Tag Archives: epigraphy

I do not like thee, Dr Fell

In another post, I dealt with some of the late Barry Fell’s weird theories about Celts, Libyans, Ancient Egyptians and other groups in the Americas in ancient times.

Fell’s book, America BC, is full of absurdities. An ‘inscription’ found on the shore apparently reads: “Cargo platforms for ships from Phoenicia.” Yet, as other critics have pointed out, apart from inscriptions, there is no evidence. Where is all the rubbish which all civilisations produce? Why do no inscriptions turn up in archaeological sites where the stratigraphy can confirm their antiquity? This is a little like some archaeologist in thousands of years’ time (probably a genetically-enhanced chimp) finding a sign saying “Ellis Island – Welcome to America” but without finding any trace of New York!

As I have said before, I’m no expert on Libyan, or Ancient Egyptian, or even on Ancient Celtic. However, in order to be suspicious of Barry Fell’s ideas, you don’t need to be an expert. You just need to be sane.

One of the silliest and most incompetent parts of a very silly and incompetent book is the chapter where Barry Fell decides that many place names in New England are of Celtic origin. Fell’s claims are ludicrous. There is a fundamental inconsistency in them. Fell uses the meanings which speakers of Native American/Canadian languages themselves and experts in those languages have identified in the names of rivers and other places as a guide, and then claims to find Celtic equivalents to these meanings. In the process, he twists and corrupts the Scottish Gaelic language, a language which he had a slight knowledge of, and mixes it with Celtic etymological roots to invent phrases which are loosely similar to the Native American names. The logical problem with this is obvious. The meanings derived from the Algonquian language make sense within that language. So how can these names derive both from Algonquian and from Celtic?

For example, according to Russell the Algonquian meaning of the stream Ammonoosuc is “Stream of the small fish.” Fell interprets this as Am.-min-a-sugh using (according to him) Ancient Celtic roots, and comes up with the explanation “small stream for taking out (fish)”. This is highly suspect. Where does the root am come from? There is an Ancient Celtic word ambara, meaning a stream, but am? Then sugh is presumably the same as the modern Irish meaning to absorb. This isn’t likely to be used in the context of fishing.

A place called Cohas which means pine is linked by him to gaelic ghiuthas [sic] which also means pine. (The spelling with gh at the beginning is a clear indication that Fell knew very little Gaelic.) The names really aren’t that similar in the two languages.

From this weak start, it quickly descends into the totally ridiculous. The Merrimack river had a number of Indian names, one of which was Kaskaashadi, the Native American meaning of which is unknown. However, Fell thinks it looks like the supposed Gaelic phrase ‘g-uisge-siadi, which, according to Fell means with waters which flow slowly. But the Gaelic words for slow are mall, slaodach, ríamannach, sialtach. Where does siadi come from? What’s that ‘g doing there? I’ve no idea but at least I’ve more of an idea about Gaelic than poor old Barry Fell.

Fell also gives a ‘Gaelic’ derivation to the alternative name Merrimack, which he derives from the ‘Gaelic’ words mor-riomach, which (according to Fell, means ‘of great depth.’) . Try looking up the words mor-riomach, with or without grave accents on the first o and the i, in a Gaelic dictionary. You won’t find anything. Also, if you look it up on Google you will only find references to Fell’s ‘research’. I imagine the root of this word is something akin to réim in Irish, which means range or extent, but who knows? There are no references, no evidence that any of these phrases really exists or could have existed or meant what Fell said they meant.

Another two phrases which seem to be the product of Fell’s imagination are the stream Piscataqua, which supposedly means white rock, and another stream called Seminenal, which he claims means grains of rock. Fell’s Gaelic candidates are Pios-cata.-cua, and semen-aill. I have no idea what is happening with Pios-cata.-cua. Pios is obviously a loanword from Middle English or French, the same word as the Irish píosa or the English piece, so this dates it to the last eight hundred years, no earlier. The cata and cua aren’t usual or comprehensible words for white or rock. I don’t recognise them and I can’t be bothered looking for them.

According to Fell, the name Quechee corresponds to the Gaelic cuithe, meaning a hole or ravine. In fact, if you look up the word cuithe in a Gaelic dicionary you find that it means pit, trench; bank, drift; breastwork; stronghold. The ‘ravine’ meaning seems to be Fell’s invention. As always with this kind of pseudo-scholarship (it’s found throughout Daniel Cassidy’s work), minor tweaks are made to the meanings of both the source and target language so that it looks like there is an amazingly close correspondence. When you examine the primary sources, these amazing correspondences disappear.

Fell also claims that the New Hampshire name Uncanoonucks, a name which translates from the Algonquian as ‘a woman’s breasts’ can be compared to Scottish and Irish expressions for hills using the term Paps in English. He claims that this represents the Scottish Gaelic Uchd-nan-Ugan. This expression uchd-nan-ugàn is a total fabrication on Fell’s part. Uchd (Irish ucht) means breast, while ugàn is a Scottish Gaelic expression for top of the breast or neck. In other words, this bizarre phrase would really mean something like ‘breast of the tops of the breast.’ In reality, the word used for these geographical ‘paps’ is cíoch in Irish and cìoch in Scottish Gaelic, as in Sgurr na Cìche (The Paps of Jura) in Scotland and the Paps of Anu in Kerry (Dá Chíoch Anann).

Even more dishonest than that is the claim that the element –nock is used in New England place names for hills or mountains. This is true, it does occur in such names. But it isn’t the element that means hill or mountain, so any similarity to Irish cnoc is completely meaningless.

I could keep going and trash the rest of Fell’s ‘research’ on place names in New England but it really isn’t worth it. This is not a serious attempt to arrive at the truth. Fell was simply a fantasist and his book America BC is a worthless testament to human folly, just like Daniel Cassidy’s book on slang.

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