Friday, November 8, 2013

Searching for the original Indo-europeans

Confronted to the obvious resemblances of many words from many different languages from Europe and Asia, scholars had came to surmise a common origin to explain this phenomenon. It soon became clear that this conjecture was correct.
This language family was named the Indo-european languages and their theoretical ancestor, the Proto-indo-european language.

It is indeed accurate to say that English is akin to Persian, Latin, Ancient Greek, Pashtun,French, Russian or Hindi and many others. These languages are related and linked by an ancient common origin, a common core.
The link is not confined to linguistics. A cultural link is also observable among the antique cultures of Europe and Asian cultures sharing this linguistic link.
For instance, the major antique Hindu god Dyaus Pita is recognizable in Jupiter and Zeus(Sometimes named Zeus Pater), all derived from an antique Father-Sky deity.
Sometimes, despite the difference in names, Indo-european gods are easily recognized by their personification. This is the case with Indra, the Hindu God of war and weather, a mace-wielding thundering god (whose mace is named Vajra and is a symbol of thunder and lightning) who crushes evil beings, like Vritra a giant snake, and that we can find back in Thor, the Germanic hammer-wielding god of thunder (whose hammer is named Mjöllnir and is a symbol of thunder and lightning (Mjöllnir likely comes from an ancient Indo-european root that gave malleus, the Latin word for hammer)) fighting Jörmungandr, a giant evil snake. This major archetypal god is found throughout the Indo-european continuum (the Slavic Perun, the Baltic Perkunas, theHittite Tarhun/teshub, the Gallic Taranis and others).

This constatation of a common language family (with an hypothetical but extremely likely proto-indo-european language as the source) and tracks of common cultural elements spanning over basically all of Europe up to the east of India leads us to wonder how it is possible for a language family to extend on such a distance across Eurasia. Who were its original speakers? Where was its place of origin?

Some people, Like Colin Renfrew, allege that the proto-indo-europan language appeared inAnatolia (Present day Turkey) and was imported in Europe with the spread of agriculture during neolithic, Indian nationalists allege that their Indo-european languages are autochthonous to their country and that some of their ancestors spread this language family all over Eurasia up to Europe.
The more likely explanation is, in my opinion, the Kurgan theory. I will show in these pages that archeology, linguistics and even genetics seem to support it, so far.

The Kurgan hypothesis postulate that, north of the black sea, in what are modern Ukraine andsouth of Russia, an Europoid pastoralist population migrated both east and west imposing its culture and languages on local populations through the centuries and milleniums, mixing again and again as a minority with the locals in this process (and indeed the presence of early Indo-european loanwords in Finno-ugric languages at the stage of proto-Uralic (few examples: proto-indo-european *wed-er/en (water, river), *h₁nḗh₃mn̥- (name), *wosa (merchadise, to buy), *sneH(u)- (sinew)) have their matches in proto-Uralic: *wete, *wosa, *nime- ,*sone ) gives a strong basis for this theory, especially if we add that there are also several clear tracks of early Indo-iranian loanwords in these northern languages (more will be said later about it)).

Hypothetical Indo-european migrations roughly up to 1,000 BCE, according to the Kurgan Hypothesis

The culture supposed to be ancestral to the Indo-european languages and cultures are theSredny Stog culture, from 4,500 BCE to 3,500 BCE, followed by the Yamna culture (also namedPit grave culture or Yamnaya culture) from 3,600 BCE to 2,200 BCE.
From there we can follow the archeological trail of their movements in the south-east of Europe during the late 5th millenium BCE-4th millenium BCE (e.g. destruction of Karanovo VI in Bulgaria; the earliest movement in south-east Europe (before 4,000 BCE, being very likely at the origin of the Indo-european Anatolian laguage family which is apparently from an earlier stage than Proto-indo-european and that might have arrived in Anatolia around 2,600 BCE (the date of the arrival of the Anatolian-speaking populations in Asia minor and the path they took to arrive there is purely theoritical)) or in the north of Europe (Globular amphora culture and Corded ware culture, appearing roughly around 3,500-3,000 BCE) and in Asia with the Afanasevo culture (appearing around 3,500 BCE, in Kazakhstan, south Siberia, west Mongolia and even apparently in Xinjiang) then by the Andronovo culture horizon (around 2,300 BCE to 1,000 BCE) in central Asia, then in south Asia with the Gandhara graves culture (appearing in the Swat valley of north Pakistan around 1,800 BCE).

In the perspective of the Kurgan hypothesis, the Proto-indo-european stage existed during the 3,600 BCE-3,000 BCE time frame (more or less). Archeology and linguistics can apparently allow to pinpoint the proto-indo-european dates to the Chalcolithic time (e.g. The proto-indo-europeans had (their own) words for wheel, wool, horse, metal, etc… which wouldn’t fit with earlier dates (like a fully neolithic time)).

