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Indian · Kurgan · Paleolithic
The native name with which these people referred to themselves as a linguistic community, or as an ethnic unity of related tribes cannot be reconstructed with certainty.
There is evidence for sacral kingship, suggesting the tribal chief at the same time assumed the role of high priest. Many Indo-European societies still show signs of an earlier threefold division of a clerical class, a warrior class and a class of farmers or husbandmen. Such a division was suggested for the Proto-Indo-European society by Georges Dumézil.
If there was a separate class of warriors, it probably consisted of single young men. They would have followed a separate warrior code unacceptable in the society outside their peer-group. Traces of initiation rites in several Indo-European societies suggest that this group identified itself with wolves or dogs (see Berserker, Werewolf, Wild Hunt).
The people were organized in settlements (*weiḱ s; English -wick "village"), probably each with its chief (*H₃ rēǵ s). These settlements or villages were further divided in households (*domos), each headed by a patriarch (*dems-potis; Greek despotes, Sanskrit dampati).
Technologically, reconstruction suggests a culture of the Bronze Age: Words for Bronze can be reconstructed (*H₂ éyos) from Germanic, Italic and Indo-Iranian, while no word for Iron can be dated to the proto-language. Gold and Silver were known.
An *n̥ sis was a bladed weapon, originally a dagger of Bronze or in earliest times of bone. An *ik'mos was a spear or similar pointed weapon. Words for axe are *H₂ égʷ siH₂ (Germanic, Greek, Italic) and *péleḱ us (Greek, Indo-Iranian); these could have been either of stone or of bronze.
The wheel (*kʷ ékʷ los or *rótH₂ eH₂ ) was known, certainly for ox-drawn carts. Horse-drawn chariots developed after the breakup of the proto-language, originating with the Proto-Indo-Iranians around 2000 BC.
Judging by the vocabulary, techniques of weaving, plaiting, tying knots etc. were important and well-developed and used for textile production as well as for baskets, fences, walls etc. Weaving and binding also had a strong magical connotation, and magic is often expressed by such metaphors. The bodies of the deceased seem to have been literally tied to their graves to prevent their return.
Proto-Indo-European society depended on animal husbandry. Cattle (*gʷ ōus) were the most important animals to them, and a man's wealth would be measured by the number of cows he owned. Sheep (*H₃ ówis) and goats (*gʰ áidos) were also kept, presumably by the less wealthy. Agriculture and catching fish (*písḱ os) were also practiced.
Ritual and sacrifice
Animals were slaughtered (*gʰʷ n̥ tós) and dedicated to the gods (*déiwos) in the hope of winning their favour. The king as the high priest would have been the central figure in establishing favourable relations with the other world.
The Kurgan hypothesis suggests burials in barrows or tomb chambers. Important leaders would have been buried with their belongings, and possibly also with members of their household or wives (human sacrifice, sati).
The use of two-word compound words for personal names, typically but not always ascribing some noble or heroic feat to their bearer, is so common in Indo-European languages that it seems certainly inherited. These names are often of the class of compound words that in Sanskrit are called bahuvrihi compounds.
They are found in the Celtic region (Dumnorix: "king of the world"; Kennedy: "ugly head"), in Indo-Aryan languages (Asvaghosa: "tamer of horses"); in Greek (Socrates: "good ruler"); Cleopatra: "from famous lineage"; George: "tiller of the soil"); in Slavic languages (Vladimir: "peaceful ruler" (Vladimir parses as volodi-mirom, "possess the world")); in the Germanic languages (Alfred: "elf-counsel"; Godiva: "gift of God").
Patronymics such as Gustafson ("son of Gustav"), McCool, or Mazurkiewicz are also frequently encountered in Indo-European languages.
Only small fragments of Proto-Indo-European poetry may be recovered. What survives of their poetry are stock phrases of two or three words, like undying fame and immortal gods, that are found in diverse ancient sources. These seem to have been standard building blocks for song lyrics.
Inferring chiefly from the Vedas, there would have been sacrificial hymns, creation myths (such as myths of a world tree), and hero tales (the slaying of a serpent or a dragon, *kʷ r̥ mis by a heroic man or god).
Probably of the greatest importance to the Indo-Europeans themselves were songs extolling great deeds by heroic warriors. In addition to perpetuating their glory (*ḱ léuos), such songs would also temper the warriors' behavior, since each needed to consider whether his undying fame would be honorable or shameful. See also bard, fili, skald, rhapsode.
Some words connected with PIE world-view:
- *gʰosti- concerned mutual obligations between people and between worshipers and gods, and from which guest and host are derived.
- *h₁r̥-tu-, h₁r̥-to-, "fitting, right, ordered", also "right time, ritually correct", related to the order of the world (Avestan asha, Vedic rta-, rtu-)