Proto-Indo-European homeland

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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).

The Proto-Indo-European homeland (or Indo-European homeland) was the prehistoric linguistic homeland of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). From this region, its speakers migrated east and west, and went on to form the proto-communities of the different branches of the Indo-European language family.

The most widely accepted proposal about the location of the Proto-Indo-European homeland is the steppe hypothesis,[note 1] which puts the archaic, early and late PIE homeland in the Pontic–Caspian steppe around 4000 BC.[1][2][3][4][5] The leading competitor is the Anatolian hypothesis, which puts it in Anatolia around 8000 BC.[1][6][7][8] A notable third possibility, which has gained renewed attraction due to recent aDNA research, is the Armenian hypothesis which situates the homeland for archaic PIE south of the Caucasus.[9][10][11][12][13] Several other explanations have been proposed, including the outdated but historically prominent North European hypothesis, the Neolithic creolisation hypothesis, the Paleolithic continuity paradigm, the Arctic theory, and the "indigenous Aryans" (or "out of India") hypothesis. These are not widely accepted, or are considered to be fringe theories.[14][2][15]

The search for the homeland of the Indo-Europeans began in the late 18th century with the rediscovery of the Indo-European language family.[16] 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.


Main theories[edit]

The steppe model, the Anatolian model, and the Near Eastern (or Armenian) model, are the three leading solutions for the Indo-European homeland.[note 2] The steppe model, placing the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) homeland in the Pontic-Caspian steppe around 4000 BC,[5] is the theory supported by most scholars.[note 1]

According to linguist Allan R. Bomhard (2019), the steppe hypothesis proposed by archeologists Marija Gimbutas and David W. Anthony "is supported not only by linguistic evidence, but also by a growing body of archeological and genetic evidence. The Indo-Europeans have been identified with several cultural complexes existing in that area between 4,500—3,500 BCE. The literature supporting such a homeland is both extensive and persuasive [...]. Consequently, other scenarios regarding the possible Indo-European homeland, such as Anatolia, have now been mostly abandoned,"[17] although critical issues such as the way the proto-Greek,[18] proto-Armenian,[19][20] proto-Albanian[21] and proto-Anatolian[22] languages became spoken in their attested homeland are still debated inside the steppe model.[23]

The Anatolian hypothesis proposed by archeologist Colin Renfrew places the pre-PIE homeland in Anatolia around 8000 BC,[7] and the homeland of Proto-Indo-European proper in the Balkans around 5000 BC, with waves of linguistic expansion following the progression of agriculture in Europe. Although it has attracted substantive attention and discussions, the datings it proposes are at odds with the linguistic timeframe for Proto-Indo-European[2] and with genetic data, which do not find evidence for Anatolian origins in the Indian genepool.[24] In general, the prestige associated with a specific language or dialect and its progressive dominance over others can be explained by the access to a natural resource unknown or unexploited until then by its speakers, which is thought to be horse-based pastoralism for Indo-European speakers rather than crop cultivation.[note 3][25][17]

A notable third possibility, which has gained renewed attention since the 2010s, is the "Near Eastern model",[23] also known as the Armenian hypothesis. It was proposed by linguists Tamaz V. Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav Ivanov in the early 1980s, postulating connections between Indo-European and Caucasian languages based on the disputed glottalic theory and connected to archaeological findings by Grogoriev.[23] Some recent DNA-research has led to renewed suggestions of the possibility of a Caucasian or Iranian homeland for archaic or 'proto-proto-Indo-European' (also called 'Indo-Anatolian' or 'Indo-Hittite' in the literature),[26][note 4] the common ancestor of both Anatolian languages and early proto-IE (from which Tocharian and all other early branches split-off).[5][10][27][28][13][note 5] These suggestions are disputed in other recent publications, which still locate the origin of the ancestor of proto-Indo-European in the Eastern European/Eurasian steppe[29][30][31] or from a hybridization of both steppe and Northwest-Caucasian languages,[31][note 6][note 7] while "[a]mong comparative linguists, a Balkan route for the introduction of Anatolian IE is generally considered more likely than a passage through the Caucasus, due, for example, to greater Anatolian IE presence and language diversity in the west."[27]

