Proto-Indo-European Language Hypothesis Statement

What do you call a male sibling? If you speak English, he is your “brother.” Greek? Call him “phrater.” Sanskrit, Latin, Old Irish? “Bhrater,” “frater,” or “brathir,” respectively. Ever since the mid-17th century, scholars have noted such similarities among the so-called Indo-European languages, which span the world and number more than 400 if dialects are included. Researchers agree that they can probably all be traced back to one ancestral language, called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). But for nearly 20 years, scholars have debated vehemently when and where PIE arose.

Two long-awaited studies, one described online this week in a preprint and another scheduled for publication later this month, have now used different methods to support one leading hypothesis: that PIE was first spoken by pastoral herders who lived in the vast steppe lands north of the Black Sea beginning about 6000 years ago. One study points out that these steppe land herders have left their genetic mark on most Europeans living today.

The studies’ conclusions emerge from state-of-the-art ancient DNA and linguistic analyses, but the debate over PIE’s origins is likely to continue. A rival hypothesis—that early farmers living in Anatolia (modern Turkey) about 8000 years ago were the original PIE speakers—is not ruled out by the new analyses, most agree. Although the steppe hypothesis has now received a major boost, “I would not say the Anatolian hypothesis has been killed,” says Carles Lalueza-Fox, a geneticist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, who participated in neither of the new studies.

Up until the 1980s, variations of the steppe hypothesis held sway among most linguists and archaeologists tracking down Indo-European’s birthplace. Then in 1987, archaeologist Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom proposed that PIE spread with farming from its origins in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, moving west into Europe and east further into Asia; over time the languages continued to spread and diversify into the many Indo-European languages we know today.

Traditional linguists, meanwhile, painstakingly reconstructed PIE by extrapolating back from modern languages and ancient writings. (Listen to a short fable spoken in PIE here.) They disdained Renfrew’s idea of an Anatolian homeland, arguing for example that the languages were still too similar to have begun diverging 8000 years ago.

But many archaeologists noted that genetic and archaeological studies did indeed suggest massive ancient migrations from the Middle East into Europe that could have brought PIE and sparked such language diversification. In 2003, evolutionary biologists Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand used computational methods from evolutionary biology to track words as they changed over time, and concluded that the Anatolian hypothesis was right. But steppe supporters remained unconvinced, even after Gray’s team published a confirming analysis in Science in 2012.

Fans of the steppe hypothesis are now hailing a genetics study that used ancient DNA from 69 Europeans who lived between 8000 and 3000 years ago to genetically track ancient population movements. The work, now posted on the bioRxiv preprint server, was done by a large team led by geneticists David Reich and Iosif Lazaridis of Harvard Medical School in Boston and Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide in Australia. Among the team’s samples were nine ancient individuals—six males, two females, and a child of undetermined sex—from the Yamnaya culture north of the Black Sea in today’s Russia. Beginning about 6000 years ago, these steppe people herded cattle and other animals, buried their dead in earthen mounds called kurgans, and may have created some of the first wheeled vehicles. (Many linguists think PIE already had a word for “wheel.”) The team also retrieved ancient DNA from four skeletons from the later Corded Ware culture of central Europe, known for the distinctive pottery for which they are named (see photo above), as well as their dairy farming skills. Archaeologists had noted similarities among these cultures, especially in their emphasis on cattle herding.

The team focused on sections of DNA that they suspected would provide markers for past population movements and identified nearly 400,000 DNA positions across the genome in each individual. They used new techniques to zero in on the key positions in the nuclear DNA, allowing them to analyze twice as many ancient nuclear DNA samples from Europe and Asia as previously reported in the entire literature.

The comparison of the two cultures’ DNA showed that the four Corded Ware people could trace an astonishing three-quarters of their ancestry to the Yamnaya. That suggests a massive migration of Yamnaya people from their steppe homeland into central Europe about 4500 years ago, one that could have spread an early form of the Indo-European language, the team concludes. Thus the paper for the first time links two far-flung material cultures to specific genetic signatures and to each other—and suggests, the team says, that they spoke a form of Indo-European.

The Corded Ware culture soon spread across north and central Europe, extending as far as today’s Scandinavia. So the “steppe ancestry,” as the authors of the preprint call it, is found in most present-day Europeans, who can trace their ancestry back to both the Corded Ware people and the earlier Yamnaya. The work thus adds to genetic findings from last fall showing that the genetic makeup of today’s Europeans is more complicated than anyone expected.

