Dogs and the koryos.

Eric A. Powell, online editor at Archeology, reports on an attempt to combine archaeology and historical linguistics:

Around 4,000 years ago, on the steppes north of the Black Sea, a nomadic people began settling down in small communities. Known today as the Timber Grave Culture, these people left behind more than 1,000 sites. One of them is called Krasnosamarskoe, and Hartwick College archaeologist David Anthony had big expectations for it when he started digging there in the late 1990s. Anthony hoped that by excavating the site he might learn why people in this region first began to establish permanent households. But he and his team have since discovered that Krasnosamarskoe has a much different story to tell. They found that the site held the remains of dozens of butchered dogs and wolves—vastly more than at any comparable site.

Anthony and his wife, archaeologist Dorcas Brown, who are interested in combining linguistic and mythological evidence with archaeological evidence, searched the literature on Indo-European ceremonies, and Brown “found that historical linguists and mythologists have long linked dog sacrifice to an important ancient Indo-European tradition, the roving youthful war band”:

The institution of youthful war bands that go on seasonal raids is so widespread in Indo-European cultures that historical linguists and mythologists concluded that it had to be a long-standing PIE tradition, and that these young men became warriors during a mid-winter ritual that involved dog sacrifice. Linguists even reconstructed the PIE word for these warrior bands: koryos. But, as with many reconstructed PIE words and ideas, physical proof that koryos actually roamed the Eurasian steppes thousands of years ago had been lacking. Anthony and Brown, however, because of the sheer number of dog and wolf bones at the site, strongly suspected Krasnosamarskoe might indeed be a site of one of these midwinter koryos initiations. But they needed to prove that this reconstructed tradition existed 4,000 years ago.

Once they sent the canine teeth from the site to archaeozoologist Anne Pike-Tay, who studies incremental growth bands on teeth to determine what season an animal died in, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. She was able to determine the season of death for 17 of the canines and found that 16 of them were killed in the wintertime. Cows sacrificed at the site, by contrast, were killed year-round. For Anthony and Brown, this was a powerful piece of evidence that koryos existed hundreds of years before they were first mentioned in the Rigveda.

Just as roving bands of youthful raiders played an important role in later Indo-European societies, Anthony thinks they would have been critical to the Timber Grave people. “It was an organized way of not just controlling potentially dangerous young men,” he says, “but it was a way of expanding and gaining wealth.” Indeed, Anthony thinks koryos could help explain why Indo-European languages spread so successfully. Previous generations of scholars imagined hordes of Indo-Europeans on chariots spreading their languages across Europe and Asia by the point of the sword. But Anthony thinks Indo-European spread instead by way of widespread imitation of Indo-European customs, which included, for example, feasting to establish strong social networks. The koryos could have simply been one more feature of Indo-European life that other people admired and adopted, along with the languages themselves.

Seems pretty speculative to me, but of course I’m a grumpy old curmudgeon. I’m curious to know what readers think about all this. (Thanks, Gary!)


  1. Stu Clayton says

    “… We ought to be mining this vocabulary to figure out what was going on in their minds.”

    That’s still done even today. It provides great opportunities for talk and a way of making a living, say for media commentators who analyze what politicians say.

    Shamans too pore over bone patterns and come to conclusions about what they mean. I pore over what experts say to figure out what is going on in their minds. It helps quite a bit in sorting out developments in IT nowadays, for example.

  2. Are they sure this was 4000 years ago? I have a strong suspicion that this describes situation in present-day Krasnosamarskoe.

  3. Modern-day youth of Krasnosamarkoe

  4. Regarding Timber Grave Culture, I’ve learned that certain people insist on calling it Srubna culture in English.

    I wonder what’s next – Katakombna culture?

    This stupidity has to stop somewhere

  5. David Marjanović says

    Sounds good to me: everyone who comes out of the army alive ends up speaking IE in a lot of social situations.

    May even explain why the kinship terms are so intensely patrifocal, though that may be a chicken-and-egg problem.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    This instance could only be a rooster-and-egg problem.

  7. ” Perhaps, posits Anthony, koryos were ideally groups of eight young men, and that fundamental unit of warriors endured into later times.”

    From Wikipedia: “Currently, US Army rifle squads consist of nine soldiers, organized under a squad leader into two four-man fire teams. The squad leader is a staff sergeant (E-6) and the two fire team leaders are sergeants (E-5).”

    So eight appears to be standard for a basic group of warriors. There are other numbers like this – the optimal size of a battalion and a parish (a priest once told me) is 600, the “span of control” is five, and you find this across a lot of armies.