Outlier theories[edit]

A number of other theories have been proposed, most of which have little or no academic currency today (see discussion below):

Theoretical considerations[edit]

Traditionally homelands of linguistic families are proposed based on evidence from comparative linguistics coupled with evidence of historical populations and migrations from archaeology. 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 archaeological evidence. This vocabulary includes, in the case of (late) PIE, which is based on the post-Anatolian and post-Tocharian IE-languages:

Zsolt Simon notes that, although it can be useful to determine the period when the Proto-Indo-European language was spoken, using the reconstructed vocabulary to locate the homeland may be flawed, since we do not know whether Proto-Indo-European speakers knew a specific concept because it was part of their environment or because they had heard of it from other peoples they were interacting with.[37]

Uralic, Caucasian and Semitic borrowings[edit]

Proto-Finno-Ugric and PIE have a lexicon in common, generally related to trade, such as words for "price" and "draw, lead". Similarly, "sell" and "wash" were borrowed in Proto-Ugric. Although some have proposed a common ancestor (the hypothetical Nostratic macrofamily), this is generally regarded as the result of intensive borrowing, which suggests that their homelands were located near each other. Proto-Indo-European also exhibits lexical loans to or from Caucasian languages, particularly Proto-Northwest Caucasian and Proto-Kartvelian, which suggests a location close to the Caucasus.[17][38]

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 borrowings may be too speculative or from a later date, but they consider the proposed Semitic loans *táwros 'bull' and *wéyh₁on- 'wine; vine' to be more likely.[36] 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]

Genesis of Indo-European languages[edit]

Phases of Proto-Indo-European[edit]

According to Anthony, the following terminology may be used:[2]

  • Archaic PIE for "the last common ancestor of the Anatolian and non-Anatolian IE branches";
  • Early, or 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.[2]

The Indo-Hittite hypothesis postulates a common predecessor for both the Anatolian languages and the other Indo-European languages, called Indo-Hittite or Indo-Anatolian.[2] Although PIE had predecessors,[4] 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.[39]

Anthony (2019) suggests a derivation of the proto-Indo-European language mainly from a base of languages spoken by Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers living at the Volga steppes, with influences from languages spoken by northern Caucasus hunter-gatherers who migrated from the Caucasus to the lower Volga basin, in addition to a possible later and more minor influence from the language of the Maikop culture to the south (which is hypothesized to have belonged to the North Caucasian family) in the later Neolithic or Bronze Age involving little genetic impact.[40]

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:[2]

  • 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;[2] proto-Germanic c. 500 BC[41]
  • Proto-Indo-Iranian (2000 BC)

David Anthony, following the methodology of Ringe and Warnow,[clarification needed] proposes the following sequence:[2]

Steppe hypothesis[edit]

The steppe hypothesis seeks to identify the source of the Indo-European language expansion as a succession of migrations from the Pontic–Caspian steppe between the 5th and 3rd millennia BC.[42] In the early 1980s,[43] a mainstream consensus had emerged among Indo-Europeanists in favour of the "Kurgan hypothesis" (named after the kurgans, burial mounds, of the Eurasian steppes) placing the Indo-European homeland in the Pontic–Caspian steppe of the Chalcolithic.[44][2]

Gimbutas' Kurgan hypothesis[edit]

According to the Kurgan hypothesis as formulated by Gimbutas, Indo-European speaking nomads from Eastern Ukraine and Southern Russia expanded on horseback in several waves during the 3rd millennium BC, invading and subjugating supposedly peaceful European Neolithic farmers of Gimbutas' Old Europe.[note 8] Later versions of Gimbutas' hypothesis put increasing emphasis on the patriarchal and patrilineal nature of the invading culture, in contrast with the apparently egalitarian and matrilineal culture of the invaded.


