All Hail the Daylight Sky Father
What can we learn about the chief god of the prehistoric Indo-Europeans from their descendants?
When the first Europeans began travelling to India in the sixteenth century, they noticed some odd similarities between their native languages and the languages of northern India. For example, look at the numbers seven — eight — nine — ten. In Hindi, they are saat — aath — nau — dus. And in Portuguese? Sete — oito — nove — dez. In the nineteenth century, with the rise of the discipline of comparative linguistics, researchers realised that these relationships went much deeper than they first thought.
When they compared the languages of ancient Europe — Latin and Greek — with the language of ancient northern India — Sanskrit — they found even more and closer similarities. ‘Cow’ is bovis in Latin, boũs in Ancient Greek, and gáus in Sanskrit. They could find other connections with Persian and the Germanic languages, but none with Arabic and Turkish. Eventually, they concluded that, at some point in the distant past, a people speaking the same language must have spread across Eurasia from Portugal to Ganges. And they must have had cows.
Today, we call these people the Indo-Europeans, and their language Proto-Indo-European. About half the world’s people speak a language from the Indo-European language family, which includes the Celtic, Germanic, Romance, Greek, Slavic, and Indo-Iranian languages, among some smaller groups. I am writing this article in an Indo-European language from the Germanic sub-family.
Language, Archaeology and Religion
The early Indo-Europeans lived before written history, and so we have no record of them or their migrations. But, through studying their language and religion, doing a bit of archaeology, and picking up the story from when we do have records, we can learn something about them. We know, for example, that they probably called their cows something like gous or gwous. Linguists write this as *g(w)ous — the asterisk means the word has never actually been found written down but has been re-constructed by working backwards from recorded words. Our own humble English ‘cow’ is almost certainly descended from the same word.