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Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

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Sketch on the Development of Merchandise in Eastern Europe at Prehistoric Times


Historical evidence, which would allow to judge state of the inter-tribal trade in the prehistoric times, are extremely scanty, but archaeological finds, among which there are objects obtained or manufactured in distant places, show that in Europe, as well as in Asia as early as the late Neolithic and Bronze Age exchange trade was already quite widespread and represented one of the aspects of the development of human civilization. The topic of the connection between trade and civilization has a great theoretical interest and many works of specialists are devoted to it. At the same time, the understanding of the nature of trade changes substantially in proportion to receivivg new historical evidences about it. The range of issues that arise when considering the connection between trade and civilization is very wide. Among them are: How do the institutions of trade relate to political power? Is trade a prerequisite for the making of stable political structures, or vice versa? What is the relation between trade and a predatory economy and, furthermore, between trade and war? Under what circumstances could trade networks promote the dissemination of religion, art, and ideology? etc. (KRISTIANSEN KRISTIAN, 2018: 1-3). Such questions are very important for understanding the patterns of the development of human civilization, but unequivocal answers to them cannot be obtained if the ethnic component of the trade processes is ignored.

Trade routes have evolved from prehistoric paths that served as a means of transmitting information about technological and cultural experience between distant human groups and were not intended to trade relations (KVĚT R., 1998: 43). Trade was the result of such contacts, when people realized that the exchange of experience can bring material profits. Those people who were the first to realize this, were the first traders combining production and trading activities. Over time, some of them developed in a class of professional merchants, who were already searching for and creating new ways between individual human groups.

The first exchange goods were products of mineral and rock formations, which are passed from hand to hand at ranges in the hundreds and even thousands of kilometers, as raw materials could not be found everywhere. The most common were flint and obsidian tools and weapons, to a lesser extent were products of quartzite, diorite, jade. Minerals with decorative qualities, such as lapis lazuli, malachite, agate, carnelian were used for jewelry. Without interest, that women's jewelry was one of the oldest exchange commodities. This primarily refers to the attractive and shining shells, which have been used by women of those times for neck jewelery. The shells, which could be found only on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, got into quite a large number to people of Central Europe still 30 thousands years ago (KRÄMER Walter, 1971, 46). The shells were used even as means of payment in some places.

Not only archaeological findings, but the study of the vocabulary of the peoples, places settlements which we know from the research, can be of great help in the coverage of this topic, and the last is dedicated to making this essay. However, we take as the starting point of this essay reliable evidences of ancient, primarily by Herodotus:


These are the extremities in Asia and in Libya; but as to the extremities of Europe towards the West, I am not able to speak with certainty: for neither do I accept the tale that there is a river called in Barbarian tongue Eridanos, flowing into the sea which lies towards the North Wind, whence it is said that amber comes; nor do I know of the real existence of Κασσιτερίδας, "Tin Islands" ( from which tin comes to us: for first the name Eridanos itself declares that it is Hellenic and that it does not belong to a Barbarian speech, but was invented by some poet; and secondly I am not able to hear from any one who has been an eye-witness, though I took pains to discover this, that there is a sea on the other side of Europe. However that may be, tin and amber certainly come to us from the extremity of Europe. (HERODOTUS. III, 115)


What is this river Eridanus not clear so far, but Cassideridas – this is obvious, the British Isles, where in those days deposits of tin were discovered and guided its development for export. Trafficking of this metal needed for the production of bronze, was engaged by Phoenician sailors, and they concealed the true location of these islands. Also, you can think of, traders of amber concealed location of the country where were large deposits of this fossilized resin of coniferous trees. However, the Greek navigator Pytheas, who visited the Jutland peninsula in 325 BC, argued there was amber so much that the locals use it as fuel instead of wood. At the same time it is well known that most of them are located on the coast of the Baltic Sea and, therefore, at least one of the ways of amber trading had to be in Eastern Europe. It is believed that it started east of the mouth of the Vistula, and then followed this river to the Upper Oder, crossing the Moravian gate between the Sudeten and Carpathian Mountains, overlooking the Hungarian Plain (Great Plain) and further along the Danube reached Greece (KRÄMER WALTER, 1979, 185-186). However, the nearer way was over the Vistula and on the Western Bug, or San, and then on the Dniester to the Black Sea.