The results are a “smoking gun” that an ancient migration into Europe from the steppe occurred, says Pontus Skoglund, an ancient DNA specialist who is now working in Reich’s lab but was not a co-author on the paper. (Although the paper is publicly available on a preprint server, it is not yet published, and the authors declined to discuss their work until it’s published.) The paper “levels the playing field between the steppe hypothesis and the Anatolian hypothesis by showing that the spread of farming was not the only large migration into Europe,” Skoglund says.

The second new paper to address PIE’s origin, in press at Language and due to be published online during the last week of February, uses linguistic data to focus on when PIE arose. A team led by University of California, Berkeley, linguists Andrew Garrett and Will Chang employed the language database and evolutionary methods previously used by Gray to create a family tree of the Indo-European languages from their first origins in PIE. But in certain cases, Garrett and Chang’s group declared that one language was directly ancestral to another and put that into their tree as a certainty. For example, they assumed that Latin was directly ancestral to Romance languages such as Spanish, French, and Italian—something that many but not all linguists agree on—and that Vedic Sanskrit was directly ancestral to the Indo-Aryan languages spoken on the Indian subcontinent.

These constraints transformed the results from what Gray’s team has published: Garrett, Chang, and their colleagues found that the origins of PIE were about 6000 years ago, consistent with the steppe hypothesis but not the Anatolian, because the farming migration out of the Middle East was 8000 years ago. Once the original PIE speakers began to sweep out of the steppes about 4500 years ago, their languages spread and diversified, Garrett’s team says.

But many supporters of the Anatolian hypothesis remain staunchly unconvinced. Paul Heggarty, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, questions Garrett’s methods, arguing that, for example, linguists cannot be sure if the Latin attested to in written documents really was the direct ancestor of later Romance languages, rather than some dialect of Latin for which no record remains. Even small differences in the true ancestral language, Heggarty insists, could throw off the timing estimates.

As for the Reich paper, many archaeologists and linguists praise the data on ancient migrations. But they challenge what they see as its speculative link to language. The movement out of the steppes, Renfrew says, “may be a secondary migration into central Europe 3000 to 4000 years later than the spread of farmers, which first brought Indo-European speech to Europe.” If so, the Yamnaya steppe people would not have spoken PIE but an already derived Indo-European tongue ancestral to today’s Balto-Slavic languages such as Russian and Polish, Heggarty says. He adds that the wording of the Reich paper is “misleading.”

Indeed, in a lengthy discussion in the paper’s Supplementary Information section, Reich and colleagues do concede that “the ultimate question of the Proto-Indo-European homeland is unresolved by our data.” They suggest that more ancient DNA, especially from points east of the steppes, may finally tie our linguistic history with our genes.


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The Proto-Indo-European homeland (or Indo-European homeland) is the prehistoric urheimat of the Indo-European languages—the region where their reconstructed common ancestor, the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), was originally spoken. From this region subgroups of speakers migrated and went on to form the proto-communities of the different branches of the language family.

There is currently no scientific consensus on when or where PIE was spoken. The majority of Indo-European specialists support the steppe hypothesis, which puts the PIE homeland in the Pontic-Caspian steppe around 4,000 BC.[6] A minority support the Anatolian hypothesis, which puts it in Anatolia around 8,000 BC.[7] A notable, though unlikely, third possibility is the Armenian hypothesis which situates the homeland south of the Caucasus. Several other explanations have been proposed, including Baltic origins, the Paleolithic continuity theory, and the Indigenous Aryans/Out of India theory; none of these enjoy a wide acceptance, or are considered to be fringe theories.

The search for the homeland of the Indo-Europeans began in the late 18th century with the discovery of the Indo-European language family. The methods used to establish the homeland have been drawn from the disciplines of historical linguistics, archaeology, physical anthropology and, more recently, human population genetics.


The Steppe theory and the Anatolian hypothesis are "the two leading competitors" for the Indo-European homeland. The steppe hypothesis, a revised version of the "Kurgan hypothesis", places the PIE homeland in the Pontic steppe around 4000 BC. The majority of Indo-European specialists support the steppe hypothesis, though critical issues remain to be clarified.