J. P. Mallory, dating the migrations 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.[2]

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[2] whose languages may have included archaic PIE.[2] 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.[2] Subsequent cultures developed in this area which adopted cattle, most notably the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture.[2]

Asko 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[2]) who took over the Tripolye culture at c. 4300–4000 BC.[45] On its eastern border lay the Sredny Stog culture (4400–3400 BC),[2] whose origins are related to "people from the east, perhaps from the Volga steppes".[2] It plays a central role in Gimbutas' Kurgan hypothesis,[2] and coincides with the spread of early PIE across the steppes[2] and into the Danube valley (c. 4000 BC),[2] leading to the collapse of Old Europe.[2] 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).[2]


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. If 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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[4] According to Kortlandt, Indo-Uralic is the pre-PIE, postulating that Indo-European and Uralic share a common ancestor.[46] 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."[46][note 9][note 7] 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.[4] Yet, Anthony also notes that the North Caucasian communities "were southern participants in the steppe world".[2]

Human genetics[edit]

Three genetic studies in 2015 gave support to the steppe hypothesis regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those studies, specific subclades of Y chromosome haplogroups R1b and R1a, which are found in Yamnaya and other proposed early Indo-European cultures such as Sredny Stog and Khvalynsk, [47][48] and are 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; these studies 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.[5][49][50]

The subclade R1a1a (R-M17 or R-M198) is the R1a subclade most commonly associated with Indo-European speakers. Ornella Semino et al. propose a postglacial (Holocene) spread of the R1a1a haplogroup from north of the Black Sea during the time of the Late Glacial Maximum, which was subsequently magnified by the expansion of the Kurgan culture into Europe and eastward.[51]

In 2015, a large-scale ancient DNA study published in Nature[5] 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".[24][52]

However, the folk migration model cannot be the only diffusion theory for all linguistic families, as the Yamnaya ancestry component is particularly concentrated in Europe in the northwestern parts of the continent. Other models for languages like Proto-Greek are still debated. The steppe genetic component is more diffuse in studied Mycenaean populations: if they came from elsewhere, Proto-Greek speakers were certainly a minority in a sea of populations which had been familiar with agriculture for 4000 years.[18] Some propose that they gained progressive prominence through a cultural expansion by elite influence.[17] But if high correlations can be proven in ethnolinguistic or remote communities, genetics does not always equate with language,[53] and 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.[54]

An analysis by David Anthony (2019) suggests a genetic origin of Proto-Indo-Europeans (associated with the Yamnaya culture) in the Eastern European steppe north of the Caucasus, deriving from a mixture of Eastern European hunter-gatherers (EHG) and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus (CHG). Anthony also suggests that the Proto-Indo-European language formed mainly from a base of languages spoken by Eastern European hunter-gathers with influences from languages of northern Caucasus hunter-gatherers, in addition to a possible later and more minor influence from the language of the Maykop culture to the south (which is hypothesized to have belonged to the North Caucasian languages) in the later Neolithic or Bronze Age, involving little genetic impact.[40]

Russian archaeologist Leo Klejn has noted that in the Yamnaya population, R1b-L23 is predominant, whereas Corded Ware males belong mostly to R1a, as well as far-removed R1b clades not found in Yamnaya. Thus, he argues, a succession from Yamnaya to Corded Ware has no basis in the genetic evidence.[55] British archaeologist Barry Cunliffe describes this inconsistency as "disconcerting for the model a whole".[56]

Furthermore, Balanovsy et al.[57] found that the majority of the Yamnaya genomes studied by Haak and Mathieson belonged to the "eastern" R-GG400 subclade of R1b-L23, which is not common in western Europe, and none belonged to the "western" R1b-L51 branch. The authors conclude that the Yamnaya could not have been an important source of modern western European male haplogroups.

In 2021, David Anthony offered a new hypothesis, with the aim of resolving the questions surrounding the apparent absence of haplogroup R1a in Yamnaya. He speculates that haplogroup R1a must have been present in the Yamnaya, but that it was initially extremely rare, and that the Corded Ware culture are the descendants of this wayward population that migrated north from the Pontic steppe and greatly expanded in size and influence, later returning to dominate the Pontic-Caspian steppe.[58]

Anatolian hypothesis[edit]

Map showing the Neolithic expansion from the seventh to fifth millennium BC.


