On the Scythian Pantheon

Tabiti

Gold plate from the Chertomlyk kurgan, possibly depicting Tabiti, the queen of the Scythian pantheon.

For as many discussions as there are on the putative Proto-Indo-European people/s, there are comparatively few discussions on the religion of the Scythians and how it relates to it. Not helping matters is what little I find usually tends to be non-subtly tainted by nationalism and subsequent biases*, which makes a sincere analysis even harder. This is a shame, because not only is what we know of Scythian mythology quite interesting, but could offer several insights to the evolution and development of Indo-European religious beliefs, and in particular of Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.

*Therefore, I advise you to take most sources here with at least a little pinch of salt.

Historical Definitions And Context

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Extent of the Yamna culture by ‘Joostik’. Overlaying the Pontic Steppe, Scythians would continue to remain here before expanding.

The term “Scythian” is typically applied to a group of Iranian peoples occupying western Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Even historically this term was somewhat loose as Greek and Roman sources would latter make it a synonym for “barbarian” and apply it to Slavic and Germanic peoples as well, but similar terms in other cultures such as the Persian Saka, Assyrian Aškuz and Chinese Sai (and derivatives henceforth) seem to legitimately imply that this term is derived from a common designation to these particular people. Herodotos claims that the Scythians called themselves Skolotoi; the reconstructed name is *Skudat, from Proto-Indo-European *skeud, “archer” (Lendering 2017, Szemerényi 1980). Archaeological finds certainly do indicate that there was at least a consistent cultural complex in the region.

The Scythian home range overlays that of the earlier Yamna culture, usually assumed to be the Proto-Indo-Europeans. While the Scythians underwent several cultural and technological innovations of their own, helped further by their own establishment of extensive trade connections and interactions with surrounding peoples, they do bear several characteristics that make them rather similar to the earliest Proto-Indo-Europeans:

  • A nomadic lifestyle relying heavily on livestock
  • The use of kurgans
  • Gender egalitarianism (Anthony 2007)
  • Tripartite social structure

For these reasons they offer a strong insight to the social and environmental pressures and factors that shaped early Indo-European cultures. And, in turn, the highly-speculated-upon Proto-Indo-European religion may have rather conservative reflexes on Scythian beliefs and deities.

Being Iranian speakers, the Scythians have been suggested to approach a model for the proto-Indo-Iranian religion (Boyce 1982, West 2007). However, while they might have shared some theonyms and practises with Zoroastrianism and Vedic religions to the exclusion of other Indo-Europeans, I think that there is a large gulf in terms of overall cultural environment, and that they also interacted with other Indo-European speakers such as ancient Slavs, Greeks, Thracians, Celts, Germanic peoples and Tocharians (as well as non-Indo-European peoples like Turkic speakers, Mongolians, Uralic speakers and various peoples in the Caucasus) enough to mitigate a specific Indo-Iranian religious format in favour of a “generic” Indo-European model, which was probably similar to the Proto-Indo-European one. Herodotos also describes the Scythians as distrustful of foreign customs, increasing the likelihood they they might have retained more archaic aspects to their culture and religion.

Several known aspects of Scythian religion are similar to other Indo-European religions:

  • They used an intoxicating drink in religious rituals, reminiscent of the Zoroastrian haoma (in fact, Persian sources outright call one of the Scythian tribes “haoma drinkers”), Indian soma and wine in greco-roman Dionysian mysteries, though the substance concerned appears to have been derived from marijuana.
  • The relevance of the horse in ritual use mirrors that of Thracians and even Hellenic Greeks.
  • Herodotus describes a propensity for aniconism aside from towards the “Scythian Ares”, cited sometimes as a predecessor for the Zoroastrian tendency towards it (Boyce 1982), though this has since been at least partly refuted with the discovery of multiple deity figurines in kurgans (Bessonova 1983).
  • Most curious are the Enarei, a class of male priests that assumed female identities; depending on how this is interpreted, its either a third gender much like the modern hijra or a practise of assuming a feminine identity as means of ritual power as seen in the Norse seidr and Freyr priesthood.
  • The use of skull cups is well attested by various sources, though they appear to differ from the Hindu-Buddhist usage, being made from enemies slain in battle.

By far the most important sources on Scythian religion are Herodotos’ Histories and Darius I’s Behistun inscriptions. both of which making clear statements on the practises of the Scythians, both the details mentioned above as well as the concise pantheon they venerated. While neither are perfect – Herodotos is not called “the father of lies” for nothing, and likely Hellenicised the Scythian theonyms he mentions, while Darius I is obviously biased against the Scythians – they do offer a relatively consistent picture, only mildly contradicted so far in archaeological findings. Another source frequently used to speculate on Scythian beliefs are the Nart sagas, which are even the basis of the modern Ossetian religion Uatsdin/Assianism, which aims at Scythian reconstructionism. They are undoubtedly useful, and the pantheon depicted in them will be examined in this article, but there are a few caveats:

  • They are also relevant to non-Indo-European peoples in the Caucasus and may reveal significant influences from them (Colarusso 2002)
  • Their written form has been compiled very recently in the 19th century, and influences from Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam are rather evident.
  • They lack some of the known cultural attributes of the Scythians, like a more egalitarian mindset.

Several Antiquity authors like Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Claudius Ptolemy, Stephanus of Byzantium and Priscus also describe religious customs in the Scythian region or allude to their deities.

An interesting discussion to be had is what were the Scythian words for “god”. In Old Iranian, daeva was probably the term utilised (descendent from the *dyḗus/*dyeus/*dyew/*deiwos root; see Papaios below), which became replaced by ahura or yazata in Zoroastrianism as the daevas become demonic figures. It is even possible that the process of demonising the daevas come from Zoroastrian conflicts with the Scythians and their gods (Boyce 1982). Other words for “god” in Iranian religions include terms derived from the root *bʰagás and khuda; in modern Ossetian religious vocabulary most terms for “god”/”deity”/”saint” come from the latter.

Tabiti

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Scythian plate depicting a deer (Kostromskaya kurgan). Deer were apparently sacred to the ruling god of the Scythians, Tabiti.

According to Herodotos, the ruler of the Scythian pantheon was a goddess that he equated with Hestia. This deity, which Herodotos claims is the most venerated of the Scythian gods beyond all others and is the pantheon’s queen, is named Tabiti.

Tabiti is Herodotos’ Hellenisation of a name most likely related to the Hindu Tapati (see also verb tapayati, “is hot/burns”), Avestan tapaiti (“is warm”), Latin tepeo (“I am warm/glow”) and several other Indo-European words likely from the root *top/*tep (“to be hot”) (West 2007, Cheung 2007). All these words denote heat and fire, with Tapati in particular being a daughter of the sun god Surya. Therefore, it seems likely that Tabiti was a fire goddess, further justified with the discovery of kurgan pictures of women associated with flames or the sun disc (sometimes as a mirror), likely depictions of her as these portraits are often sitting in thrones (Takho-Godi 1980).

That the Scythians had a goddess as the head of their pantheon could reflect their more egalitarian society, though it should be noted that a female ruling deity does not always correlate to a society fairer to women (case in point, Amaterasu). Of particular interest is that she is stated to be above Papaios, the putative sky father analogue, in the divine hierarchy, which could have some revealing implications for the Proto-Indo-European divine hierarchy.

Besides an association with fire, the precise nature of Herodotos’ equation of Tabiti with Hestia is unclear. It seems likely that she was an hearth goddess; not only would it fit her status as a ruling deity, as even Hestia and her Roman counterpart Vesta enjoyed political relevance due to the status of the hearth as the symbolic center, but the hearth goddess is speculated to be a Proto-Indo-European figure, as this archetype occurs in most Indo-European cultures, from the Irish Brighid to the Baltic Gabija.

In both Indian religions and Zoroastrianism the hearth/fire goddess was replaced by a male god, Agni/Atar respectively, with Tapati being delegated to a minor deity in Hinduism. This extended to some extent to Slavic religion, where the fire god is the male Svarožič. and to the modern Ossetian religion, where the hearth god Safa is also male; both likely owe this development to Zoroastrian influence. However, both Hinduism and Zoroastrianism retain fire goddess relics, like the ritual fire needing to be tended by the wife of the sacrificer in the former and Zoroaster being poetically described as born from flames in the latter. This suggests that the male fire god was a late development in Indo-Iranian religions, perhaps even evolving independently twice, and adds to the cultural gulf between the Scythian religion and these.

Because Tabiti was not only a fire goddess and a ruling deity but some of her putative depictions are associated with the sun disc, the question of whereas she was a sun goddess is rather relevant. The original Proto-Indo-European solar deity appears to have been female, as evidenced not only by a large number of sun goddesses in various Indo-European mythologies but also sun goddess myths in mythologies with male sun gods (Snow 2002). Indo-Iranian mythologies bear male sun gods, with even the modern Ossetian word for sun (xur) being masculine; as with the fire deities, however, traces of a female solar deity can be found in Hinduism, with one of Surya’s daughters bearing his own name in the Rigveda, his mother Aditi being frequently regarded as a sun goddess and Surya ultimately being a female deity in Buddhist Mount Meru cosmology. In the Nart Sagas the female figure Satanya is associated with the sun, implying sun goddess relics here as well, but the figure as a whole is an earth deity and discussed under Api below.

The sun is conversely usually dismissed as a lower deity in most literature examining the speculative Proto-Indo-European mythology, but kurgans bearing solar discs painted in ochre (aptly called “sun graves”) are known from various early Indo-European cultures such as the Afanasievo and Andronovo (Baumer 2012), suggesting that the sun was important to the afterlife beliefs of these people. Perhaps a continuation of these beliefs is seen in the Scythians’ own kurgans, where Tabiti’s depictions ended up, though other goddesses are also present. Assuming she is a reflex of the Proto-Indo-European sun goddess, this depicts a continuation of her worship as a dominant deity in these cultures. Perhaps worthy of note is the dominance of the sun goddess in Hittite religion, a relatively early diverging branch of the Indo-Europeans, where she is the monarchical deity as well as the goddess of the underworld.

Of course, a problem occurs in that most hearth goddess figures in Indo-European mythologies are not solar in nature, there usually being a strong distinction even when both deities are female such as Saulė and Gabija in Baltic mythology. Likewise, Tabiti’s name is not cognate to most words for sun (including sun itself) in Indo-European languages, from the root *sóh₂wl̥/*seh2ul.

That said, overlap does occur: for instance, Agni occurs in the place of Surya periodically in the Vedas or the latter is an aspect or form of the former, Brighid’s traits overlap strongly with those of Sulis/Grian and the Pythagorean “central fire” beliefs (overtly compared to Hestia and her symbolic status as the center) might be stealth heliocentrism. Likewise, Indo-European mythologies where the sun is male see the frequent overlap between popular male deities and the sun, such as notably Helios’ equations with Apollo and Zeus or the Indo-Iranian equations of Surya/Hvare and Mithra. Finally, Tapati herself is the sun’s daughter in Hindu belief.

Therefore, a variety of possibilities can be presented:

  • Tabiti was originally a hearth goddess equated with the sun as her relevance increased
  • “Tabiti” is the sun theonym in Scythian beliefs, having displaced the *sóh₂wl̥/*seh2ul derived one in Scythian language, with xur latter imported from Avestan or derived Iranian languages
  • “Tabiti” is just one of the many names the Scythians used for this goddess, with perhaps the predecessor for xur either being a variation unrecorded by Herodotos or just used in her capacity as the sun and say not as the hearth or other forms of her worship

Relevant to this discussion is also the god Oitosyros. As I will explain soon enough, I don’t think he has a solar character, but maybe further discoveries might disprove that assumption.

Another possible area of interest is any potential equations between Tabiti and the putative dawn goddess *h₂éwsōs. Personally, I think Argimpasa is a more likely reflex of the Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess, though a syncretism between the two deities is possible.

Herodotos claims Tabiti rules over oaths, with broken oaths being punished by death. The role of the solar deity as the oath deity in Indo-European mythologies is ubiquitous, from the explicit role of Helios, Sulis and Surya as oath witnesses to Germanic and Zoroastrian practises of swearing oaths before the sun. However, in Zoroastrianism and Hinduism the fire god Atar/Agni also serves as an oath witness, as do ruling deities in all Indo-European pantheons. More conclusive is Tabiti’s association with marriage, as marriage tends to be associated with the sun deity in Indo-European myths, due to the “marriage drama” myth involving the sun or dawn goddess and the divine twins (Snow 2002); even in mythologies where the sun is male retain this association with marriage, as seen with Helios and Surya. Hittite kings are known to have ritualistically married the sun goddess, and this has occasionally been proposed for Scythian rulers as well due to Idanthyrsos’ insistence on recognising Tabiti as the queen of all Scythians as well as a possible kurgan depiction of a marriage between her and a man (Rayevskiy 1977).

