The Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language, who likely lived around 4000 BC, during the Copper Age and the Bronze Age, or possibly earlier, during the Neolithic or Paleolithic eras. Knowledge of them comes chiefly from the reconstruction of their language, which was the ancestor of the Indo-European languages, including English. The genetic and phenotypes of the Proto-Indo-Europeans are unknown.

Based on the words reconstructed for their language, some things about their culture can be determined with confidence:
* they used a kinship system based on relationships between mencite web |url= |title=Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2000 |accessdate=2008-04-12 |author=Calvert Watkins]
* they worshiped a sky godThe Oxford Companion to Archaeology - Edited by Brian M. Fagan, Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-19-507618-4, p347 - J.P. Mallory] , "*dyeus ph2tēr" (lit. "sky father"; > Gr. "Ζευς (πατηρ) / Zeus (patēr)"; "*dieu-ph2tēr" > Lat. "Jupiter"). ["Yet, for the Indo-European-speaking society, we can reconstruct with certainty the word for “god,” *deiw-os, and the two-word name of the chief deity of the pantheon, *dyeu-pəter- (Latin Iūpiter, Greek Zeus patēr, Sanskrit Dyauunicode|ṣ pitar, and Luvian Tatis Tiwaz)." [ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2000] ]
* transportation by or across water was known.
* they practiced agriculture and cultivated cereals, and attested a technology commonly ascribed to early farming communities.
* they composed and recited heroic poetry or song lyrics that used stock phrases like "imperishable fame"
* the climate they lived in had snow ["The Indo-Europeans knew snow in their homeland; the word sneigwh- is nearly ubiquitous." [ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 2000] ]
* Stockbreeding and animal husbandry were important to their economy and their animals included domesticated cattle and horses
* they had ancient knowledge of the domestic dog
* they knew the wheel, and had carts with solid wheels, but not yet chariots with spoked wheelsFact|date=April 2008

Culture and Religion

What is known about the Proto-Indo-Europeans with any certainty is the result of comparative linguistics of the Indo-European languages, partly supported by archaeology. The following traits are widely agreed-upon, but it should be understood that they are hypothetical by their reconstructed nature. However, the genetic phenotypes that describe them are not in contention.

The Proto-Indo-Europeans were a patrilineal society, probably semi-nomadic, relying on animal husbandry (notably cattle and sheep). They had domesticated the horse (PIE|*eḱwos). The cow (PIE|*gwous) played a central role, in religion and mythology as well as in daily life. A man's wealth would have been measured by the number of his animals (PIE|*peḱus, the word for small livestock, acquired a meaning of "value" in both English "fee" and in Latin "pecunia").

They practiced a polytheistic religion centered on sacrificial rites, probably administered by a priestly caste. Burials in barrows or tomb chambers apply to the kurgan culture, in accordance with the original version of the Kurgan hypothesis, but not to the previous Sredny Stog culture nor to the contemporary Corded Ware culture, both of which cultures are also generally associated with PIE (Proto Indo-European). Important leaders would have been buried with their belongings in kurgans, and possibly also with members of their household or wives (human sacrifice, suttee).

There is evidenceFact|date=June 2008 for sacral kingship, suggesting the tribal king at the same time assumed the role of high priest (cf. Germanic king). Many Indo-European societies know a threefold division of a clerical class, a warrior class and a class of peasants or husbandmen. Such a division was suggested for the Proto-Indo-European society by Georges Dumézil.

If there had been a separate class of warriors, then it would probably have consisted of single young men. They would have followed a separate warrior code unacceptable in the society outside their peer-group. Traces of initiation rites in several Indo-European societies suggest that this group identified itself with wolves or dogs (see also Berserker, werewolf).

Technologically, reconstruction suggests a culture of the early Bronze Age: Bronze was used to make tools and weapons. Silver and gold were known. Sheep were kept for wool, and weaving was practiced for textile production. The wheel was known, certainly for ox-drawn carts, and late Proto-Indo European warfare may also have made use of horse-drawn chariots.

The native name of this people cannot be reconstructed with certainty. "Aryo-", sometimes upheld as a self-identification of the Indo-Europeans (see Aryan), is attested as an ethnic designation only in the Indo-Iranian subfamily.