Left: Map of finds of amber and tin deposits in Europe, as well as trade ways of these commodities


The map was compiled by Johannes Richter (Backnang, Germany ) (Joannes Richter.)
Legend :
Red dotted marks (large): Amber finding locations according to M. Ganzelewski und R. Slotta. 1997. Bernstein-Tränen der Götter
Red dotted marks (small): Amber finding locations according to Christa Stahl. 2006. Mitteleuropäische Bernsteinfunde von der Frühbronze-bis zur Frühlatenezeit.
White dotted marks according to Zinnvorkommen
White lines: Tin routes according to Joannes Richter. 2006. Der Brenner & Tuisc Codex.
Black lines: Historical amber routes according to Christa Stahl. 2006.
Red lines: Additional amber routes according to Joannes Richter. 2006.


In the Days of Yore intertribal merchandise has been evolved as a consequence of the availability of excessive production of a certain type at different groups of people and the lack of or insufficient amount of other types of products, the need for which has been pressing. Changing of redundant things to lacking ones is a natural action among people of the same community, and this practice has been applied in relations between different ethnic groups, even if among them there was a certain lack of confidence. In such circumstances, the so-called "silent trade" was developed when customers leave their goods at a particular place and went to a safe distance, then buyers came up for them and left instead the goods in an amount equivalent, to their opinion, for the obtained ones. Abuse of trust entailed a break "trade intercourse", in what nobody was interested. The presence of certain goods in certain places and its absence in others, as well as geographical conditions led to the emergence of trade routes, but not yet to the emergence of a class of people who were engaged in merchandise professionally, but it is gradually gaining new forms and heavily promoted cultural exchange:


Of course, the goods were transferred to such long distances not by individual merchants, they were passed in the exchange from hand to hand, from village to village, from country to country. However, the exchange trade itself resulted, at least, to the contacts with the neighboring regions, and thus the first information about distant lands and peoples could be passed on. It is even possible that individual traders and then moved further than we can now imagine (KRÄMER WALTER, 1961, 13).


Since the tin deposits in Eastern Europe were absent, pay attention to the other items mentioned by Herodotus – amber. As early as the 6th mill BC, it was used for jewelry among the peoples of Northern Europe, and from the 16th cent BC such ornaments were found in the tombs of Mycenae and the early state of Urartu. Regular supply of amber from the eastern Baltic to Greece and Asia Minor begin with about 900 BC (KRÄMER WALTER, 1979, 184, 186).

We know that the ancient Bulgars, the ancestors of the modern Chuvash, were the creators of the Corded Ware and battle-axes culture, and one of its variants was spread in the Baltic States (Vistula-Neman, or Rzucewo culture). The Bulgars also inhabited the main trade routes along the Vistula and Dniester, so could have a monopoly in the production and trade of amber. In this connection, will try to find in the Chuvash language words which would mean an interesting us subject. Two very similar words were found yantar and yantar'. The second word, of course, was borrowed from Russian and means just "amber". The first word, the more ancient, and now obsolete, meaning "glass" is semantically close to the name of amber and such sense is clearly secondary. Other languages, the speakers of ancestors of which would have to deal with amber (primarily Estonians and Finns) have no similar words. The remote match to Estonian and Finnish names (Finn meripihka "marine resin", Est pihkakivi "resin stone") can be found only in the Udmurt and Komi languages where the fossilized resin is called stone resin. Other Finno-Ugric peoples use for the name of amber loanwords of completely different origin. This suggests that the ancestors of the Estonians and Finns, just like other modern Baltic peoples came to the shores of the Baltic Sea considerably later Bulgars. In this regard, one might think that Chuv. yantar can be close to the original name, which versions are presented in different languages.


