The Armenian Highlands – the ancestral home of the Indo-Europeans: the recognition of this fact is not far off

© Photo : Armenian Geographic

Evidence continues to mount over the past half-century, pointing towards the Armenian Highlands as the cradle of the Indo-Europeans. How credible is this claim?

In the Middle Ages, the answer to this question was unequivocal and affirmative. Anglo-Saxon chronicles, commissioned by King Alfred the Great from 890 AD, announce on their opening page: “The island of Britain is eight hundred miles long and two hundred wide… The Britons, who came from Armenia and first settled the south of Britain, were the island’s initial inhabitants.” German chronicles like the “Annolied” (circa 1080), recounting Bavarian history, and the “Kaiserchronik” (1170), echoing the Bavarian monarchs’ chronicle, also echo this: “The Bavarians stem from Armenia, where Noah left his ark when the dove brought the olive branch, remnants of Noah’s Ark can still be seen on that mountain, which is called Ararat there…”

However, from the 19th century onwards, as science began to push beyond the confines of religious dogma, the biblical narrative of Noah and his miraculous salvation on Ararat ceased to be considered historical evidence. This approach gained further momentum in the 20th century, especially in the USSR, and persists to this day. Arguments citing the earliest chronicles, which state in no uncertain terms that Europeans’ ancestors came from Armenia, are often rebutted with claims that these accounts were only written because of a prevailing belief in the Bible at that time. Or, that the chronicler mistakenly wrote “Armenia” when they intended to refer to “Armorica” (the Brittany Peninsula). But if we altogether dismiss the earliest written accounts of these peoples, little of history would remain. Although some individuals arrogantly assume they understand the history of their forebears better than they did themselves, science overall cannot function without written sources. They are utterly irreplaceable. Our advanced technology can analyze bone and tooth tissues of humans who lived thousands of years ago to determine where they grew up, what water they drank, and what food they consumed. Yet, no matter how many treasures archaeologists unearth alongside these ancient remains, without written evidence, we won’t even learn the names of these people or the language they spoke. Not even the most precise genotyping through paleogenetics can assist with this. Yet, in spite of disregarding the evidence from their ancient chronicles and making a half-century loop, science has come back to the same conclusion, now armed with its discoveries and interpretations.

In 1873, renowned German philologist Lucian Müller proposed a hypothesis stating that the Indo-Europeans had two original homelands — one located within the Armenian Highlands and the other in the plains of Eastern Europe. He grounded this hypothesis on the proximity of the Indo-European proto-language to the Semitic-Hamitic and Caucasian languages.

This approach gained significant traction in the last quarter of the 20th century through the works of Soviet linguists Tamaz Gamkrelidze (1929 – 2021) and Vyacheslav Ivanov (1929 – 2017). They elaborated on the dual-homeland theory, presenting compelling arguments for a common Indo-European homeland in the Armenian Highlands and its adjacent regions, and a secondary homeland for Western Indo-Europeans in the Black Sea-Caspian steppes. This theory became known within academic circles as the “Armenian Hypothesis.” It was based on the authors’ glottal theory, developed in the early 1970s, offering a new interpretation of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European stop consonants.

In 1984, T.V. Gamkrelidze and V.V. Ivanov released their comprehensive work – a two-volume monograph titled “Indo-European Language and Indo-Europeans,” where they investigated the grammar and vocabulary of the hypothetical language ancestor to all Indo-European languages. This book was a significant milestone in the history of Indo-European studies as it contained vast information about the Proto-Indo-European language and the homeland, lifestyle, and culture of the Indo-Europeans.

According to the authors, the Anatolian Proto-Language separated from the Indo-European community earliest, no later than 4000 BC, around the area of the Armenian Highlands. From here, the ancestors of the Anatolians began their westward migration.

The Anatolian peoples included the ancient Hittites, Luwians, Lydians, Lycians, Sidetes, Carians, Palaics, Pisidians, and Mushki. All their languages are now extinct, and these people have long disappeared from the face of the Earth, an event that transpired around 2,500-3,000 years ago.

In the mid-19th century, when the foundations of Indo-European linguistics were just being laid in Europe, Armenian was considered part of the Iranian group due to the large number of Iranian loanwords; however, by 1870, German philologist Heinrich Hübschmann had proven that the Armenian language constitutes a completely unique branch of the Indo-European family.

Armenians represent a separate branch of the Indo-Europeans, historically formed within the Armenian Highlands. The Armenian language belongs to a unique group within the Indo-European language family, but no other living languages have survived within this group.

It is now commonly believed that the formation of the Armenian ethnicity occurred between the 13th and 6th centuries BC as a result of the merger of various tribes that inhabited the Armenian Highlands in the Bronze Age, based on the Proto-Armenian language.

However, as geneticists have found out, the Armenian genotype appeared about 8,000 years ago and became widespread and ubiquitous in its area about 4,000 years ago. The latter date, by the way, aligns quite well with the traditional Armenian Christian chronology of Mikael Chamchian and Gevond Alishan. Moreover, this date also coincides with the latest conclusions of linguists, according to which the Proto-Armenian language began to separate from Proto-Indo-European 5,000 years ago.

Then came the expansion of the carriers of the Yamna culture into the forest zone of Europe and the Indo-Europeanization of Europe, as proposed by the Kurgan Hypothesis of the origins of the Indo-Europeans, put forward in 1956 by renowned American archaeologist and cultural scholar of Lithuanian descent Marija Gimbutas (1921—1994). Armenians, however, were the only people who formed and remained on the lands of their Indo-European homeland.

Unfortunately, Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, who lived in Los Angeles in his later years, refused to give interviews on the subject of his “Armenian Hypothesis”. Perhaps he was influenced by the fact that despite the extensive and deep research that he and Tamaz Gamkrelidze conducted, their “Armenian Hypothesis” was never fully accepted by the scientific community and is still considered controversial.

However, in the years since the death of this eminent scholar, more and more specialists from different countries and fields of science have found confirmations and voiced support for his position. Although the “Kurgan Hypothesis” of the origin of the Indo-Europeans remains the most popular in the scientific community, just as in the 20th century, many researchers severely criticize it, and some of its proponents even begin to acknowledge the correctness of the “Armenian Hypothesis”. If archaeologists and DNA researchers confirm the data of Soviet linguists, the universal recognition that the Armenian Highlands was the homeland of the Indo-Europeans is just a matter of time. In fact, the recognition has already begun.

by Armen Petrosyan

Translated text by Vigen Avetisyan

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