  8. Trond Engen says

    I agree that it’s speculative, but you can’t deny that David Anthony has a good record of constructive speculation! Comparative mythology is inherently speculative, but I think this is one of its firmer results, both because there’s linguistic support and because similar institutions of young warriors are known from all over the world. If we accept the idea of the Pack of Wolves, then Anthony’s.and Brown’s connection of their finds to the dog sacrifice is quite straightforward.

    SFR: Regarding Timber Grave Culture, I’ve learned that certain people insist on calling it Srubna culture in English.

    I wonder what’s next – Katakombna culture?

    This stupidity has to stop somewhere

    Guilty as not explicitly charged. I even know better, but they are much handier as (quasi-)ethnonyms than Pit Grave and Timber Grave. Or indeed Corded Ware or Bell Beaker.

  9. Trond Engen says

    Pitgravia, Timbagravia, Cordiwaria and Belbeacrum.

    Which reminds me: What language did the Timbagravians speak. The Cordiwarians and Belbeacrans are already gone. The Indo-Iranians haven’t formed in the Eastern steppe yet. My guess is Proto-Cimmerian or Proto-Thracian, but I guess it could also be ancestral to Albanian or some lesser known Balkan branch. I’m pretty sure it’s already too late for Greek.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Well, the traditional German ethnonym for the Corded Ware people is Streitaxtleute, “Battle Ax people”, Battle Ax culture being a synonym of Corded Ware culture…

  11. Marja Erwin says

    And the English name for the Bell Beaker People is Beaker Folk, but material culture doesn’t necessarily correspond with language with identity groups.

  12. David Marjanović says


  13. CAPITALS, not lower case.

  14. Greg Pandatshang says

    my go-to, Wiktionary, doesn’t have an entry on *kóryos, but it does have Proto-Gmc reflex *harjaz. Seems especially well attested in Germanic, thus proving all the stereotypes about Prussians and Vikings were true all along. Modern descendents include German “Heer” and English “harry”. Also attested in Celtic, Baltic, Greek, and Persian. Without the latter (Old Persian ????????—must Wiktionary really list Old Persian words in cuneiform?), one could speculate that it’s a pre-IE European farmer substrate word.

  15. Kroonen’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic:

    *harja- m. ‘host, troop, army’ — Go. harjis m. ‘id.’, ON herr m. ‘id.’, Far. herur m. ‘id.’, OE here m. ‘id.’, OFri. here m./f./n. ‘id.’, OS heri m. ‘id.’, OHG hari, heri n. ‘id.’, G Heer n. ‘id.’ ⇒ *kor-io- (IE) — OP kāra- m. ‘army, people’, Lith. kāras m. ‘war, army’ < *kor-o-; Lith. kārias m. ‘war, army, regiment’, Latv. kaŗš m. ‘war, army’, OPru. kargis (att. kragis) ‘army’, Olr. cuire m. ‘troop, tribe’, W cordd ‘tribe, clan’ < *kor-io-.
    The neuter forms can synchronically be analyzed as an old collective formation in *-io-, but the masculine forms seem older in view of e.g. Oir. cuire. Even older is the more primitive formation *koro-, attested as OP kāra-. The similarity of ON Herjann (a name of Odin) and Gr. κοίρανος m. ‘ruler, commander, lord’ is notable.

    Orel’s Dictionary of Germanic Etymology reconstructs PGmc. xariz~xarjaz.

  16. Greg Pandatshang says

    Wait, Kroonen uses Roman letters to write Old Persian? lol what an amateur.

  17. >I agree that it’s speculative, but you can’t deny that David Anthony has a good record of constructive speculation!

    This is from 2013. Speculation on the meaning of the wolf remains is one thing. But I’m willing to bet Anthony no longer believes I-E spread primarily because of widespread imitation of I-E customs. Too many instances of “near total Y-chromosome replacement” have popped up.

    I was interested to learn that Anthony’s wife shares a name (sort of) with my daughter Tabitha!

  18. Trond Engen says

    ryan: I’m willing to bet Anthony no longer believes I-E spread primarily because of widespread imitation of I-E customs.

    So am I. But he did see movement of people as a necessary element.

  19. Trond Engen says

    Oh, as sort of a counterpoint, I’ll note that I can’t really see how the meaning “war band” can be reconstructed for the *kor-io- set. If there’s been parallel development in all branches, I’d expect it to be in the opposite direction, term inflation leading to words for military units denoting fewer people over time.

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