Book review: Indus Age- the Writing System by GregoryL.Possehl.

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sun May 2 20:04:33 UTC 1999

Bo Klintberg wrote:

> Here are just some quick points I would like to make in response to your
> last response. I thank you for being very explicit about your account.
> On Sat, 1 May 1999, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:
> > 1. Indo-Europeans migrated. Such migrations are historically recorded since the first
> > millenium BCE. I see no reasons why they shouldn't have migrated before that. It is
> > the only reasonable explanation for the extensive spread of Indo-European languages,
> > and probably also for some archaeological data as well.
> Let us play with the thought that it is proven that Indo-Europeans
> migrated. That statement does not, of course, necessarily mean that ALL
> Indo-Europeans migrated; just that SOME did.

I never said that ALL Indo-Europeans migrated. If I were to be more precise, the only
logical consequence of supposing a "homeland" is that, seen over a period of several
thousand years, MOST  Indo-European peoples have been involved in migration one way or the
other. But most INDIVIDUAL Indo-Europeans have not migrated.

> Also, I think your claim
> about an alleged migration before the recorded one is a really bad
> argument: If X did action A at time T, then it is much more likely that
> X did action A* at time T-1, than he did not do it all. I don't say that
> you could not argue for an earlier migration; I just want you to
> present very good reasons for it--which you haven't, so far.

If I may put this in slightly humerous language: we can observe, that as soon as the Light
of History hits Eurasia, tribes and armies crisscross the continent almost with the
regularity of inter-city trains. Now, you seem to assume that as soon as the Light of
History is turned off, everybodys sits down and eats his agricultural oatmeal porrige and
doesn't budge until the Light of History is turned on again. However, migrations can be
predicated on a number of factors: climatic changes, problems with soil quality,
overpopulation, war etc. all of which could easily happen at any time during prehistory, and
which archaeology sometimes seem to indicate have really happened. Therefore, assuming
migrations during prehistory on the basis of what we can observe in historical times is not
such a bad idea. I will not concede that you have weakened my argument.

> > 2. The earliest migrations were by people without a writing system. Which means that
> > they had an oral history. Which means that "history" very quickly got absorbed by myth
> > (see e.g. Eliade, Myth of the Eternal Return, or Cosmos and History".). However, we
> > sometimes see a need for a "history" (as in Rome, where Virgil produced an epic on the
> > basis of imaginary history). In such cases, origins were regarded as important and
> > "histories" were produced.
> The problem here, I believe, is that you are not evaluating different
> sources differently. ... My point is that the characteristics of a person
> determine the credibility of the testimony; therefore one should take into
> consideration the personal characteristics of the person giving the
> testimony. The testimony of a drunk on the street in New York City
> (who heard a story from his even more drunk friend from down the street,
> who saw it with his own eyes) should therefore be evaluated differently
> than that of a self-realized sage in the Himalayas (who heard a story from
> another self-realized sage in the Himalayas, who saw it with his own
> eyes).

Hm. I would say that this argument has an inherent weakness: Much depends upon what the
drunks are saying. If we assume that your New York drunk has been talking to a rather tipsy
Einstein who claims that energy equalsh the shpeed of light multi-ti-plied by massh in the
shecond po-potency, then your drunk is absolutely correct. And what about a self-realized
sage claiming that the moon wanes because it is being swallowed by Rahu? Does he really know
what he's talking about? Of course, I agree that some witnesses are more reliable than
others, but in my book, men of religion do not rank highly on the reliability scale. On a
number of occasions, I would prefer a drunk New Yorker to a sober man of the cloth.

> >3. What you choose to regard as important is a matter of personal taste.
> >My point was simply that the non-mention of migrations in the Veda
> >doesn't prove anything. It is an argument ex nihilo.
> Yes, that's exactly my point, it doesn't prove ANYTHING--neither one of
> the possibilities. Therefore, you can't draw any conclusions from that
> fact alone, just as I cannot draw any conclusions from it--either one is
> possible.

Ah, but you can draw some conclusions. You can draw the conclusion that the absence of a
piece of information PROVES nothing because it opens up the possibility of at least two
answers to the problem. And you would be surprised to see how often this is forgotten in
scholarly debates.


Lars Martin Fosse

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