Almas Skull in White Jade (LEFT) La Ferrassie Neanderthal Skull

As to the "Round Eye[socket]s" of the Arimaspians, the representational Almas skull certainly shows that: And the next photo on shows the corresponding socket on the Neanderthal skull

Other Russian experts have suggested that the name "Arimaspai" is derived from "Almas" ("Aramas"+ "Pai", also oddly similar to a Chinese name used for the Almas in the Orient, P'i pronounced "Pei" or Pay")
And "Cyclops" does not mean "One-eyed", it means literally "Round-eyed" and it could be a specific reference to the circular eye-sockets of the Neanderthals in this case. If so, that would be a definite reference to a specific identifying characteristic of the type. [I use the Standard Oxford Greek-English Lexicon, by Liddel and Scott. But that is the standard meaning for "Cyclops" given in most of the dictionaries. The Arimaspai are not the standard Cyclopses of Mythology and there seem to be more than one type. But in this case, that interpretation makes perfect sense.]

Checking Wikipedia and other sources, it seems there is a good deal of confusion about these Arimaspai or Arimaspians, and they were ordinarily depicted in Classical times as ordinary Scythians (Iranians). The name does have a plausible Iranian etymology, BUT there are also vehement denials that these wildmen can be considered as the usual Iranians or ancestors of known tribes. I did find a photo of a Greek vase that illustrated a Gryphon fighting with one of the Arimaspai, but it showed him as an ordinary Greek Satyr.

Geographically, the stories are muddled because several sources specify that they live in the far East (Mongolia and North China most likely) but other sources put them closer to, in the Urals and Caucasus; and some conservative sources place them in Europe, in the Carpathian mountains. I think the best indications are that the stories meant Almases and situated them in Mongolia. One feature is that the Arimaspi stole gold from the Gryphons "to weave it in their hair". Scythians had a lot of gold (mostly as loot, probably) but this would be a separate tradition - they are saying that the Arimaspi were blondes and that their head-hair contrasted with their body-hair. In other words, what Mark Hall and Loren Coleman call Marked Hominids (which are not distinguished from Almases by this trait anyway).

The original reports about Gryphons and Arimaspai or Arimaspians are lost but repeated by Herodotus. The stories went that Gryphons mined gold and jewels and used them to line their nest, and then the Arimaspi stole what they wanted from their nests. Herodotus does NOT give a physical description for the Gryphons.


(RIGHT) Scythian Thunderbird (LEFT) Male Ostrich Displaying (Museum mount)


The tail is held up at the same time and the posture matches the Scythian Bird. The Persian Thunderbird was also a Ostrich, and the Asiatic Thunderbird is described as black with large white (Silvery) plumes in its wings, a valuable trade iterm. Chinese do have preserved ostrich eggs with recent characters painted on them. Griffins were known for striking with their feet (Talons) and so the attribution that griffins were based on Ceratopsian dinosaurs is likely to be erroneous. However, their location in Mongolia seems beyond dispute.

I have some pretty good reasons for thinking that the creatures called Gryphons in this particular story were Ostriches. For one thing we have representations of them in Scythia (see above) and China, as well as stories about them from Iranian sources. Ostriches may have survived in parts of India, the Near East and around Mongolia up until the 1800s: representations of them in Chinese art are labelled as "dragon birds". It is sometimes said dragon birds lay eggs that are geodes and it is also true that the geodes can contain gems. Ostriches are known to sometimes mistake round stones (such as geodes) for their own eggs and roll them into their nesting areas; ostriches have communal ground nests. If early miners found that ostrich nests might contain geodes and the geodes could contain precious gemstones, then they definitely would be regularly checking ostrich nests for the stones regularly.

However, the original attribution of the nest-raiding to Arimaspians would have been for another reason - they would be stealing the eggs. At a time when ostriches were more abundant and other game more sparse, raiding ostrich eggs could have been a major source for the Almases to get protein (and water in desert conditions).

The sources that place the legend in the Carpathians identify the Gryphons of the legend to a local mythical "Hen" that gathers gold ore and stones into its nest, which is possibly a local variant of the same legend but then the "Hen" would not have been a native animal either. That would indicate the story had been imported from the East as well.
The Herodotus map (left) shows the Arimaspians (Almas) situated in the area where modern maps show Mongolia, in which case his Hyperboreans were more likely arctic peoples like the Asiatic Inua (Eskimos, and the Siberian naives that are most like them).