The Anatolian hypothesis places the pre-PIE homeland in Anatolia around 8000 BC, and the homeland of Proto-Indo-European proper in the Balkans around 5000 BC. Although it has attracted substantive attention and discussions, the datings it proposes are at odds with the linguistic timeframe for Proto-Indo-European and with genetic data which do not find evidence for Anatolian origins in the Indian genepool.

A notable, though unlikely, third possibility is the "Near Eastern model", also known as the Armenian hypothesis. It was proposed by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, postulating connections between Indo-European and Caucasian languages based on the disputed glottalic theory and connected to archaeological findings by Grogoriev.

A number of other theories have been proposed, most of which have little or no academic currency today:


Traditionally homelands of linguistic families are proposed based on evidence from comparative linguistics coupled with evidence of historical populations and migrations from archeology. Today, genetics via DNA samples is increasingly used in the study of ancient population movements.

Reconstructed vocabulary[edit]

Through comparative linguistics it is possible to reconstruct the vocabulary found in the proto-language, and in this way achieve knowledge of the cultural, technological and ecological context that the speakers inhabited. Such a context can then be compared with archeological evidence. This vocabulary includes, in the case of PIE:

  • pastoralism, including domesticated cattle, horses, and dogs
  • agriculture and cereal cultivation, including technology commonly ascribed to late-Neolithic farming communities, e.g., the plow
  • a climate with winter snow[17]
  • transportation by or across water
  • the solid wheel used for wagons, but not yet chariots with spoked wheels

Uralic, Caucasian and Semitic borrowings[edit]

Proto-Uralic and PIE share a core vocabulary, such as words for "name" and "water", and similar-looking pronouns. This may be due to a common ancestor, or to intensive borrowing, but both options suggest that their homelands were located near each other. PIE also borrowed words from Caucasian languages, especially Kartvelian, which suggests a location close to the Caucasus.

Gramkelidze and Ivanov, using the now largely unsupported glottalic theory of Indo-European phonology, also proposed Semitic borrowings into Proto-Indo-European, suggesting a more southern homeland to explain these borrowings. According to Mallory and Adams, some of these borrowing may be too speculative or from a later date, but they consider the proposed Semitic loans "bull" (taurus) and "wine" to be more likely.[note 1]

Genesis of Indo-European languages[edit]

Phases of Proto-Indo-European[edit]

According to Anthony, the following terminology may be used:

  • Early PIE for "the last common ancestor of the Anatolian and non-Anatolian IE branches";
  • Post-Anatolian PIE for "the last common ancestor of the non-Anatolian PIE languages, including Tocharian";
  • Late PIE for "the common ancestor of all other IE branches".

The Anatolian languages are the first Indo-European language family to have split off from the main group. Due to the archaic elements preserved in the Anatolian languages, they may be a "cousin" of Proto-Indo-European, instead of a "daughter", but Anatolian is generally regarded as an early offshoot of the Indo-European language group.

The Indo-Hittite hypothesis postulates a common predecessor for both the Anatolian languages and the other indo-European languages, called Indi-Hittite or Indo-Anatolian. Although it is obvious that PIE had predecessors, the Indo-Hittite hypothesis is not widely accepted, and there is little to suggest that it is possible to reconstruct a proto-Indo-Hittite stage that differs substantially from what is already reconstructed for PIE.

Dating the split-offs of the main branches[edit]

Using a mathematical analysis borrowed from evolutionary biology, Don Ringe and Tandy Warnow propose the following tree of Indo-European branches:

  • Pre-Anatolian (before 3500 BC)
  • Pre-Tocharian
  • Pre-Italic and Pre-Celtic (before 2500 BC)
  • Pre-Armenian and Pre-Greek (after 2500 BC)
  • Pre-Germanic and Pre-Balto-Slavic; proto-Germanic c. 500 BC
  • Proto-Indo-Iranian (2000 BC)

David Anthony, following the methodology of Ringe and Warnow,[clarification needed] proposes the following sequence:

  • Pre-Anatolian (4200 BC)
  • Pre-Tocharian (3700 BC)
  • Pre-Germanic (3300 BC)
  • Pre-Italic and Pre-Celtic (3000 BC)
  • Pre-Armenian (2800 BC)
  • Pre-Balto-Slavic (2800 BC)
  • Pre-Greek (2500 BC)
  • Proto-Indo-Iranian (2200 BC); split between Iranian and Old Indic 1800 BC

