What did our ancient ancestors sound like?

Between approximately 4,500 and 2,500 B.C., the ancestors of much of Europe and Asia once spoke the same mother tongue, a language referred to as Proto-Indo-European, or PIE. Although there is no written record of such a language, linguist Dr. Andrew Byrd recently attempted to reconstruct his own recordings of PIE language for Archaeology magazine, building off three centuries' worth of scholarly work on the topic.

Byrd is an expert in ancient Indo-European linguistics, focusing on phonology, and teaches at the University of Kentucky. For his recording, he edited and recited his own version of a reconstructed PIE fable known as "The Sheep and the Horses," as well as a version of a Sanskrit story called “The King and the God.”

"The Sheep and the Horses" is an interesting case because it was actually written in 1868 by German linguist Dr. August Schleicher, who then translated the story into PIE as a way to experiment with the vocabulary, according to Archaeology.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Byrd said that his recording of "The Sheep and the Horses" was "an approximation" of what PIE originally sounded like and is largely based on our knowledge of the texts of ancient Indo-European languages, such as Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. Byrd's rendition of "The Sheep and the Horses" largely derives from a text originally composed by a mentor, UCLA linguist Dr. H. Craig Melchert. That text in Proto-Indo-European, as reprinted from Archaeology, reads thus:

the sheep and the horses

Here is the passage translated into English:

A sheep that had no wool saw horses, one of them pulling a heavy wagon, one carrying a big load, and one carrying a man quickly. The sheep said to the horses: "My heart pains me, seeing a man driving horses." The horses said: "Listen, sheep, our hearts pain us when we see this: a man, the master, makes the wool of the sheep into a warm garment for himself. And the sheep has no wool." Having heard this, the sheep fled into the plain.

Although there is no way to create a definitive version of the language, Byrd told HuffPost that his pronunciation is "still a very educated approximation."

"Languages differ on how they pattern their sounds together," Byrd explained. "And they use those sounds to create new words. Proto-Indo-European is very guttural."

Somewhat surprised by the viral success of his recording, Byrd said he doubts that he will make any further recordings, in large part because he'd have to create new narratives to translate. The researcher added, however, that he was pleased the media attention has helped bring Indo-European linguistics into the mainstream.

Some of the many modern languages that stem from the Indo-European family include English, Swedish and Farsi. Byrd told HuffPost that this ancient connection is often forgotten in the context of today's geopolitical climate.

"Farsi and English were 6,500 years ago the same language," he said. "That's pretty cool, and it kind of gives you a sense of unity."

Because of the lack of available information, PIE is a debated topic among researchers. Byrd believes PIE was probably spoken on the Eurasian steppes around 6,500 years ago; but, he added, other researchers recently introduced a controversial new theory that it was spoken several thousand years earlier in Turkey.

Asked what it would take to create a completely definitive PIE recording, Byrd just laughed. "A time machine?" he mused.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Mummies To Treat Tuberculosis?

    A collection of 265 mummies, buried between 1731 and 1838 in Vac, Hungary, may be useful to scientists for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/05/mummies-medical-research-tuberculosis-hungary_n_1743719.html?ir=Science">tuberculosis research</a>. "Their immune system was likely better than ours. If we could locate some gene sections and discover why they were more resistant to tuberculosis than us, then that could be of great assistance to modern medical science," noted Ildiko Pap, head of the Department of Anthropology of the Hungarian Natural History Museum.

  • Ancient Murder Mystery Solved

    CT scans of Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III revealed that the famous king was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/ramses-iii-mummy-murder-great-pharaohs_n_2323397.html">likely murdered</a>. The evidence? A deep cut, nearly to the bone, at Ramses' throat. The wound had been concealed by bandages ever since the mummy had been dug up.

  • Scans Reveal Mummy's Gross Teeth

    CT scans of a young man mummified in Thebes around 1900 BCE show evidence of extremely poor dental care, which would have been very painful. There is evidence that an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/mummys-sinus-infection-tooth-ct-scans_n_1953918.html">ancient dentist tried to relieve his pain</a>, but a sinus infection that resulted from his unpleasant condition likely killed the young man.

