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Is there a relationship between these folks and the start of civilization? Mehrdad Izady suggests that they started civilization via establishing the agricultural production. How can this be possible, the Kurdish area is within a severely mountainous geography? And why they couldn't have any important impact in history like Greeks or Persians?

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    Connecting present day nations with 10 000 years old ancestors is highly questionable and unscientific, and greatly motivated by politics.
    – Greg
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 3:35

4 Answers 4

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It is certainly true that many of the foundations for later civilisations, like the development of agriculture, the development of writing, and even an invention of the wheel, can be traced to The Fertile Crescent.

It is likely that many of the ancestors of modern Kurds came from the the Fertile Crescent. It is quite possible that "The land of Karda", mentioned on a Sumerian clay-tablet from the 3rd millennium BC is the earliest reference to a "Land of the Kurds". If so, the Kurds might have originated from an area to the south of Lake Van. However, we must remember that the development of agriculture was perhaps some 5000 years before the development of writing. Any suggested link between a possible Sumerian mention of a "Land of the Kurds" and the people that invented agriculture 5000 years before is tenuous at best.

So we can reasonably say that the ancestors of modern Kurds came from an area within the Fertile Crescent, although - based on recent DNA analysis - we can probably say the same for many of the ancestors of peoples from Europe, North Africa and a large part of Asia. We can also say that many of the foundations of civilisation were developed in the Fertile Crescent. But it would be going too far to claim that any one of the groups of people in that region "started civilisation".

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    It is likely that many of the ancestors of people from Spain and Morocco to India came from the fertile crescent. And place names may not be much use either: modern Hungarians bear relatively little relationship to the Huns.
    – Henry
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 8:13
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    @Henry Actually, I'd go further, and say that - based on recent DNA analysis - many of the ancestors of people from Europe, North Africa and a large part of Asia came from the Fertile Crescent. However, given the scale of the migrations involved, I wouldn't be prepared to associate the development of agriculture with any modern group. Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 10:18
  • @Henry As for the origins of the Kurds, there are no shortage of current ideas, and little consensus. As far as I'm aware, the earliest suggested linguistic link to "Kurds" as a distinct people is the Sumerian tablet I mentioned, but even that is 5000 years after the earliest farmers. Some of those people may have been descendants of those early farmers, but at present we just don't have enough information to say with any certainty. Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 10:27
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That seems highly unlikely.

The invention of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent was roughly 10,000 years ago, principally in the Tigris-Euphrates river valley system. The people living there when the historical record opened spoke a language unrelated to any modern language.

Kurdish is an Indo-European language, of the Western Iranian branch. About 5,500 years ago all of these languages would have been a single language spoken by a single ancestral people (who we call Proto-Indo-Europeans, or PIE). Our best guess is that they were living north of the Black and Caspian seas, on the Steppe. It is quite likely these are the people that domesticated the Horse.

The Iranian branch split off when a group of PIEs moved into Persia, likely from west of the Caspian. This happened about 4000 years ago.

enter image description here

So no, there aren't really any reasonable (standard) interpretations of history that would credit Kurds with Agriculture in general. Its possible their ancestors could be credited with domesticating the Horse, but no more so than the ancestors of the English and Indians can (same ancestors).

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  • How do we know that unrelated language is unrelated to any of the current languages? Thank you T.E.D. .
    – matlabcrz
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 20:15
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    @matlabcrz - They were literate, so linguists have lots of examples of it to work from. There's no real mystery about it. It it quite unrelated to Indo-European. Its speakers eventually all got assimilated into local Semitic languages, particularly Akkadian.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 20:24
  • @matlabcrz - Hmmm, yes I see I didn't supply a lot of linked material for that section. Corrected.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 22:11
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    The ur-farmers predate Sumerian literacy by several thousand years, so I don't think you can make the case that they spoke Sumerian. The argument that they probably did not speak Kurdish still holds.
    – chepner
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 23:00
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    @chepner - I'll give you about 80% of that. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, its reasonable to assume the Sumerians were the original residents in that river valley to implement farming (we don't have any better candidates). However, plant domestication was developed slowly in the region over thousands of years, and that includes areas outside the river valley, whose residents probably weren't Sumerian (but certainly weren't Indo-European either. Likely some were Afroasiatics). I did sort of hand-wave that away.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 0:51
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https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaf7943

