Proto-Indo-European Urheimat hypotheses

Proto-Indo-European Urheimat hypotheses

The question of the homeland (Urheimat) of the Proto-Indo-European peoples and their Proto-Indo-European language has been a recurring topic in Indo-European studies since the 19th century.

Many hypotheses for an Urheimat have been proposed, and Harvcoltxt|Mallory|1989|p=143 said: “One does not ask ‘where is the Indo-European homeland?’ but rather ‘where do they put it now?’ ”The only thing known for certain is that the language must have been differentiated into unconnected daughter dialects by the late 3rd millennium BC. Mainstream estimates of the time between PIE and the earliest attested texts (ca. nineteenth century BC; see Kültepe texts) range around 1,500 to 2,500 years, with extreme proposals diverging up to another 100% on either side:

*the 4th millennium BC (excluding the Anatolian branch) in Armenia, according to the Armenian hypothesis (proposed in the context of Glottalic theory);
*the 4th or 5th millennium BC to the east of the Caspian Sea, in the area of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana, according to Johanna Nichols' Sogdiana hypothesis; [Johanna Nichols (1997), "The Epicenter of the Indo-European Linguistic Spread", "Archaeology and Language I: Theoretical and Methodological Orientations", ed. Roger Blench and Matthew Spriggs, London: Routledge] [Johanna Nichols (1999), "The Eurasian Spread Zone and the Indo-European Dispersal", "Archaeology and Language II: Correlating archaeological and Linguistic Hypotheses", ed. Roger Blench and Matthew Spriggs, London: Routledge]
*the 5th millennium BC (4th excluding the Anatolian branch) in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, according to the Kurgan hypothesis;
*the 6th millennium BC in India, according to Koenraad Elst's Out of India model;Fact|date=July 2008
*the 6th millennium BC or later in Northern Europe according to Lothar Kilian's and, especially, Marek Zvelebil's models of a broader homeland;
*the 7th millennium BC in Anatolia (the 5th, in the Balkans, excluding the Anatolian branch), according to Colin Renfrew's Anatolian hypothesis;
*the 7th millennium BC (6th excluding the Anatolian branch), according to a 2003 glottochronological study; [ [ Russell D. Gray and Quentin D. Atkinson, Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin, Nature 426 (27 November 2003) 435-439] ]
*before the 10th millennium BC, in the Paleolithic Continuity Theory.

These possibilities boil down to four competing basic models (with variations) that have academic credibility (Harvcoltxt|Mallory|1997|p=106), i.e.:
#Pontic-Caspian: Eneolithic (5th to 4th millennia BC)
#Balkans: Neolithic (5th millennium BC)
#Baltic hypothesis: Mesolithic to Neolithic (Ertebølle to Corded Ware horizon, 6th to 3rd millennia BC)
#Anatolia: Early Neolithic (7th to 5th millennia BC)


There have been many attempts to claim that particular prehistorical cultures can be identified with the PIE-speaking peoples, but all have been speculative. All attempts to identify an actual people with an unattested language depend on a sound reconstruction of that language that allows identification of cultural concepts and environmental factors which may be associated with particular cultures (such as the use of metals, agriculture vs. pastoralism, geographically distinctive plants and animals, etc).

In the 1970s, a mainstream consensus had emerged among Indo-Europeanists in favour of the "Kurgan hypothesis" placing the Indo-European homeland in the Pontic steppe of the Chalcolithic, not least due to the influence of the Journal of Indo-European Studies, edited by JP Mallory, that focussed on the ideas of Marija Gimbutas, and came up with some improvements. She had created a modern variation on the traditional invasion theory (the Kurgan hypothesis, after the Kurgans (burial mounds) of the Eurasian steppes) in which the Indo-Europeans were a nomadic tribe in Eastern Ukraine and Southern Russia and expanded on horseback in several waves during the 3rd millennium BCE. Their expansion coincided with the taming of the horse. Leaving archaeological signs of their presence (see battle-axe people), they subjugated the peaceful European Neolithic farmers of Gimbutas's Old Europe. As Gimbutas's beliefs evolved, she put increasing emphasis on the patriarchal, patrilinear nature of the invading culture, sharply contrasting it with the supposedly egalitarian, if not matrilinear culture of the invaded, to a point of formulating essentially feminist archaeology.

Her interpretation of Indo European culture found genetic support in remains from the Neolithic culture of Scandinavia, where bone remains in Neolithic graves indicated that the megalith culture was either matrilocal or matrilineal as the people buried in the same grave were related through the women. Likewise there is evidence of remaining matrilineal traditions among the Picts. A modified form of this theory by JP Mallory, dating the migrations earlier to around 4000 BCE and putting less insistence on their violent or quasi-military nature, essentially replaced the version of Gimbutas.

The Kurgan hypothesis seeks to describe the Indo-European language expansion by a succession of migrations that allegedly originated from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, or, more specifically and according to the revised version, to the area encompassed by the Sredny Stog culture (ca. 4500 BC). Opposition to this solution does not lie with those who would argue that the Proto-Indo-European homeland must have been larger, [Mallory 1989, p.185] since the "Neolithic creolisation hypothesis‎" does not contradict the Pontic-Caspian region being part of PIE territory.