  • Siberian Mummy's Intricate Tattoos

    A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/17/siberian-mummy-tattoos-photo-video-_n_1796105.html">mummy with remarkable tattoos</a> was put on display at Russia's Republican National Museum. The woman, who was mummified around 2,500 years ago, is known as the Ukok princess, and displays what one researcher called "a phenomenal level of tattoo art."

  • When 'Bodies Littered The Earth'

    A combination of shallow burial and arid climate in ancient Chile's Atacama desert may have created an environment in which "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/14/chinchorro-mummies-chile-atacama_n_1775033.html">bodies littered the earth</a>." Researchers contend that this encouraged intentional mummification in subsequent generations of the Chinchorro people living in the area.

  • Maiden Mummy's Ill Health

    Researchers analyzed a the remains of a well-preserved Incan teenager known as the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/maiden-inca-mummy-lung-infection_n_1704154.html">Maiden Mummy</a>, and found that she suffered from a lung infection.

  • Mummified Man's Rare Disease

    Medical imaging shows that this man, mummified around 2,900 years ago, had Hand-Schuller-Christian disease, a cancerlike condition of the skin. The disease, which can be treated today, would have been invariably fatal in ancient Egypt. Scientists have taken a keen interest as this finding feeds a longstanding debate over <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/ancient-egyptian-mummy-hand-schuller-christian-disease_n_1459929.html">whether cancer was common in antiquity</a>.

  • Ötzi's Disease

    Ötzi is the name given to a well-preserved mummy found in the Alps around 20 years ago. Recent investigation of the 5,300-year-old mummy revealed evidence of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/otzi-the-icemans-genome-reveals_n_1307532.html#slide=736087">Lyme disease</a>, making "The Iceman" its oldest known victim.

  • Investigating Ötzi

    Scientists <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/otzi-the-icemans-genome-reveals_n_1307532.html">mapped Ötzi's genome</a>, and found evidence of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Despite the discomfort the disease may have caused Ötzi survived it and was likely killed by an arrow wound.

  • Ötzi In The Flesh

    A modern <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/otzi-the-icemans-genome-reveals_n_1307532.html">reconstruction of Ötzi</a>.

  • Mummy's Surgical Blunder

    Removing the brain was a standard part of the mummification process, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/15/mummy-brain-removal-tool-egyptian_n_2301802.html">something went wrong</a> in the case of a 2,400-year-old female mummy from Egypt. New scans of the mummy showed evidence that a brain-removal tool had been left in the corpse's cranial cavity by an embalmer. Oops!

  • Mummy's Got A Lot In Her Head

    This photograph depicts the mummy who had a brain-removal tool left in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/15/mummy-brain-removal-tool-egyptian_n_2301802.html">her cranial cavity</a>.

  • Largest Sarcophagus

    The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/largest-ancient-egyptian-sarcophagus-valley-kings_n_2253514.html">largest ancient Egyptian sarcophagus</a> known was in ruins when archaeologists found it, but now they are re-assembling the mammoth object. It measures more than 13 ft long, 7 ft wide and more than 8 ft high.

  • 'Frankenstein' Mummies?

    Bronze Age mummies are extremely rare in the British Isles, but a new study in Archaeological Science identifies something even more unusual: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/frankenstein-mummies-bog-corpses_n_1659965.html">'Frankenstein' mummies</a>. The bodies, discovered in 2001 on an island off the west coast of Scotland, are so named because they appear to have been assembled from bones of several different people.

  • Ancient Egyptian Singer's Tomb

    This mummy was found in an Egyptian tomb, in the Valley of the Kings, but she's no pharaoh. She was a singer who died around 900 C.E., and her tomb is the only one for a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/15/rare-tomb-of-woman-found-in-egypts-valley-of-kings_n_1207930.html">non-royal Egyptian woman</a> ever found in the region.