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.[59]

Following the publication of several studies on ancient DNA in 2015, Colin Renfrew has accepted the reality of migrations of populations speaking one or several Indo-European languages from the Pontic steppe towards Northwestern Europe.[60][25]



The main objection to this theory is that it requires an unrealistically early date.[4] 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.[61]


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.[62] The trail of plant domesticates indicates an initial foray from the Levant by sea.[63] The overland route via Anatolia seems to have been most significant in spreading farming into south-east Europe.[64]

Farming developed independently in the eastern fertile crescent.[24] 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.[24] 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.[24] 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".[65] 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",[65] which makes it unlikely that the Indo-European languages in India are derived from Anatolia.[24] 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 so-called Kura-Araxes migrations in the post-Uruk IV period".[66]

Alignment with the 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."[67] 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.[68]

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.[69]

Southern archaic PIE-homeland hypothesis[edit]

Varying ideas have been proposed regarding the location of archaic PIE, including the Eurasian/Eastern European steppe, the Caucasus to the south, or a mixed origin derived from both regions.

Armenian hypothesis[edit]

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.[70] 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 archaeological support, the Gamkrelidze and Ivanov theory did not gain support until Renfrew's Anatolian theory revived aspects of their proposal.[4]

Gamkrelidze and Ivanov proposed that the Greeks moved 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 suggested that the Kurgan area, or better "Black Sea and Volga steppe", was a secondary homeland from which the western IE languages emerged.[citation needed]

South Caucasus/Iranian suggestions[edit]

Recent DNA research which shows that the steppe-people derived from a mix of Eastern Hunter-Gatherers (EHG) and Caucasian Hunter-Gatherers,[note 10] has led to renewed suggestions of the possibility of a Caucasian, or even Iranian, homeland for an archaic proto-Indo-European, the common ancestor of both Anatolian languages and all other Indo-European languages.[72][note 4] It is argued that this may lend support to the Indo-Hittite hypothesis, according to which both proto-Anatolian and proto-Indo-European split-off from a common mother language "no later than the 4th millennium BCE."[22][9][73][74][75][13][note 5]

Damgaard and Wang state that the steppe-model is the dominant model, and does account for a steppe-origin of the Anatolian languages.[27][80] Damgaard notes that "Among comparative linguists, a Balkan route for the introduction of Anatolian IE is generally considered more likely than a passage through the Caucasus, due, for example, to greater Anatolian IE presence and language diversity in the west."[11] Kloekhorst argues that the Anatolian languages have preserved archaisms which are also found in proto-Uralic, providing strong evidence for a steppe-origin of PIE.[81]

Gallego-Llorente et al. (2016) conclude that Iranian populations are not a likelier source of the 'southern' component in the Yamnaya than Caucasus hunter-gatherers.[82] According to Wang et al. (2019), the typical steppe-ancestry, as an even mix between EHG and CHG, may result from "an existing natural genetic gradient running from EHG far to the north to CHG/Iran in the south," or it may be explained as "the result of Iranian/CHG-related ancestry reaching the steppe zone independently and prior to a stream of AF [Anatolian Farmer] ancestry."[76] According to Margaryan et al. (2017) there was a rapid increase of the south Caucasian population at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, about 18,000 years ago,[83] while Fu et al. (2016) conclude that Near East and Caucasus people probably migrated to Europe already during the Mesolithic, around 14,000 years ago.[84] Narasimhan et al. (2019) conclude that people "characteristic of northern Caucasus and Iranian plateau hunter-gatherers" reached India before 6000 BCE,[85][note 14] before the advent of farming in northern India.[85]

Bomhard's hybrid North Caspian/Caucasian hypothesis[edit]

Bomhard's Caucasian substrate hypothesis proposes an origin (Urheimat) in a Central Asian or North Caspian region of the steppe for Indo-Uralic (a proposed common ancestor of Indo-European and Uralic).[88][web 1] Bomhard elaborates on Johanna Nichols "Sogdiana hypothesis", and Kortlandt's ideas of an Indo-Uralic proto-language, proposing an Urheimat north or east of the Caspian Sea, of a Eurasiatic language which was imposed on a population which spoke a Northwest Caucasian language, with this mixture producing proto-Indo-European.[web 1][88][note 6][note 7]