As such, the main competitor of the Kurgan solution is the Anatolian hypothesis advanced by Colin Renfrew, according to which the Indo-European languages spread peacefully into Europe from Asia Minor from around 7000 BCE with the advance of farming ("wave of advance"). That theory is contradicted by the fact that ancient Anatolia is known to be inhabited by non-Indo-European people, namely the Hattians, Khalib/Karub, and Khaldi/Kardi.


The accumulation of Archaeogenetic evidence which uses genetic analysis to trace migration patterns since the 1990s has also added new elements to the puzzle. Cavalli-Sforza and Alberto Piazza argue that Renfrew and Gimbutas reinforce rather than contradict each other. Harvcoltxt|Cavalli-Sforza|2000 states that "It is clear that, genetically speaking, peoples of the Kurgan steppe descended at least in part from people of the Middle Eastern Neolithic who immigrated there from Turkey." Piazza & Cavalli-Sforza (2006) state that:

if the expansions began at 9,500 years ago from Anatolia and at 6,000 years ago from the Yamnaya culture region, then a 3,500-year period elapsed during their migration to the Volga-Don region from Anatolia, probably through the Balkans. There a completely new, mostly pastoral culture developed under the stimulus of an environment unfavourable to standard agriculture, but offering new attractive possibilities. Our hypothesis is, therefore, that Indo-European languages derived from a secondary expansion from the Yamnaya culture region after the Neolithic farmers, possibly coming from Anatolia and settled there, developing pastoral nomadism.
About his old teacher's proposal, Harvcoltxt|Wells|2002 states that "there is nothing to contradict this model, although the genetic patterns do not provide clear support either," and instead argues that the evidence is much stronger for Gimbutas' model:
while we see substantial genetic and archaeological evidence for an Indo-European migration originating in the southern Russian steppes, there is little evidence for a similarly massive Indo-European migration from the Middle East to Europe. One possibility is that, as a much earlier migration (8,000 years old, as opposed to 4,000), the genetic signals carried by Indo-European-speaking farmers may simply have dispersed over the years. There is clearly "some" genetic evidence for migration from the Middle East, as Cavalli-Sforza and his colleagues showed, but the signal is not strong enough for us to trace the distribution of Neolithic languages throughout the entirety of Indo-European-speaking Europe.

High concentrations of Mesolithic or late Paleolithic YDNA haplogroups of types R1b (typically well above 35%) and I (up to 25%), are thought to derive ultimately of the robust Eurasiatic Cro Magnoid homo sapiens of the Aurignacian culture, and the subsequent gracile leptodolichomorphous people of the Gravettian culture that entered Europe from the Middle East 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, respectively. [The Genetic Legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in Extant Europeans: A Y Chromosome Perspective - Ornella Semino et al.] Small Neolithic additions can be concerned in occurrences of "Anatolian" haplogroups J2, G, F and E3b1a, the latter presenting a clearly Northeastern African element. [ Y-DNA Haplogroup E and its Subclades] [The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form - C. Loring Brace] Haplogroup R1a1, whose lineage is thought to have originated in the Eurasian Steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas, is associated with the Kurgan culture, [] as well as with the postglacial Ahrensburg culture that might have spread the gene originally.cite journal | last = Passarino | first = G | coauthors = Cavalleri GL, Lin AA, Cavalli-Sforza LL, Borresen-Dale AL, Underhill PA | title = Different genetic components in the Norwegian population revealed by the analysis of mtDNA and Y chromosome polymorphisms | url = | journal = Eur. J. Hum. Genet. | year = 2002 | volume = 10 | issue = 9 | pages = 521–9 | pmid = 12173029 | doi = 10.1038/sj.ejhg.5200834] On the other hand Dupuy and his colleagues proposed Ahrensburg culture to have brought Haplogroup Hg P*(xR1a) or R1b (Y-DNA) to the population and stressed genetic similarity with Germany. [Dupuy, B. et al. 2006. Geographical heterogeneity of Y-chromosomal lineages in Norway. "Forensic Science International". 164: 10-19. [] ] Ornella Semino et al. propose a postglacial spread of the R1a1 gene from the Ukrainian LGM refuge, subsequently "magnified" by the expansion of the Kurgan culture into Europe and eastward. [] R1a1 is most prevalent in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine and is also observed in Pakistan, India and central Asia. Wells suggests the origin, distribution and age of R1a1 points to an ancient migration, possibly corresponding to the spread by the Kurgan people in their expansion across the Eurasian steppe around 3000 BC. R1a1 is largely confined east of the Vistula gene barrier [ [ Alexander Varzari, 5.2.4] : "... across the history the geographic boundary, dividing Southeast Europe from Eastern Europe was more transparent for the reciprocal flows than the boundary between Eastern and Western Europe."] and drops considerably to the west: R1a1 measurements read 6.2% to Germans (a 4X drop to Czechs and Slovakians reading 26,7%) and 3.7% to Dutch. [European R1a1 measurements (referred to as M17 or Eu19) in Science vol 290, 10 November 2000] The spread of Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup R1a1 has been associated with the spread of the Indo-European languages too. The mutations that characterize haplogroup R1a occurred ~10,000 years bp. Its defining mutation (M17) occurred about 10,000 to 14,000 years ago.