DNA from ancient skeletons suggests farming was invented multiple times in the Fertile Crescent (Zagros Region / Zagros Neolithics)

Scientists have discovered an ancient population of farmers from the eastern part of the Fertile Crescent, and their existence is a strong sign that agriculture was invented more than once, a new study says.

Bones and teeth from four human skeletons clearly show that these people were eating domesticated crops at least 9,000 years ago. But their DNA reveals that none of them is an ancestor to the Aegeans, who are considered Europe’s first farmers.

Of the four skeletons, the most well-preserved bones belonged to a man who was found in Wezmeh Cave in western Iran’s Zagros region. Carbon-dating techniques suggest he lived about 9,100 to 9,500 years ago, and an analysis of the collagen in his bones showed he ate quite a lot of cultivated grains and relatively little meat.

The other three skeletons were found at a site in western Iran known as Tepe Abdul Hosein. One of the individuals, a woman, had cavities and missing teeth — signs that her diet included carbohydrates, which were likely raised as crops.

These three skeletons were about 10,000 years old, and their DNA was more degraded than the DNA from the man in Wezmeh Cave. Still, the researchers were able to tell that all four had “very similar genomic signatures.” Together, they referred to this newly discovered group as “Zagros Neolithics”.

After arising between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, farming spread northwest from Mesopotamia into Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and then into Europe, southern Asia, the Arabian peninsula and north Africa.

(As an aside, the researchers also noted that the man from Wezmeh Cave had less Neanderthal ancestry than most non-Africans alive today.)

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    – justCal
    Commented Jan 13 at 1:56
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Regarding the language, its wrong to say sumerian is kurdish, its the other way around, the modern day kurdish (especially Gorani) is the language that the sumerian/hurrian spoke, thats what ancient linguist say based on the work Mr. Soran Hamarash has done in his book “the lost and untold history of the kurds”.

Kurds are not Iranian/Iranic People!

https://www.scirp.org/pdf/aa20120200003_79323951.pdf

Kurds are traditionally regarded as Iranians and of Iranian origin, and therefore as Indo-Europeans, mainly, because they speak Iranian. This hypothesis is largely based on linguistic considerations and was predominantly developed by linguists. In contrast to such believes, newest DNA-research of advanced Human Anthropology indicates, that in earliest traceable origins, forefathers of Kurds were obviously descendants of indigenous (first) Neolithic Northern Fertile Crescent aborigines, geographically mainly from outside and northwest of what is Iran of today in Near East and Eurasia. Oldest ancestral forefathers of Kurds were millennia later linguistically Iranianized in several waves by militarily organized elites of (R1a1) immigrants from Central Asia. These new findings lead to the understanding, that neither were aborigine Northern Fertile Crescent Eurasian Kurds and ancient Old-Iranian speaker (R1a1) immigrants from Asia one and the same people, nor represent the later, R1a1 dominated migrating early Old-Iranian-speaker elites from Asia, oldest traceable ancestors of Kurds. Rather, constitute both historically completely different populations and layers of Kurdish forefathers, each with own distinct genetic, ethnical, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. These new insights indicate first interdisciplinary findings in cooperation with two international leading experts in their disciplines, Iranologist Gernot L. Windfuhr, Ann Arbor, and DNA Genealogist Anatole A. Klyosov, Boston, USA.