The Mirror of Medicine illustrations are from Heuvelmans's book Le Homme Neanderthal Est Toujours Vivant. These illustrations are reprinted in various sources and the captions do not always agree in detail. Sanderson also has them as plates in Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life, where he identifies them as illustrating the Sasquatch type. Myra Shackley's book Still Living identifies them as (left) the 18th century edition printed in Pekin and then another edition printed a century later in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, of a book most commonly known as Mirror of Medicine. The two pictures mean to show a Mongolian Almas, and included in the book for the reason that certain body parts were believed to have medicinal value. The different editions label the illustration in Tibetan, Chinese and Mongolian; the older uses the names Samdja, Bitchun, and Kumchin Gorgosu (respectively) and the later edition uses the names Osodrashin, Peeyi (Pe'i) and Zerleg Khoon (respectively)--all names meaning "Wildman"


The name "Bi-Tchun" of the first edition might be related to the Pe'i (Peeyi) of the second and it is the term used as the Chinese equivalent. The name Almas is not used but that is undoubtedly the creature that is being described. And the older version of the illustration is cruder but many authors thought it was more likely to be more authentic. The later version of the illustration impressed Myra Shackley as having Neanderthal-like features.

5 comments:

Chris Clark said...

I have doubts about this. As far as the Herodotus map can be taken seriously, the Arimaspians seem to be in the Southern Urals near the Kazakhstan border rather than in Mongolia. Certainly gold has been found in the Urals. A further reference to Arimaspians in Herodotus puts then in Northern Europe, along with the griffins that they steal the gold from.
If the almas are surviving Neanderthals they seem to have regressed a long way. Descriptions of Neanderthals present an evolved creature capable of using fire, making clothes, spears and stone tools, living in social groups and hunting large animals. They may even have had language. None of this sounds like the descriptions of the naked and solitary almas, without fire or any except the most primitive tools.

Dale Drinnon said...

I DO hope that all got though: I always have such troubleposting comments because the blog does not automatically accept my password and I have to resubmit it repeatedly.

Dale Drinnon said...

Thank you for your comment: I recognise your objections as coming from Jerome Clark's UNEXPLAINED, a copy of which I own.

You are going the common route of quoting opinions as if they are substantiated facts. These things that you speak of are not written in stone but they are matters of opinion.

As far as the map goes, it shows a vague conception which does not correspond to an acual geographical reality. There is an east-to-west mountain range assumed to exist North of Greece and the Ukraine which would take in the Urals but would also extend much further to the eastward. In that event, it could well also encompass Mongolia: The locations which you mention (the Ural Mountains and Kazakhistan) also have Almas reports and they also refer to the creatures by that name. The other theorists speaking about Griffins (in particular) tend to focus on Mongolia and there is an ongoing assumption that these Griffins are based on fossils of Protoceratops. There is a confuision of different creatures in the tradition, but I do not personally insist that fossil dinosaurs need be involved at all.

As to your objections, they are pretty much meaningless in the face of the exactly NEANDERTHALOID anatomical traits expressed in the carved-jade skull and in the artwork in question. There ARE no other fossil hominids that have a skull of that type and with eye sockets of that type. homo erectus browridges are not like that but go straight across the face.

As regards the objections that "Neanderthals are not supposed to be that way", we are talking in theoretical terms. Not all Neanderthals are going to be on the same cultural level and persecuted outcasts living in the desert are not going to exhibit the best of the material culture the Almas might be capable of. Furthermore, the traditions and reports are not scierntific observations, they are prejudicial and tend to cast them in the most primitive light possible.

Ivan Sanderson's Appendix in Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life interprets the name Almas to mean "Can kill stock animals" and indeed Herodotus reports them as living off of herds of sheep and horses. They would have been stock-raiders to have got THAt part of the story in there, but they have largely given it up in more recent times because they have learned they can't get away with it.

In Siberia, related names such as Abassy are used and these terms are used for the Chuchunaa as well. Chuchuunaa know fire, have a primitive language and use spears and hide clothes. There is no reason to say that Almases do NOT have the capacity for such things: rather the reverse. BUT they could be described as living in an economically depressed area. The situation is similar to saying a homeless person's lack of an automobile means that they could not be of the same species as automobile-driving humans.

There was a much longer post which has become deleted.I referred to THAt part when I said "I DO Hope this gets through": As a matter of fact, it did NOT.

Unfortunately I am not in charge of this blog, Jon Downes is. Therefore I neither see the comments on the blog nor do I approve them: similarly, I have no idea whether my OWN comments get through until I check back again.
The current blog in question is part of a continuing series. The next part must wait until Jon comes back this wekend to be published on Sunday, much as I'd like to have it added before then.

This now marks my SIXTH attempt to post this material to this blog.