The scholars of the 19th century who first tackled the question of the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans (also called "Urheimat" after the German term), were essentially confined to linguistic evidence. A rough localization was attempted by reconstructing the names of plants and animals (importantly the beech and the salmon) as well as the culture and technology (a Bronze Age culture centered on animal husbandry and having domesticated the horse). The scholarly opinions became basically divided between a European hypothesis, positing migration from Europe to Asia, and an Asian hypothesis, holding that the migration took place in the opposite direction.

However, in the twentieth century it was often assumed the spread of the language was due to the invasions of an Aryan race. Such hypotheses suffered an extremely severe distortion for purposes of political propaganda by the Nazis. The question is still the source of much contention. Typically, nationalistic schools of thought either claim their respective territories for the original homeland, or maintain that their own culture and language have always been present in their area, dismissing the concept of Proto-Indo-Europeans altogether ("see" Aryan race, Aryan invasion theory, Eurocentrism, Paleolithic Continuity Theory).


There have been many attempts to claim that particular prehistorical cultures can be identified with the PIE-speaking peoples, but all have been speculative. All attempts to identify an actual people with an unattested language depend on a sound reconstruction of that language that allows identification of cultural concepts and environmental factors which may be associated with particular cultures (such as the use of metals, agriculture vs. pastoralism, geographically distinctive plants and animals, etc).

In the twentieth century Marija Gimbutas created a modern variation on the traditional invasion theory (the Kurgan hypothesis, after the Kurgans (burial mounds) of the Eurasian steppes) in which the Indo-Europeans were a nomadic tribe in Eastern Ukraine and Southern Russia and expanded in several waves during the 3rd millennium BC. Their expansion coincided with the taming of the horse. Leaving archaeological signs of their presence (see battle-axe people), they subjugated the peaceful European Neolithic farmers of Gimbutas's Old Europe. As Gimbutas's beliefs evolved, she put increasing emphasis on the patriarchal, patrilinear nature of the invading culture, sharply contrasting it with the supposedly egalitarian, if not matrilinear culture of the invaded, to a point of formulating essentially feminist archaeology.

Her theory has found genetic support in remains from the Neolithic culture of Scandinavia, where bone remains in Neolithic graves indicated that the megalith culture was either matrilocal or matrilineal as the people buried in the same grave were related through the women. Likewise there is evidence of remaining matrilineal traditions among the Picts. A modified form of this theory by JP Mallory, dating the migrations earlier to around 4000 BC and putting less insistence on their violent or quasi-military nature, is still widely held.

Colin Renfrew is the leading propagator of the "Anatolian hypothesis", according to which the Indo-European languages spread peacefully into Europe from Asia Minor from around 7000 BC with the advance of farming ("wave of advance").That theory is contradicted by the fact that ancient Anatolia is known to have been inhabited by non-Indo-European people, namely the Hattians, Khalib/Karub, and Khaldi/Kardi. Also the culture of the Indo-Europeans as reconstructed by means of linguistic reconstruction doesn't fit with this theory, since the early Neolithic cultures in Anatolia had neither the horse, nor the wheel, nor metal, terms for all of which are securely reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European.

Yet another theory is connected with the Black Sea deluge theory, suggesting that PIE originated as the language of trade between early Neolithic Black Sea tribes. [ [ Welcome to the Black Sea Trade Project ] ] Under this hypothesis University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Fredrik T. Hiebert hypothesizes that the transition from PIE to IE dispersion occurred during an inundation of the Black Sea in the mid 6th millennium BC. [ [ 01/14/1999 - Pennsylvania Current: Q & A: Fredrik Hiebert ] ]


The rise of Archaeogenetic evidence which uses genetic analysis to trace migration patterns also added new elements to the puzzle. Cavalli-Sforza and Alberto Piazza argue that Renfrew and Gimbutas reinforce rather than contradict each other. Harvcoltxt|Cavalli-Sforza|2000 states that "It 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." Piazza & Cavalli-Sforza (2006) state that:

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 unfavourable 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.
Wells suggests the origin, distribution and age of R1a1 points to an ancient migration, possibly corresponding to the spread by the Kurgan people in their expansion across the Eurasian steppe around 3000 BC. About his old teacher's proposal, Harvcoltxt|Wells|2002 states that "there is nothing to contradict this model, although the genetic patterns do not provide clear support either," and instead argues that the evidence is much stronger for Gimbutas' model:
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.