Steppe hypothesis[edit]

See also: Indo-European migrations

Gimbutas' Kurgan hypothesis[edit]

Main article: Kurgan hypothesis

In the early 1980s, a mainstream consensus had emerged among Indo-Europeanists in favour of the "Kurgan hypothesis" (the Kurgan hypothesis, after the kurgans, burial mounds, of the Eurasian steppes) placing the Indo-European homeland in the Pontic–Caspian steppe of the Chalcolithic. This was not least due to the influence of the Journal of Indo-European Studies, edited by J. P. Mallory, that focused on the ideas of Marija Gimbutas and offered some improvements.

Gimbutas had created a modern variation on the traditional invasion theory 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 BC. Their expansion coincided with the taming of the horse. Leaving archaeological signs of their presence (see Corded Ware culture), they subjugated the peaceful European Neolithic farmers of Gimbutas' Old Europe. As Gimbutas' beliefs evolved, she put increasing emphasis on the patriarchal, patrilineal nature of the invading culture, sharply contrasting it with the supposedly egalitarian, if not matrilineal culture of the invaded, to the point of formulating essentially a feminist archaeology. Her interpretation of Indo-European culture found genetic support in remains from the Neolithic culture of Scandinavia, where DNA from 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 a tradition of remaining matrilineal traditions among the Picts.[citation needed]


The Gimbutas-Mallory Kurgan hypothesis seeks to identify the source of the Indo-European language expansion as a succession of migrations from the Pontic–Caspian steppe, originating in the area encompassed by the Sredny Stog culture (c. 4500 BC).[23] J. P. Mallory, dating the migrations later, to c. 4000 BC, and putting less insistence on their violent or quasi-military nature, essentially modified Gimbutas' theory making it compatible with a less gender-political narrative. David Anthony, focusing mostly on the evidence for the domestication of horses and the presence of wheeled vehicles, came to regard specifically the Yamna culture, which replaced the Sredny Stog culture around 3500 BC, as the most likely candidate for the Proto-Indo-European speech community.

Anthony describes the spread of cattle-raising from early farmers in the Danube Valley into the Ukrainian steppes in the 6th–5th millennium BC, forming a cultural border with the hunter-gatherers whose languages may have included archaic PIE. Anthony notes that domesticated cattle and sheep probably didn't enter the steppes from the Transcaucasia, since the early farming communities there were not widespread, and separated from the steppes by the glaciated Caucasus. Subsequent cultures developed in this area which adopted cattle, most notably the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture.

Parpola regards the Tripolye culture as the birthplace of wheeled vehicles, and therefore as the homeland for Late PIE, assuming that Early PIE was spoken by Skelya pastoralists (early Sredny Stog culture) who took over the Tripolye culture at c. 4300–4000 BC. On its eastern border lay the Sredny Stog culture (4400–3400 BC), whose origins are related to "people from the east, perhaps from the Volga steppes". It plays a central role in Gimbutas' Kurgan hypothesis, and coincides with the spread of early PIE across the steppes and into the Danube valley (c. 4000 BC), leading to the collapse of Old Europe. Hereafter the Maykop culture suddenly arose, Tripolye towns grew strongly, and eastern steppe people migrated to the Altai mountains, founding the Afanasevo culture (3300 to 2500 BC).


The core element of the steppe hypothesis is the identification of the proto-Indo-European culture as a nomadic pastoralist society that did not practice intensive agriculture. This identification rests on the fact that vocabulary related to cows, to horses and horsemanship, and to wheeled vehicles can be reconstructed for all branches of the family, whereas only a few agricultural vocabulary items are reconstructable, suggesting a gradual adoption of agriculture through contact with non-Indo-Europeans. When this evidence and reasoning is accepted, the search for the Indo-European proto-culture has to involve searching for the earliest introduction of domesticated horses and wagons into Europe.[25]

Responding to these arguments, proponents of the Anatolian hypothesis Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson have argued that the different branches could have independently developed similar vocabulary based on the same roots, creating the false appearance of shared inheritance – or alternatively, that the words related to wheeled vehicle might have been borrowed across Europe at a later date. Proponents of the Steppe hypothesis have argued this to be highly unlikely, and to break with the established principles for reasonable assumptions when explaining linguistic comparative data.[25]