Genetics could very well confirm the Kurgan theory. Genetic testing have indentified an haplogroup (wikipedia article on the haplogroups) that could be the genetic signature of the population that was once the vector of indo-europeanization.

From Iceland to North-east india or to China or south Siberia, Haplogroup Y-DNA R1a1a is present, where we would expect it to be found if it was the mark of the spreading of Indo-european movements at the origin of the archeological ancestral Indo-european cultures. While hypothetical, many elements support the idea that early Indo-european populations were caucasoid R1a1a individuals spreading from the north of the black sea as early as 6,500 or 5,500 years ago.
Haplogroups can be understood as genetic signatures allowing to identify ancestral human lineages. Two sets of haplogroups are existing : the mtDNA haplogroupsidentifying the female lineages (transmitted from mother to daughter, exclusively matrilinearly (men also inherit it from their mother but they don’t transmit it to their offsprings)) and the Y-DNA haplogroups that identify male lineages (transmitted from father to son, exclusively patrilinearly).

Map of the Y-DNA haplogroups determined by the DNA of the human Y chromosome.

These haplogroups, that are mutations in the DNA that are unique to a particuliar lineage, can help to identify the early human migrations and the origin and composition of the populations of a given country or region.

The European populations are mainly bearers of the R1b (more exactly from the R1b1a2 sublineages (ex-R1b1b2 sublineages)), R1a (more exactly the R1a1a sublineages) and I (I1, I2a and I2b) – other haplogroups are present but are less specific to Europe, such as Y-DNA J2, G2a, E1b1b1, N1c and other lineages – as for their male haplogroups, and bearers of many mtDNA haplogroups whose most frequent and typical are mtDNA haplogroup H (whose most subgroups are typically Europoid) and some mtDNA haplogroup U subgroups (a mtDNA haplogroup such as U5 is typical of Europe for instance and is thought to be representative of early paleolithical hunter-gatherers of Europe ; a mtDNA haplogroup such as K who is an offshoot of haplogroup U8 is also rather frequent in Europe, even if also found in west Asia).

Map of the approximative Y-DNA haplogroups repartition in Europe.

In the European male lineages, the subgroups of R1 (R1a and R1b (R1b is currently typical of western Europe while R1a is much more frequent in the east and in a least quantity in the north of Europe)) are the most frequent haplogroups in Europe, and in the female European lineages, H subgroups are the most frequent haplogroups.

The archeological findings and the testing of ancient DNA seems to confirm the presence of caucasoid populations deep into Asia, up to south Siberia, during bronze age, apparently almost always associated with haplogroup R1a1a, seemingly supporting the Kurgan theory. The east Asian flow of populations apparently starting to be important only from early iron age, in south Siberia and central Asia, as described in several studies provided below.

“According to paleoanthropological data, the Caucasoid (in respect of its morphological features) population predominated in the steppes of the Altai–Sayan region [Pastmists : located in south Siberia] during the Neolithic [Pastmists : here, apparently at least starting with the chalcolithic], Bronze, and partly early Iron Ages [1–3]. At that time the Mongoloid component was observed only in few cases. However, beginning from the early Iron Age, the presence of this component has been increasing, and becoming prevalent in modern times. Thus, dynamics of the anthropological composition of the Altai–Sayan populations can be characterized by definitely directed replacement of the Caucasoid component by the Mongoloid one.” (excerpt from « Origin of Caucasoid-Specific Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Ethnic Groups of the Altai–Sayan Region » (Derenko et al, 2002 | source))

Other major studies of reference (more informations from these studies will be given in the next articles) :

“Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people” (source)

“Unravelling migrations in the steppe: mitochondrial DNA sequences from ancient central Asians”(source)

“Pigment phenotype and biogeographical ancestry from ancient skeletal remains: inferences from multiplexed autosomal SNP analysis” (source)

“Evidence that a West-East admixed population lived in the Tarim Basin as early as the early Bronze Age” (source)

The presence of caucasoid haplogroups, both in ancient and recent DNA testing in south Siberia, Siberia, Mongolia, China and south Asia is attested by the recent genetic studies and Mummies from the Altai (for instance, see this wikipedia article on the Pazyryk burials) and theXinjiang (wikipedia article on the tarim mummies) regions only seem to corroborate this fact.

The Cherchen man, a Tarim basin (Xinjiang) mummy dated 1,000 BCE.

