Paleolithic Continuity Theory

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The Paleolithic Continuity Theory (or PCT, Italian La teoria della continuità), since 2010 relabelled as a "paradigm", as in Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm or PCP), 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.

As advanced by Mario Alinei in his Origini delle Lingue d’Europa (Origins of the Languages of Europe), published in two volumes in 1996 and 2000,[1] 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. Employing "lexical periodisation", Alinei arrives at a timeline deeper than even that of Colin Renfrew's Anatolian hypothesis, previously the mainstream linguistic theory proposing the earliest origin for Indo-European.[2]

Since 2004, an informal workgroup of scholars who support the Paleolithic Continuity Theory has been held online.[3] Members of the group (referred to as "Scientific Committee" in the website) include linguists Xaverio Ballester (University of Valencia) and Francesco Benozzo (University of Bologna), prehistorian Marcel Otte (Université de Liège) and anthropologist Henry Harpending (University of Utah).[4]

The Paleolithic Continuity Theory is distinctly a minority view as it enjoys very little academic support, serious discussion being limited to a small circle of scholars. 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.[5]

General lines[edit]

The framework of PCT is laid out by Alinei in four main assumptions:[4]

  1. Continuity is the basic pattern of European prehistory and the basic working hypothesis on the origins of IE languages.
  2. Stability and antiquity are general features of languages.
  3. The lexicon of natural languages, due to its antiquity, may be "periodized" along the entire course of human evolution.
  4. Archaeological frontiers coincide with linguistic frontiers.

The continuity theory draws on a Continuity Model (CM), positing the presence of IE and non-IE peoples and languages in Europe from Paleolithic times and allowing for minor invasions and infiltrations of local scope, mainly during the last three millennia.[6]

Arguing that continuity is "the archeologist's easiest pursuit," Alinei deems this "the easiest working hypothesis," putting the burden of proof on competing hypotheses as long as none provide irrefutable counter-evidence. Alinei also claims linguistic coherence, rigor and productivity in the pursuit of this approach.[4]

Historical reconstruction[edit]

Associated with the Paleolithic Continuity Theory (PCT) is the historical reconstruction proposed by Alinei, which suggests that Indo-European speakers were native in Europe since the paleolithic. According to this reconstruction, the differentiation process of languages would have taken an extremely long time; by the end of the Ice Age the Indo-European language family had differentiated into proto Celtic/Italic/Germanic/Slavic/Baltic speakers occupying territories within or close to their traditional homelands. The rate of change accelerated when (Neolithic) social stratification and colonial wars began. Summarizing:[4]

  1. The colonial expansion of the Celts started much earlier than La Tene and proceeded (generally) from West to East, not vice versa.
  2. The Mesolithic cultures of Northern Europe are identified with already differentiated Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Uralic groups.
  3. Scandinavia was colonized by Germanic groups "only" after deglaciation, and was better able to preserve its original character in isolation. Germany, in contrast, suffered fragmentation as a result of the Neolithic appearance of the Linear Pottery culture, and developed a wealth of dialects.
  4. The prehistoric distribution of proto-languages akin to Italic was an important factor underlying the current distribution of Romance languages throughout Europe.
  5. The Slavic languages originated in the Balkans and became linked with the Neolithic expansion. This group would be especially identified by the Baden culture.[7]

The Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis reverses the Kurgan hypothesis and largely identifies the Indo-Europeans with Gimbutas's "Old Europe."[8] PCT reassigns the Kurgan culture (traditionally considered early Indo-European) to a people of predominantly mixed Uralic and Turkic stock. Alinei argues that the use of borrowed Turkic words in horse terminology, such as qaptï ("to grab with hands and teeth"), yabu ("horse"), yam ("nomadic caravan-tent"), yuntă ("horse" (generic)), aygur ("stallion"), homut ("horse collar") and alaša ("pack horse"), in Samoyedic (Northern and Southern), in some Finno-Ugric languages and Slavic languages, "proves the antiquity of Turkic presence in the European area bordering Asia." He suggests that horse domestication originated with Turkic peoples, offering this as an explanation why horse terminology in the European area bordering Asia and in most of Eastern Europe is rooted in Turkic and not Indo-European vocabulary.[9] He supports this hypothesis by making a tentative linguistic identification of Etruscans as a Uralic, proto-Hungarian people that had already undergone strong proto-Turkic influence in the third millennium BC,[7] when Pontic invasions would have brought this people to the Carpathian Basin. A subsequent migration of Urnfield culture signature around 1250 BC is said to have caused this ethnic group to expand south in a general movement of people. This is equated with the upheaval of the Sea Peoples and the overthrow of an earlier Italic substrate at the onset of the "Etruscan" Villanovan culture.[7]


In introduction to PCT Mario Alinei argues, following Cavalli Sforza, that the distribution of genetic markers largely corresponds to that of languages. He further contends that 80 percent of Europe's human genetic material dates back to the Paleolithic, and cites Bryan Sykes in claiming that only a fifth of European DNA can be traced back to neolithic incomers.[4]

A 2009 study comparing mitochondrial DNA lineages of late hunter-gatherers, early farmers, and modern Europeans found large differences between the three groups. In particular, 82 percent of hunter-gatherers had maternal lineages that are rare in modern central Europeans.[10]

The origin of paternal lineages remains difficult to prove because modern science is unable to extract Y-DNA haplogroups from Paleolithic samples. However, the recent analysis of Arredi, Poloni and Tyler-Smith (2007) suggests that R1b-M269, the most common western European haplogroup, may have entered Europe only in the Neolithic.[11]


Alinei's Origini delle Lingue d’Europa was reviewed favourably in 1996 by Jonathan Morris in Mother Tongue, a journal dedicated to the reconstruction of Paleolithic language, judging Alinei's theory as being

both simpler than its rivals and more powerful in terms of the insights it provides into language in the Meso- and Palaeolithic. While his book contains some flaws I believe that it deserves to be regarded as one of the seminal texts on linguistic archaeology, although given its lamentable lack of citation in English-language circles, it appears that recognition will have to wait until a translation of the original Italian appears.

Morris's review was reprinted as the foreword to the 2000 edition of Alinei's book.[12]

Renzi (1997) sharply criticized Alinei's book, refuting in particular the claim of the presence of Latin and of its different territorial forms in Italy in the 2nd millennium BC. Renzi argues that this theory would subvert firmly established concepts of Romance philology and dialectology, such as the concepts of substratum, vulgar Latin and so on.[13]

Alinei's theory was again critically reviewed by Adiego Lajara (2002):[14]