Newest available inter-disciplinary data of Palaeo/Archaeo- Genetics, DNA-Genealogy, Archaeology, Historical Terminology, Linguistics and Science of History, presented in this inter-disciplinary analysis provide strong indications that both ethnic forefathers of Kurds as well as ancestors of linguistic speakers of the “Kurdish Complex” have existed in their ancestral Eurasian homeland already B.C.E. Valuable historic pieces of information were contributed by findings both of Palaeo/ Archaeo-Genetics and DNA-Genealogy. By that, it was above all possible to outline a traditional aborigine ancestral habitat of Kurds (speakers of the “Kurdish Complex”) geographically for the main parts located in a wider Eurasian Northwest, largely outside and northwest of Iran of today. Ethno-genetically, it could be shown, that Kurds derived obviously out of a broader, pre-IE multi-cultural substratum of the Near East and Eurasia, and were in early ancient layers predominantly shaped by first Neolithic Northern Fertile Crescent farmer and shepherd aborigines

References for the very historic existence of Kurds and speakers of the “Kurdish Complex” B.C.E, could also been evidenced linguistically, most notably by leading Iranologist Gernot Windfuhr.

Ergative in Sumerian and Gorani

Sumerian origin theories along ancient roots of ergativity are illustrated here in some detail, because they are directly correlated to developments of ergativity in Old Iranian, and therefore, provide also valuable insights into ancient roots of Kurdish. The evolution of ergativity in (Old) Iranian is illustrated authoritatively by leading Iranologist Gernot Windfuhr in the first German version “Die Herkunft der Kurden” of the author (Hennerbichler, 2010: pp. 199-208), and recently in the revised new English edition (Hennerbichler, 2011: p. 375). Therein, Windfuhr describes the ergative as “trans-indoiranian”. All Iranian languages went through an ergative phase, and had at one time phases of “full” ergativity, he notes. The origin of ergativity he assumes in areas of the Bactrian-Margian Archaeological Complex (BMAC) in south Central Asia. From there, ergativity diverged in different regional forms (of Iranian). “Tense-split ergative constructions in (some) past tense forms” were developed only in later times, Windfuhr explains. Much earlier, the imperfect was formed from the present tense stem (and remained in the nominative-accusative). There are only two Iranian languages, which until today did not carry out the step to tensesplit ergative constructions: Gorani (“Kurdish Complex”) in Eurasia and (“Neo-Scythian”) Yaghnobi in Central-Asia, Windfuhr explains. Both (Gorani and Yaghnobi), “independent developments”, though, would show common ancient linguistic roots within a northern (Old) Iranian language continuum. DNA Genealogist Anatole Klyosov agrees: available genetic data confirm common R1a1 ancestors for both, speakers of the “Kurdish Complex” and Yaghnobi (Hennerbichler, 2011: p. 371).

Discussion: If ergative constructions from the present tensestem are historically older than those from past tenses (tense-split), there are several possibilities for an explanation: a) that the imperfect from the present tense stem in (Iranian) Gorani (“Kurdish Complex”) is historically older than the split-ergative in Sumerian; but then, there is no evidence for an (Old) Iranian Gorani at the same time of an early ancient Sumerian; b) therefore, it seems more likely that this is so in (Old) Iranian, and that the linguistic tradition in Iranian, forming the imperfect from the present tense stem like in Gorani (“Kurdish Complex”), could have originated somewhere else. Meaning, in this case, it couldn’t say anything directly about the development of split-ergativity in Sumerian. And, last but not least, such ancient forms of ergativity in Gorani and Yaghnobi, seem to confirm (again) indications for a Northern origin of Old Iranian speaker immigrants into Kurdistan, and not from the South or South-West, which would be crucial for a proper understanding of the evolvement of Kurdish. Multi-Linguistic Kurdish Ancestors in linguistic terms, timespan calculations for two major immigration waves of R1a1 elites from Asia via areas of South Russia southwards via Armenia, to Anatolia, 2240-1140 B.C., and in minor parts into NW Iran of today, 2200/2000-1600 B.C., as calculated by Anatole Klyosov, as well as the second, principal move of R1a1 to North-Western Iran from the Iranian Plateau around 800-700-600 B.C., seem to support findings of linguists, who are describing different processes of “Indo-Eu-ropeanizations”, and independently from each other. full picture is, however, far from clear. applies in particular for traces of linguistic Indo-European elements in West-Asia, ca. 2240-1140 B.C.

