Will the decades-long disputes among scientists about the homeland of the Indo-Europeans soon be resolved? For now, archaeologists, historians, linguists, and geneticists are only getting closer to the truth.
The question of the place and time of the emergence of Proto-Indo-European languages, that is, the location of the real homeland of the Indo-Europeans, is still a subject of dispute for historians and linguists, as it was a couple of centuries ago.
The “Armenian Hypothesis” of two outstanding Soviet linguists Tamaz Gamkrelidze (1929 – 2021) and Vyacheslav Ivanov (1929 – 2017), put forward in the 1980s, did not receive universal recognition during their lifetime, but in our time of discoveries, there are more and more arguments in its favor. The paradox is that even when geneticists and archaeologists provide a lot of indirect evidence in favor of a certain version, the final decision remains with the linguists, and they, not having written sources from periods that are considered pre-literate, cannot yet come to final conclusions on many issues. Therefore, there is still a long way to go to a single opinion. But at the same time, it is already visible in which direction the process is going.
Today, out of the existing eight competing hypotheses, two are still considered the most recognized in scientific circles, as in the 20th century – the Kurgan and Anatolian ones. Although it is already obvious that the former does not agree at all with a mass of new data over the past half-century. And this was already visible in the 1980s.
In 1956, Marija Gimbutas, an American archaeologist and culturologist of Lithuanian origin, came up with the “Kurgan Hypothesis”, which at that time revolutionized Indo-European studies. She placed the homeland of the Indo-Europeans in the steppes of Southern Russia and the steppe zone of Ukraine (Yamna culture). The author developed the ideas of the late 19th century German linguists August Schleicher and Otto Schrader and tried to identify archaeological evidence of the invasion of the steppe Indo-Europeans into Western Europe.
According to the “Kurgan Hypothesis”, the bearers of the Proto-Indo-European language were warlike nomads who, at the beginning of the Bronze Age, 5-6 thousand years ago, invaded Europe and the Near East from the steppes of Eurasia. Perhaps it was this people who first domesticated the horse. What was the self-name of this ethnos, as the lecturer from the film “Carnival Night” (dir. Eldar Ryazanov) said – “Science is not yet in the know”. However, it is believed that they had a custom of erecting mounds over the graves of their leaders, so they are conditionally called “Kurgan people” (Kurgan culture). The “Kurgan people” and their descendants conquered almost all of Europe, and remnants of the substrate of the most ancient population, such as the Basques, survived only in isolated mountainous areas.
“The Anatolian Hypothesis” was proposed in 1987 by British archaeologist Baron Colin Renfrew of Cambridge. It dates the roots of the Indo-European tree to a period three millennia earlier. Renfrew established that equipped warriors only appeared in Europe at the turn of the second and first millennia BCE, which could not have happened if the “Kurgan Hypothesis” was correct and the Indo-Europeans appeared there 3,000 years earlier. According to this theory, the Proto-Indo-European language was spoken not by Eurasian nomads, but by sedentary farmers living in the late Neolithic in the plateaus of Anatolia in modern Turkey. This refers to, for example, the culture of the settlement of Çatalhöyük (7100—5900 BCE). The population growth forced the ancient Anatolians to gradually migrate, but their range expanded very slowly.
The “Anatolian Hypothesis” is also called one of the two components of the Near Eastern hypothesis, which includes the “Armenian Hypothesis” of Gamkrelidze – Ivanov.
Here’s what the authors of the “Armenian Hypothesis” wrote:
“First of all, we came to the conclusion that the Indo-European homeland was an area with a mountainous landscape. This is evidenced by numerous names of high mountains, cliffs, and elevations, the names of the mountain oak, other trees, and shrubs growing in the mountains. And mythological texts tell of mountain lakes and rapid rivers, originating in the mountains. Such a landscape is not characteristic of the plains of Europe, in particular Eastern Europe, including here and the Northern Black Sea region…
The so-called beech argument excludes from the homeland part of Eastern Europe to the northeast of the Black Sea to the lower Volga. According to paleobotanical data, oak forests (oak belongs to the family of beech) begin to spread in the north of Europe only in the 4th-3rd millennia BCE…
Proto-Indo-Europeans cultivated barley, wheat, flax, fruit trees and shrubs (apple, dogwood, cherry, mulberry tree, grape), using various tools, which appear in Europe from the Near Eastern area only to the Iron Age (1st millennium BCE). Such advanced agriculture and viticulture, as among the ancient Indo-Europeans, in the 4th millennium BCE and earlier, existed on the southern territory stretching from the Balkans to the Iranian plateau, but by no means in the northern regions of Europe…
It is important that Academician N.I. Vavilov spoke of Southwest Asia as one of the centers of origin of cultivated plants. (INDO-EUROPEANS: PROTO-LANGUAGE AND HOMELAND T.V. Gamkrelidze, V.Vs. Ivanov. 1989)
Obviously, the authors’ arguments against the “Kurgan Hypothesis” already then showed that it was hopelessly outdated, although it still remains in the scientific environment out of inertia. Although some of its supporters began to recognize this.