Stags in particular were sacrificed to her. Deer figurines are an abundant presence in Scythian art, clearly attesting to the animal’s symbolic importance. The deer is an atypical solar symbol among Indo-European cultures, which typically prefer horses as the steeds of the sun, but not unheard off: the Hittite sun goddess was also associated with deer sacrifices. This is appears to be indeed an original Proto-Indo-European feature, as cultures as early as the Andronovo have evidence of deer sacrifice and worship, possibly influence by northern Eurasian cultures (Jacobson 1993).

 

Papaios

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Drawn rendering of a Scythian kurgan figurine (artist unknown) possibly depicting Papaios.

Second to Tabiti in the divine hierarchy are a pair of gods, Papaios (sometimes also rendered Papaeus; this is a Hellenised rendering of the name, after all) and Api. The former is equated to the Greek god Zeus, and appears to have been secondary in importance to Tabiti, as Idanthyrsos claims he and her are the only gods he serves. In particular, the Scythians seem to have conceived of him as a divine ancestor as he sired (with “the daughter of the river Borysthenes”) the hero and possible deity Targitaos, who latter sired the ancestors of the Scythians.

Depictions of this deity are rare, but figurines flanked by griffins or birds of prey seem to be a depiction of him. This clearly marks him as a sky god, and combined with the identification with Zeus and his divine ancestor status it seems extremely likely that he is the Scythian reflex of the Proto-Indo-European *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr, the fabled sky father, which has reflexes in virtually all Indo-European languages. The name itself is rather odd compared to other reflexes, however; its possible that the *dyḗus/*dyeus/*dyew/*deiwos root remains in the last syllable, as it sometimes has been suggested for the Thracian ruling god Sabazios, but it is more likely a calque. Potential etymologies include the Proto-Indo-European root *peh₃, “to protect” (Vasmer 1993), or a Turkic loanword (several sources cite papay as a Chuvash term for grandfather, but I haven’t found it on Chuvash dictionaries so there’s an ocean of salt on this).

*Dyḗus Ph2tḗr is typically assumed to the the original patriarchal deity of the Indo-Europeans, based both on the prominence of his character archetype but also because the root *dyḗus/*dyeus/*dyew/*deiwos tends to become the generic word for deity in these languages (i.e. Latin deus, Indian deva, Welsh duw, et cetera). However, only in Greco-Roman mythologies (and perhaps Zoroastrianism and Lusitanian mythology, if you consider Ahura Mazda and Reue respectively to be his reflexes there) is he the dominant god, with most of his reflexes either being distant, unimportant figures (i.e. Indian Dyauṣ Pitṛ), secondary deities (i.e. Norse Týr) or outright absent as a god (i.e. Celtic mythologies).

This has usually been considered multiple, independent losses of relevance, but the fact that Zeus was secondary to Poseidon in the Mycenaean pantheon (Chadwick 1976) and that the Rigveda and Hittite texts already depicted their *Dyḗus reflexes as unimportant in the former or non-existent in the latter sends some massive red flags in regards to this interpretation. More likely, we are trying to fit a square in a round peg when it comes to depicting the sky father as an ancient patriarch displaced by other gods, when the process was at best non-linear.

Based on Papaios position on the Scythian pantheon, a more likely explanation is that the sky father was worshipped as a divine ancestor and might have even enjoyed some cultural relevance, but was not the ruler of the cosmos. This situation is not underhead off: in Mesopotamian mythologies, the sky god An/Anu is the ancestor of all gods but generally irrelevant in worship, while the Canaanite El became essentially only a generic term for deity until Yahweh came along (van der Toom 1999). In Zoroastrianism, modern Ossetian religion and Greek philosophy there is a tendency to depict the *Dyḗus reflexes as abstract cosmical deities; I doubt this is what we see in ancient Scythian religion, where Papaios appears as yet another god, but the role as a cosmical progenitor may be emphasised with his union with Api.

Herodotos’ choice to equate Papaios with Zeus and Api with Gaia is definitely interesting:

  • In most Indo-European religions, the sky father is not a consort to the earth mother, instead being paired off with an “equivalent” female deity (i.e. Diwo/Diwija in the Mycenaean pantheon and latter Zeus/Hera or Zeus/Dione in Greek religion, Tiwaz and his female analogue in early Germanic peoples, et cetera), but it does occur in the Rigveda, where Dyauṣ Pitṛ and Pṛthvī Mātā are consorts, and perhaps also in Thracian religion, as the Greek character Semele is probably derived from the Thracian Zemele, their earth personification. Perhaps this sky father/earth mother pair was in fact original to the Proto-Indo-European religion, but lost as the *Dyḗus reflexes shifted from personifications of the sky to societal or abstract gods.
  • Likewise, Herodotos could have equated Papaios with Ouranos, the Greek personification of the sky and more typically paired off with Gaia in Greek theogonies, but instead he chose a direct equation with Zeus. This could imply that while Papaios was associated with the sky his role as a societal god was more relevant. Or he didn’t think of that.

That said, Darius I makes the claim that the Scythians were impious towards Ahura Mazda. While this is most likely a very vitriolic accusation, it could also imply that there were some differences between how Scythians worshipped Papaios from the role Ahura Mazda plays in Zoroastrianism, to the point that there is no direct analogy.

In the modern Ossetian Uatsdin/Assianism religion, Xucaw is the universal creator god, the embodiment of the sky and the universal animating essence, residing in every being. His name being derived from the Persian Khuda (originally a synonym for Ahura Mazda), the Zoroastrian influences are pretty unmistakable. However, an interesting aspect of his character is a lack of agency as a character: being essentially a cosmic force, in the Nart sagas he basically does not show up – if you do not count the fact that basically everyone has bits of him inside them – with other deities being the actors in these stories. This is more or less the opposite of Zoroastrian mythologies, where Ahura Mazda is more likely to be the subject of a myth than the various deities under him, barring some exceptions like its eschatology, where various yazatas do participate.

Perhaps this may echo Papaios’ role as a deus otiosus within Scythian beliefs, and thus add another layer to the discussion on the original role of *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr among the Proto-Indo-Europeans.

Api

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Scythian kurgan figurines with phytomorphic (i.e. plant-like) or serpent feet are considered possible depictions of Api. This is from the Kul-Oba kurgan.

Api is listed with Papaios as secondary to Tabiti. She is equated by Herodotos to Gaia. The theonym Apatouros (also rendered Apaturia) is recorded by various later authors such as Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Claudius Ptolemy and Stephanus of Byzantium referring to a deity or mode of worship in the Scythian region, but this name has also been linked to Argimpasa because of its syncretism with Aphrodite Ourania by these authors. Either there was a significant degree of syncretism between these goddesses in later stages of Scythian history, or Herodotos might have missed several nuances on this character.

Unlike the sky father, the earth mother does not have a consistent Proto-Indo-European reconstruction in literature; although the earth is personified in almost all Indo-European religions, the vast majority of words are not etymologically linked (though the root *dʰéǵʰōm is particularly promising) and the general consensus appears to be that, due to their nomadic lifestyle, Indo-European peoples adopted the land goddesses or personified the lands they conquered, abandoning old ones. In this mindset, continuity between the earth goddess archetype does not exist beyond some basic characteristic like being female and associated with fertility. It ties closely into the 19th century mindset that Proto-Indo-Europeans were patriarchal, and archaeological findings on the Yamna and other early cultures counter this, implying a much more nuanced perspective on their social reality.

Some authors have recently noted that *dʰéǵʰōm derived words occur as an earth goddess theonym even in traditions where it was abandoned later on, such as in the Rigveda’s kṣám in dyā́vākṣā́mā  (“heaven and earth”) (West 2007), so the notion that there wasn’t an earth goddess archetype grows especially dubious. The fact remains that these words fall out of use at a higher rate than *dyḗus/*dyeus/*dyew/*deiwos derived ones remains to be addressed, however.

Api indeed most likely cannot be traced to *dʰéǵʰōm, with a more likely predecessor being the root *h₂ep, “water” (Vasmer 1984). The latter seems odd (provided Herodotos isn’t mistaken, of course) but it does fit with the Apatouros theonym, as this deity is associated with water. In Indian and Zoroastrian mythologies Apam Napat holds the waters of the firmament; this is usually a male deity, but the Zoroastrian goddess Anahita is occasionally also seen in this role. Another likely etymology is a Turkic loanword for “mother”, from the root *aba/*apa (Zgusta 1953); should this be the case, a potential Turkic origin name for Papaios as well could reveal some interesting aspects to this divine pair.

As noted before, the earth mother/sky father pairing is atypical in Indo-European mythologies but it does occur in both the early dated Rigveda and probably in the faith of the Thracians, suggesting that it was probably an original feature of the religion and one that stuck in the regions close to the Indo-European homeland respectively. Of note is that Papaios sired Targitaos with “the daughter of the river Borysthenes”; this could be standard divine infidelity, but given the possible etymology of Api’s name and Apatouros’ connection with water its possible that this figure and Api are one and the same; in this case, either Herodotos missed on some nuance on Scythian religion, or “daughter of the river Borysthenes” is an euphemism or poetic name for Api. As we will later see, Targitaos is likely a reflex of the storm god *Perkwunos, some of his reflexes being sons of either the earth (i.e. Thor) or the sky (i.e. Hercules) and most likely therefore originally of both. It is likely that one can see them both as the divine progenitors of the pantheon, and perhaps existence.

Several kurgan female figurines with phytomorphic (plant-like) or serpent feet have been suggested to be depictions of Api. This certainly adds to her probably chthonic character, but makes the syncretism of Apatouros and Aphrodite Ourania rather baffling. It seems that Api and Argimpasa underwent increasing syncretism, perhaps facilitated by the aforementioned notion of the aforementioned firmament waters and/or because both would have been oracular deities (in both Greek, Irish and Slavic myth, for instance, the earth is strongly associated with oracular powers and oaths, probably because she is literally everywhere and sees everything). Their depictions are notably harder to tell apart than those that possibly depict Tabiti (Takho-Godi 1980).

The earth in most Indo-European religions is associated with fertility and motherhood, but also bears a more primeval, monstrous power. The best example is Gaia’s status in greco-roman mythology as the mother of monsters and occasional enemy of the Olympian gods. Among the Aesti the earth goddess was portrayed by a ferocious boar. And most chaos serpents in Indo-European myths have chthonic origins. The monstrous characteristics of Api’s possible depictions certainly bring this to mind, and Apatouros is painted as an ambivalent, sinister entity by the writers describing her. The Scythians, who were not shy about depicting the predatory aspects of the natural world in their art, likely would have seen her as a double-edged sword…but one worth worshipping, considering that she was one of their favoured gods.

In Ossetian mythology Satanaya (also known as Setenaya, Setenay and other variations) is the mother earth and the progenitor of several heroes in the Nart sagas, as well as the protagonist of at least two stories herself, where she is cast as a demigod. As with most deities in the Nart Sagas its difficult to say if she is indeed a reflection of Scythian beliefs, especially as she owes a lot of her character to the Chechen-Ingush deity Sela-Sata, and definitely appears to be a much more benevolent character than the monstrous depictions of Api. Should she be, of interest as her descent from Uastyrdzhi, a possible *Perkwunos reflex, implying a reversal of their original relationship, her association with water in the “Lady Satanaya’s Blossom” episode, and with the sun in “Why the Sun Passes At The Horizon At Sunset”, implying some syncretism with Tabiti.

Argimpasa

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Winged figurine from the Bolshaia Bliznitsa kurgan. Winged female figures are generally assumed to be depictions of Argimpasa.

The remaining Scythian deities occur in a third category after Tabiti, Papaios and Api according to Herodotos, implying a complex hierarchy. Among these is a god he equated with the Greek Aphrodite Ourania, which he names Argimpasa (also rendered Artimpasa). This god is possibly also recorded by various other authors under the name Apatouros/Apaturia; although this theonym is etymologically linked to Api and has chthonic characters, it is also equated with Aphrodite and in particular her heavenly aspect as well, making it likely that a significant degree of syncretism between Api and Argimpasa occurred.

