From the Shadows of the Past (2000)

(Ur det förflutnas dunkel) A documentary series in three parts.
Lena Einhorn Film and Sveriges Television; 3×58 min.


In three broad, almost parallel bands – which stretch from inner Asia to the Atlantic, from the Arctic Ocean to the Middle Eastern deserts – languages are spoken which can be traced to three of the great ancient tongues in the world. Tongues which carry with them myths, religions and, not least, the answer to unsolved mysteries of the origins of the peoples.

The series aired on Swedish Television in January 2001, and in June 2001.

The series From the Shadows of the Past consists of three programs:

Part 1: Between Sanskrit and Swastika

(Mellan sanskrit och hakkorset)
Writers, Directors, Producers: Bengt Berg and Lena Einhorn
Photographers: Bo Nellhag, Dan Myhrman
Editor: Benny Karlsson

The young enthusiastic William Jones had made a sensational discovery! Although by profession a judge, he had always been fascinated by languages. And like many other 18th century British administrators sent to India, he had become intrigued by the mysterious culture he encountered in this faraway land.

It was during one of his trips visiting the temple cities along the Ganges River that Jones came to his remarkable realization: The holy language of the Brahmins, called Sanskrit, was strikingly similar to Latin and Greek – the culture languages of the Europeans!

William Jones was at a loss: How could he explain the similarities between these languages, separated by continents? Never could he have imagined the consequences of his discovery…..The ensuing riddle – “The Indo-European Riddle” – was to engage European scientists for more than a century. And not only scientists. The soon emerging “answer” to the riddle – the so called “Arian Myth”, an idea that a people of world conquerors once had swept over the continents, from their Northern European ancestral home – was to form the basis for the self-image of 19th century Europe. And much later it would reach its catastrophic climax – in the Holocaust.

This is a film about archaeology and language, but perhaps most of all about the power of myth over our senses..

Part 2: Once on the Nile

(Lämna ditt land, din släkt och ditt hem)
Writers, Directors, Producers: Lena Einhorn and Bengt Berg
Photographer: Dan Myhrman
Editor: Ola Kåkneryd

Why did the Israelites arrive in Egypt as advisors to Pharao – and leave the same land as slaves? Who was their leader, Moses? And where did he acquire his ideas – the ideas about one single, omnipotent and invisible God?

The remarkable thing is: according to the Bible, the Israelites, later to be called the Jews, were to have arrived in Egypt as one family, consisting of 70 men, their wives and their children. Four hundred years later, they were, still according to the Bible, to have fled this land as a big people, consisting of 600,000 men and their families. And still, nowhere in the vast Egyptian written sources is this information to be found! The Bible seems to be the only source describing the presence of this people in Egypt. Or? Are there parallels in Egyptian history which can be interpreted to correspond to the Biblical descriptions of the Israelites – the strangers, the initiators of the great religious shift?

Part 3: An Asian People by the Baltic?

(Ett asiatiskt folk vid Östersjön?)
Writers, Directors, Producers: Lena Einhorn and Bengt Berg
Photographer: Dan Myhrman
Editor: Benny Karlsson

“Only one thing concerns me deeply, and this is the only thing I live for…. I have decided to prove to the Finnish people that we are not a people isolated from the world and its history.” These words were written in 1844 by Matthias Alexander Castrén, a linguist, and one of the most prominent figures of Finnish national romanticism.

Linguistically, Finland lies almost incomprehensibly isolated. If one excludes geographivally proximate Estonia and Lapland, the Finns are completely surrounded by Indo-European languages. And their linguistic neighbours are thousands of miles away. On the Siberian tundra. And on the Hungarian pusta. How was it that these peoples settled so far from each other? And how have their languages survived in such complete isolation? Because, as we see, they were separated from each other a very long time ago. Most of their common words are ancient: arrow, bow, fish-hook, etc.

Interestingly enough, it is also among these so called Finno-Ugrian peoples that Shamanism – the ancient religious practices among the hunter-gatherers – have survived into our days in Eurasia. If we choose to follow this religious thread, and leave linguistics, we can peer far back into the ancient history of humankind. The Laplandic Shaman’s drum, and that of the South American Medicine Man often display identical symbols. And the rites, as they were practiced until a couple of centuries ago, were remarkably similar. When, and where, did these peoples once meet?


Le Prix Aventure et Découverte in Paris, October 2002