One of the leading experts in this field, the late renowned Austrian Indo-Europeanist Manfred Mayrhofer (1926- 2011), documented numerous pieces of evidence of an “Indo-Aryan in Old West-Asia” (“Indo-Arisch im Alten Vorderasien”) [“Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Altindoarischen”, Heidel- berg, 1992-1996]. Interestingly, earlier in 1965, Mayrhofer dismissed in one cited crucial term, the anthroponym mZa-a-lu-d/ ti-iš (Zāludi or Zayaludi), assumed Indo-European elements as “implausible” (without further elaboration). Zalud/tiš is mentioned in the so called “Zukraši Text”, a 17th century B.C. Hittite text, attributed to Hattusilis I (1650-1620 B.C.), as leader of the Ummān-manda and Hurrian troops. While there is still no consensus on the term mZa-a-lu-d/ti-iš, the obvious correlation to migrating militarily organized Ummān-manda elites from far away, and a nearly identical timeframe for the presence of R1a1 in the area, encouraged Anatole Klyosov to offer a new IE based explanation identifying Zalud/tiš as commander of “from far away people”: Klyosov suggests: “Zaludi: meaning in Russian: ‘Beyond people’, = geographically: It is “far away, beyond where people live”. “Za” means beyond, “ludi” people. It must have an IE origin” (source: Hennerbichler, 2011: p. 348). Klyosov noticed that this is, of course, can be a plain coincidence. That is to say, and taken at this point as an interim result, linguistic research continues to leave the possibility of “Indo-Europeanization” processes on (Hurrian-) Mitanni soil during the 2nd millennium B.C. open, and unanswered, but there is (still) no (undisputed) evidence to prove it one way or the other. Whereas, there seems to exist largely consensus on oldest cuneiform documented sources for earliest verifiable influences of immigrating (R1a1) Old Iranian speakers on an indigenous, local population in areas of NW Iran of today, including Kurds (Parsua 843 B.C., Media 834 B.C., Scythians 8/7th ce. B.C., and the later Par-su-aš 691 B.C., but representing obviously a distinct independent development in the South-West, and unrelated to origins of Kurds). Out of available data Gernot Windfuhr draws the following conclusion for earliest traces of an (Old) Iranian Kurdish: “The first stages of the language of Iranianized Kurds could go back to the pre-Median or pre-Achaemenid periods” (Hennerbichler, 2011: p. 383). To go further back in history, Windfuhr assumes a Proto-IE also for Kurds (speakers of the “Kurdish Complex”): “All Iranian-speakers of today including the Kurds south of the BMAC (Bactrian-Margian Archaeological Complex) must have spoken non-Iranian languages at one time” (Hennerbichler, 2011: p. 313). To round up available historic evidence: In the 21st century B.C. central Zagros areas of Kurdistan were attested in cuneiform sources as multilingual (“many-tongued”, see ETCSL c.1.8.2.3). Consecutive, from ca. 1000 until ca. 600 B.C. “Kurdistan” was dominated by Hurro-Urartian (terms), as Ran Zadok, leading Mesopotamian cuneiform expert of the University of Tel Aviv, Israel, documented in an authoritative study (“The ethno-linguistic character of northwestern Iran and Kurdistan in the neo-Assyrian period”, Old City of Jaffa 2002). Further more, Gernot Windfuhr detected contact features both with a Northern Old- Iranian language continuum and preserved rare ancient forms of ergative making (Hurrian-Urartian), and, finally, an apparently frequent “language shift” over time in Kurdistan, to name but the most striking linguistic features. Therefore, in course of history, forefathers of ethnic Kurds spoke apparently several languages, starting with an assumed Proto-IE, followed by a longstanding multilingual tradition, attested since the 21st century B.C., then by a dominating Hurro-Urartian (terminology), since the 9th century B.C. showing oldest influences of immigrating Old Iranian speakers on indigenous forefathers of Kurds from NW Iran (of today), and finally, frequently shiftet language(s), that is to say, they managed to switch from one (ancient) language to another. All in all, confirming that speakers of the “Kurdish Complex” spoke indeed forms of an ancient languages B.C. like Old Iranian, and as a result, could have existed already B.C.