Although Argimpasa is ranked as lesser in the divine hierarchy by Herodotos, he does describe her as ruling a particular class of Scythian clerics, the Enarei (also rendered Enaree). Assuming Apatouros is her, she is foremostly described by later authors, and characteristics of her worship appear to have remained as recently as the expansion of the Huns. For this extensive covering and apparently prominence, Argimpasa is by far the most widely discussed of all Scythian deities in literature, the etymology of her name and cult characteristics in particular being rather relevant to understanding the religious reality of the Scythians.

Due to her equation with Aphrodite Ourania as well as ruling over the Enarei priests, Argimpasa is assumed to be a heavenly deity associated with oracular powers. The latter attribute in particular has been taken by some authors as meaning that most if not all goddess figurines found in kurgans that are not Tabiti depictions belong to her (Takho-Godi 1980), but we can at least confidently assume that various figurines depicting winged women are in fact meant to be her (Hasanov 2014). Female figures flanked by panthers may also depict her, for reasons we will soon discuss (Hasanov 2014). As mentioned previously, figurines attributed to Argimpasa and Api are harder to distinguish than those attributed to Tabiti.

These aspects of her character have made many authors consider her a Scythian  interpretation of the Near-Eastern goddess Ishtar/Inanna/Astarte among other names (Bessonova 1983). She is known as the Queen of Heaven, she rules over a class of non-binary priests (the galakalûkurgarrû, and assinnu), she is famously depicted as either winged, flanked by beasts or both and most importantly she is assumed to be the ultimate origin of the Greek Aphrodite. Certainly at least the visual iconography was appropriated from Near-Eastern Ishtar depictions, and another Iranian deity, the Zoroastrian Anahita, was significantly syncretised with her, so there is precedent for Argimpasa to be at least partly influenced by Astarte.

However, some authors have instead expressed that the similarities to Inanna are overstated and that Argimpasa may more comfortably sit among Central Asian shamanic motifs (Hasanov 2014). Key aspects of this interpretation are the Enarei’s divinatory practises, which are more similar to those seen in Cimmerian, Turkic, Mongolian and Uralic peoples than even other practises seen among the Scythians (reliance on linden-tree bark over willow wands, for instance, the latter used by what Herodotos calls “soothsayers”) and the etymology of Argimpasa’s name: *ar is a root common to shamanic terms in these languages, *kim/*gim is a root associated for various words for “fire”, “rainbow” and “whip” and “pasa” resembles the Turkic root *bas/*pas, “head”. In essence, “Argimpasa” means “shaman’s head” or “head of whip users”, and is probably a polysemous word related to various shamanic activities (Hasanov 2014).

Of course, we run into problems with this interpretation as well. For one thing, the name can also be rendered as Artimpasa, making less of a case for the second syllable being derived from *kim/*gim  but making a stronger case for the first component, art, to be derived from the Indo-European root *h2r-to, the predecessor to Ossetian art among various other words relating to order or fire (Dumézil 1983). This need not be fully contradictory: this root became the word or in Pashto, implying it can lose the “t”, though given that Scythian is ancestral to Ossetian this is unlikely. Another issue is that Hasanov 2014 focuses on putative Turkic influences on the ancient Scythians, even calling the Cimmerians a Turkic culture, which is an example as to why you must be very careful when researching these things. That said, in the absence of a better explanation for the last two components of Argimpasa’s name, as well as legitimacy in regards to the Enarei’s practises and information regarding Scythian deity depictions and attestations, its value cannot be understated.

As you’ll notice, neither hypothesis focuses on Argimpasa as an Indo-European deity, positing an external origin as either a Near-Eastern or Central Asian deity. It’s only natural that the Scythian pantheon would eventually have incorporated deities from neighbouring regions, and in some ways Argimpasa feels like the least Indo-European of the known Scythian deities. However, I do think that a potential Proto-Indo-European origin cannot be disregarded, especially if the first component of her name does in fact derive from an Indo-European root.

As mentioned before, has provided the origin for many words associated with cosmic and/or moral order in Indo-European cultures. Most notable are the Hindu Ṛta and the Avestan Arta, the former the principle of the universe’s function and the latter the ultimate moral truth; neither are easily defined in simple terms. This root has also given rise to Iranian words for fire, such as Pashto or or Ossetian art, probably because fire is particularly important in Zoroastrianism as a symbol of truth. It doesn’t seem that Argimpasa was significantly equated with Tabiti, but the oracular aspects of her character are easily explained if she is connected to truth as a concept.

In the Rigveda the goddess responsible for the upholding of Ṛta is Ushas, the personified dawn. As a sky deity and likely connected to daylight, Argimpasa may very well be the Scythian reflex of the Proto-Indo-European dawn goddess *H₂éwsōs, whose reflexes are ubiquitous in Indo-European mythologies and paint the most accurate picture of an important Proto-Indo-European deity. While the hypothesis that Aphrodite is a reflex of *H₂éwsōs has since been discarded (Cyrino 2010 among various others), she is agreed to have replaced Eos as the love deity among the Greeks as evidenced by the myth where the former curses the latter with lust, and love goddess characteristics are assumed to be present in *H₂éwsōs (Matasovič 2009 among others). The Indo-European dawn goddess is also an ambivalent figure associated with decay and death due to the dawn marking each day closer to a person’s death (see Rigveda 1.92.10, or the Greek myth of Eos and Tithonos), which may further explain the syncretism with Api and the sinister characteristics of Apatouros.

If this is the case, though, Artimpasa is definitely not connected etymologically to *H₂éwsōs. As Tabiti also does not share an etymological link with other Indo-European sun gods, one has to wonder if this was a shared nominal replacement for these light goddesses in Scythian culture and language. It is possible that in at least her case her role as an oracular deity came to dominate that of the personification of the dawn; combined with the notion of firmament waters, this further explains the syncretism with Api, a deity whose domains are on the surface the complete opposite.

Because Argimpasa is syncretised with Aphrodite, may at least have incorporated elements from Ishtar and may be a reflex of *H₂éwsōs, it is possible that she was a love deity. Aphrodite Ourania is typically described as spiritual love over carnal one, but this distinction was rather blurred across Greek history, and certainly did not prevent equation with Astarte, who is a deity associated with passion and war. The continuous emphasis on the Ourania epithet among Antiquity writers certainly at least do confirm Argimpasa’s oracular role and association with the heavens, and the Enarei imply an association with sexual freedom.

Some of these aspects may explain the nature of Frigg/Freya in Germanic mythologies, who was similarly a war and love goddess associated with magic, with no clear analogues in neighbouring cultures.

Targitaos

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Man figurine from an Ordos culture site.

Among the various third category gods of the Scythians, Herodotos describes a Scythian analogue to Hercules. He does not name this god, but a possible name occurs earlier, in his description of the origin of the Scythians. Here, he claims that the Scythians are descendents of the three sons of Targitaos (also rendered Targitaios, among others), a son of Zeus and “the daughter of the river Borysthenes”. In general, Herodotos prefers to use Greek theonyms, but it is possible that he specifically addressed Targitaos due to the inescapable context, much as he clarified the Greek/Scythian equivalencies.

Targitaos has not been etymologically examined significantly in literature, but it is similar to various theonyms derived from the root *(s)tenh₂ (“thunder”) such as Hittite Tarhunt, Armenian Torks, Celtic Taranis, Latin Tonans and of course Norse Thor. This appears to have been an alternate name of *Perkwunos, the Proto-Indo-European storm god predecessor to not only these but also Indo-Iranian Indra, Roman Mars, Lithuanian Perkūnas, Slavic Perun and countless others, including Hercules himself (Polomé 1983).

Further evidence for Targitaos being a reflex of *Perkwunos is his parents being Papaios and possibly Api. Most *Perkwunos reflexes are children of either the sky father (i.e. Hercules), the earth mother (i.e. Thor) or both (i.e. Indra), this being either a symptom of the god’s popularity among Proto-Indo-Europeans as a cultural hero or because as a god of storms and defender of social order he represents the axis mundi.  Most of the Indo-European storm gods are associated with the oak tree, and thus perhaps the world tree seen in some of these mythologies.

In many descendent cultures, *Perkwunos is fused with *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr, a natural consequence of a shared association with the sky, their relevance as male gods of order and the thunderer’s closer and more approachable status compared to the distant sky father. In the greco-roman world Zeus/Jupiter took the thunderer aspects from Hercules and Mars while in various other Indo-European religions the thunderer god became dominant while the sky father became less relevant,. The fact that both deities remain distinct and in the speculated roles for the Proto-Indo-European pantheon further stresses how the Scythian religion is “conservative” by Indo-European standards.

In modern Ossetian religion, the deity Uastyrdzhi enjoys a prominent position. He is typically simply considered the local analogue of Saint George (which, note, was strongly influenced by various *Perkwunos reflexes anyways, as his dragon slaying myth attests), but he has various *Perkwunos direct reflex characteristics such as an association with the color red, the bull as a sacred animal and the role of a fertility, masculine deity. These characteristics are absent in Saint George, which lends credence that they have an older origin in the local religious traditions.

An interesting aspect of his veneration is that he is reserved for men, with women traditionally not allowed to speak his name; this seems at odds with the more egalitarian society of the Scythians and predecessor cultures and quite possibly a more recent development, though it could have been a ritualistic inversion of the cult of the “Scythian Ares”, which may have had women worshippers (Hugh 1911).

Uacilla, an Ossetian deity equated with Saint Elijah, may offer another possible descendent deity, being associated with the weather and fertility.

Thagimasidas

Warriors-Face-Frozen-in-Time

Scythian horse rider figurine.

An enigmatic character in Herodotos recounting is the Scythian analogue to Poseidon, Thagimasidas. This deity is on the third divine ranking, but was worshipped only by the Royal Scythians. This suggests that this god was relatively low on the divine hierarchy, yet was the patron of a wealthy class and likely enjoyed prestige henceforth.

The equation of Thagimasidas to Poseidon is very problematic when it comes to understanding his character. While Poseidon is typically considered the god of the sea, he originally began as a Mycenaean chthonic deity (Chadwick 1976), and even in Hellenic times he was also considered a god of horses and of royalty. It’s hard to know if Poseidon was descended from a Proto-Indo-European god in the first place (van der Toom 1999), let alone if Herodotos has in mind the marine aspect of his character or any other.

Complicating matters further is that the Nart Sagas feature a water god, Donbettyr. This god is probably etymologically connected to the Don River (Donbettyr more or less means “Don deity”), though he also embodies other water bodies. Of note is that his daughters are relevant as brides to the heroes of the Sagas, which may bring to mind the “daughter of the Borysthenes” mentioned previously. Assuming this isn’t a poetic name, it could imply a role in the creation of the cosmos as Api’s father, hence the relevance of Thagimasidas in Scythian culture. Donbettyr and his naiad-like daughters also cause Nart Saga male heroes to give birth to children of their own (as in, these men get impregnated by water deity magic and produce “red hot” toddlers); if this has anything to do with the Enarei practises (and thus syncretism with Apatouros?) is anyone’s guess.

Indeed, the Don river was likely originally personified as a goddess in Proto-Indo-European religion (Mallory 2006), and I find it more likely that Donbettyr was simply a reflex of this personified river, which became male in Ossetian mythology. A connection to Thagimasidas can’t be fully denied, but for the moment being it appears to not be there.

Thagimasidas’ etymology is of little help either. No consistent explanation has been offered in literature, meaning we can’t connect him to potential counterparts in other mythologies, if they exist. It certainly is not connected to Poseidon, nor to the speculated Proto-Indo-European water deity *H2epom Nepōts, putative predecessor to Latin Neptune, Indo-Iranian Apam-Napat (the firmament waters we already discussed), Germanic Nerthus/Njord among others.

For the moment being, I consider the hypothesis that Thagimasidas was equated to Poseidon due to his role as a horse deity. This would explain his popularity among the Royal Scythians in more practical term, being the patron of cavalry, and his relative lack of popularity compared to the sun/hearth, sky, earth, dawn and thunder deities. Thagimasidas was thus likely a war or commerce god, bringing conquest or gold with a  clack of hooves. Horses are associated with aquatic movement and in particular underground rivers in northern Europe (Chadwick 1976, van der Toom 1999), but they don’t appear to be so in most of the Indo-European world aside maybe from the Celtic Kelpies.