Another source of evidence for the steppe hypothesis is the presence of what appears to be many shared loanwords between Uralic languages and proto-Indo-European, suggesting that these languages were spoken in adjacent areas. This would have had to take place a good deal further north than the Anatolian or Near Eastern scenarios would allow.[25] According to Kortlandt, Indo-Uralic is the pre-PIE, postulating that Indo-European and Uralic share a common ancestor.[26] According to Kortlandt, "Indo-European is a branch of Indo-Uralic which was radically transformed under the influence of a North Caucasian substratum when its speakers moved from the area north of the Caspian Sea to the area north of the Black Sea."[26][note 2][note 3] Anthony notes that the validity of such deep relationships cannot be reliably demonstrated due to the time-depth involved, and also notes that the similarities may be explained by borrowings from PIE into proto-Uralic. Yet, Anthony also notes that the North Caucasian communities "were southern participants in the steppe world".


See also: Origins of Yamna culture and Yamna component in European genes

Three genetic studies in 2015 gave support to the Kurgan theory of Gimbutas regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a is also common in South Asia) would have expanded from the Russian steppes, along with the Indo European languages; they also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo European Languages.[31][32][33]

According to genetic studies, individuals from the Yamnaya culture have a mix from eastern European hunter-gatherer and Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry. Iran Chalcolithic people with a Caucasian hunter-gatherer component.[note 4][clarification needed]

Many geneticists consider Haplogroup R1a to be associated with the origins and spread of the Indo-Europeans. R1a1 shows a strong correlation with the distribution of the Indo-European languages in Europe and south Asia, being most prevalent in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, and in central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Two specific subclades dominate, namely R1-Z282 in Eastern-Europe and R1-Z93 in South Asia and South-Siberia. According to Underhill et al. (2014), the initial diversification of R1a took place in the vicinity of Iran, while Pamjav et al. (2012) think that R1a diversified within the Eurasian Steppes or the Middle East and Caucasus region.

In 2015, a large-scale ancient DNA study published in Nature[6] found evidence of a "massive migration" from the Pontic-Caspian steppe to Central Europe that took place about 4,500 years ago. It found that individuals from the Central European Corded Ware culture (3rd millennium BC) were genetically closely related to individuals from the Yamnaya culture. The authors concluded that their "results provide support for the theory of a steppe origin of at least some of the Indo-European languages of Europe."[41] However, archaeologists have argued that although such a migration might have taken place, it does not necessarily explain either the distribution of archaeological cultures or the spread of the Indo-European languages.[42]

Anatolian hypothesis[edit]

Main article: Anatolian hypothesis

See also: Indo-Hittite


The main competitor to the Kurgan hypothesis is the Anatolian hypothesis advanced by Colin Renfrew in 1987. It couples the spread of the Indo-European languages to the hard fact of the neolithic spread of farming from the Near East, stating that the Indo-European languages began to spread peacefully into Europe from Asia Minor from around 7000 BC with the Neolithic advance of farming (wave of advance). The expansion of agriculture from the Middle East would have diffused three language families: Indo-European toward Europe, Dravidian toward Pakistan and India, and Afro-Asiatic toward Arabia and North Africa.

According to Renfrew (2004), the spread of Indo-European proceeded in the following steps:

  • Around 6500 BC: Pre-Proto-Indo-European, located in Anatolia, splits into Anatolian and Archaic Proto-Indo-European, the language of those Pre-Proto-Indo-European farmers who migrate to Europe in the initial farming dispersal. Archaic Proto-Indo-European languages occur in the Balkans (Starčevo-Körös-Cris culture), in the Danube valley (Linear Pottery culture), and possibly in the Bug-Dniestr area (Eastern Linear pottery culture).
  • Around 5000 BC: Archaic Proto-Indo-European splits into Northwestern Indo-European (the ancestor of Italic, Celtic, and Germanic), located in the Danube valley, Balkan Proto-Indo-European (corresponding to Gimbutas' Old European culture), and Early Steppe Proto-Indo-European (the ancestor of Tocharian).