Dale Drinnon said...

Thank you for your comment: I recognise your objections as coming from Jerome Clark's UNEXPLAINED, a copy of which I own.

You are going the common route of quoting opinions as if they are substantiated facts. These things that you speak of are not written in stone but they are matters of opinion.

As far as the map goes, it shows a vague conception which does not correspond to an acual geographical reality. There is an east-to-west mountain range assumed to exist North of Greece and the Ukraine which would take in the Urals but would also extend much further to the eastward. In that event, it could well also encompass Mongolia: The locations which you mention (the Ural Mountains and Kazakhistan) also have Almas reports and they also refer to the creatures by that name. The other theorists speaking about Griffins (in particular) tend to focus on Mongolia and there is an ongoing assumption that these Griffins are based on fossils of Protoceratops. There is a confuision of different creatures in the tradition, but I do not personally insist that fossil dinosaurs need be involved at all.

As to your objections, they are pretty much meaningless in the face of the exactly NEANDERTHALOID anatomical traits expressed in the carved-jade skull and in the artwork in question. There ARE no other fossil hominids that have a skull of that type and with eye sockets of that type. homo erectus browridges are not like that but go straight across the face.

As regards the objections that "Neanderthals are not supposed to be that way", we are talking in theoretical terms. Not all Neanderthals are going to be on the same cultural level and persecuted outcasts living in the desert are not going to exhibit the best of the material culture the Almas might be capable of. Furthermore, the traditions and reports are not scierntific observations, they are prejudicial and tend to cast them in the most primitive light possible.

Ivan Sanderson's Appendix in Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come to Life interprets the name Almas to mean "Can kill stock animals" and indeed Herodotus reports them as living off of herds of sheep and horses. They would have been stock-raiders to have got THAt part of the story in there, but they have largely given it up in more recent times because they have learned they can't get away with it.

In Siberia, related names such as Abassy are used and these terms are used for the Chuchunaa as well. Chuchuunaa know fire, have a primitive language and use spears and hide clothes. There is no reason to say that Almases do NOT have the capacity for such things: rather the reverse. BUT they could be described as living in an economically depressed area. The situation is similar to saying a homeless person's lack of an automobile means that they could not be of the same species as automobile-driving humans.

There was a much longer post which has become deleted.I referred to THAt part when I said "I DO Hope this gets through": As a matter of fact, it did NOT.

Unfortunately I am not in charge of this blog, Jon Downes is. Therefore I neither see the comments on the blog nor do I approve them: similarly, I have no idea whether my OWN comments get through until I check back again.
The current blog in question is part of a continuing series. The next part must wait until Jon comes back this wekend to be published on Sunday, much as I'd like to have it added before then.

Typhon said...

I really like your theory, however I have trouble seeing the connection between gryphons and ostriches. The part with the geodes is a very nice and the Chinese eggs too, but gryphons are usually depicted preying upon horses (at least by the Scythians and I think Herodotus mentions that too). Therefore I would suppose a carnivorous animal. Furthermore they seem to strike from above in most depictions which implies being capable of flight. However, quoting Flavius Philostratus straight from Wikipedia: "[...]and in size and strength they resemble lions, but having this advantage over them that they have wings, they will attack them, and they get the better of elephants and of dragons. But they have no great power of flying, not more than have birds of short flight; for they are not winged as is proper with birds, but the palms of their feet are webbed with red membranes, such that they are able to revolve them, and make a flight and fight in the air; and the tiger alone is beyond their powers of attack, because in swiftness it rivals the winds." and from the same source Sir Thomas Mandeville: "[..]Some men say that they have the body upward as an eagle and beneath as a lion; and truly they say sooth, that they be of that shape. But one griffin hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions, of such lions as be on this half, and more great and stronger than an hundred eagles such as we have amongst us. For one griffin there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, if he may find him at the point, or two oxen yoked together as they go at the plough. For he hath his talons so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were horns of great oxen or of bugles or of kine, so that men make cups of them to drink of. And of their ribs and of the pens of their wings, men make bows, full strong, to shoot with arrows and quarrels." Doesnt sound like an Ostrich to me. Utterly possible that they mixed things up between whatever was the gryphon and the ostriches that used to be there. Also gryphons seem to nest high above on mountaincliffs. Guessing that they are the same animal as the Egyptian Axex and Seref I have to wonder why none of the depictions vaguely looks like an ostrich.
Furthermore medieval lore states they wouldnt mate with an Opinicus but with mares. And legend has it that Alexander the Great was A) attacked by them and B) kept 2 as pets. No idea what to make of that.