KRD (KURRD): Mesopotamian Terminology

Even more complicated than traces for ancient Kurdish (languages), are various (waxing and waning) term labels to describe and understand, with whom Mesopotamians denoted mountain people of multi-ethno-cultural background in the far North and North-East. While, on the one hand, this inter-disci- plinary study backs up observations elsewhere, that it seems not convincing to try to prove the existence of whole ancient people(s) using exclusively cuneiform Mesopotamian terminology, because for the most part Mesopotamians did not have such a consistent understanding of foreign neighbours at all. A few examples, to underpin that Mesopotamian labels like Guti, Cimmerians or Medes did not denote single people: Guti

Marc Van De Mieroop: “Thus the term Gutian has no value as indication of a specific people and merely suggests people from the Zagros. In the first millennium Gutium could be used as a geographical designator to refer to all or part of the Zagros region north of Elam, interchangeably with other terms” (Gutians, in EIr-online)

It is indeed possible to document a long- standing tradition and sustainable continuity over at least ca. 1700 years (2200-600 B.C.), in which Mesopotamian scribes showed a fairly common (although heavy politically influenced waxing and waning) understanding of neighbours from differ- ent ethnic, linguistic and cultural background in the far North and North-East as inhabitants of the mountains (mountain populations/people, mountaineers), and that Mesopotamians used a good number of different terms (umbrella labels) to characterize them. Best known are half a dozen. Out of them, only one terminological compound umbrella label did stand the test of time and survived over millennia until today: assumed Sumerian based kur-stem terms (cuneiform KRD) for inhabi- tants of mountain (land). They show a direct correlation to forefathers of Kurds in the sense that they are geographically cumulative firm attested in ancient ancestral heartlands of sub- stratum J and immigrant R1A1 ancestors of Kurds in (Northern Fertile Crescent areas of) Eurasia. In most cases they characterise vaguely several mountain populations of undefined ethnical background, respectively coalitions of them, and point only in a few like the “kur-ti” in the far North (rather vaguely) to a kind of related (mountain nomad) tribal structures. Main reasons for the survival of kur-stem terms are: they were based and embedded in a fairly long tradition and continuity of an otherwise inconsistent cuneiform Mesopotamian terminology, long before Greek and Roman authors messed them up further, made it in documented cuneiform sources to sort of a mass popularity, were easy to understand and pick up, even by the majority of people, who could not read and write, were neutral in their massage, and distinct in identifying foreign neighbours in mountains (hilly areas) of the far North and North-East. Where as similar terms, possibly based on Akkadian “quardu” for warlike (mountain) people like “karda”, did not prevail, because they were pejorative burdened and used to degrade mountain populations in the far North and North-East as uncivilized, since they were not urban organized like lowland Mesopotamians. Interestingly, this xenophobian terminological practice, to label mountain nomads in contrast to urbanite law/ hilly-land Mesopotamians as uncivilised, changed during the 1st half of the last millennium B.C.E. significantly, when militarily organized Old Iranian immigrants in “Media” in NW Iran of today were called “from far away people” and their leaders accepted on a more equal footing as “city lords”. In sharp contrast, were mountain coalitions in the same region since the 22nd century B.C. marked down under the compound label “Guti” as “apelike creatures with canine instinct (feelings)” (c.f. e.g. “The cursing of Agade”, ETCSL c.2.1.5, lines 151-158).