Anthony: Steppe homeland with south Caspian CHG-influences[edit]

David Anthony (2019) criticizes the Southern/Caucasian homeland hypothesis (including the suggestions of Reich, Kristiansen, and Wang).[29][30] Instead, Anthony argues that the roots of the proto-Indo-European language formed mainly from a base of languages spoken by Eastern European hunter-gatherers, with some influences from the languages of Caucasus hunter-gatherers. Anthony rejects the possibility that the Bronze Age Maykop people of the Caucasus were a southern source of language and genetics of Indo-European.[29][30] Referring to Wang et al. (2019), he notes that the Anatolian Farmer component in the Yamnaya-ancestry came from European farmers, not from the Maykop, which had too much Anatolian farmer ancestry to be ancestral to the Yamnaya-population.[99] Anthony also notes that the paternal lineages of the Yamnaya, which were rich in R1b, were related to those of earlier Eastern European hunter-gatherers, rather than those of southern or Caucasus peoples such as the Maykop.[100] Anthony rejects the possibility that the Bronze Age Maykop people of the Caucasus were a southern source of language and genetics of Indo-European. According to Anthony, referring to Wang et al. (2019),[subnote 2] the Maykop culture had little genetic impact on the Yamnaya, whose paternal lineages were found to differ from those found in Maykop remains, but were instead related to those of earlier Eastern European hunter-gatherers. Also, the Maykop (and other contemporary Caucasus samples), along with CHG from this date, had significant Anatolian Farmer ancestry "which had spread into the Caucasus from the west after about 5000 BC", while the Yamnaya had a lower percentage which does not fit with a Maykop origin. Partly for these reasons, Anthony concludes that Bronze Age Caucasus groups such as the Maykop "played only a minor role, if any, in the formation of Yamnaya ancestry." According to Anthony, the roots of Proto-Indo-European (archaic or proto-proto-Indo-European) were mainly in the steppe rather than the south. Anthony considers it likely that the Maykop spoke a Northern Caucasian language not ancestral to Indo-European.[29][30][29]

Anthony proposes that the Yamnaya derived mainly from Eastern European hunter-gatherers (EHG) from the steppes, and undiluted Caucasus hunter-gatherers (CHG) from northwestern Iran or Azerbaijan, similar to the Hotu cave population, who mixed in the Eastern European steppe north of the Caucasus. According to Anthony, hunting-fishing camps from the lower Volga, dated 6200–4500 BCE, could be the remains of people who contributed the CHG-component, migrating westwards along the coast of the Caspian Sea, from an area south-east of the Caspian Sea. They mixed with EHG-people from the north Volga steppes, and the resulting culture contributed to the Sredny Stog culture, a predecessor of the Yamnaya culture.[29]

Other hypotheses[edit]

Baltic homeland[edit]

Lothar Kilian and Marek Zvelebil have proposed a 6th millennium BC or later origin of the IE-languages in Northern Europe, as a creolisation of migrating Neolithic farmers settling in northern Europe, and mixing with indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherer communities.[32] The steppe theory is compatible with the argument that the PIE homeland must have been larger,[42] because the "Neolithic creolisation hypothesis" allows the Pontic-Caspian region to have been part of PIE territory.

Palaeolithic Continuity Theory[edit]

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,[2] 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.[101] Employing "lexical periodization", Alinei arrives at a timeline deeper than even that of Colin Renfrew's Anatolian hypothesis.[101][note 15]

Since 2004, an informal workgroup of scholars who support the Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis has been held online.[102] 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).[101]

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.[103]

Fringe theories[edit]


Soviet Indologist Natalia R. Guseva[104] and Soviet ethnographer S.V Zharnikova,[105] influenced by Tilak's The Arctic Home in the Vedas, argued for a northern Urals Arctic homeland of the Indo-Aryan and Slavic people;[106] their ideas were popularized by Russian nationalists.[107]

Out of India theory[edit]