Rather, in his role as a god of royalty, commerce and cavalry, I suggest a link to the speculated Proto-Indo-European god *Xáryomēn, the god of societal law. This deity might also have reflexes in the Celtic Érimón/Ariomanus and Indo-Iranian Mithra.

Oitosyros

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Griffin figurines. Gryphons are ubiquitous in Scythian art, and may have been sacred to the gods, Oitosyros in particular perhaps.

In the third category is also ranked a good equated to Apollo, Oitosyros (also rendered Goitosyros and similar derivations). This is the sole unambiguous reference to this god in Herodotos’ Histories, making his role just as hard to discern as Thagimasidas’, though at least the etymology of this name has been more widely discussed in literature.

Apollo has a massive array of functions in Greek religion, which have rendered him “the Greek god par excellence” (van der Toom 1999). Naturally, he is among the most common god Greeks equated foreign gods with, for likely a massive variety of reasons. Probably the most notable examples are Celtic gods like Belenus, Lugus, Alaunus and Grannus, likely equated to him due to associations with healing and oracular power, the Egyptian god Resheph who resembles Apollo in his capacity as a plague-bearer and Iranian Mithra due to his status as a god of truth.

Victorian writers have historically stressed these syncretisms as indicating that these gods, particular the Celtic ones, were solar in nature, but ancient Greeks and Romans rarely equated sun gods with Apollo. Instead, they were considered analogous to Apollo due to their cultic relevance as healing and oracular deities, not cosmological power; gods whose solar functions were inescapable were instead equated with Helios/Sol, or in some cases with Zeus (i.e. Amun-Ra). In Celtic cultures the sun was in fact more likely female (Snow 2002), and as I have discussed above with Tabiti so was probably the case in Scythian religion.

Still, I can’t help but notice the similarity of Oitosyros’ last name component and the name Cyrus, the Greek rendition of Persian Khorvash, “like the sun”. Herodotos’ renditions are after all Hellenised, and likely the original name approached something akin to *Gaēθahwarshaeta. That said, this isn’t the only possibility; the last component has also been suggested to possibly be Avestan sūra, “rich”, so the name would be something similar to *Gaēθasūra instead (Vasmer 1923).

The gaēθa component in either reconstruction means “animal” in Avestan, so *Gaēθahwarshaeta would be “beastial sun” and *Gaēθasūra “giver of animals”. This foremostly hints at a deity either associated with the hunt or with livestock or perhaps both. Deities associated with shepherds are more commonly syncretised with Hermes by the Greeks, but Apollo probably did begin as a livestock protecting deity in Anatolia (van der Toom 1999) and did retain livestock associated traits as Apollo Karneios.

Another likely option, however, is that Oitosyros was equated to Apollo due to associations with archery. In this role, he would have been a patron of the hunt, a male equivalent to Artemis (who is noticeably described as one of the Amazons’ patron gods but entirely absent in accounts of the Scythians). Of course, a hunting function and a livestock guarding function are not mutually exclusive, especially if the *Gaēθasūretymology is to be considered.

Curiously, there is such a character in modern Ossetian folklore: Apsat (also known as Avsati or Æfsati), the god of the forests and of the hunt. The names of this god appear to be Abkhaz loanwords and its likely that the god has since acquired several traits from non-Indo-European deities from the Caucasus, but otherwise this appears to be a good bet for at least part of Oitosyros’ character. Fælværa, the “lord of sheep”, is a pastoral god that protects livestock from wolves, likewise perhaps being another descendent deity.

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Statue of Apsat in the Ossetian mountains. By Farniev Konstantin.

As a deity of the wilds and livestock, Oitosyros appears to be a reflex of *Páxusōn, the shepherder god from various livestock, hunting and psychopomp deities in Indo-European mythologies have arisen, from Indian Pūṣan to Celtic Cernunnos. In Greece his reflex is Pan, which was originally an aspect of Hermes, meaning that Hermes is indeed one of his reflexes, taking the social functions while Pan took the wild ones. So yes, Herodotos could have indeed equated Oitosyros with Hermes, and probably didn’t because by his time Hermes had become mostly a psychopomp and esoteric deity. Hermes himself has been equated to Lugus and Mithra, so Greeks and Romans as a whole had no issues in equating a foreign deity to either of these closely overlapping gods.

Should Oitosyros have solar characters, it worth looking into the Slavic god Dazhbog. Unlike the Celtic gods, Dazhbog is downright equated with Helios, making a solar role for him very likely; this is strengthened by his association with the theonym Xors, widely agreed to be Persian in origin much as Ossetian xur (Leeming 2005). “Dazhbog” translates as “giving god” (*dati, “to give”, and bog, which is the standard Slavic suffix for “god” and comes from Persian baga, “wealth/share”), which is reminiscent of one of the options for Oitosyros’ etymology.

As the sun is personified as a goddess in Slavic mythology and folklore, Dazhbog appears to be rather out of place, and was probably a relatively recent arrival to the Slavic pantheon. Oitosyros might offer a possible origin for this god, as a solar god associated with hunting and fertility, and eventually wealth as Dazhbog.

That Scythian religion could have had two solar deities much as Slavic religion did is certainly a point of interest:

  • The female aspect of the sun, Tabiti, remained as the queen of the gods, while the male aspect became associated with fertility and the wilds.
  • It’s entirely possible even that Oitosyros isn’t even a solar god but actually a lunar one, since the Slavic theonym Xors is also used for the moon god (Mathieu-Colas 2017). The original theonym for the moon god in Indo-European religion is *mḗh₁n̥s, which is obviously not ancestral to Oitosyros; in this case, part of his name would be derived from the sun root *sóh₂wl̥/*seh2ul. This has precedent in many other cultures; for example, in Aztec tona is applied to both the sun and moon, as is Egyptian Aten (Redford 1984).

An important part of Apollo’s worship in Greece is his winter residence in Hyperborea, a northern Arctic land associated with the land of the Scythians, which supposedly exported gifts to the god to Delos. Gryphons, a symbol that essentially exemplified Scythian art and possibly religious beliefs, guarded his treasures there. Its difficult to say if this references the worship of Oitosyros, but it would be rather symbolic of how strong the syncretism of these two deities had become in Antiquity.

“Scythian Ares”

Scythian_Gold_Artifact_4

Boar figurine.

Finally we have a god that Herodotos equated with Ares. As with “Hercules” he does not offer an indigenous name directly, but unlike Targitaos we don’t have a clear possible name in his Histories.

What he does offer, however, is a detailed description on how his worship differs from that of other Scythian gods: a complex wood temple with an iron sword – his symbol – as a centerpiece, as well as being the only Scythian god to have statues and icons representing him. Archaeological findings of deity figurines in kurgans render the latter aspect questionable, but we do know the described construction type and worship was performed by the Alans (Sulimirski 1985). It’s possible also that the Huns adopted this god from the Alans or may have blasphemed against him as means to demoralise them, given Attila’s “Sword of Mars” (Geary 1994). Strabo, Pliny the Elder, Claudius Ptolemy and Stephanus of Byzantium all describe the worship of “Ares” in the Scythian region.

This is in spite of him being in the third category of deities according to Herodotos. We can surmise then that the “Scythian Ares” was lower in the divine hierarchy but extremely important to warriors on at least a ritual context. Perhaps also he was considered more “approachable” to worshippers than more distant deities like Papaios and Api.

Without a name to peg this god to a putative Proto-Indo-European context, examining him is entirely reliant on the clues his worship provides. There appears to be no direct analogue in any other Indo-European culture, indicating that this deity was either an unique Scythian invention or a holdover lost in other descendant cultures. Given that a warrior caste is speculated to have existed for Proto-Indo-European culture, it makes sense that there was originally a god overseeing it, posteriorly lost as descendent cultures either saw fit to promote other gods to a war god position or lost the need for one altogether.

As the Greek Ares also has no other close equivalent in Indo-European cultures to the point of being considered Pre-Greek instead (Beekes 2009), it’s only tempting to consider the option where the “Scythian Ares” really is Ares, and either the Scythians adopted the god from the Greeks or vice-versa. Possible evidence for this are the Amazons: their consistent depiction as devotees of Ares and unambiguous association with the Scythians has made some researchers posit that they were inspired by women devotees of the “Scythian Ares” (Hugh 1911). Ares is definitely one of the oldest Greek gods, being present in Mycenaean inscriptions, so there was more than enough time for this kind of exchange to occur.

Ares has been equated to Mars in Roman religion, but the two gods have a rather distinct character pre-syncretism, the former being also a fertility and possible weather deity while the latter embodying warfare. Barring a now discredited (Mallory 2006) suggestion of both gods sharing the same etymology, Mars has been abundantly understood as a reflex of the storm god *Perkwunos (Polomé 1983), while Ares is evidently not; the *Perkwunos reflex here is Hercules, with Zeus taking the storm deity aspects. To most Greeks Ares was a ferocious but dimwitted embodiment of the passionate aspects of war, but was glorified in Sparta as a heroic deity. It seems likely that the bloodlust associated with the common Greek Ares was also present in the worship of the Scythian deity, but it remains to be seen whereas he had the heroic aspects of the Spartan Ares.

Scythians are abundantly described as taking ritualistic drinks analogous to those seen in other Indo-European cultures as noted above, used among various other things to increase combat stamina and sexual potency. As this drink is personified as the deity Soma/Haoma in Hinduism and Zoroastrianism respectively, one wonders if the “Scythian Ares” is a personification of this drink as well. Marijuana was apparently the choice ingredient in the Scythian variety of this drink, so the idea that the “Scythian Ares” is a personified weed is endlessly amusing.

Other gods

In the Nart sagas we see a variety of other deities, including Tutyr the “lord of wolves”, the Hephaestus-like smithing god Kurdalægon, Saubarag the god of darkness, the river deity Huyændon Ældar, Barastyr the psychopomp, Aminon the gatekeeper of the underworld, the river goddess and hero mother Dzerassae and the smallpox god Alardy.

Some of these deities may have Proto-Indo-European ancestry. Smiths, psychopomps and lords of the underworld are all present across Indo-European mythologies, though none have a Proto-Indo-European reconstructed name because their names have varying etymologies; Huyændon Ældar’s name is essentially the Ossetian translation of *H2epom Nepōts (“lord/uncle of the waters”); and Dzerassae resembles the Celtic Danu and the Vedic Danu in terms of function and etymology, being possibly the Scythian reflex of the personification of the Danube river (*Dānu/*Dʰen); it has even been suggested that Celtic Danu may be a Scythian loanword (Koch 2006).

An embodiment of evil is harder to pin down in earlier Proto-Indo-European religion; although adversaries to the gods are abundant from the Greek Typhon to the Zoroastrian Ahriman, they generally are groups of deities rather than specific figures. Tutyr and Saubarag are therefore more likely concepts adopted from the Zoroastrian Ahriman.

As previously repeated, significant influences from non-Indo-European cultures in the Caucasus region must also be considered.

Proto-Indo-European pantheon comparisons

With the above said, we have this layout:

  • Tabiti/Safa: *Sóh₂wl̥/*Seh2ul (unrelated etymology)
  • Papaios/Xucaw: *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr (possibly unrelated etymology)
  • Api/Satanaya: *Dʰéǵʰōm (unrelated etymology)
  • Targitaos/Uastyrdzhi/Uacilla: *Perkwunos (through alternate name *(s)tenh₂ in the case of the former, unrelated etymology in the latter)
  • Argimpasa: ?H₂éwsōs (unrelated etymology)
  • Thagimasidas: ?*Xáryomēn (possibly unrelated etymology)
  • “Scythian Ares”: ???
  • Oitosyros/Apsat/Fælværa: *Páxusōn (unrelated etymology)
  • Dzerassae: *Dānu/*Dʰen
  • Huyændon Ældar: *H2epom Nepōts
  • Kurdalægon: smith god (no conclusive etymology)
  • Barastyr: psychopomp god (no conclusive etymology)
  • Aminon: underworld god (no conclusive etymology)
  • Donbettyr: Either *Dānu/*Dʰen or *H2epom Nepōts (unrelated etymology)
  • Tutyr: no conclusive Proto-Indo-European ancestor
  • Saubarag: no conclusive Proto-Indo-European ancestor
  • Alardy: no conclusive Proto-Indo-European ancestor

In general, we notice several reflexes of Proto-Indo-European deities and a scheme that closely approaches the speculated model, albeit differing in the sun/fire goddess rather than the sky father being the ruling deity in at least the pre-Nart Sagas records.