Reacting to criticism, Renfrew revised his proposal to the effect of taking a pronounced Indo-Hittite position. Renfrew's revised views place only Pre-Proto-Indo-European in 7th millennium BC Anatolia, proposing as the homeland of Proto-Indo-European proper the Balkans around 5000 BC, explicitly identified as the "Old European culture" proposed by Marija Gimbutas. He thus still situates the original source of the Indo-European language family in Anatolia c. 7000 BC. Reconstructions of a Bronze Age PIE society based on vocabulary items like "wheel" do not necessarily hold for the Anatolian branch, which appears to have separated from PIE at an early stage, prior to the invention of wheeled vehicles.[43]



The main objection to this theory is that it requires an unrealistically early date.[25] According to linguistic analysis, the Proto-Indo-European lexicon seems to include words for a range of inventions and practices related to the Secondary Products Revolution, which post-dates the early spread of farming. On lexico-cultural dating, Proto-Indo-European cannot be earlier than 4000 BC.


The idea that farming was spread from Anatolia in a single wave has been revised. Instead it appears to have spread in several waves by several routes, primarily from the Levant.[45] The trail of plant domesticates indicates an initial foray from the Levant by sea.[46] The overland route via Anatolia seems to have been most significant in spreading farming into south-east Europe.[47]

Farming developed independently in the eastern fertile crescent. Non-Indo-European languages appear to be associated with the spread of farming from the Near East into North Africa and the Caucasus.[citation needed] According to Lazaridis et al. (2016), farming developed independently both in the Levant and in the eastern Fertile Crescent. After this initial development, the two regions and the Caucasus interacted, and the chalcolithic north-west Iranian population appears to be a mixture of Iranian neolithic, Levant, and Caucasus hunter-gatherers. According to Lazaridis et al. (2016), "farmers related to those from Iran spread northward into the Eurasian steppe; and people related to both the early farmers of Iran and to the pastoralists of the Eurasian steppe spread eastward into South Asia". They further note that ANI "can be modelled as a mix of ancestry related to both early farmers of western Iran and to people of the Bronze Age Eurasian steppe", which makes it unlikely that the Indo-European languages in India are derived from Anatolia. Mascarenhas et al. (2015) note that the expansion of Z93 from Transcaucasia into South Asia is compatible with "the archeological records of eastward expansion of West Asian populations in the 4th millennium BC culminating in the socalled Kura-Araxes migrations in the post-Uruk IV period".

Alignment with Steppe-theory[edit]

According to Alberto Piazza "[i]t 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." According to Piazza and Cavalli-Sforza, the Yamna-culture may have been derived from Middle Eastern Neolithic farmers who migrated to the Pontic steppe and developed pastoral nomadism.:

...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 unfavorable 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.[52]

Wells agrees with Cavalli-Sforza that there is "some genetic evidence for migration from the Middle East":

... 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.

Armenian hypothesis[edit]

Main article: Armenian hypothesis

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov held that the urheimat was south of the Caucasus, specifically, "within eastern Anatolia, the southern Caucasus and northern Mesopotamia" in the fifth to fourth millennia BC.[54] Their proposal was based on a disputed theory of glottal consonants in PIE. According to Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, PIE words for material culture objects imply contact with more advanced peoples to the south, the existence of Semitic loan-words in PIE, Kartvelian (Georgian) borrowings from PIE, some contact with Sumerian, Elamite and others. However given that the glottalic theory never caught on, and there was little archeological support, the Gamkredlize and Ivanov theory did not gain support until Renfrew's Anatolian theory revived aspects of their proposal.[25]

Gamkredilze and Ivanov proposed that the Greeks moving west across Anatolia to their present location, a northward movement of some IE speakers that brought them into contact with the Finno-Ugric languages and suggest that the Kurgan area, or better "Black Sea and Volga steppe", was a secondary homeland from which the western IE languages emerged.

A 2015 genetic study by Haak et al. (2015:137) argues that their findings of gene flow of a population that shares traits with modern-day Armenians into the Yamnaya pastoralist culture lends support to the Armenian hypothesis, while Lazaridis et al. (2016) state that "farmers related to those from Iran spread northward into the Eurasian steppe."

Other hypotheses[edit]

Baltic homeland[edit]

See also: Neolithic creolisation hypothesis and Salmon problem

Lothar Kilian and Marek Zvelebil have proposed a 6th millennium BC or later origin in Northern Europe. The Steppe theory is compatible with the argument that the PIE homeland must have been larger,[23] because the "Neolithic creolisation hypothesis" allows the Pontic-Caspian region to have been part of PIE territory.