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 language Sanskrit, belong to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family.[108] The Steppe model, rhetorically presented as an "Aryan invasion," has been opposed by Hindu revivalists and Hindu nationalists,[109][110] who argue that the Aryans were indigenous to India, and some, such as B.B. Lal,[111] Koenraad Elst[112][113] and Shrikant Talageri,[114] have proposed that Proto-Indo-European itself originated in northern India, either with or shortly before the Indus Valley Civilisation.[110][115] This "Out of India" theory is not regarded as plausible in mainstream scholarship.[115][116][117]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b See:
    • Bomhard (2019), p. 2: "This scenario is supported not only by linguistic evidence, but also by a growing body of archeological and genetic evidence. The Indo-Europeans have been identified with several cultural complexes existing in that area between 4,500—3,500 BCE. The literature supporting such a homeland is both extensive and persuasive [...]. Consequently, other scenarios regarding the possible Indo-European homeland, such as Anatolia, have now been mostly abandoned";
    • Reich (2018), p. 152: "This finding provides yet another line of evidence for the steppe hypothesis, showing that not just Indo-European languages, but also Indo-European culture as reflected in the religion preserved over thousands of years by Brahmin priests, was likely spread by peoples whose ancestors originated in the steppe.";
    • Kristiansen et al. (2017), pp. 341–342: "When we add the evidence from ancient DNA, and the additional evidence from recent linguistic work discussed above, the Anatolian hypothesis must be considered largely falsified. Those Indo-European languages that later came to dominate in western Eurasia were those originating in the migrations from the Russian steppe during the third millennium BC."
    • Anthony & Ringe (2015), p. 199 harvp error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFAnthonyRinge2015 (help): "Archaeological evidence and linguistic evidence converge in support of an origin of Indo-European languages on the Pontic-Caspian steppes around 4,000 years BCE. The evidence is so strong that arguments in support of other hypotheses should be reexamined."
    • Mallory (1989), p. 185: "The Kurgan solution is attractive and has been accepted by many archaeologists and linguists, in part or total. It is the solution one encounters in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse.
  2. ^ Mallory 2013: "The speakers at this symposium can generally be seen to support one of the following three ‘solutions’ to the Indo-European homeland problem: 1. The Anatolian Neolithic model ... 2. The Near Eastern model ... 3. The Pontic-Caspian model."
  3. ^ The domestication of the horse is thought to have allowed for the moving of herds over longer distances in periods of harsh climate (and made their surveillance easier), but also for a faster retreat in case of raiding on agricultural communities.[2]
  4. ^ a b Mallory, Dybo & Balanovsky 2020: "[G]enetics has pushed the current homeland debate into several camps: those who seek the homeland either in the southern Caucasus or Iran (CHG) and those who locate it in the steppelands north of the Caucasus and Caspian Sea (EHG)."
  5. ^ a b Haak et al. (2015) state that their findings of gene flow of a population that shares traits with modern-day Armenians into the Yamnaya pastoralist culture, lends some plausibility to the Armenian hypothesis. Yet, they also state that "the question of what languages were spoken by the 'Eastern European hunter-gatherers' and the southern, Armenian-like, ancestral population remains open."[9][note 11]
    David Reich, in his 2018 publication Who We Are and How We Got Here, noting the presence of some Indo-European languages (such as Hittite) in parts of ancient Anatolia, states that "Ancient DNA available from this time in Anatolia shows no evidence of steppe ancestry similar to that in the Yamnaya [...] This suggests to me that the most likely location of the population that first spoke an Indo-European language was south of the Caucasus Mountains, perhaps in present-day Iran or Armenia, because ancient DNA from people who lived there matches what we would expect for a source population both for the Yamnaya and for ancient Anatolians." Yet, Reich also notes that "...the evidence here is circumstantial as no ancient DNA from the Hittites themselves has yet been published."[73]
    Damgaard et al. (2018) note that the introduction of IE-languages into Anatolia did not happen by a substantial migration from the steppes, and state that they cannot reject the possibility that the IE-languages were introduced by a migration of CHG-related people. Yet, they also note that "the standard view [is] that PIE arose in the steppe north of the Caucasus," and that linguists consider an intriduction via the Balkans more likely.[27] [note 12]
    According to Wang et al. (2019), the typical steppe-ancestry, as an even mix between EHG and CHG, may result from "an existing natural genetic gradient running from EHG far to the north to CHG/Iran in the south," or it may be explained as "the result of Iranian/CHG-related ancestry reaching the steppe zone independently and prior to a stream of AF [Anatolian Farmer] ancestry."[76] Wang et al. (2019) note that the Caucasus and the steppes were genetically separated in the 4th millennium BCE,[77] but that the Caucasus served as a corridor for gene flow between cultures south of the Caucasus and the Maykop culture during the Copper and the Bronze Age, speculating that this "opens up the possibility of a homeland of PIE south of the Caucasus,"[78] which "could offer a parsimonious explanation for an early branching off of Anatolian languages, as shown on many PIE tree topologies."[78] However, Wang et al. also acknowledge that "the spread of some or all of the PIE branches would have been possible via the North Pontic/Caucasus region," as explained in the steppe hypothesis.[78][note 13]
    Kristian Kristiansen, in an interview with Der Spiegel in May 2018, stated that the Yamnaya culture may have had a predecessor at the Caucasus, where "proto-proto-Indo-European" was spoken.[13] In a 2020 publication, Kristiansen writes that "...the origin of Anatolian should be located in the Caucasus, at a time when it acted as a civilizational corridor between south and north. Here the Maykop Culture of the northern Caucasus stands out as the most probable source for Proto-Anatolian, and perhaps even Proto-Indo-Anatolian."[79] Yet, the idea of Maykop origins is incompatible with the genetic ancestry of the Maykop culture, which was too rich in Anatolian farmer ancestry to be ancestral to Proto-Indo-Europeans.
  6. ^ a b According to Allan R. Bomhard, "Proto-Indo-European is the result of the imposition of a Eurasiatic language – to use Greenberg's term – on a population speaking one or more primordial Northwest Caucasian languages."[web 1][subnote 1]