The present-day population of R1b, with extremely high peaks in Western Europe and measured up to the eastern confines of Central Asia, are believed to be the descendants of a refugium in the Iberian peninsula (Portugal and Spain) at the Last Glacial Maximum, where the haplogroup may have achieved genetic homogeneity. As conditions eased with the Allerød Oscillation in about 12,000 BC, descendants of this group migrated and eventually recolonised all of Western Europe, leading to the dominant position of R1b in variant degrees from Iberia to Scandinavia, so evident in haplogroup maps. The most common subclade is R1b1c9, that has a maximum in Frisia (the Netherlands). It may have originated towards the end of the last ice age, or perhaps more or less 7000 BC, possibly in the northern European mainland. [] .

Developments in genetics take away much of the edge of the sometimes heated controversies about invasions. While findings confirm that there were population movements both related to the beginning Neolithic and the beginning Bronze Age, corresponding to Renfrew's and Gimbutas's Indo-Europeans, respectively, the genetic record obviously cannot yield any direct information as to the language spoken by these groups. The current interpretation of genetic data suggests a strong genetic continuity in Europe; specifically, studies by Bryan Sykes show that about 80% of the genetic stock of Europeans originated in the Paleolithic, suggesting that languages tend to spread geographically by cultural contact rather than by invasion and extermination, i.e. much more peacefully than was described in some invasion scenarios, and thus the genetic record does not rule out the historically much more common type of invasions where a new group assimilates the earlier inhabitants. This very common scenario of successive small scale invasions where a ruling nation imposed its language and culture on a larger indigenous population was what Gimbutas had in mind:Fact|date=November 2007

:"The Process of Indo-Europeanization was a cultural, not a physical transformation. It must be understood as a military victory in terms of imposing a new administrative system, language and religion upon the indigenous groups."

A low genetic influence from the steppes in Western Europe and, to archeology, a virtually unattested cultural interaction west of the Carpathian basin, however, are contradictory to Pontic invaders that must have come in appreciable numbers to accomplish some kind of Indo European language assimilation. [Mallory, 1989 p.254: "Nevertheless, the archeological evidence advanced for the origins of the Corded Ware horizon has, so far, failed to make a thoroughly convincing case for population movements or intrusions, the minimum requirement of our search for the trajectory of the earliest Indo-Europeans."] This notion already gave rise to a new incarnation of the "European hypothesis" suggesting more local continuity, and holding the Indo-European culture to be the result of many local developments that shared certain wide range common ideas.The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology - Oxford University Press, 2004 [] ]

Any large-scale invasion theory presupposes that a sizeable population surplus existed in the originating region, meaning that initial food supply was adequate to support this population surplus, because of a favorable climate and/or advances in food production technology. Small-scale invasions on the other hand would presuppose the existence of superior war technology and/or the existence of a more efficiently warlike social structure.


Using stochastic models of word evolution to study the presence/absence of different words across Indo-European, Harvcoltxt|Gray|Atkinson|2003 suggest that the origin of Indo-European goes back about 8500 years, the first split being that of Hittite from the rest (Indo-Hittite hypothesis). Harvcoltxt|Gray|Atkinson|2003 go to great lengths to avoid the problems associated with traditional approaches to glottochronology. However, it must be noted that the calculations of Harvcoltxt|Gray|Atkinson|2003 rely entirely on Swadesh lists, and while the results are quite robust for well attested branches, their calculation of the age of Hittite, which is crucial for the Anatolian claim, rests on a 200 word Swadesh list of a single language and are regarded as contentious. Interestingly, a more recent paper (Atkinson et al, 2005) of 24 mostly ancient languages, including three Anatolian languages, produced the same time estimates and early Anatolian split.

A scenario that could reconcile Renfrew's beliefs with the Kurgan hypothesis suggests that Indo-European migrations are somehow related to the submersion of the northeastern part of the Black Sea around 5600 BC: [As alleged by Ryan and Pitman, in "Noah's Flood : The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History " (1998)] while a splinter group who became the proto-Hittite speakers moved into northeastern Anatolia around 7000 BC, the remaining population would have gone northward, evolving into the Kurgan culture, while others may have escaped far to the northeast (Tocharians) and the southeast (Indo-Iranians). While the time-frame of this scenario is consistent with Renfrew, it is incompatible with his core assumption that Indo-European spread with the advance of agriculture.


ee also

*Neolithic Europe
*Bronze Age Europe

External links

* [ family tree, showing Indo-European languages and sub branches]
* [ of Indo-European migrations from the Armenian Highlands]

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