A number of deities may be original, likely post-Zoroastrian acquisitions in the case of those recorded in the Nart Sagas. The “Scythian Ares” and Argimpasa may either be unique Scythian creations, acquired from other cultures or Proto-Indo-European-descended deities.

An overwhelming majority of deities have names unrelated to Proto-Indo-European theonyms, suggesting that name-changing occurred regularly across Scythian history while the actual characters remained more or less intact. This continued into Ossetian mythology, where descendent deities have names unrelated to Scythian counterparts. The exception appears to be river deities, which have more consistent names.

Conclusion

Scythian mythology is rarely discussed when it comes to reconstructing the religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. As I hopefully demonstrated, this is rather unfortunate, especially since Proto-Indo-European reconstructionism often relies on assumptions based on peoples with vastly different lifestyles and cultures. The Scythians, by contrast, demonstrate a degree of conservatism barring the deity names, and could be useful in further understanding how Indo-European religions evolved.

Aside from a few concepts like the “firmament waters”, Scythian mythology as recorded by pre-Nart Sagas sources is not specifically Indo-Iranian in nature as far as I can see. Several deities bear influences on other Indo-European cultures such as the Slavs, Celts, Germanic and Thracian peoples and possibly even Greeks while some religious concepts and practises might be considered pan-Indo-European.

That said, a degree of uniqueness can be ascribed to Scythian religion, like many of their theonyms and possibly deities like the “Scythian Ares”, which have no unambiguous analogue elsewhere in the Indo-European world.

Hopefully further archaeological finds will elaborate upon these musings.

 

References

Lendering, Jona (25 January 2017). “Scythians / Sacae”Livius.

Szemerényi, Oswald (1980) “Four old Iranian ethnic names: Scythian; Skudra; Sogdian; Saka” in: Sitzungsberichte der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften; 371 = Scripta minora, vol. 4, pp. 2051–93

Anthony, David W. (2007). The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05887-3.

Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism: Volume II: Under the Achaemenians, BRILL, 1982

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Bessonova, S. S. 1983. Religioznïe predstavleniia skifov. Kiev: Naukova dumka

Colarusso, John, ed. (2002), Nart Sagas from the Caucasus: Myths and Legends from the Circassians, Abazas, Abkhaz, and UbykhsISBN 9781400865284

Cheung, Johnny (2007) Etymological Dictionary of the Iranian Verb (Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series; 2), Leiden, Boston: Brill, →ISBN, pages 378–379

Takho-Godi, A. A. 1980. Gestiia. In S. A. Tokarev Mif ы narodov mira: Ėntsiklopediia, t 1 . Moskva: Sov. Ėntsiklopediia.

 

Snow, Justine T. (June 2002). “The Spider’s Web. Goddess of Light and Loom: Evidence for the Indo-European Origin of Two Ancient Chinese Deities” (PDF)Sino-Platonic Papers (118). ISSN 2157-9687OCLC 78771783.

Christoph Baumer, The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Steppe Warriors, I.B.Tauris, 11/12/2012

Raevskiy, D.S. 1977. The Essay on the ideology of Scythian and Saka populations. Moscow; Nauka

Esther Jacobson, The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia: A Study in the Ecology of Belief, BRILL, 01/01/1993

Vasmer, Die Iranier in Südrußland, 1923, 15; L. Zgusta, “Zwei skythische Götternamen”, Archiv orientální 21 (1953), pp. 270–271; Grantovskij and Raevskij, in: Ėtnogenez narodov Balkan i Severnogo Pričernomor’ja, 1984, 54.

Chadwick, John (1976). The Mycenaean World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.ISBN 0-521-29037-6.

van der Toorn, Karel; Becking, Bob; van der Horst, Pieter Willem (1999), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (second ed.), Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8028-2491-9

L. Zgusta, “Zwei skythische Götternamen”, Archiv orientální 21 (1953)

Vasmer, Die Iranier in Südrußland, 1923, 11; Brandenstein, Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 52 (1953) 190–191; Grantovskij and Raevskij, in: Ėtnogenez narodov Balkan i Severnogo Pričernomor’ja, 1984

Hasanov, Z. 2014.  Argimpasa – Scythian GoddessPatroness of Shamans: A Comparison ofHistoricalArchaeologicalLinguistic and Ethnographic Data.

Dumézil, La courtisane et les seigneurs colorés, 1983.

Cyrino, Monica S. (2010), Aphrodite, Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World, New York City, New York and London, England: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-77523-6

Matasovič, Ranko. “Sky” and “Moon” in Celtic and Indo-European. Celto-Slavica 2 (2009), 154-162

Polomé, Edgar C. The Slavic Gods and the Indo-European Heritage. In Festschrift für Nikola R. Pribic. ed. Wolfgang Gesemann and Helmut Schaller. Munich: Hieronymus Verlag Neuried, 1983, 545-55.

J. P. Mallory & D. Q. Adams (2006) The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, Oxford University Press,

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Sulimirski, T. (1985). “The Scyths” in: Fisher, W. B. (Ed.) The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 2: The Median and Achaemenian Periods. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20091-1. pp. 158–159.

Geary, Patrick J. (1994). “Chapter 3. Germanic Tradition and Royal Ideology in the Ninth Century: The Visio Karoli Magni”. Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages. Cornell University Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-8014-8098-0.

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Thoughts on Kulindadromeus’ integrument

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So Kulindadromeus‘ paper is out, and so is the description of it’s feather and “scale” types. As Matt Martyniuk pointed out long before, bird “scales” are actually stunted feathers, and since filamental integrument is known to be present elsewhere in archosaurs (pterosaur pycnofibrils and alligator “feather genes”), this adds a layer of complexity to our understanding on the evolution of not just feathers, but sauropsid integrument as a whole. Kulindadromeus thus is not just an example of a feathered dinosaur as far away from birds as possible phylogenetically, it is also a window to the proccess of the conversion of feathers into scales, and thus perhaps an example of a process that goes as far back as the earliest archosaurs.

Integrument types

Godeforit et al. 2014 describes six different types of integrument in Kulindadromeus: three are filamental structures, identifiable as “feathers”, while another three are “scales”:

– Simple, hair like filaments, up to three centimeters long, that cover the torso, neck and head (possibly also most of the tail; see below). Similar to the simplest theropod feathers, Tianyulong‘s fuzz and pterosaur pycnofibrils, these are most likely the “original” integrument for archosaurs as a whole.

– What appears to be the “type 3” feathers in the famous feather evolution schematics (already known from a few theropods), composed of six or seven filaments projecting from a single base plate (the “scales branching into feathers” that were originally advertised). The filaments are as long as 1.5 centimeters, the plates are organised in an hexagonal pattern but not overlapping. They cover primarily the upper arm and thigh, which in life most likely would have looked quite fluffy.

– An unique type of “feather”, composed of bundles of six or seven ribbon-like structures, in turn composed as as much as ten parallel filaments up to 0.1 millimeters wide, as long as two centimeters. By far the most complex integrumental structures seen in the animal, they are found exclusively on the upper lower legs, and almost certainly were display devices, their rarity and location implicating a minimal, if any, role in thermoregulation.

– Small (less than a millimeter in cross section), round, non-overlapping scales, covering the hands and feet (including the digitigrade ankles). These are classical examples of reticulate scales (reticulae), seen in modern birds, most non-avian dinosaurs (including ornithopods like hadrosaurs) and pterosaur foot pads, and are proven to be “stunted” simple feathers (in the case of pterosaurs, stunted pycnofibrils), as evidenced by their prevalence in foot pads and other dystal areas of the limb, less in need of insulation and more in need of protection.

– Overlaping hexagonal scales, up to 3.5 millimeters in diameter. They are found only in the lower shins.

– Another unique integrumental structure, a series of overlapping, rectangular scales that cover the upperside of the tail (these are the only “scales” known outside of the limbs, and based on the decomposition patterns in other feathered dinosaurs like Sinosauropteryx, this may mean that the rest of the tail was covered by feathers). They are as long as two centimeters, having a thickness of less than 0.1 millimeter, and a largely smooth surface with the exception of a small spur projecting forwards, that covers the trailing edge of the preceding scale. They are arranged in five longitudinal rows, imbricated thanks to their overlapping.

Feather complexity in the limbs vs simple body feathers

Pedopenna reconstruction. We now know that many theropods had exuberant "wings" on the limbs; could complex feathers as a whole have originated as display devices on the limbs?
Pedopenna reconstruction. We now know that many theropods had exuberant “wings” on the limbs; could complex feathers as a whole have originated as display devices on the limbs?

The first thing you’ll notice about Kulindadromeus‘ feathers is a dichotomy between those covering the body and those covering the limbs. The body coat is composed by the most simple form of feather known, while the limbs (an specific areas of the limbs at that) are the ones to display the more complex feathers. Given the priority of the torso over the limbs in terms of insulation, as well as the extremely restricted location of the “ribbon bundle” feathers, it seems very plausible that the complex limb feathers didn’t evolve in response to thermoregulatory needs.

Instead, it seems more likely that Kulindadromeus‘ branched feathers were used for ornamental purposes, particularly the “ribbon bundle” feathers, whose complexity and restricted location is consistent with the tendencies seen in other flamboyant dinosaur feathers. Thus, branched feathers originated as display devices, and only latter were reapropriated into an insulatory role. Their absence in the other known feathered ornithischians like Tianyulong and Psittacosaurus seems to give credence to this idea: in both of these animals, simpler quills are known, forming a dense coat in the former, while branched feathers are nowhere to be seen, in spite of their inferred usefulness as insulation devices.

This trend may have indeed been the norm for the whole of Dinosauria: in theropods as derived as Maniraptora, we often see simpler body plumage, while the limbs provide “wings” composed of more elaborate feathers. In Kulindadromeus, both the forelimbs and hindlimbs possess branched feathers, and we know that hindwings were probably present in theropods as basal as Concavenator (see Matt Martyniuk’s discussion on it’s pedal scutes), offering thus a further insight into the evolution of the wing.

“Scales”: stunted simple feathers, stunted dorsal scutes, and something else?

As evidenced by many domestic pigeons and chickens with pedal remiges, avian scutes are actually stunted flight feathers. Could Kulindadromeus' bizarre dorsal scutes be the stunted version of the quills seen in Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong?
As evidenced by many domestic pigeons and chickens with pedal remiges, avian scutes are actually stunted flight feathers. Could Kulindadromeus’ bizarre dorsal scutes be the stunted version of the quills seen in Psittacosaurus and Tianyulong?

Kulindadromeus‘ “scales” are every bit worthy of discussion as the filamental feathers, unique as they are and as insightful into the evolution of archosaurian integrument. Kulindadromeus‘ presents clear reticulae in the feet and hands, “scales” that are proven to be stunted simple feathers/pycnofibrils, and seen most often in the foot pads of pterosaurs and theropods, as well as more extensively in the limbs of birds and across the whole body in hadrosaurs, ankylosaurs, sauropods and ceratopsians. Kulindadromeus, therefore, showcases an intermediary state between the inferred fully-fuzzy early ornithischians and (mostly?) featherless, reticulae covered derived forms: it’s hands and feet, less in need of insulation and in need of protection as the animal digs and forages on the ground, have stunted the dystal feathers into round, non-overlapping “scales”, while the rest of the body remains fluffy and warm. As seen in birds like owls, however, reticulae are easily reconverted into filamental feathers, so ornithischians most surely switched between reticulae and true feathers countless times across their evolutionary history.

More perplexing, however, are Kulindadromeus‘ scutes. These structures, thin and clearly keratinous, are not osteoderms like the “scutes” of crocodiles and ankylosaurs, representing a form of scale unique among sauropsids. Forming flat, overlapping surfaces, they are most easily comparable to the pedal scutes of birds, and indeed may share a similar origin. The other feathered ornithischians, Tianiyulong, Psittacosaurus and possibly Triceratops, all possess long, rigid quills across the back and tail upperside; given that the former’s a non-neornithischian and the latter two are ceratopsians, these structures must have been an ancestral condition for ornithopods according to phylogenetic bracketing, since ceratopsians are closer to ornithopods than heterodontosaurids are.