    Anthony states 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.[4] Yet, Anthony also notes that the North Caucasian communities "were southern participants in the steppe world".[2]
  7. ^ a b c Soviet and post-Soviet Russian archaeologists have proposed an East Caspian influence, via the eastern Caspian areas, on the formation of the Don-Volga cultures.[90] See also Ancient DNA Era (11 January 2019), How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA ? Part 2 : The Pottery Neolithic[91] Yet, Mallory notes that "[t]he Kelteminar culture has on occasion been connected with the development of early stockbreeding societies in the Pontic-Caspian region, the area which sees the emergence of the Kurgan tradition, which has been closely tied to the early Indo-Europeans [...] Links between the two regions are now regarded as far less compelling and the Kelteminar culture is more often viewed more as a backwater of the emerging farming communities in Central Asia than the agricultural hearth of Neolithic societies in the steppe region.[92]

    The "Sogdiana hypothesis" of Johanna Nichols places the homeland in the fourth or fifth millennium BCE to the east of the Caspian Sea, in the area of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana.[93][94] From there, PIE spread north to the steppes, and south-west towards Anatolia.[95] Nichols eventually rejected her theory, finding it incompatible with the linguistic and archaeological data.[95]

    Following Nichols' initial proposal, Kozintsev has argued for an Indo-Uralic homeland east of the Caspian Sea.[96] From this homeland, Indo-Uralic PIE-speakers migrated south-west, and split in the southern Caucasus, forming the Anatolian and steppe languages at their respective locations.[96]