The origin of the Russian word yantar', which was also borrowed in the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages, is unknown. Lit gintaras, Let. dzintars "amber", Hung. gyanta, gyantar "tree resin, amber, rosin", Mari yanda "glass", yandar "clear" are phonetically similar to the Russian word. Having reviewed all these names, B.A Larin concluded that the Baltic words were borrowed from an unknown ancient language, the name of amber in the form yentar came from the Baltic languages to Russian, Mari words were borrowed from Chuvash, and Hungarian forms with diverse values indicate their greater proximity to the initial forms of an original language (LARIN B.A., 1959). Since the closeness between the Hungarian and Chuvash language is known, the choice of a search way for etymologizing the by means of the Chuvash language looks promising and, indeed, we find in the dictionary Chuv. ĕnt "to burn, singe," which can be taken as the part of a compound word for the name of amber. The reason for such assumption gives available German word Bernstein denoting amber as "combustible stone". Recall that the Teutons, the ancestors of the Germans were northern neighbors of the ancient Bulgars. In this case, the second part of the word yentar should mean "a stone". Chuvash called stone chul having the common for all Turkic languages protoform *taĺ (in most of Turkic taš). Thus, the "combustible stone" in the Bulgar language could be called enttal, where from is not far to the modern name. However, the existence of Mari and Hungarian truncated forms of the name of amber let suggest that the word enta could be used, meaning simply "flammable". However these words are borrowed in the Mari and Hungarian languages from Chuvash.

According to our study, the Urheimat of the Slavs was in the immediate vicinity of the amber deposits on the shores of the Baltic Sea, and later some of the Slavic tribes were dwelling on its shores, so amber would to be known to them and they had to have a common Slavic name for it, but its traces meanwhile were not found. Obviously, the Slavs appeared on the Baltic Sea shore after the split of Slavonic Community. Acquainted with amber, Slavs obviously used for calling amber calque from Bulgar, not without reason that an expression "white-combustible stone" exists at Russians that for no other stone, except amber, will not work.

Export goods of Slavs could be wax and honey, because they have long practiced beekeeping. Less confident we can talk about the furs, as ancient Slavs were more fisher as hunter. Therefore, Slavs could have for the sale fish. However, such a perishable commodity was not interesting for the nearest neighbors, being also abundant on fish resources, but to transport fish over long distances would need to use a preservative, which could be salt.

Salt, without a doubt, was one of the first merchandise, as its deposits were not everywhere, but during Neolithic role of plant foods in the human diet was increasing and the need for salt was also increased. However, salt founds different uses in human life:


Since ancient times, salt was the main preservative of key foods (meat, fish, cheese). This mineral is removed the man's dependence on the seasonal availability of food and made available to travel considerable distances. Salt is also multifunctional medicines for people and livestock. It was involved in the technology. In particular, salt used as one of the key components in leatherworking. Similarly, in religious rituals in many cultures, salt is an important attribute that symbolizes friendship and incorruptible purity, because of what appeared in the funeral and wedding ceremonies (BOLTRYK Yu.V. 2014, 63-64).



It is a common custom among the peoples of Eastern Europe to give loaf of bread and salt shaker on it to the honored guests. But the very greeting of bread and salt, which is calque of Chuv. çăkăr-tăvar, is common in the everyday life of the Slavs:


The greeting of visitors in peasant societies with bread and salt (khlyab i sol), and its variants in the different Slavic languages reflects the important role played by these two items: bread as the “staff of life” (the basic foodstuff), and salt as the symbol of well-being (HARDING A., 2013: 13).


Other subjects of exchanging were livestock, dried and salted fish, tools and handicrafts. This is evidenced by existing in the Turkic languages of western areas and in the language of their neighboring people words of different meanings but being united by common value "goods, the subject of the exchange." Just this word is tovar and the similar ones meaning "commodity". It has the form tavar in the Armenian language and means "sheep", "flock", the Turkic languages have such words: Kum tuuar "herd", Turk. tavar "property", "cattle", Balk., Cr. Tat tu'ar "property", Chuv tăvar "salt", tavăr "to return the debt", "revenge", "meet", "turn out", etc. Chuvash words are very illustrative. The ancestors of the Chuvash Bulgars had the opportunity to extract salt, because they inhabited the area close to the Sivash Bay. Although the salt obtained from seawater or sludge has a bitter taste, there are technologies that make it possible to get rid of this drawback (ibid 2013: 28). The Bulgars mastered handicraft, which provided them with salt as an export item, and therefore it acquired the meaning of “commodity”. The Second Chuvash word tavăr phonetically and semantically is a bit further. But in principle at first it could mean "to pay back", "to offset" that are semantically close to "price" which could develop from meaning "goods of exchange". Many Iranian languages have a word tabar / teber / tevir "an ax", and Finno- Ugric similar words mean "textile" (Saam. tavyar, Mari tuvyr, Khanty tagar). Obviously, they all have the same origin, as both tools, as well as production has been the subject of trade. Maybe Slav tur "aurochs", Lat. taurus and Gr. τυροσ, "bull" could be included here, although competent professionals (Vasmer, Walde and Hofmann, Menges) are silent about such relationships. Finally, this word can be attributed to such Germanic words of unknown origin: Ger teuer, Dt duur "expensive", Eng dear.

