What I have to say about the new Indo-European origin study
Okay, some of you out there in blog world may know that I am studying to become a Linguistic Anthropologist. Those that didn’t know, you do now. One of the things I want to do with this is work on the “Proto-Indo-European (PIE) Project” which is an ongoing project that seeks to discover the origin of the Indo-European (IE) Language Family that includes English, German, Welsh, Sanskrit, and so many more. If you are unaware, no one really knows where PIE started nor do we know who the IE people were. There are several theories out there but only two really hold much water: 1) “The Chariot Wheel Model” * states that the IE people started off on the steppes around the Black Sea and then spread via conquest driven by chariots. 2)”The Anatolian Farmer Model”* states that IE peoples began farming the Anatolian Peninsula and spread there language via peaceful migration in search of better farm/graze lands.
I tend to support “The Chariot Wheel Model” but more on that later. Yesterday, the New York Times posted an article (posted here) that seems to lend credence to the “Anatolian Farmer Model”. Essentially, a group of Biologist from the University of Auckland, New Zealand have created a computer model using words that stayed relatively similar throughout IE languages (the example given is the English “mother” which is a cognate of the German “mutter”, Russian “mat”, Persian “madar” and Latin “mater”) and the time that certain “branches” split from the PIE. The program then determined a probable model for the spread of the IE languages that started in Anatolia.
While I do not question the methods or credentials of this team/program (seeing as I am but an undergrad student and these men have big, fancy degrees) , I do see a few holes in this model. First off is the point raised in the article,
A key piece of their evidence is that [P]roto-Indo-European had a vocabulary for chariots and wagons that included words for “wheel,” “axle,” “harness-pole” and “to go or convey in a vehicle.” These words have numerous descendants in the Indo-European daughter languages. So Indo-European itself cannot have fragmented into those daughter languages, historical linguists argue, before the invention of chariots and wagons, the earliest known examples of which date to 3500 B.C. This would rule out any connection between Indo-European and the spread of agriculture from Anatolia, which occurred much earlier.
The other major hole I see here is that no one is looking at the folklore or mythology. It seems that these people have simply forgotten that, hidden in and among the tales of deities and heroes, the old stories often tell the origin of a peoples. The most obvious example comes from the Norse tales of the Aesir-Vanir War in which the Vanir, gods of fertility native to the Germanic lands, are challenged to war by the Aesir, Odin’s family, the gods of war, kingship and magic who come to the land and become the rulers. This, along with tales like the Mahabharata (and several much older Vedic tales), the rape of the Sabine women in Rome, the invasions of Ireland, and more, can be seen as the mythological remembrance of the war-like Indo-Europeans moving in (often bringing chariots, see Thor) and at first suppressing the native people but ultimately atoning and living alongside them.
For us pagans, these stories are key and yet they often get ignored in Academia. Why? Because so many people assume that they are just made up tales trying to explain that which the people don’t understand. Instead, if researchers looked to these sources as a cultural memory they might be surprised to find that our gods/goddesses can teach them a lot. Who is to say that Ogma, Irish god of writing, did not truly create Ogham and became a god for it? Or that Krshna did not drive Arjuna’s chariot when they warred against the native Dravidians, revealing to Arjuna the secrets of the universe and teaching the ideas of Dharma and Karma-yoga? The gods could teach modern PIE researchers a thing or two but all too often their voices fall on deaf ears.
*Please note that these are not the official names of the model but rather the names I like to use.