    Bernard Sergent has elaborated on the idea of east Caspian influences on the formation of the Volga culture, arguing for a PIE homeland in the east Caspian territory, from where it migrated north. Sergent notes that 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.[97][98]
    Yet, Sergent places the earliest roots of Gimbutas' Kurgan cradle of Indo-Europeans in an even 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 BCE, 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.[97] See also "New Indology", (2014), Can we finally identify the real cradle of Indo-Europeans?.
  8. ^ Librado et al. (2021), The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes, Nature, doubt if the first Yamnaya-migrants used horseriding: "Our results reject the commonly held association between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe around 3000 bc, driving the spread of Indo-European languages, rejecting "scenarios in which horses were the primary driving force behind the initial spread of Indo-European languages in Europe." According to Librado et al. (2021), "This contrasts with the scenario in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium bc Sintashta culture."
  9. ^ Kortlandt (2010) refers to Kortlandt, Frederik. 2007b. C.C. Uhlenbeck on Indo-European, Uralic and Caucasian.
  10. ^ CHG, native to the Caucasus and Northern Iran, but also found in northern Pakistan, due to the Indo-Aryan migrations.[71]
  11. ^ Haak et al. (2015a): "The Armenian plateau hypothesis gains in plausibility by the fact that we have discovered evidence of admixture in the ancestry of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists, including gene flow from a population of Near Eastern ancestry for which Armenians today appear to be a reasonable surrogate (SI4, SI7, SI9). However, the question of what languages were spoken by the 'Eastern European hunter-gatherers' and the southern, Armenian-like, ancestral population remains open."[9] Lazaridis et al. (2016) state that "farmers related to those from Iran spread northward into the Eurasian steppe,"[24] but do not repeat Haak's suggestion.
  12. ^ Damgaard 2018, p. 7: "the early spread of IE languages into Anatolia was not associated with any large-scale steppe-related migration." Damgaard 2018, p. 8: "We cannot at this point reject a scenario in which the introduction of the Anatolian IE languages into Anatolia was coupled with the CHG-derived admixture before 3700 BCE [Caucasus CHG = Anatolia], but note that this is contrary to the standard view that PIE arose in the steppe north of the Caucasus and that CHG ancestry is also associated with several non-IE-speaking groups, historical and current. Indeed, our data are also consistent with the first speakers of Anatolian IE coming to the region by way of commercial contacts and smallscale movement during the Bronze Age. Among comparative linguists, a Balkan route for the introduction of Anatolian IE is generally considered more likely than a passage through the Caucasus, due, for example, to greater Anatolian IE presence and language diversity in the west."
  13. ^ Wang et al. (2019): "...latest ancient DNA results from South Asia suggest an LMBA spread via the steppe belt. Irrespective of the early branching pattern, the spread of some or all of the PIE branches would have been possible via the North Pontic/Caucasus region and from there, along with pastoralist expansions, to the heart of Europe. This scenario finds support from the well attested and widely documented 'steppe ancestry' in European populations and the postulate of increasingly patrilinear societies in the wake of these expansions.[78]
  14. ^ Narasimhan et al.: "[One possibility is that] Iranian farmer–related ancestry in this group was characteristic of the Indus Valley hunter-gatherers in the same way as it was characteristic of northern Caucasus and Iranian plateau hunter-gatherers. The presence of such ancestry in hunter-gatherers from Belt and Hotu Caves in northeastern Iran increases the plausibility that this ancestry could have existed in hunter-gatherers farther east."[85]
    Shinde et al. (2019) note that these Iranian people "had little if any genetic contribution from [...] western Iranian farmers or herders";[86] they split from each other more than 12,000 years ago.[87]
    See also Razib Kkan, The Day of the Dasa: " may, in fact, be the case that ANI-like quasi-Iranians occupied northwest South Asia for a long time, and AHG populations hugged the southern and eastern fringes, during the height of the Pleistocene."
  15. ^ 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."[101]
  1. ^ See also The Origins of Proto-Indo-European: The Caucasian Substrate Hypothesis.[89]
  2. ^ See also Bruce Bower (February 8, 2019), DNA reveals early mating between Asian herders and European farmers, ScienceNews.


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Printed sources

Strazny, Philip; Trask, R.L., eds. (2000). Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics (1 ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-1-57958-218-0.

  1. ^ a b c Allan Bomhard, The Origins of Proto-Indo-European: The Caucasian Substrate Hypothesis (revised November 2016). Paper presented at "The Precursors of Proto-Indo-European: the Indo-Hittite and Indo-Uralic Hypotheses", a 2015 workshop at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, Leiden, The Netherlands, 9—11 July 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Haarmann, Harald. Auf Den Spuren Der Indoeuropäer: Von Den Neolithischen Steppennomaden Bis Zu Den Frühen Hochkulturen. München: Verlag C.H.Beck, 2016. doi:10.2307/j.ctv1168qhx.

External links[edit]