As this name of goods so clearly revealed its antiquity, it is possible to raise the question about the search for traces in modern languages a word for the process meaning equivalent exchange of goods. We can trace the etymology of the words have the value "trade", "price", "to buy", "to sell", "to cost", "dear", "cheap" etc. By no means many of them have no matches in other languages, but correspondences are available just for the word torg and similar "merchandise". According M. Vasmer, Slavic tŭrgŭ, presented in different ways in all Slavic languages has cognates words also in Lithuanian, Latvian, Illyrian, Albanian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish and others. The root of this word can have front and back vowels and, labialized and not labialized what, in fact, points to the itinerant character of the word – torg-, turg, targ-, tirg-, terg-. So the origin of the word is controversial, but Räsänen's idea about its Turkic origin is worthy. He though it can be connected with O.T. turku, tur'u "stand, camp". Trade places had to be certain for who wish to exchange goods could easily find a counterpart. They were mainly determined by geographical conditions according to location, the availability of drinking water at the intersection of routes. Fords, river mouths of river tributaries fitted well for this purpose as both sellers and buyers could easily get here. There were in the same places constant settlements:


…location of late Neolithic settlements may also testify about the possible ways of applying by local community control over natural crossings, therefore, for ways to move and intertribal exchange, which gave them an advantage in social development and the opportunity to expand their influence (TOVKAYLO M.T. 1998:14).


Besides O.T. turku, formed from tur-"to stand", "to be", "to live", which has matches in many Turkic languages, can also consider other words suitable for our situation: O.T.. tera "valley lowland", 1. terkäš "confluence of river branches"; Yakut. törüt "river mouth". It is natural that in such markets there has been a large crowd of people, and this is also reflected in the Turkic languages: O.T. ter "to collect, hoard"; terig "meeting, gathering"; törkün "tribe", O.T. terkäš "crush"; Tat. törkem "crowd, group"; Bash. törköm "crowd"; Balk., Karach. türtüšou "crush"; Tur. türük, "kingdom, world", teraküm "accumulation". It was also natural tension between sellers and buyers, the frist tried to sell their goods more profitable, the latter, trying to bring down the price, argued, scolded, were capricious, that was really traded. Such a conclusion can be reached by considering the following words: Chuv. tirke "be picky", tirkev "capriciousness, fastidiousness", Tur terk "abandonment, rejection, repudiation", diriğ "refusal", O.T. terkiš "grumpy", Tat. tirgərgə "to scold", Bash. tirgəü "curse". The contradictions between the seller and the buyer is also displayed by the etymology of the ancient Indo-European word *kʷrinā- "to buy" (OInd krīṇā́ti, Gr. πρίαμαι, NPers. xarīdan, OIrl. cren-, OLyt. krieno and other similar). This word orinates from Old Bulgarish *keren "to be stubborn, to balk" (Chuv. xirĕn). Likewise PIE. mizdhō "payment" can have Bulgarian origin too (OSlav. müzda, Osset. mizd, Got. mizdō a.o.), if the word is derived from the question of the buyer "how much"? Chuv. miçe "how?" and tav "thank" corresponds such question.

