My Dedicant Program Work, circa 2002

Book Report: IE Studies Title


By J. P. Mallory

Mr. Mallory spent the bulk of this book trying to nail down the “homeland” of the Indo-Europeans using both the study of language and archeology. One of his main problems was that the two often failed to agree. However, he also delved into the culture of the peoples themselves, based on linguistic detective work.

He began with a short discussion of the 18 th century creation of the concept of a people from whose language much of the world's modern languages descended, and then began to examine the various cultures of Indo-European origin that existed at the beginning of recorded history.

Firstly he dealt with the historical Asian members of the Indo-European family. It was remarkable that many times an Indo-European elite would be imposed upon a native population, such as in the cases of Mitanni and the Hittites, with the language borrowing many of the native words. It is ironic that the latter culture, the Hittites, may have been overthrown by an intrusion of another Indo-European language tribe, the Phrygians. In addition to these groups in Asia Minor and vicinity, much discussion was made about the Indo-Aryans. While the Proto-Indo-Aryans probably existed in what is now Iran , it is interesting that the language of Mitanni , located near the source of the Euphrates , is actually a form of Indo-Aryan, though much separated in miles from the bulk of the language group. The bulk of the Indo-Aryans apparently migrated east towards India and may have been the catalyst for the destruction of the Mohenjo daro civilization at the mouth of the Indus river in what is now Pakistan . The historical distribution of the Iranian languages covers a huge area from north of the Black Sea into Siberia and down towards India . Another language group, the Tocharians, actually existed in Chinese Turkestan at least as early as the sixth century CE. One of his conclusions in this section is that “whenever we find decipherable Bronze Age documents, they attest to the intrusive character of the Indo-European presence in Asia ”. Therefore, since the Indo-European homeland cannot be in any of these intrusive areas, they probably come from somewhere north of their historical locations.

Mr. Mallory then investigated the historic cultures of Europe . With the Greeks, he established that there had been a non Indo-European culture present (such as the Minoans on Crete ) when the Indo-European Mycenaean cities became established. The coming of the Greeks is probably seen in the archeological discontinuity that occurred about 2200 BCE. The direction of the intrusions appears to have come from Turkey and the Balkans. Here archeology seems to agree with the linguistic models. The largest group of Indo-Europeans in Europe, the Slavs, occupied a huge region of eastern Europe, and their geographic center appears to have been between the Vistula and Dnieper rivers, and due to the large number of Iranian loan words in Common Slavic, he felt that their ancestral home should be more easterly than westerly in their area. The Balts likewise existed to the east of the Slavs and once occupied a huge area from Kiev to Prussia . The Germanic groups appeared to have been from northern Germany and southern Scandinavia , and Proto-Germanic probably emerged from a late Indo-European dialect around 500 BCE. Italy had its share of non Indo-European languages, notable Etruscan, and the intrusive languages, such as Latin, seem to have come later. Then there are the Celts. There is little doubt that they spread out of the La T è ne culture of northern France and southern Germany, splitting up into two main groups: those of the Continental Celts (Gaulish, Lepontic and Hispano-Celtic) which became extinct due to Roman expansion and those of the Insular Celts in Ireland, Britain and (by transplantation) Brittany.

All of these language groups in Europe, however, seem to have come from the area of the Black Sea and Turkey in various waves.

Then Mr. Mallory attempted to reconstruct Proto-Indo-European culture based on linguists' reconstruction of the language. Their environment included plains and mountains, rivers and lakes. The word for sea, however, seems to originally have meant a swamp or lake rather than a large body of water. Trees they would have known include birch, willow, elm, ash and possibly oak. Tree cover must have existed as there were also words for “otter, beaver, wolf, bear, lynx, elk, red deer , hare, hedgehog, mouse and possibly roe deer”. Birds included eagle, goose, crane and duck. Their economy was based on stock breeding with some agriculture, as the plough was known. Social organization was apparently patrilineal in descent and male dominated, with the wife going to live in the house of her husband. The father (and his brothers) occupied the role of stern disciplinarian while the mother's brother was outside of this order and could have a close relationship with his sister's male child. The word *nepots means both grandson and a brother's sister's son (nephew). This same pattern could also account for the concept of fosterage outside one's own family. Besides the institution of the family, there was the clan and its leader (*weikk-potis ). There is also evidence of some form of military function as well. While the word for king is well attested in later languages (raj, rex, ri ), it may originally have meant something more like “stretching out” or “straightening” which might imply a more priestly function such as marking the boundaries or borders. Linguists assign 4500 BCE as the earliest date that this reconstructed language could have been in existence.

The religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans is more problematic. There is evidence of a sky-father god, but his importance in some religions may be a later development. There are deities of the moon and sun, and probably a thunder or rain god as well. The word *nepots is preserved in the names of the Indic Apam Napat (grandson/nephew of water) and also in Neptune and Nechtain (while keeping only the word for nephew there is still the water connection with the Roman god of the sea and the Irish figure who maintained a sacred well). And in epic traditions many Indo-European cultures have an account of a ‘final battle' which casts the *nepots in the role of good against his evil opponent.

Here Mr. Mallory investigateed the theories of tripartition by Georges Dum é zil. Basically, this theory proposes that society was divided into three functions: Priests on top, followed by warriors with herder/cultivators (originally the conquered native population) on the bottom. As Dum é zil describes it:

“1. The first function embraces sovereignty and is marked by a priestly stratum of society which maintains both magico-religious and legal order. The gods assigned the sovereign function are often presented as a pair, each of which reflects a specific aspect: religious such as the Indic Varuna or Norse Odinn, and legal such as Mitra or Tyr.

2. A second military function assigned to the warrior stratum and concerned with the execution of both aggressive and defensive force, for example, the war-gods Indra, Mars and Thor.

3. A third estate conceptualizing fertility or sustenance and embracing the herder-cultivators. Here the mythic personages normally take the form of divine twins, intimately associated with horses, and accompanied by a female figure, for example, the Indic Asvins (horsemen) and Sarasvati, the Greek Castor and Pollux with Helen, the Norse Frey, Freyr and Njorth.”

In matters of color, Indo-Iranian, Hittite, Celtic and Latin ritual all assign white to priests, red to warriors and some darker color such as black or blue to the third function.

The premier animal of Indo-European sacrifice and ritual was the horse. Personal names contain the word for horse and it is incredibly important in Indo-European rituals and mythology. Jaan Puhvel has proposed the existence of a Proto-Indo-European myth and ritual “involving the mating of a figure from the royal class with a horse from which ultimately” springs divine equine twins. Both Indic and Celtic worlds preserved, through the word ‘mead', an ancient Proto-Indo-European name of a horse-centered ceremony involving intoxication. Cattle also held a prime role in the culture. Many myths exist about cattle raiding, and may have given the warrior a defined role in society as well as justifying cattle raids against neighbors. The three Dum é zilian functions might also be apparent in the “Threefold Death” where the human sacrifice or punishment was meted out according to those functions: hanging for the priestly role, death by burning or the sword for the warrior role and drowning for the fertility role. While this is most apparent concerning the western Indo-Europeans, there is some evidence for it further east.

Then Mr. Mallory attacked the “homeland” problem directly. Apparently, the expansion of the Indo-European languages was “broadly centrifugal from a more central homeland rather than linear from one of the extremes”. What followed was a quite complex analysis of linguistics with archeology thrown in, particularly the role of the expansion of the use of horses, a very Indo-European trait. The result is a probable home for the Proto-Indo-Europeans in the Pontic-Caspian area, or rather the land between and north of the Black and Caspian Seas in what is now southern Russia . The Eneolithic cultures of this area emerged by 4500 BCE and evolved into Early Bronze Age cultures by 2500 BCE, encompassing the Yamnaya (Pit-grave) horizon and the Sredny Stog culture that grew up near the Dnieper river north of the Black Sea . There are also marked similarities with other cultures to the east, particularly the North Caspian , Samara and Agidel cultures. These all roughly approximated the Yamnaya horizon area and could have been our linguistic ancestors. Most of the archeological evidence from the Pontic-Caspian area makes a reasonably solid fit with the linguists' reconstruction of what life would have been like in a Proto-Indo-European culture, particularly evidence of the use of the domestic horse and wheeled vehicles. But this only works if arguments for expansion from this area by the Indo-Europeans, ending up in their historical locations, can be made.

Mr. Mallory then detailed how the expansions into Asia could have been made, via the Andronovo culture around the Aral Sea which expanded and made contact with the Mohenjo daro culture of the Indus (which subsequently collapsed). He then detailed expansions into the Caucasus and then the Balkans and Greece , using archeological evidence (such as burial sites and goods). From here we proceeded into Central Europe and the Globular Amphora culture. Marija Gimbutas argueed that this culture had a ruling stratum imposed upon it from the Pontic region based on the complete congruence of the burial rites of the two sites. It is from this area that the Germanics and Celts may have derived. Of course, Mr. Mallory then backtracked enough to say that there really isn't any hard evidence as yet, but that this is the consensus of opinion at the moment. He then pointed out that Indo-European expansion had not been completed by the Iron age but continues today. In over 6000 years, it has embraced roughly half the population of this planet.