Could thus the scutes be simply stunted dorsal quills, like avian pedal scutes are stunted flight feathers? This seems most likely the case; phylogenetic bracketing aside, both structures are too similar to have their similarities dismissed, both being flat, overlapping “scales” derived from rigid quills. Equally interesting is the presence of a vestigial spur in Kulindadromeus‘ dorsal scutes, further implying their derivation from quills.

Tianyulong and Psittacosaurus by Jaime A. Headden. Both possess dorsal quills, but one is closer to Kulindadromeus than the other; phylogenetic bracketing ensues.
Tianyulong and Psittacosaurus by Jaime A. Headden. Both possess dorsal quills, but one is closer to Kulindadromeus than the other; phylogenetic bracketing ensues.

Of interest are the final group of “scales”, the hexagonal, overlapping structures in the lower shins. Are these stunted feathers as well? Reticulae seem to develop from both unbranched feathers and down, so Kulindadromeus‘ reticulae probably evolved from the branched limb feathers. Are these then true scales, a relic from Kulindadromeus‘ distant non-feathered ancestors? Only time will tell, though personally I don’t think so; we can’t even tell if archosaurs outside of ornithodira inherited scales that aren’t modified feathers, since alligators have the “feather genes”.

Conclusion

Kulindadromeus offers a powerful insight into the schematics of integrument evolution in not just dinosaurs, but archosaurs as a whole. It’s numerous types of feathers and “scales” pretty much confirm trends suspected for decades, and may even clarify several processes previously unanswerable. More research will be needed, but the evidence we have clearly is helpful in our general understanding.

Refferences

– Pascal Godefroit, Sofia M. Sinitsa, Danielle Dhouailly, Yuri L. Bolotsky, Alexander V. Sizov, Maria E. McNamara, Michael J. Benton & Paul Spagna, 2014, “A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales”

– V.R. Alifanov & S.V. Saveliev, 2014, “Two new ornithischian dinosaurs (Hypsilophodontia, Ornithopoda) from the Late Jurassic of Russia”

– Zheng, Xiao-Ting; You, Hai-Lu; Xu, Xing; Dong, Zhi-Ming (19 March 2009). “An Early Cretaceous heterodontosaurid dinosaur with filamentous integumentary structures”

– Bell, P. R. (2012). Standardized terminology and potential taxonomic utility for hadrosaurid skin impressions: a case study for Saurolophus from Canada and Mongolia.

– Dhouailly, D. (2009). A new scenario for the evolutionary origin of hair, feather, and avian scales.

– El-Sayyad, H. I., Fouda, Y. A., Khalifa, S. A., AL-Gebaly, A. S., & El-Sayyad, O. K. (2013). Studies on epidermal appendages of chick embryos.

– Sawyer, R. H., & Knapp, L. W. (2003). Avian skin development and the evolutionary origin of feathers. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution

– Zheng, X., Zhou, Z., Wang, X., Zhang, F., Zhang, X., Wang, Y., … & Xu, X. (2013). Hind wings in basal birds and the evolution of leg feathers.

– Perkins, S.; Csotonyi, Julius T. (2010). “Dressing Up Dinos”

http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/bird-meet-cousin-alligator/

Matahouroa: A Different Taika

A story set on my MTG fanset of Matahouroa. Read the Guide before proceeding.

***

The Sun was just rising in the horizon, yet the mountain valleys where the Hāura Taika made their home were bathed by orange light, from the flames of their torches. In normal circumstances, Koruhana loved their glow, their warmth and beauty, as delicate as flowers in spite of their power. But this dawn was anything but “normal circumstances”, as her tribe’s growls and just barely secured hatred reminded her. Momentarily lost in her thoughts, she was startled, and whoever was not simply angry or disappointed wasted no time mocking her, sneering with wicked fangs.

“My Karaka brethren of the Hāura Taika” began her father, raising his arms as he addressed the whole tribe, “This dawn we judge Koruhana, she who has ashamed our kin, she who has tainted my flesh and blood with darkness. A day and a half ago, she has commited a grave crime, she aided our enemies in the mountain slopes, as our party stroke a righteous blow against the Angitukāinga humans. She has not just forsaken her race, she has actively attacked it, murdering her own suitor Kōtorepoti, as well as two other youths, Whakaipopua and Tiorapa, and gravely wounding the elder hunter Moakoikoi, who has perished from his wounds last sunset.”

“She has ended four lives, four lives, to save those of the most despicable pests to have ever walked the Earth, those who work against our kin and slaughter it at every turn! She has commited the most grave offense imaginable four times, and for such she is here, before our tribe, to be judged and sentenced, to pay for her deeds of treachery and malice against her clan!”

The Taika roared and howled, reveling in the feelings of outrage and despise towards Koruhana. Some already attempted to attack her, but were stopped by Chief Tikapiriniha’s growl, enforcing the Tapu against violating trial procedures. They stopped in their tracks, lowering their heads and whimpering in shame, before retreacting to the wilderness, never to witness the end of the trial. Koruhana looked at her father, but she saw only the expected: an austere disgust, spiced by a mocking stare. She instantly knew what he would love to say right then and now, but could not yet: you’re not my daughter, and I will find a way for your punishment to be the worst one possible. She simply breathed in deeply, and remained stoic. She had disowned Tikapiriniha as her father long ago, though in secret.

“So how do you explain your wicked deeds, Koruhana?” Karaka elder Whāwhīti spoke, subdued and calm, the only voice of neutrality in the trial.

Koruhana inhaled, and spoke. This was a Kangaroo Court, to be sure, but she hoped to at the very least to inspire her tribe to follow better ways.

“I explain my actions by our very code, by our very nature as Taika. The hunting party that I was part of a day and half ago did not strike against mighty warriors, against cruel tyrants, but against children. I, Kōtorepoti and the twins arrived to Angitukāinga after Moakoikoi had already laid waste to the village, already had burned every single house, already had slaughtered anyone with an ounce of actual strength. We came to see him devouring a man, and with Angitukāinga’s children sorrounding him, their hands and feet bound by ropes as if they were just game. He simply wanted us to kill or do worse to defenseless targets for his own sick pleasure, and so did the others. I did nothing more than to follow our way, to honour the Karaka and destroy the heartless, the cowards, the ones who murder those who cannot fight back.”

Uncertainty fell upon the Taika, and so did silence, aside from murmurs. The elders nodded solemnly, knowing the truth, which only made the tribe’s confusion and shock more aggravated. Chief Tikapiriniha did not like this one bit, and roared wildly at his own daughter.

“How dare you lie, you, you WHORE!?”

“You know I am not lying, chief. I cannot speak anything but the truth, by the grace of your own power, by the grace of the Rāhui you put upon this place. Besides, you know best than anyone how far Moakoikoi has gone, how madness has consumed him, and how he has done far worse against our own kin than what I have done, and yet has never been punished for his misdeeds against our own youths. But I suppose you couldn’t find it within your heart to punish an actual sinner, what with him being the only one you’ve ever loved besides yourself, what with him being the one who every night has spear-”

“ENOUGH! I declare your punishment, Koruhana, that which will be DEATH!”

“And such will not be carried out” said Whāwhīti, plainly.

Everyone’s heads snaped.

“Koruhana has spoken the truth, and as she described she has done nothing but obeyed our ways, and truthfully in fact. Moakoikoi, Kōtorepoti, Whakaipopua and Tiorapa were in fact nothing more than petty cowards who struck against the weak and defenseless to pleasure themselves. They were far worse murderers than Koruhana was, and she in fact deserves nothing but our praise for her bravery and righteousness.”

“You lie Whāwhīti!” cried a middle aged male Taika, Ngaumata, in anguish as tears run down his face, “My boys were never cruel or petty! As anyone in Karaka can attest, they were normal and decent, Whakaipopua was kind and shy and Tiorapa always knew right from wrong! They could have never done what Koruhana said they did!”

“Yet they did so” Koruhana said, “albeit less enthusiastically than Kōtorepoti.”

“Regardless, she cannot be lying unless the gods themselves wanted so” Whāwhīti responded calmly, stroking his snout, “So she cannot be put to death for following our laws.”

“She still turned against youths and a favoured hunter” hissed Chief Tikapiriniha, “and death is the sentence for doing such.”

“Indeed, but killing in defense of our ideals is allowed by our laws, and indeed praised. But let us settle this with the will of the gods, for great Ao wants to speak.”

And indeed, at that moment, the rays of the Sun began to flood the valley, a golden, powerful flash that began to eclipse the light of the torches. Whāwhīti rose from his seat, and walked to Tikapiriniha, handing the chief three godsticks: a straight one, one with two crescent-like curves, and a zig-zagging one. Whāwhīti then rose his hands to the heavens, greeting the rising Sun.

“Oh great Ao, who is the brighteness that engulfs reality, who alone amidst the deathless gods knows the true meaning of existing, shows us the fate of Koruhana, she who has done your will yet shed blood. May the chief you have appointed in your name place your decision on this hallowed ground, and may it be your will, your wisdom made manifest. May any who lie be cursed with your rays, be burned and exiled from your world, oh lord of the real world.”

And with those words, the valley was covered by a dome of chartreuse light, a field of energy ripling about, ready to lash deadly light beams at the false and unjust. All Taika were in deathly silence, well aware of the grisly fate of any who lied. Sweat drenched Tikapiriniha’s fur, who trembled in panic at the prospect of doing the wrong move. Worse of all, he didn’t knew what any of the godsticks stood for, which only made the situation all the more unpredictable for him. He panicked, desperately passing the godsticks from hand to hand to try to understand which one of them felt the most right, and accidently let the one with two curves fall.

Everyone was deathly still, awaiting for Ao’s answer. Tikapiriniha inhaled deeply, and closed his eyes, awaiting for his end. Much to his relief, the dome dissipated, and the Sun simply shone more brightly.

“Banishment it is” concluded Whāwhīti, in a seemingly disappointed manner, though whereas it was at Koruhana’s fate or the fact that Tikapiriniha hadn’t been smiten was never to be known.

Tikapiriniha sighed, and resumed his austere demeanour. Koruhana knew he was gravely unsatisfied with this decision, and could see in his eyes a malevolent sheen, that he had when he would plan something dark in secret.

“Koruhana, you are thereby sentenced to banishment from Karaka and it’s territories. Though they are not bound by our decree, may no Hāura Taika tribe take you in, and indeed news of your deeds shall spread through the mountains like flames. You are not to return to us, or to any Taika clan you are banned from henceforth, or else you will die.”

Koruhana’s hands were untied, and as per Hāura Taika tradition all averted their eyes from her. With her banishment in place, the young Taika simply turned away, and left.

***

The Sun began to set in the horizon, beyond the mountains, and Akakura needed shelter to spend the night. The Kākāriki was definitely far from her post in Parāone, to deliver a precious cargo to Prince Whēuriuri himself. Passing unnoticed through Pirita Kahuna wards, hungry Tama-nui-te-Whiro and Kākākea hordes was hard as it was, and now with the threat of Pouakai in the horizon it was seriously considered to temporarily evacuate her from Hinawahine and send her to the relative safety of Inanga. The Aven did not like the idea one bit, but Hinawahine’s skies were becoming a dangerous minefield, and a mysterious new agent had recently contacted her, a powerful new ally of Whēuriuri whose power base was in the offshore island.

Akakura began to descend, aiming for a sparsely forested slope just outside of Rinomaunga, too close to Tahepuia Kahuna territory for the Pirita Kahuna to be a threat and stable enough to not risk being burned alive in her sleep. Her chief concern now was whereas any Tama-nui-te-Whiro was nearby, and chances are that in the chilly montane twilight none were energetic enough to pose a threat. She hoovered above a large podocarp, landing on the dense foliage where she hid herself. The tree was in season too, so she took a bite out of the succulent red fruits.

“Think you could spare me one?” said a pained, yet somewhat cheerful voice from beneath her.

Startled, Akakura prepared to take flight, but in the still visible light she simply saw a wounded, bleeding Taika laid on a large branch, seemingly having recently gotten out of a violent fight.

“Sure” the Aven said, handing Koruhana the fruit “, but I thought you Taika only ate meat?”

“We do, but one or two podocarp fruits are most helpful for healing.”

Akakura descended from her perch, took out from herbs from her bag, and placed them on Koruhana’s wounds, which were infused with vital energy, slowly healing them.

“Thanks.”