Suggesting, that Kurd for mountaineers could stem indeed from Sumerian based compound kur-stem (KRD) label terms. Cuneiform sources evidence for that:

Kur-Stem Terms Prevailing

Most popular land/mountain label ca. 3000-1000 B.C. are substantially and authoritative documented by “The Pennsyl- vania Sumerian Dictionary Project (ePSD)” (online: http://psd.museum.upenn.edu).

The listed terms in overview: Šubartu, Šadû, KI, kalam, mada, Ummān-manda, kur, kurti, karda.

Details: KI is statistically in EPSD with 32,279 instances most farreaching used, peak 2500-2000 B.C. with 29,607, and 2000-1500 B.C. with 2433; kur (>kur-ti) ca. 3000-1000 B.C. with 2494, peak 2000-1500 B.C. with 1231; mada: mainly 2500-1500 B.C. with 1441, peak 2500 B.C. with 1122; kalam: 3000-1500 B.C. with 704 instances, peak 2000-1500 B.C. with 609; further [no statistics published in EPSD for]: Ummān- manda (ca. 2100-700/500 B.C.) 51 sources (SF Aladi 2009), and S[Š]ubir/S[Š]ubar[t]u[m] as well as “Šadû” (Akkadian equivalent for Sumerian “kur”). Indications: KI for land depended as affix attachment on terms, and therefore, was not suitable as sustaining term itself; mada: was most popular used during Ur III period. As label for mountain land/people was mada over time increasingly marginalised by “kur”-stem terms and mainly applied for Umland/Hinterland/Province (people). Since the 1st half of the 1st millennium B.C. Mesopotamians characterised inhabitants of “Media” vaguely as (multi-ethno-cultural) Hinterland-people in far away terrain in the North-East (Northwest Iran of today). S[Š]ubir/S[Š]ubar[t]u[m] and “Šadû” never achieved mass popularity among Mesopotamian scribes and were not established as dominating terms for mountain people/land. Ummān-manda did denote militarily organized elites from far away people but not in particular of special mountain areas.

Conclusion

Newest available inter-disciplinary data of Palaeo/Archaeo-Genetics, DNA-Genealogy, Archaeology, Historical Terminology, Linguistics and Science of History, presented in this inter-disciplinary analysis provide strong indications that both ethnic forefathers of Kurds as well as ancestors of linguistic speakers of the “Kurdish Complex” have existed in their ancestral Eurasian homeland already B.C.E. Valuable historic pieces of information were contributed by findings both of Palaeo/ Archaeo-Genetics and DNA-Genealogy. By that, it was above all possible to outline a traditional aborigine ancestral habitat of Kurds (speakers of the “Kurdish Complex”) geographically for the main parts located in a wider Eurasian Northwest, largely outside and northwest of Iran of today. Ethno-genetically, it could be shown, that Kurds derived obviously out of a broader, pre-IE multi-cultural substratum of the Near East and Eurasia, and were in early ancient layers predominantly shaped by first Neolithic Northern Fertile Crescent farmer and shepherd aborigines. References for the very historic existence of Kurds and speakers of the “Kurdish Com- plex” B.C.E, could also been evidenced linguistically, most notably by leading Iranologist Gernot Windfuhr, who presented

Closure

“Kurd” seems to derive from the assumed Sumerian originated word stem “kur”, first recorded millennia back B.C.E., meaning [kur = mountain/land] > “inhabitants of the mountains” or casually mountaineers (“Bergler”). The umbrella compound expression “kur”-comprises also a variety of terms, some sound similar like “kurti”, in a wider sense “karda” too, others completely different like G/K/Quti, Lullubi, Arrapha, Urbilum, Zamua, Mehri or Ba- banhi, and in addition et aliae translated into Greek and Roman like Kárdakes, Carduchi, or Cyrtii (Cyrtioi). Which illustrates as well, that not all Kurds (speakers of the “Kurdish Complex”) share this family name (compound term label), but obviously most of them call themselves “Kurd” and identify with a com- mon homeland “Kurdistan” (land of Kurds).

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