The conjunction of the archeological data (the source of the south Siberian Europoid population arriving in south Sibera around 3,500 BC during the Chalcolithic seems to be clearly originally coming from the north-east of the black sea (many archeological similarities in the sepultures, potteries, cultual elements, economy, social organisation, and so on, between the Afanasevo culture and the cultures north of the black sea)), the linguistical data (the nature of the Tocharian languages (attested in western China (Xinjiang) around 500 A.D.) supports its separation early from the Indo-european group – which fits well with the Afanasevo culture origin and dates) and the genetic data (the Haplogroups (both the male and female lineages) confirm an European origin of this population and de facto confirm haplogroup Y-DNA R1a1a as an Indo-european marker. Both of the Europoid and Asian lineages found in the earliest Tarim basin (Xinjiang) mummies (The people of Xiaohe (pastmists : see the Xinjiang pagefor more details)) fits an origin in south Siberia (a few other facts in archeology and linguistics (e.g. it seems some sort of proto-altaic (or proto-Turkic and proto-Tungusic stems anyway) is found in Tocharian) could also support this view. The fact that the archeological sites are found first in the east of the Xinjiang and in north-west Gansu seem to also confirm that this population didn’t arrive directly from the west but rather from south Siberia (from the Afanasevo culture)) and tend to confirm the association of the Tocharian language with the chalcolithic Afanasevo culture) seem to validate the Kurgan theory in terms of pattern and chronology. At the moment, no other theory on the subject knows such a seemingly blatant confirmation in the available data.

Ancient mummy of a tall woman with europoid features discovered in north-western China (Xinjiang).

As previously mentionned, some common cultural and mythological background can also be perceived in the antique Indo-european peoples (despite the huge geographical distance and the long time separation: for instance, the three Kalasha people of south Asia designated by robe colors (white robes (safed posh), red robes (surkh posh) and black robes (siah posh)) remind of the three colors representing the Indo-european social organisation elsewhere (e.g. in the Scandinavian Rigsthula, the Jarl (noble) is blond, the Karl (freeman, churl) is redheaded and the thrael (slave, serf) is black-haired (white, red and black are symbolic and representing a different layer of the indo-european social order (originally possibly as a reference to the colors of the sky (daylight/twilight/night))).

The subject is too dense to be treated here but let’s give a famous example of a potential culural marker: In the material culture, a symbol such as the Swastika is often thought to be ofIndo-european origin by many as it is found in many antique Indo-european populations (but it is also possible, that its origin was actually non-indo-european, probably from the middle-east(the oldest swastika found so far was in Iraq at Samarra, dated around 5,000 BCE (the second oldest found swastikas are apparently among the Vinca signs of the Balkans around 4,000-3,000 BCE. (It’s also in the Vinča culture, specifically in the east of Serbia, that were found the oldest evidences of extractive metallurgy in the world, thus far [source : On the origins of extractive metallurgy: new evidence from Europe]))) and then gained some significance in the ancient Indo-european populations (sometimes changed as a triskellion, like among the Celts)).

Swastika on the head of an Asian monk. In Asia, the Swastika is a widely spread positive symbol. It is a major symbol of the religion appearing in India (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism)

Here, a Swedish bracteate roughly from 400 AD (historiska museet, Sweden). The Swastika is a symbol found throughout Eurasia.

This Swastika (dated 500 BCE) was found on an ancient artefact during archaeological digs in Bulgaria. The oldest found Svastika in the Balkans are from the Vinca signs, around 4,000-3,000 BCE.

Persian necklace with three swastikas from the first millenium BCE found at Kularaz, in the Gilan region of Iran (National Museum of Iran). The number 3 was an important number in the Indo-european tradition.

Let’s also mention another recurrent point. Some people have alleged that the ancient Indo-europeans were calling themselves “Aryas” (Aryans) or more exactly *Aryos as an ethnonym, but this is of course unproved, even though the presence of the Indo-european root ar-(supposed to mean “noble” or maybe “freeman” – but of course, it could also as easily have been used as a word to designate a member of the community, maybe on cultural and linguistical criteria (maybe even ethnical), for the first Indo-europeans) in many ancient Indo-european languages could indeed be a hint of such thing (ancient Greek Aristos (still visible in the english word “aristocrat“), the Aryas of south Asia (Alan is also possibly related to it), theArsi of Xinjiang, the arawa term in Hittite, the Ario- prefix in the names of prominent Celtic and Germanic individuals of the antiquity (e.g. Germanic Ariovistus and Ariaric (a son of a Goth king), Gaulish Ariomanos (Irish Eremon), etc…), or also the old Irish aire (“nobleman“, “freeman”), could possibly support this hypothesis).

Map of a part of Asia (Afghanistan is lighter, here). According to the Kurgan hypothesis, starting with the chalcolithic and/or the early bronze age, migrations originating north of the black sea spread the Indo-european languages and a partially common cultural background throughout Eurasia.

Despite the very ancient time of these surmised migrations (apparently as early as the copper age (chalcolithic) ), visible lingering tracks are apparently still seen in the phenotypes of Asian populations of these regions, even if uncommon. the following articles will give examples of such phenotypes and a few basic informations related to the matter, about these regions and their populations :
South Asia (Iran and Afghanistan)
South Asia (Pakistan and India)
Central Asia

Indo-iranian-speaking Scythian warriors of the Eurasian steppes (from a gold vase of the Kul Oba kurgan in Crimea, Ukraine)
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