The example of viticulture is particularly indicative. During excavations conducted in the Areni-1 cave under the supervision of Boris Gasparyan in the summer of 2007, it was discovered that more than 6000 years ago, the oldest complex for industrial wine production was located in this region. The chemical analysis of the remains of grapes dates back to 4100 BCE. “This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production,” said archaeologist Gregory Areshian from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). On October 15, 2010, archaeologist Diana Zardaryan found the oldest leather shoe in the world there, which is 5500 years old.
Paleogenalogy and archaeology over the past quarter-century have revealed much that confirms the correctness of the conclusions of Soviet linguists Tamaz Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav Ivanov, made almost half a century ago.
Genetics confirm the research of linguists
DNA research over the past decades confirms the assumptions about the South Caucasian homeland of the earliest Proto-Indo-Europeans.
The head of the molecular anthropology group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, German geneticist Wolfgang Haak, being a supporter of the Kurgan Hypothesis himself, made an interesting statement. He and his co-authors in 2015 came to the conclusion that the hypothesis of the genesis of the Indo-Europeans on the Armenian highlands is gaining credibility, since the Yamna culture partially originated from the Near Eastern population, which resembles modern Armenians. On the other hand, they state that “the question of what languages were spoken by the hunter-gatherers of Eastern Europe and the southern population, similar to the Armenian one, remains open.”
American geneticist, Professor at Harvard Medical School David Reich in his 2018 publication “Who We Are and How We Got Here”, claims that “the most likely location of the population that first spoke the Indo-European language is south of the Caucasus Mountains, possibly in modern Iran or Armenia, because the ancient DNA of people who lived there corresponds to what we expect from the source population, both for the Yamna culture and for the ancient Anatolians.” However, Reich also claims that some, if not most, Indo-European languages were spread by carriers of the Yamna culture.
Wang Chuan-Chao, Director of the Institute of Anthropology at Xiamen University (China), in his study “The Genetic Prehistory of the Greater Caucasus” (2018), noted that the Caucasus served as a corridor for gene flow between the steppe and cultures south of the Caucasus during the Chalcolithic and Bronze Ages, suggesting that this “opens the possibility of the homeland of the Proto-Indo-Europeans south of the Caucasus.”
Another supporter of the Kurgan Hypothesis, Danish archaeologist, Professor at the University of Gothenburg, Kristian Kristiansen, in an interview with “Der Spiegel” in May 2018, stated that the Yamna culture could have had a predecessor in the Caucasus, where the proto-proto-Indo-European language originated.
In 2018, a group of linguists from Leiden University (Netherlands) led by Guus Kroonen came to the conclusion that the earliest presumed fixation of Anatolian names in the written sources of the country of Armanum occurs in the 25-24 centuries BCE, i.e., coincides with the time of the Yamna culture (3000-2400 BCE). This means, as the authors note, that the scenario in which the Indo-European languages of Anatolia originated from Indo-European speakers coming from the Yamna culture can be rejected.
It should be noted that the famous Armenian historian Artak Movsisyan (1970-2020) believed that Armanum was part of the ancient Armenia.
He presented his arguments in the works “Armenia in the 3rd Millennium BC (According to Written Sources)” (2005), “The Sacred Highlands: Armenia in the Ancient Spiritual Perceptions of the Near East” (2004) and others.
It should be added that in the 21st century, following the discoveries of Klaus Schmidt and other archaeologists, it has become clear that the oldest settlements, from which the history of civilization begins and where agriculture, livestock breeding, metallurgy, etc. appeared, were located in the territory of Western Armenia and Anatolia.
For example, the early Neolithic settlement of Hallan Çemi (Turkish Hallan Çemi) in the Turkish province of Batman (province of Sasun in the province of Aldznik of Greater Armenia) in the upper reaches of the Tigris River is dated to 10 thousand BC. This is already the era of the end of the Ice Age, and Hallan Çemi is the oldest settlement on Earth.
The genetics of the population of that era is now being studied, some haplogroups are now widely spread in Europe, others less so. But the age of these settlements at 9-10 thousand years is much older than the period of 4500-4000 BC, which is the date of the very first cultures of the Kurgan Hypothesis. And although the genotype itself does not show what language its carriers spoke, since people with the same genotype in the past and in our time speak different languages, when it comes to the Armenian Highlands, everything is clear here. According to the latest data, Proto-Armenian separated from Proto-Indo-European already in the 3rd millennium BC. Those interested can see what this looks like in animation.
The expression “proto-proto-Indo-European language” is notable, it shows how many layers of ancient history are superimposed on each other. The combined efforts of scientists from different fields will continue to study these layers, and at the same time they will increase. And it is not difficult to guess that at a certain stage of one of the periods of development of the “proto-proto-Indo-European language” it will have to be recognized that it took place exactly in the Armenian Highlands. Rather, many already recognize this, it remains only to clarify exactly which stage, and then probably everyone will recognize. After all, Exupery said for a reason: “Truth is what cannot be avoided”.
by Armen Petrosyan
Translation by Vigen Avetisyan.