Savage Genesis: The Missing Page
Stan Hall
Stan Hall, 2011

pp. 320

The late Stan Hall, a Scottish engineer, was a non-mainstream historian and in particular a supporter of the claims of Juan Moricz about a ‘golden library’ allegedly discovered in caves (difficult of access) in Ecuador; he started from the endorsement of these claims by Erich von Däniken. Hall, who claimed that in general he accepted only evidence which he had viewed in person, was sufficiently impressed by Moricz’s account of his ‘discoveries’ to embrace this material unseen, and wrote books on the topic (Tayos Gold, etc.). Indeed, he regarded Moricz’s ‘library’ as the ‘missing page’ which validated and unified his own theories involving major-planet catastrophes in relatively recent times (which, he believes, resolve the creationism-evolution debate) and his ‘hyper-diffusionist’ accounts of early human civilisations (seen as sharing many cultural and mythical features and thus as having a single, determinable common source, centred in South America and yet again identified as Plato’s ‘Atlantis’). This, his last book, discusses these theories, as they are informed by Moricz’s ideas.

A major component of Hall’s work is his historical linguistics (including epigraphics, the study of scripts). The main modern language of interest to Hall, regarded by him indeed as ancestral to humanity, is Hungarian. Hungarian is one of the ‘favourite’ languages of fringe historical linguists because of its uncertain ‘genetic’ provenance and the ensuing air of ‘mystery’ which has come to surround it. It appears dauntingly unfamiliar to speakers of Indo-European languages such as English, and few non-specialists are willing to grapple with the relevant claims. Like some earlier writers of this kind, Hall regards Hungarian as closely associated with the ancient languages of Mesopotamia, Akkadian and Sumerian, and as implicated along with these languages in world-wide transoceanic cultural diffusion. He apparently conflates these two unrelated Mesopotamian languages into one, perhaps because they were written using the same script. Sumerian is another language favoured by many hyper-diffusionists, because it is the oldest known human language (writing may indeed have been first invented in Sumeria) and because it is ‘genetically’ isolated: it has no known relatives, which is hardly surprising given its early date and the fact that it was later abandoned in favour of Akkadian and other languages and left no ‘offspring’.

Hall supports his view of Sumerian-Hungarian as an ancient cultural and linguistic nexus chiefly through lists of words allegedly shared by the two languages. Indeed, he applies this approach on a broad front, taking up similar hyper-diffusionist proposals by earlier non-mainstream writers and, on his own account, identifying further links between superficially and unsystematically similar words found in many languages – some of them, such as ‘Indo-Sumerian Catti’, invented by himself – around the world. By ‘unsystematically’ I mean that the correspondences between sounds proposed by Hall are often inconsistent; for example, on p. 94 he equates ‘New World Catti’ [h] with ‘British Catti’ [h], [hw] [g], [k] etc., as it suits him in each pair of roughly synonymous (reconstructed) words, and without any explanation of this variation (thus, NWC [h] corresponds with BC [k] in the word for ‘great fathers’, with [h] in ‘house’, etc.) As is usual in this tradition of work, Hall goes on to deduce that the relevant languages, some actually attested (but apparently unrelated) and some invented, were in fact historically connected, and that their users experienced influential contact in early historic times. The book is replete with such claims and arguments, many of them featuring Hungarian words.

However, superficial and/or unsystematic similarities between words and/or word-parts taken from different languages, especially short ones, are in themselves no evidence of a genuine connection – even if their meanings are also similar. Very few authors of this kind are aware of this consideration, but this is because they wilfully fail to consult linguists; some of them, indeed, appear altogether unaware of linguistics as a discipline. Although otherwise quite widely-read, Hall himself fails in just these respects. If he hoped to interest people with the relevant knowledge in his linguistic ideas, he should have learned the basics of the subject; and then, if he still held to his views, he should have attempted to show either a) that his own equations are in fact systematic (that is, that most of the apparent inconsistencies as exemplified above can be explained away) or b) that the conventional standards of evidence, in particular the requirement for systematicity, should be loosened so as to render his equations at least arguable. (But any such major loosening of the standards of evidence for the common origins of words would have the consequence that very many alternative philological-cum-etymological proposals, including Hall’s, would be roughly equally plausible. In that event, the reasonable conclusion would probably be that we could not say much at all about philology or ancient etymologies with any confidence. Linguists would regard this conclusion as a last resort and as not warranted by the actual evidence.)

Although this methodological/theoretical problem looms largest on the linguistic front, much the same point can be made about Hall’s equations of cultural traits and mythical motifs. And indeed it applies again in respect of his stance on scripts; for instance, on p. 97 he links superficially similar characters from Cretan ‘Linear A’, the Indus Valley Script and Easter Island Rongo-Rongo, none of which have been authoritatively deciphered (thus the meanings and/or the pronunciations of these characters are simply not known!). Hall also includes an appendix (pp. 314-317) consisting of a paper by R. Cedric Leonard in which further such equations are proposed, also involving the ‘script’ found on tablets at the Glozel site in France. This material is generally considered to have been forged in the 1920s or at least produced in relatively recent times, but it is treated here as demonstrably genuine and 12,000 years old.

In sum: there is no reason to accept Hall’s view that Sumerian and/or Hungarian were important source-languages for early cultural diffusion, or indeed any other major linguistic or epigraphic aspect of his theories.