Milking History
By R. D. Flavin


2,400 BCE 'Sythian' smoking devices, Cretan smoking vase ca. 1450-1100 BCE, and Chinese characters for má or cannabis.

     Recently, several news outlets (including National Geographic) have reported on some unique gold 'Scythian' vessels found in southern Russia believed to have been used to smoke opium or cannabis and dated to ca, 2,400 BCE (compare with Herodotus, Histories; IV.75). A similar smoking device is known from Crete, ca. 1450-1100 BCE (Merlin 2003, p. 308), and is engraved with a symbol which looks uncannily like the Chinese character for or cannabis (Li 1975, p. 55). Yes, of course, we uncover and re-write history nearly everyday, with my personal fav being news of Napoléon Bonaparte contemplating moving to New Jersey in America to be a farmer and because of the surrounding British sea-blockade, was considering being smuggled in an empty wine-barrel, but was ultimately arrested by the British and died several years later still in their custody. Okay, milking history for its intellectual nutrition may be considered a geeky pastime by some, but I find it far more wholesome than shooting and murdering “sport” animals in the woods. Now, if it was just about food and being hungry, that would be different... I've enjoyed the study of history most of my life and remain excited as developments regularly occur which provide historians with new perspectives.

     Many have used (myself included) the rhetorical alliteration of 'history' and 'mystery'. Two of the most famous mysteries of history (so-called “Holy Grails”) are, in my opinion, the 'homeland' of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) speakers and the origin of the alphabet. Yes, as someone who relishes history, I'm developing articles/papers and models/theses which concern both topics*, however, regarding the 'homeland' of PIE speakers a new paper greatly contributes to our confidence of both where, when, and an unexpected consequence (Callaway 2015). A brief overview of PIE is necessary.

     Though others had previously made suggestions connecting Sanskrit to Greek and Latin, it's the philologist, Sir William Jones (1746-1794) who gets the credit for putting forth the theory in 1786 of a proto-language which combined Sanskrit, Iranian, Greek, Latin, Germanic and Celtic (Jones 1824):

"Of these cursory observations on the Hindus, which it would require volumes to expand and illustrate, this is the result ; that they had an immemorial affinity with the old Persians, Ethiopians,and Egyptians; the Phenicians, Greeks, and Tuscans ; the Scythians or Goths, and Celts ; the Chinese, Japanese, and Peruvians; whence, as no reason appears for believing that they were a colony from any one of those nations, or any of those nations from them, we may fairly conclude that they all proceeded from some central country, to investigate which will be the object of my future Discourses; and I have a sanguine hope that your collections, during the present year, will bring to light many useful discoveries; although the departure for Europe of a very ingenious member, who first opened the inestimable mine of Sanscrit literature, will often deprive us of accurate and solid information concerning the languages and antiquities of India (Ibid. p. 37)."

     Variations and refinements ensued as the discipline of comparative linguistics took form with the Lithuanian-born archaeologist, Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994), putting forth her “Kurgan” hypothesis while at Harvard University (Gimbutas 1956), in which she expanded upon the 19th century work of Benfey and Schrader and suggested a culture from the Pontic-Caspian steppe with a unique burial technique (red-ochre covered bodies in a deep pit covered with large barrows or mounds, now most often referred to as the Yamna or Pit-Grave [from Russian/Ukrainian яма, "pit"] peoples). With archaeology helping to narrow down the possible “homeland” of the PIE speakers, shortly thereafter, the Celtic language specialist and comparative linguist, Julius Pokorny, released his Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch or "Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (Pokorny 1959)," which though barely touching upon the Indo-European Anatolain language of Hittite, is still well regarded and widely used today by those researching Indo-European or PIE roots.

    Bringing the search for an PIE “homeland” into focus with a multidisciplinary approach which included archaeology, the geneticist, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, has throughout his extensive and most impressive career greatly added to our better understanding of the dispersion of both populations and languages supported through identifiable genetic traits (Edwards & Cavalli-Sforza 1964; Stone, Lurquin & Cavlli-Sforza 2007). Of course, other notable contributions followed (Renfrew 1987; Mallory 1989) which utilized advances in radiocarbon dating, extended the “wave of advance” theories, and generally fine-tuned and brought our understanding of PIE up-to-date.

     For years now, students of both Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European have touted such examples as: *abel 'apple', puté(r)/*appa 'father' and *atos/*atta 'daddy', *wódr̥ 'water', *ḱwṓ 'dog', and *tréyes 'three'. We remember Neugebauer's “Exact Sciences,” that is mathematics and its related testable study, astronomy (Neugebauer 1951/1952), and though some consider archaeology a “pot-luck” discipline, it follows the scientific method with constant retesting and improving. Comparative linguistics is also a discipline which attempts to follow the scientific methodology, though the sheer vastness of phonemes with tonal and stress variations may easily become a statistician's dream or nightmare. The hypothetical linguistic macrofamily of Nostratic is plausible and possible, but far from reliably testable. With the dawn of writing ca. 3200 BCE we are beholden to a demonstrable threshold beyond which lies conjecture and untestable guesses. At least with Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European we can support at least some reasonable conclusions.

Proposed spread of the PIE speakers from the Yamnaya region ca. 3,000 BCE which  extended into Europe, but also to the east and gave rise to the Tocharian peoples and language.