It is noteworthy that the root *torg is presented in languages whose speakers were living on the right bank of the Dnieper river in the 2nd mill BC. The Greek, Latin, Celtic, Iranian and Indian languages have not it. Therefore, we can assume that the source of the word was the language of the ancient Bulgars but not other Turkic peoples populated land on the left bank. Chuvash has lost this (Chuv. torg "merchandise" is borrowed from Russian), but traces of it can remain in the name of the town of Turka in the Carpathian Mountains, where many place names are decrypted by means of the Chuvash language. The antiquity of this town can be confirmed by the message of Constantine Porphyrogenitus on white Croats living "beyond Turkia in the land called them Boyki" (CONSTANTINE PORPHYROGENITIUS. 1961: 32). It is believed that the land Turkia has to be understood Hungary, and Boyki is one of the Celtic tribes. One does not exclude the other, because Hungary is close to Turka, and all the immediate area could be called by the name of the town. Turka is now considered to be the "capital" of the Boyki, one of the tribes of the Carpathian Ukrainians, so one might think that this ethnonym they had inherited from the Celts. The transfer of the ethnonyms from one tribe to another is common occurrence in history. And due to its convenient location on the way from Hungary to Galicia Turka could well play the role of the merchant center. It was not for nothing that nine large fairs a year were held here in the 18th century (PULNAROWICZ WŁADYSŁAW. 1929: 29). It is commonly believed that the name origins from Ukr tour "aurochs", but this explanation seems questionable, since the motivation giving word suffix -ka is unclear, as there is a village of Turka in Poland not far from the city of Lublin, a town of Turka on Lake Baikal at the mouth of the same name river, the city of Turku in Finland. Assume that they are all derived from the word tur is difficult, so you need to look for different explanations for these names, while more plausible interpretation of them as "market" is very suitable for settlement.

In addition to those mentioned above, among the objects of exchange had to be as grain, leather, furs, wax, honey, drinks and other goods less durable than amber, so the archaeological remains of them are rare and can not confidently testify to their value in commodity exchange. However, vocabulary of different people have some traces of inter-tribal trade indicated by borrowed words that often roamed the world together with the very product. If we talk about grain, the first thing to be called barley, millet, oats. In this case, the characteristic is transfering name of one cereal to another. For example Trc dary "millet", which is borrowed in Hungarian and Mari, can be associated with Georg keri "barley", and Trc. sulu / sula / suly "oats" with Georg svili "rye". Trc. arpa "barley", which have exact matches in gr. αλφι and alb. el'p, was adopted in Germanic as "pea" (Germ. *arwa - Ger Erbse). If the grain trade and, therefore, the spread of cereals went from south to north, the leather, furs, wax and honey come into the southern lands from the north. At least the Turks gained honey and wax from their northern neighbors Italics and ancient Armenians, as evidenced by correspondence Trc. bal "honey" – Lat. mel, Arm. mełr "honey". Sir Gerard Clauson wrote on the origin of Turkic name for honey:


It is generally accepted that this word is a very early borrowing from some Indo-European language, which can be dated by period when m was unacceptable at the beginning of words, and therefore was replaced by b (CLAUSON GERARD. 2002.)


Example of amber says that the decorations and materials for them also were coveted objects of exchange. In the excavation of ancient tombs, archaeologists find gold and silver pendants, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc. Long before the use of the metal to make tools and weapons gold and silver because of durability, ease of processing and visual appeal are used in human creativity. In this case, due to its rarity noble metals were readily bought by people, and therefore had a high cost. Acting initially as an ordinary commodity, gold and silver after a long search of a universal equivalent in the trade have become ubiquitous perform the basic functions of money. The etymology of the names of silver in different nations confirms this. For example, common in many Iranian languages the word arg/arz and having the basic meaning "price", comes from the name of silver (Lat. argentun, Av. ərəzata- a.o.) Another example would be a Turkic word kümüĺ (Chuv. kěměl) "silver" which seems to have been borrowed by Turks from Trypillians, which language we have identified as Semitic. Trypillian and Turkic settlements were divided by the Dnieper River, which, especially in the winter, could not be an insurmountable obstacle to neighbors, so the primitive trade and cultural exchange between the Turks and Trypillians took place. Traces of Tripillian influences on merchandise are found among words meaning "product", "payment", which we discussed above, cf. Heb. davar "a word", "a thing", "something". Trypillians could also have the word *kemel, corresponding to Heb. gemel "to give back" which we associate with Chuv kěměl "silver" ( See the article The Names of Metals in the Turkic and Indo-European Languages). Since silver performed the function of money, changing the value of the word by Turks occured by to the fact that the trading parties interacted without an interpreter and could therefore give different meaning for a same subject. What was simply payment for one, took a particular value of silver the other. This word was borrowed from the Bulgars by Italics and used for naming silverware, particularly silver dishes (Latin caměl-la "plate of soup").

