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Mysterious Indo-European Languages Originated 6,000 Years Ago from the Steppes of Ukraine and Russia

corded ware

Image credit: Corded ware pottery at the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin / Einsamer Schütze via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

It is believed that 400 languages and dialects in the world were originated from Proto-Indo-European, for example, it had been the ancestral tongue of English, German, Italian, Greek, and Hindi. Although it could be found in historic records as early as 3,700 years, there has been intense debate among researchers over the issues about where and when Proto-Indo-European came from and how it disseminated

Some researchers think that it took place nearly 9,000 years ago in Anatolia (the part of Turkey now) and then spread along with agriculture; others say that it came into being in the grassy steppe lands of Ukraine and Russia, north of the Black and Caspian seas, between 6,500 and 5,500 years ago.

At present, two latest analyses, one based on linguistic and the other focused at genetics, have provided offer evidence in support of the Steppe Hypothesis, which demonstrates that language dispersed to the west together with innovations closely linked with pastoral farming, including horse domestication and wheeled vehicles as well as wool weaving.

By application of statistical modeling, Will Chang and a group of linguists from UC Berkeley calculated the way in which 207 sets of words from over 150 Indo-European languages (either dead or living) rapidly changed over time. Taking account into the rate of change between ancient or medieval languages and their modern descendants, the languages that initial usage of such words started to diverge 6,500 years ago. Also based on a reanalysis of the family tree of Indo-European tongues, it is consistent with an ancestral language being originated from the vast steppe lands expanding from Moldova to western Kazakhstan. These new findings will be released in the journal of Language.

At the same time, David Reich and his team from Harvard have provided genome-wide data from sixty Europeans living from 8,000 to 3,000 years ago. In addition, the team studied previously released data from another 25 ancient Europeans, including Ötzi, the glacier mummy who had been 5,300 years old.

It has been demonstrated by such analyses that the Yamnaya steppe herders in Russia from 6,000 to 5,000 years ago were thought to be descendants of precedent eastern European hunter-gatherers as well as a population with near eastern ancestry. As early as 4,500 years ago, the Corded Ware people lived in Germany and other areas in Northern Europe. Surprisingly this team also tracked nearly three-fourths of their ancestry to the Yamnaya, which showed the way in which a huge migration from its eastern edge into central Europe must have happened. Actually, most Europeans living today can track their ancestry back to both the Corded Ware people and the earlier Yamnaya, who had migrated from the east and came with technologies like the wheel in addition to their language, which was possibly originated from the steppes of Yamnaya. If you want to know more about it, you are advised to visit the bioRxiv preprint server.

Journal reference: Haak, Wolfgang, et al. “Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1502.02783 (2015).

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