     Furthering the multidisciplinary work of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, a June 11, 2015 edition of the highly respected British journal, Nature, offered a unique insight into a possible 'homeland' for PIE speakers, attaching a surprising two-fer suggestions for historical 'mysteries' (Callaway 2015). The first concerns a genetic connection with East Asian Indo-European speakers, the mysterious Tocharian people who inhabited the Altaic region and the Tarim Basin in northwest China who, though (via the so-called “Tarim Mummies”) had a skin-color close to today's Mongolians, yet whose clothing resembled a punk-plaid of young Scots (Lane 1966; Mallory & Mair 2000). A second surprise came in the form of an identifiable gene which allows certain peoples to digest dairy products (more than a coincidence that such a gene is found in northern Europeans as well as the Indo-European speaking Tocharians). The Nature article argues a spread of Indo-European languages from the Yamna (Kurgan) 'homeland' westward into Europe and eastward, circumventing Central Asia and past the oasis-peoples of the Bronze Age BMAC (Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex) culture, and into East Asia. Indeed, some are milking history for all its worth! Whether fat-free, 1%, 2%, or whole (anything but buttermilk – except in cooking), it's appreciated, as is the latest contribution to history.

PS, I led with the Russian-discovered smoking vessels they termed 'Scythian', and while we remember the remarks of Herodetus writing ca. 450 BCE: “...when, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.”  Being cautious, I'd like to suggest it may be premature to connect pot-smoking with a local people by the same 'name' over a two millennium period (Rudenko 1970).

*My forthcoming “Isolates and Influence: Bronze Age South Central Asia, Passersby, and Potter’s Marks” about BMAC and its influences on its neighbors, and my unfinished (first draft privately circulated – needs two additional sections) “The Origin of the Alphabet in West Semitic Identity Marks” with the radical model/suggestion 'tattoos' gave rise to the shape, meaning, and sound of the basic characters of the 'alphabet'.


Callaway, Ewen. 2015. “DNA deluge reveals Bronze Age secrets.” Nature. 522: 140-141.

Edwards, A. W. F. and L. L. Cavalli-Sforza. 1964. “Reconstruction of Evolutionary Trees.” Phentic and Phylgenetic Classification. Edited by V. H. Heywood and J. McNeill. See pp. 67-76. London: Systematics Association Publication #6.

Gimbutas, Marija. 1956. “The Prehistory of Eastern Europe. Part I: Mesolithic, Neolithic and Copper Age Cultures in Russia and the Baltic Area.” American School of Prehistoric Research, Harvard University Bulletin No. 20. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum. See also: Gimbutas, Marija. 1963. “The Indo-Europeans: Archaeological Problems.” American Anthropologist. 65, 4: 815-836 and Gimbutas, Marija. 1997. “The Kurgan culture and the Indo-Europeanization of Europe: selected articles from 1952 to 1993 by Marija Gimbutas.” Edited by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Karlene Jones-Bley. Journal of Indo-European Studies monograph 18. Washington D.C.: Institute for the Study of Man.

Jones, Sir William. 1824. Discourses delivered before the Asiatic Society: and miscellaneous papers, on the religion, poetry, literature, etc., of the nations of India. By Sir William Jones with an essay on his name, talents, and character. By the Right Hon. Lord Teignmouth. Selected and edited by James Elmes. 2 vols. London: Printed for Charles S. Arnold, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden. This cited, used, and recommended edition (as it's available for download on GoogleBooks) has a notice before the title-page reading: “Sir William Jones 's Discourses. Second Edition. London: W. H. Carpenter, Lower Brook Street. 1821.” So, is the 1824 a Third Edition or the second printing of the Second Edition? Regardless, it contains “Discourse III delivered February 2, 1786” on pp. 20-37. This often cited paper was printed many times in various collections, memoirs, and such. Many have praised it, errors acknowledged and politely overlooked, and while this bibliographic entry is not the place for commentary, I must admit to being surprised such philological connections were framed around the Greek 'zodiac' and mythology.

Lane, George S. 1966. "On the Interrelationship of the Tocharian Dialects." Ancient Indo-European Dialects. Edited by Henrik Birnbaum and Jaan Puhvel. See: pp. 213-235. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Li, Hui-Lin. 1975. “The Origin and Uses of Cannabis in Eastern Asia: Their Linguistic-Cultural Implications.” Cannabis and Culture (Papers presented at the “Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Cannabis” conference as part of the IX International Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Chicago, IL; August 1973). Edited by Vera Rubin. Pp. 51-62. The Hague: Mouton Publishers; Chicago, IL: Aldine. Graphic on p. 55 described as: “Figure 1. Evolvement of the character ma or hemp (line 1.) Column A, archaic chuan script, B, plain chieh script, C, cursive hsing script. Line 2 represents the vulgar word for with the added 'grass' radical.”

Mallory, J. P. 1989. In Search of the Indo-Europeans. London: Thames and Hudson.

Mallory, J. P. and Victor H. Mair. 2000. The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West. London: Thames & Hudson.

Merlin, M. D. 2003. “Archaeological Evidence for the Tradition of Psychoactive Plant-Use in the Old World.” Economic Botany. 57, 3: 295-323.

Neugebauer, Otto. 1951. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity (Vol. IX of Acta historica scientiarum naturalium et medicinalium). First softcover edition. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard; also Neugebauer, Otto. 1952. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. First hardcover edition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Pokorny, Julius. 1959. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 2 vols. Bern: Francke. A reworking of Alois Walde and Julius Pokorny's 1927-1932 Vergleichendes Wörterbuch der indogermanischen Sprachen (“Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-European Languages”) 3 vols. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co.

Renfrew, Colin. 1987. Archaeology & Language: The Puzzle of the Indo-European Origins. London: Jonathan Cape.

Rudenko, S. I. 1970. Frozen Tombs of Siberia: The Pazyryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen. Translated by W. M. Thompson. See: pp. 197–200, 284–285, and Fig. 35. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Stone, Linda, Paul F. Lurquin, and L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza. 2007. Genes, Culture, and Human Evolution: A Synthesis. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Checking the expiration dates,

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