“How did you get these? I can use stronger cures if they’re not magically inflicted.”

“They’re just normal wounds. Got them in a fight with other Taika, barehanded.”

“I see. In that can I can use a tonic that was brewn for this kind of thing. I must warn that it has never been used on Taika, though it works on Kākāriki and humans just fine.”

“Do it anyways, I don’t have much to lose.”

“Don’t ever say that. Every life is precious, so even in despair you should fight for yours, no matter what. Rewards always come to those that do.”

“Sure, whatever.”

“I mean it. I don’t really know what’ve you been through, but-”

“Got exiled from basically every Hāura Taika tribe because I tried to do the right thing and save some children, because my own f- the chief hates me for reasons I just can’t understand, and now if I even try to speak to another of my kin I will end up dead. Humans won’t take me in, and chances are that I will have to spend the rest of my days running away from them, Patupairehe or Pouakai. I’m not suicidal per se, but I don’t really see the point of living like this.”

“Well, in that case you could come to Parāone.”

“Really? The Pīngao Taika can just take me in like that?”

“Sure. I’ve met some that once lived in the mountains but were exiled and came to Parāone to get a fresh start. And I seriously doubt your father’s rumours would affect them at all, as even if they came that far they really don’t trust the Hāura Taika to be spreading accurate information. So why not keep on going and come with me?”

Koruhana looked down, her face in an expression of unbelief and joy. The prospect of getting a fresh start, let alone in a whole new place where she didn’t have to fight all the time and there was peace with the humans, sounded very exciting for her. If nothing else, it was definitely worth a shot.

“Do you know the way to Parāone?”

“Sure, I live there.”

“Then we leave first thing in the morning. You can keep the tonic, I’ll let myself heal.”

Akakura gave a pleasant chirp, and both went to sleep.

***

The Sun was right in the middle of the sky, and the heat was unbearable. Even in the proffound shadow of the trees the air was hot and stagnant, and the Taika and Kākāriki had stopped by a pool in the forest, appearently the visible tip of an underground reservoir. Akakura bathed, water passing through her red and green feathers, while Koruhana simply drank from a water bag. They were taking turns to be vigilant, because the forests were the territory of Pirita Kahuna and their servants.

“So, you’re going to live in Inanga?” Koruhana asked, deciding to continue their last conversation.

“Yes, I can serve the Empire better from there, and I don’t risk the Pirita Kahuna from attacking Parāone.”

“Then isn’t it a bit risky for me to go there?”

“Yes, yes it is, but it’s defenitely less riskier to go there by foot than to go to the closest Taika to Inanga, the Ware Taika. Besides, if I keep myself to the coast I can still go to Parāone regularly. I’ll just have to worry about this excursion, but I think the Pirita Kahuna are too busy to deal with Parāone, so we’re definitely marching on a good schedule. We just have to worry about a few of them.”

“If you say so. I’d hate to cause trouble just to get a new life.”

“Nonsense, don’t worry about that.”

Koruhana sighed, staring at the canopy. Akakura was definitely a good person, no doubts about it, but she worried if her enthusiasthic optimism was naivety. Regardless, if the Pirita Kahuna came to her looking for a fight, they’d get it. Suddenly, the distinct smell of burnt filled her nostrils.

“Akakura, I think there’s a forest fire.”

“I’ll check it.”

The Aven took to the air, water dropping spread everywhere as her wings launched her from the pool, reflecting the beams of Ao in many small rainbows. In a matter of seconds, she was well above the canopy, seeing fully the smoke rising from the forest. She descended quickly, gliding her way next to Koruhana.

“You’re right, there’s a forest fire to the northeast. The wind is blowing towards here, so we should hasten our pace.”

And with little warning, she grabbed Koruhana by the shoulders and took off with a lot of effort.

“You could carry me by air all this time!?”

“Just for a short while, not the whole way!”

And indeed, Koruhana was very heavy for the Kākāriki, which was flying rapidly towards the west without even rising above the canopy, though she took measures to do so because dodging the trees was even more tiresome. For the first time in her life, Koruhana was in the air, and although she has seen the heights from mountaintops they simply couldn’t compare to the vast moving spectacle of flight, let alone the wind passing through her skin. In any other time, she would have been ecstactic, but right now she was worried, for her friend and for a scent all too familiar to her.

“Akakura, I think we have to land.”

“But I just got into the air!”

“There’s people burning alive.”

And so the Kākāriki descended rapidly, gliding downwards towards the forest floor, before hoovering as she gently laid Koruhana on the ground. Too tired to fly, she simply just hang on to the Taika’s back, as she run across the forest in the direction of people screaming. They came across a clearing, where villagers were franticly trying to stop the spreading flames, or running away. Caught beneath a crumbled house was a teenage boy, with his leg trapped.

“I know a ward that can dispell fire for a few minutes” said Akakura, tired, “But only a few minutes.”

“Should be enough.”

Koruhana run towards the house, the flames already burning the wood. Keeping herself hang to the Taika with her feet and right hand, Akakura used the right one to probe her bag and take out a golden fern leaf. She ate it, and chirped strange and eldritch calls, that infused the air with a golden myst. The race was now on, and Koruhana reached down next to the boy, figuring out a way to remove his leg from the house.

“Are you going to eat me, Taika?” he said defiantly, trying to get away from Koruhana.

“Be still.”

Koruhana reached out for a large plate of wood, and with great effort she began to lift the debris.

“The ward is starting to fade” Akakura warned, grabbing a water bag and emptying it on the flames.

Koruhana managed to lift the fallen wood, only to find that the boy’s leg was broken beyond repair, the lower section just hanging loosely. With some effort, she grabbed the panicked child and run away from the flames, towards the remaining villagers.

“Thank you, Taika” said a middle aged woman, her eyes reddened and her voice raspy from crying.

Koruhana nodded, and she and Akakura parted ways from the villagers, running towards the dense forest once again.

“Just go a little to the northeast” Akakura said, ” and we’ll be on the right track.”

***

The Sun began to rise once again, and Koruhana stirred from her sleep. From her resting place in the branches of an aged kauri, she could see the plains of Parāone in the horizon. She was so close, so close to start a new life of peace and serenity.

“Awake?” she asked Akakura.

“Waiting for a while. You Taika sure do sleep like stones.”

Koruhana smiled, and climbed her way down the tree. The Kākāriki took flight, moving in circles above the Taika in a rather gleeful manner. It was a shame that she wasn’t going to be around to see her getting a new start, but Koruhana knew it was for the best.

Suddenly, a strange chant filled the sorrounding forest, and out of nowhere the branches of the trees darted into the sky, punching Akakura out of the air, making her land violently a few meters in front of Koruhana.

“AKAKURA!” the Taika screamed, running towards her friend.

The Aven was badly injured, her jaw was unhinged from her skull, only loosely hanging on, and her chest was fractured beyond repair. She was still alive, in great pain, moaning meekly as her bones cracked. Koruhana searched frantically in her friend’s bag, bring out the tonic from before and gently pouring it down into her jaw and whatever open wounds there were. Understanding what was going on, the Kākāriki used all her tolerance to pain to move into a “comfortable position”, where her regenerating bones would reform to a non-deformed state. Indeed, the tonic’s mana charged power began to take effect, fixing Akakura’s jaw rapidly, and slowly repairing her own fractures. However, the pain was too unberable for her, and the Aven fell into a coma. Koruhana took her wounded friend into her arms, crying and cooing her friend, her tears glistening on the bird’s impermeable feathers. She heard footsteps, she she didn’t move, trying to shield Akakura with her body.

“Such a shame, that the one you could have used the tonic on has ratted you out” said an austere, yet amused voice.

Koruhana dared look, and it was who she feared. Dressed in an esmerald feather cloak with yellow apotropaic patterns, the bald, middle-aged Pirita Kahuna stood proud before her, his lips slightly curved in a sadistic smile. He was carrying a large wooden staff, more similar to a living branch than anything made by man, ending in living, broad leaves and red berries. Before she could react, he kicked her in the snout, forcing her to release Akakura, and kept her firmly in the ground with his foot on her throat. Vines sprang forth from the ground, and tied her limbs, preventing her from fighting back.

“Your father has promised well for your heart, pelt and womb. We do preffer to not act as mercenaries, to not lower ourselves to petty thugs, but the alliance with the Hāura Taika is too… valuable, to waste. We’re so close to eradicating the curse that is sapience, and all we need is your death. And frankly, my dear, there are few things in this world that bring the collective any more pleasure than to kill the heretics.”

The Pirita Kahuna then rised his staff, the non-leafed end converting itself into a thick, hammerhead-like club, his smiled blooming like a wicked flower, revealing his marble-like teeth. Koruhana closed her eyes, sobbing for herself, her friend and the peace she never had.

Just then, a thick, cold myst enveloped the air, and the Pirita Kahuna’s limbs were frozen. The man growled hatefully, spouting curses into the air, vines wrapping around himself, trying to breaking the ice, only to crack his own limbs. Clad in the thick, almost spectral mysts, Maramawhā emerged from the dense forest, Ao’s light reflected in all directions in her frosty figure.

“You have overstepped your bounds, Kahuna. It is rather… disturbing, that you want to mutilate this one’s corpse, but you’ve made a mistake when you’ve striked against my courier.”

“H-how did you g-get here?” said the Pirita Kahuna, trembling in fear and cold.

“Pure accident, actually. I had come to Parāone up it’s river system, and was patroling the forests in case your ilk decided to meddle in my affairs. As Tāne would have it, I come upon such a despicable pest such as yourself.”

“Y-you d-did wonders, then! I’ve n-not come alone!”

And indeed, Maramawhā could see younger Pirita Kahuna, hiding in the shadows of the forest, readying their arrows as soon as visibility was fine. The Hoiho shrugged, she really wanted to give these murderous Kahuna the taste of their own medicine, but she was barely in the state to even save both of their victims. She carried Akakura in her arms, and cast a spell to make Koruhana fall into a deep coma, from which she would never wake up. With a final spell to prolong and expand her mysts, she left the forest with her courier, leaving the accursed wilds as she walked towards Parāone.

Only an hour later did the myst dissipate, and the Pirita Kahuna fred himself. In anger, he stroke against the unconscious Koruhana, smashing her skull with the staff-club, and began cutting up her corpse as per his mission.

The Last of Us: Left Behind and Denial

kambyero

I’ve made myself perfectly clear  how I feelabout The Last of Us. I would have been content just having the story of Joel and Ellie be done with when it ended. Like many other hardcore fans who were pulled into the little stories TLOU’s post-apocalyptic world sprinkled throughout the game, I would have liked to see a new narrative from the other characters that lived and died during the main duo’s trek from the one and only planned singleplayer DLC.

Instead, we got a closer look into the history of everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed switchblade-wielding would-be savior of the human race, Ellie, and her relationship with her favorite person in the world before she met Joel, Riley.

Unfortunately for some, it was too close a look that they just couldn’t accept.

View original post 854 more words

Toxodonts versus Rhinos

So, in a recent conversation, it has been suggested to me that the absence of american rhinos from the Pliocene onward might be a result of not only climatic changes, but also competition with toxodontids (and ground sloths, though north american sloths and rhinos did co-exist in the late Miocene).

Meridungulates, while largely affected by northern invaders, have not been uniformly displaced by northern ungulates, some groups even prospering and diversifying well until mankind reached South America in the “Holocene”. Toxodonts are one such example, being not only relatively diverse, but also perhaps among the most common components of Pleistocene south american megafauna.
Toxodon itself is a primarily Pleistocene critter, and one of the more omnipresent megafaunal herbivores of the continent from the epoch. In Brazil, what was once thought to be a fauna dominated by a single Toxodon species, Toxodon platensis, is now thought to represent a myriad of different taxa, such as Trigodonops/Toxodon lopesi and Mixotoxodon larensis, a diversity comparable to the contemporary Pleistocene proboscideans. Within Toxodontidae, Toxodontinae proper appears to have been the most successful Pleistocene clade, with 3-5 taxa dating to the Pleistocene/”Holocene”, although Haplodontheriinae is also well established, in the form of Mixotoxodon larensis and Trigodonops lopesi (though the later might be a species of Toxodon instead).