Palaeolithic Continuity Theory[edit]

Main article: Paleolithic Continuity Theory

The "Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm" is a hypothesis suggesting that the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) can be traced back to the Upper Paleolithic, several millennia earlier than the Chalcolithic or at the most Neolithic estimates in other scenarios of Proto-Indo-European origins. Its main proponents are Marcel Otte, Alexander Häusler, and Mario Alinei.

The PCT posits that the advent of Indo-European languages should be linked to the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe and Asia from Africa in the Upper Paleolithic.[55] Employing "lexical periodization", Alinei arrives at a timeline deeper than even that of Colin Renfrew's Anatolian hypothesis.[55][note 5]

Since 2004, an informal workgroup of scholars who support the Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis has been held online.[56] Apart from Alinei himself, its leading members (referred to as "Scientific Committee" in the website) are linguists Xaverio Ballester (University of Valencia) and Francesco Benozzo (University of Bologna). Also included are prehistorian Marcel Otte (Université de Liège) and anthropologist Henry Harpending (University of Utah).[55]

It is not listed by Mallory among the proposals for the origins of the Indo-European languages that are widely discussed and considered credible within academia.

Out of India theory[edit]

Main articles: Indigenous Aryans, Indigenous Aryans arguments, and Indo-Aryan migrations

The Indigenous Aryans theory, also known as the Out of India theory, proposes an Indian origin for the Indo-European languages. The languages of northern India and Pakistan, including Hindi and the historically and culturally significant liturgical languageSanskrit, belong to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family.[58] The Steppe model, rhetorically presented as an "Aryan invasion", has been opposed by Hindu revivalists and Hindu nationalists,[59][60] who argue that the Aryans were indigenous to India, and some, such as Koenraad Elst[61][62] and Shrikant Talageri,[63] have proposed that Proto-Indo-European itself originated in northern India, either with or shortly before the Indus Valley Civilisation.[60][64] This "Out of India" theory is not regarded as plausible in mainstream scholarship.[64][65][66]

See also[edit]


  1. ^Anthony notes that those Semitic borrowings may also have occurred through the advancement of Anatolian farmer cultures via the Danube valley into the steppe zone.
  2. ^Kortlandt (2010) refers to Kortlandt, Frederik. 2007b. C.C. Uhlenbeck on Indo-European, Uralic and Caucasian.
  3. ^The "Sogdiana hypothesis" of Johanna Nichols places the homeland in the 4th or 5th millennium BC to the east of the Caspian Sea, in the area of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana.[27][28] According to Bernard Sergent the lithic assemblage of the first Kurgan culture in Ukraine (Sredni Stog II), which originated from the Volga and South Urals, recalls that of the Mesolithic-Neolithic sites to the east of the Caspian sea, Dam Dam Chesme II and the cave of Djebel.[29] He places the roots of the Gimbutas' Kurgan cradle of Indo-Europeans in a more southern cradle, and adds that the Djebel material is related to a Paleolithic material of Northwestern Iran, the Zarzian culture, dated 10,000–8,500 BC, and in the more ancient Kebarian of the Near East. He concludes that more than 10,000 years ago the Indo-Europeans were a small people grammatically, phonetically and lexically close to Semitic-Hamitic populations of the Near East.[30]
  4. ^Lazaridis et al. (2016): "The spread of Near Eastern ancestry into the Eurasian steppe was previously inferred without access to ancient samples, by hypothesizing a population related to present-day Armenians as a source." Lazaridis et al. (2016) refer to Haak et al. (2015).
  5. ^Mario Alinei: "The sharp, and now at last admitted even by traditionalists (Villar 1991) [Villar, Francisco (1991), Los indoeuropeos y los orígines de Europa. Lenguaje y historia, Madrid, Gredos] differentiation of farming terminology in the different IE languages, while absolutely unexplainable in the context of Renfrew's NDT, provides yet another fundamental proof that the differentiation of IE languages goes back to remote prehistory."[55]


The Proto-Indo-European homeland according to the steppe hypothesis (dark green) and the present-day distribution of Indo-European languages in Eurasia (light green).
Map showing the Neolithic expansion from the seventh to fifth millennium BC.


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