As it is known, the academic study of anthropology in North American universities is usually divided into four fields: cultural anthropology, archaeology, physical anthropology and linguistics. Indeed, by analyzing the language and its changes over time, we can dig down to the very roots of the human civilization and unearth facts previously unknown to us. In this sense the anthropological study of languages is similar to archaeological excavations, where each layer corresponds to an epoch as represented by artifacts and other footprints left by earlier generations.
Such diverse languages as English, Greek, Latin, Polish, Persian or Hindi belong to the same extensive language family. They are related and grew out of a common root. The location of the original homeland of ancient Indo-Europeans is still under debate. There is, however, certain linguistic evidence that can be of assistance. The oldest layer of vocabulary common to all Indo-European languages suggests climatic conditions in their birthplace, helping to determine the landscape, and pointing to the level of the economic development of early Indo-Europeans. This tells us which animals ancient Indo-Europeans domesticated, and which ones they likely hunted.
According to Harold Bender, “There are common words, more or less widely spread over Indo-European territory, for snow and freezing cold, for oak, beech, pine, birch, willow, bear, wolf, otter, beaver, polecat, marten, weasel, deer, rabbit, mouse, horse, ox, sheep, goat, pig, dog, eagle, etc.” Some of the oldest text ever written in an Indo-European language were the Vedas, the collection of five books of hymns to gods in the Vedic language (the earlier form of Sanskrit). They bear witness to the places and conditions the forefathers of present-day Indians or Pakistanis came from in the 2nd millennium BCE. The oldest parts of the Vedas mention snowy winters and refer to writing on birch tree bark. Of course, it does not snow anywhere in modern India and Pakistan, other than in the mountainous areas of the Himalayas and Kashmir. Likewise, birch trees do not grow in India. Instead, we find a medieval custom of writing on birch tree bark in places as far away from India as northwestern Russia.
The oldest Indo-European vocabulary layer is able to tell us something about religious views and customs of Proto-Indo-Europeans. For example, early Indo-Europeans were, in all probability, polytheistic (worshipped many deities). The gods of pre-Christian or pre-Islamic religions of Indo-European peoples also coincide to an amazing degree. A deity of thunder and lightning was a prominent figure in the Indo-European mythology, even though he was known as Zeus in Greece, Jupiter in ancient Rome, Thor among Nordic and Germanic peoples, and Perun among the Slavs.
Linguistic anthropology is an inexhaustible source of meaningful information about human development. As such, it is a very promising field of anthropology.
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