Thus, toxodonts were doing rather fine after the Interchange, being about as speciose as modern rhinos, and without the benefit of much larger geographical separations. In Brazil at least, we observe a clearly range partitioning between tropical/subtropical haplodontheriines and Toxodon platensis, exemplifying enough diversity to warrant competitive speciations, and similar to historical eurasian rhino ranges. With such unimpeded diversity, rhinos would have had little chance of settling down in South America like tapirs and proboscideans did, their niches as browsers and robust grazers already taken by a successful toxodont fauna.

Much like ground sloths, toxodonts also crossed Central America, invading the rhino homeland. Most of the north american remains belong to Mixotoxodon, a Pleistocene genus that would have conquered the area well after the last north american rhinos became extinct, and thus probably doesn’t reflect the ecological replacement of rhinos by toxodonts. Earlier remains do occur in the Pliocene of Central America, though, so as it seems toxodonts formed a solid barrier to rhinos, preventing them from colonizing the south, and thus perhaps factoring in their demise when the glaciations occurred.

Refs

* Ricardo Mendonça 2008

* Lundelius et al. 2013

News on Marsupial diversity

The marsupial-placental mammal dichotomy revisited: new morphological
data and the relevance of geography on evolutionary patterns of diversity and
disparity

Marcelo R. Sánchez-Villagra, Madeleine Geiger & Analía M. Forasiepi
Paläontologisches Institut und Museum der Universität Zürich, Switzerland.

Placentals occupy a larger morphospace and are taxonomically more diverse than
marsupials, even considering the rich ecomorphological diversity of fossils. This
contrasting evolutionary pattern has been coupled with biases introduced by marsupials’
developmental features, including altriciality and functional requirements around birth
and postnatal life. For example, unlike placentals, marsupials maintain many epiphyseal
growth plates separated throughout life, most likely the derived state. The relevance of
life history features in imposing constraints on morphological evolution is at best
speculative. There are numerous cases of circumvention of developmental biases, such
as the autopodial specializations of marsupial moles and the ever growing sabre-tooth of
thylacosmilids. These suggest that other factors produced the marsupial pattern of
restricted morphospace. Phylogenetic and geographic data offer new insights on this
issue. In the Cretaceous and Palaeogene faunas from North and South America,
metatherians have been more than or as diverse as eutherians. There are no positive tests
of competitive displacement of metatharians by eutherians. The diversification of
Marsupialia, including the differentiation into its major clades occurred about 20 Ma,
more recently than that of Placentalia. The geographic pattern of taxonomic and
morphological diversity within Placentalia mirrors that of placentals versus marsupials:
northern clades are more diverse (ca. 4,800 spp.) than southern ones (200 spp.) and
include those that are outliers in taxonomic (rodents; bats) and ecomorphological
(whales; bats) richness. The differential diversity and disparity among therians is more a
reflection of ‘opportunity’ than a bias in the production of morphological variants during
development in marsupials.

TL;DR: Basically, marsupials are not restricted morphologically as previously thought, and therefore are not “inferior” to placentals.

Homophobia in the paleontological community?

Khaan mckennai specimens reffered to as "Romeo and Juliet". Putting aside the godawful ignorance about the play's point, there's no traits in the specimens that assign them to a specific gender.
Khaan mckennai specimens reffered to as “Romeo and Juliet”. Putting aside the godawful ignorance about the play’s point, there’s no observed traits in the specimens that assign them to a specific gender. People literally just saw two specimens together and decided it was an heterosexual mating pair.

One thing’s great about science: it only cares about accurate results. Nothing else matters: your religion, your race, your gender is nobody’s concern, so long as you follow proper procedures, conduct ethical experiments and not clouding your results with bias. White, straight men still happen to be the more famous and visible faces of modern paleontology, but many of the more field changing discoveries still rightfully belong to female paleontologists like Teresa Maryańska, whose Gobi desert expeditions have offered our first understanding of asian pachycephalosaurs. And, as with all sciences, it’s international reach pretty much grants representations by most cultures and ethnicies; my own home country has it’s own share of voices, most notably Miguel Telles Antunes.

Paleontology is particularly beneficient in that it is relatively invulnerable to political meddling; aside from the studies on human ancestry, there is no major government interest in affecting paleontological studies negatively. After all, the conclusions about an ornithocheirid specimen from the Cambridge Greensand are very unlikely to damage or boost the Prime Minister’s career – as oposed to, say, research on fossil fuels -, so the brittish government won’t bother to affect pterosaur studies in any way, besides maybe cutting funds if they feel like it. Only creationists enjoy a capacity to cause damage to paleontological studies, and their range of influence is thankfully relatively minor in the western world, only affecting the aforementioned human ancestry studies.

So, if paleontology is not only pragmatic and inclusive in relation to gender, culture and ethnicy, but also generally unaffected by non-creationist political meddling, why am I making a post about a form of prejudice, homophobia, being present in the paleontological community? Sadly, because it found a way, as usual.

Hide The [Paleontologist] Lesbians

Franz Nopsca, an infamous hungarian paleontologist (and nobility) who shot himself and his lover. Throught his life, the Baron had struggled with his sexuality, which he considered "unnatural", a tragically ironic conclusion that could have been avoided if there weren't scientific biases against the study of animal sexuality back then.
Franz Nopsca, an infamous hungarian paleontologist (and nobility) who shot himself and his lover. Throught his life, the Baron had struggled with his sexuality, which he considered “unnatural”, a tragically ironic conclusion that could have been avoided if there weren’t scientific biases against the study of animal sexuality back then.

Because science is again pragmatic and result focused, paleontologists are best known for their research; in theory, it’s a meritocratic affair, with the individuals being more famous the more groundbreacking their studies are. And, as with all meritocratic affairs, personality comes second to work: Robert T. Bakker has more limelights due to his research than he does due to being a pentecostal, for example. In theory, at least, it’s a fair system that encourages a focus on the actual subject than the researcher: you can be honest and open about yourself, so long as you are both competent and productive.

In theory. In practise, this tends to be rather arbitarily and hypocritically enforced. Putting aside employment practises and discrimination, how much visibility a researcher gets is variable. Some, like the aforementioned Bakker, are key components of the paleontological community’s public perception, but other researchers with just as much productivity and groundbreacking research are outright shoved into the background, like Kristina Curry Rogers, who is to Titanosauria what Bakker is to Morrison Formation theropods, yet rewarded far less. This is why, despiste the number of female paleontologists out there, they are obscure enough to need posts like this to gain the recognition they deserve. For a system that supposedly congratulates the inovative researcher, it sure attempts to not be such.

This, of course, leads us to the obvious, unconfortable conclusion: homosexuality is a taboo among paleontologists. Most LGBT researchers are not particularly open about their sexuality, and while it’s hard to demonstrate homophobic pressure, as it stands their visibility is reduced to an extreme minimum. Perhaps the best barometer of this is none other than Baron von Nopsca, to whom we owe the first understanding of the Hateg Island dwarves, early hypothesis about dinosaur sexual dimorphism – albeit rather erroneous -, early studies on the bird-dinosaur connection, and perhaps even the concept of palaeobiology, yet he is very, very sheldomly listed among the paleontological pioneers of his time. You’re more likely to hear about his murder-suicide than his relevance in his field, a bitter reversal of what being a scientist should entail.

Lets pretend it doesn’t exist in Nature

At the very least 30% of albatross couples are female/female. When was the last time you heard people talking about similar percentages in pseudodontorns?
At the least 30% of albatross couples are female/female. There’s no reason to think similar numbers wouldn’t have occured in extinct archosaurs, yet all discovered [supposed] mating pairs are reffered as heterosexual, with various levels of contrivance.

Homosexuality is overwhelmingly present in nature, being recorded in basically all types of multiple-sexed organisms, from fruit flies to cetaceans. Birds in particular have had their same-sex mating behaviour well documented: entire seagull and waterfowl colonies/flocks have been registered to be composed of female/female pairings and male/male pairings respectively, which in at least some forms like black swans may reflect an unusual yet successful breeding strategy, as same-sex pairings may be able to protect and provide for the chicks more effectively than “straight pairings”, as for some undiscernible reason “cheating” appears to be less common. The passerines known as cocks-of-the-rocks have been reccorded to have as much as 40% of their sexual activity to be between males, while some individuals don’t even bother touching females; these are birds that have gone through the same sexual selection procedures as ungulate mammals, developing extreme sexual dimorphism to supposedly drive away members of the same sex and attract females, and yet they “delight in homosexuality”. Same with ostriches, same with birds-of-paradise, same with peafowl. Mallards, the infamous rapists of the avian world, not only have been documented treating other drakes the same way they treat hens, even down to “gang banging”, but also engaging in homosexual necrophilia; homosexual necrophilia has also been reccorded in swallows and frogmouths. And, of course, there’s the famous male/male penguin, flamingo and vulture couples in zoos all over the world.

With so many cases of homosexual behaviour among living dinosaurs, you’d think the dead ones were also this… diverse. Yet, as far as most researchers are concerned, all dead dinosaurs were “straight”: all “couples”, or even specimens found in seemingly non-agressive poses, are reffered to as heterosexual mating pairs.

The most infamous and downright ridiculous example are the two specimens of Khaan mckennai known as “Romeo and Juliet”. This fossil, two skeletons of the oviraptor species found in extreme proximity of each other, are the species’ holotype (IGM 100/1127), and not only have been interpreted as a “couple” on extremely loose grounds (they were found together and weren’t fighting; that’s the reason why they’re called “Romeo and Juliet”. I guess the Messel Pit was a massive inter-species orgy then), but are considered male and female on every looser grounds. There are literally no traits in the holotype that favour one gender over the other.

In extinct ornithodires, sex is generally determined either by extreme sexually dimorphous structures, like the crests of pterosaurs, or by two main “subtle” features: the pelvis cannal, which is supposedly wider in females, and femur medullary bone, present in females; both are features adapted for the production of eggs. We do know that the former may be of some help – Darwinopterus does have clearly female specimens, one of them preserved in the process of laying an egg, with wider pelvic cannals, while troodontids and oviraptors do show rather extreme pelvic cannal widths can may be reasonably attributed to different genders -, but it is frequently subjected to error, as the cannal’s width in consistency to the animal’s sex is hard to predict except in extreme examples; this is why Sue’s actual gender is something of a controversy, as tyrannosaur pelvis cannal widths are more difficult to accurately estimate than previously thought. Medullary bone tissue is of more help, as it is indeed only significantly observed in females during egg production. Only three major medullary bone samples have been obtained from non-avian dinosaurs, from Tyrannosaurus rex, Allosaurus fragilis and Tenontosaurus tilletti; “Romeo and Juliet” currently remain untested for medullary bone, and the pelvis bone widths have not been accurately measured either.

On other words, they truly are just two random Khaan assumed to be an heterosexual mating pairing based on close proximity.

Not only we have thus forced and arbitary gendering, we also have something of a strange agression towards non-“heteronormative” (i.e. heterosexual pairings and polygynous lekking) breeding strategies. Just witness the bile thrown at “Evolution of classical polyandry: three steps to female emancipation” (Malte Andersson, 2005), a paper that [very briefly] suggests polyandry in non-avian dinosaurs. If we are to believe some of the responses, male Triceratops forming harems and forcing intercourse on females is “normal”, while theropod females defending brooding several males brooding their cluthes like modern jaçanas is “unnatural”, “falsetious” and “unscientific”. What?

We know that in oviraptors and troodontids the males – or at least morphs with absurdly narrow pelvic cannals – were the sole incubators of the eggs, much like in modern ratites. At least a few specimens may also bear another adult as well, yet these have been dismissed as “potential heterosexual mating pairs” without further study on the animals’ pelvic width or medullary bones. From the looks of it, adult females or at least animals with wider pelvic cannals have not been reported in association with nests, which may very well mean that these specimens may be homosexual pairings. A potentially revolutionary discovery, not only casually dismissed, but outright “straight washed”.

If I can’t see it, it does not exit, henceforth it is unnatural

So, we have LGBT researchers shoved into the background and direct erasure. We have basically the worst “indirectly hostile” factors for homophobia widespread and accepted in the paleontological community. Lack of visibility is the main factor in the prevalence of homophobia, far more so than “propaganda” and violent statements, as the still immense ignorance towards animal same-sex sexual behaviour still shows. Lack of visibility also leads to the lack of ressonance, which increases the already cancerous feeling of isolation. This ignorance and these feelings led to the violent death of Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás, a man who had no religious reasons for his murder-suicide, but a tragic lack of understanding that his feelings were not ill or aberrant.

The irony is all too bitter.