Although some of Alinei's reflections on linguistic change are very interesting, it should be said that certain conceptions in his work – such as the excessive immobility of languages or the relationship between types of language and progress in the prehistoric lithic industry – are very debatable. Alinei's core theory – continuity from the Palaeolithic – runs into a serious difficulty: it obliges us to deal with words traditionally reconstructed for Indo-European, referring to notions that did not exist in the Palaeolithic as loans, when from the formal standpoint they are indistinguishable from those Alinei sees as being Indo-European in the Palaeolithic period.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ La teoria della continuità (1996), Bologna : Mulino ISBN 88-15-05513-4, 779 pages [1]; Continuità dal Mesolitico all'età del Ferro nelle principali aree etnolinguistiche (2000) Bologna : Mulino, ISBN 88-15-07386-8, 1113 pages [2].
  2. ^ Alinei, Mario; Benozzo, Francesco (December 2016). "The Paleolithic Continuity Theory on Indo-European Origins: An Introduction in progress". Retrieved 27 March 2017. The sharp 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. This is admitted even by a few traditionalists: as Francisco Villar writes, "in the common [Indoeuropean] language a lexicon connected to farming does not exist or hardly exists" and "the common IE terminology for farming is so scarce to allow a dilemma to rise: it is possible that the IEs' knowledge of farming was modest, […] but it is even possible that they had no knowledge of farming at all " (Villar 1991: 81). While this finding can be easily explained within the PCP, it becomes a huge problem once Neolithic intrusive farmers have been assumed to be the Proto-IEs: "This hypothesis clashes with the Neolithic thesis […] according to which IEs would essentially be the inventors of farming, which would be the most important and characteristic activity of their society", and "It is unthinkable that the people who invented and diffused farming would not have a rich and specific lexicon to designate the elements and the techniques of farming" (ibid). 
  3. ^ "The Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm for the Origins of Indo-European Languages". Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Alinei, Mario. The Paleolithic Continuity Theory on Indo-European Origins: An Introduction
  5. ^ Mallory, James P. (1997). "The homelands of the Indo-Europeans". In Blench, Roger; Spriggs, Matthew. Archaeology and Language. I: Theoretical and Methodological Orientations. London: Routledge. p. 106. 
  6. ^ Alinei, Mario (28 October 1999). "An alternative model for the origins of European peoples and languages: The Continuity Theory (summary)". Projekat Rastko. Archived from the original on 22 December 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Alinei, Mario (2005). "Etruscan: an archaic form of Hungarian (book summary)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 December 2005. 
  8. ^ Gimbutas, Marija. "Old Europe c.7000-3500 BC., the earliest European cultures before the infiltration of the Indo-European peoples". Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1, 1973, pp. 1-20.
  9. ^ Mario Alinei (2003), "Interdisciplinary and linguistic evidence for Paleolithic continuity of Indo-European, Uralic and Altaic populations in Eurasia, with an excursus on Slavic ethnogenesis", Quaderni di semantica, vol. 26.
  10. ^ Bramanti, B. (3 September 2009). "We Are Not Our Ancestors: Evidence for Discontinuity between Prehistoric and Modern Europeans". 
  11. ^ Arredi, Poloni and Tyler-Smith (2007). "The Peopling of Europe". Michael Crawford, Anthropological Genetics, pp. 380-408. 
  12. ^ Morris, Jonathan. "Review: Mario Alinei - Origini delle Lingue d'Europa [Origins of the Languages of Europe]; Volume 1 – Teoria della Continuità [The Continuity Theory], Volume 2 – Continuità dal Mesolítico all'età di ferro nelle principali aree etnolinguistiche [Continuities from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age in the Principal Ethnolinguistic Areas] (Il Mulino – Bologna, 1996 and 2000)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 January 2006. 
  13. ^ Alinei, ovvero il latino prima di Roma, RID. Rivista italiana di dialettologia, ISSN 1122-6331, 1997, vol. 21, pp. 191-202.
  14. ^ Ignasi-Xavier Adiego Lajara , Indoeuropeïtzació al paleolític? Algunes reflexions sobre la "teoria della continuità" de Mario Alinei, Estudis romànics, ISSN 0211-8572, Nº. 24, 2002, pp. 7-30 .


  • Adams, Jonathan and Otte, Marcel. "Did Indo-European Languages spread before farming?" Current Anthropology, 40, No. 1. (February, 1999), pp. 73–77. [3]
  • Alinei, Mario. "An Alternative Model for the Origins of European Peoples and Languages: the continuity theory". Quaderni di Semantica 21, 2000, pp. 21–50.
  • Alinei, Mario (2002). "Towards a Generalized Continuity Model for Uralic and Indo-European Languages" in The Roots of Peoples and languages of Northern Eurasia IV, edited by K. Julku.
  • Alinei Mario. "Interdisciplinary and Linguistic Evidence for Palaeolithic Continuity of European, Uralic and Altaic Populations in Eurasia". Quaderni di Semantica, 24, 2, 2003.

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