Another word, which meant "payment, price" and borrowed by Turks from Trypillians, could be a word *demirz, which corresponed to the Heb. demis "money." Modern-day Turkic words demir / temir mean "iron" and it raises doubts about the possibility of the use of iron as a means of payment when this function belonged to silver. In addition iron was not yet known to the time of contacts between Turks and Trypillians. However, it could be assumed that for a long time Turkic word *demirz was used just in the general meaning of a costly thing, and only later, while the advent of the first iron products, which, indeed, had great value, changed its meaning. It is also possible that the word was first taken from the Turks to "copper", because after appearance of copper, it could also run as money of minor value.

This more affordable and suitable for different household crafts metal was found while search for noble metals in nature, together with whom it was often present in deposits. The advantages of copper and later bronze replaced stone tools were appreciated by people very quickly, but possibility to get metals from the earth was not everywhere. Therefore, the need for copper was covered by exchange for other goods. The population places rich on copper deposits began to specialize in the production for its profitable exchange. In Eastern Europe, such place were the Carpathians:


Copper Age was characterized by forming Balkan-Carpathian Metallurgical Province. This system of related manufacturing hotbeds occupied mining and metallurgical centers of the Northern Balkans and Carpathians, where extremely bright farming and animal husbandry Eneolithic cultures of Gumelniţa–Karanovo, Vancea-Pločnik, Tisapolgar-Bodrogkerestur, Petreşti were localized. Widely known Trypilla culture in the south-west of the USSR was only the eastern province of the block and did not know their own industry: its masters used imported copper. Since the formation of the province a large proportion of products from the Balkan and Carpathian centers was sent further to the east in the Eastern European Steppe and Steppe-Forest (CHERNYKH E.N., KUZMINYKH S.V. 1990: 136).


It is understood that the function of money could act metal ingots of a certain weight. Archaeology does not yet have the data when a balance in Eastern Europe was appeared, but the possibility of its existence was cloudy testified by linguistics. For example Mari punda "money" corresponds to OE.. pund "pound, as a measure of weight". Mayby the word came to the Mari language through Mordvinic which have pandoms "to pay", pandoma "payment", borrowed from the Anglo-Saxons. Similar words are in the other Germanic languages. It is believed that they have been early borrowed from Latin where pondō "pound" and pondus "weight" are present (KLUGE FRIEDRICH. 1989: 542). However, Mari word is closest to the Latin words and if no other explanation for its etymology will be found, its appearance can be connected with the time when the Italics were still living in Europe.

Formation of the numerals in different languages can also light some of the details of intertribal trade. For example, a common Indo-European protoform of the numeral for ten was restored as *de¯m. It can be linked to the ancient Turkic *dekim "a lot", the warrant for its existence is the presence O.T. tekim "a lot, many". Obviously, during inter-tribal trade Turkic word with a total value took at Indo-Europeans a more concrete meaning. Fin. *deksan "ten", present in words kahdeksan "eight" and yhdeksän "nine" can be associated with the Turkic numerals doksan / tuksan "ninety". For a time words like toquz and on / un were synonymous, meaning "ten", in the Turkic languages. Then the words doksan and tuksan can be explained as "ten of tens" that when trading by dozens of units of goods (such as skins) could be perceived by Finnish people simply as "ten" and the Turkic word was taken in the western Finnish languages just in this sense. More details about all of this in section "To the primary formation of numerals in the Nostratic languages". The fact of trade by dozens can be confirmed by the replacement O.S. word četyredesętĭ in East-Slavic by the word sorok "forty" borrowed from the ancient Bulgars (Chuv. hĕrĕh "forty"). It is known that four dozen of small articles was perceived as a distinct trade unit, namely by the Eastern Slavs as "a bunch of sable skins" (VASMER M. 1971: 722). Obviously, this is the number of skins needed for the manufacture of sable fur.

This paper outlines sketched a schematic picture of trade in Eastern Europe, mainly adjacent to the Northern Black Sea coast. However, no doubt that there were trade relations between the Baltic, Volga, and Ural regions. The Volga river and along the coast of the Caspian Sea should be the trade route in the direction to Central Asia. While linguistic data to review the topic are enough scanty as the ethnic composition of the population in these regions is not enough clear.