High concentrations of Mesolithic or late Paleolithic YDNA haplogroups of types R1b (typically well above 35%) and I (up to 25%), are thought to derive ultimately of the robust Eurasiatic Cro Magnoid homo sapiens of the Aurignacian culture, and the subsequent gracile leptodolichomorphous people of the Gravettian culture that entered Europe from the Middle East 20,000 to 25,000 years ago, respectively. [ [ The Genetic Legacy of Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens in Extant Europeans: A Y Chromosome Perspective] Ornella Semino "et al"]

Small Neolithic additions can be concerned in occurrences of "Anatolian" haplogroups J2, G, F and E3b1a, the latter presenting a clearly Northeastern African element. [ [ Y-DNA Haplogroup E and its Subclades] ] [ [ The questionable contribution of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age to European craniofacial form] C. Loring Brace] Haplogroup R1a1, whose lineage is thought to have originated in the Eurasian Steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas, is associated with the Kurgan culture, [] as well as with the postglacial Ahrensburg culture which has been suggested to have spread the gene originally.cite journal | last = Passarino | first = G | coauthors = Cavalleri GL, Lin AA, Cavalli-Sforza LL, Borresen-Dale AL, Underhill PA | title = Different genetic components in the Norwegian population revealed by the analysis of mtDNA and Y chromosome polymorphisms | url = | journal = Eur. J. Hum. Genet. | year = 2002 | volume = 10 | issue = 9 | pages = 521–9 | pmid = 12173029 | doi = 10.1038/sj.ejhg.5200834] On the other hand Dupuy and his colleagues proposed the ancestors of Scandinavian men from Haplogroup Hg P*(xR1a) or R1b (Y-DNA) to have brought Ahrensburg "culture" and stressed genetic similarity with Germany. [Dupuy, B. et al. 2006. [ Geographical heterogeneity of Y-chromosomal lineages in Norway] . "Forensic Science International". 164: 10-19.] Ornella Semino et al. propose a postglacial spread of the R1a1 gene from the Ukrainian LGM refuge, subsequently "magnified" by the expansion of the Kurgan culture into Europe and eastward. []

R1a1 is most prevalent in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, and is also observed in Pakistan, India and central Asia. R1a1 is largely confined east of the Vistula gene barrier [ [ Alexander Varzari, 5.2.4] : "... across the history the geographic boundary, dividing Southeast Europe from Eastern Europe was more transparent for the reciprocal flows than the boundary between Eastern and Western Europe."] and drops considerably to the west: R1a1 measurements read 6.2% to Germans (a 4X drop to Czechs and Slovakians reading 26,7%) and 3.7% to Dutch. [ [ European R1a1 measurements] (referred to as M17 or Eu19) in Science vol 290, 10 November 2000] The spread of Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup R1a1 has been associated with the spread of the Indo-European languages too. The mutations that characterize haplogroup R1a occurred ~10,000 years bp. Its defining mutation (M17) occurred about 10,000 to 14,000 years ago.

The present-day population of R1b, with extremely high peaks in Western Europe and measured up to the eastern confines of Central Asia, are believed to be the descendants of a refugium in the Iberian peninsula (Portugal and Spain) at the Last Glacial Maximum, where the haplogroup may have achieved genetic homogeneity. As conditions eased with the Allerød Oscillation in about 12,000 BC, descendants of this group migrated and eventually recolonised all of Western Europe, leading to the dominant position of R1b in variant degrees from Iberia to Scandinavia, so evident in haplogroup maps. The most common subclade is R1b1b2a, that has a maximum in Frisia (the Netherlands). It may have originated towards the end of the last ice age, or perhaps more or less 7000 BC, possibly in the northern European mainland [ [ S21 comment ] ] and a close match of the present–day distribution of S21 and the territorial pattern of the Eastern Corded Ware cultures and the Single Grave cultures has been observed. [ [] A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry: Preliminary Research Concerning Y-Chromosome Marker S28 / U152 - David K. Faux]

Developments in genetics take away much of the edge of the sometimes heated controversies about invasions. While findings confirm that there were population movements both related to the beginning Neolithic and the beginning Bronze Age, corresponding to Renfrew's and Gimbutas's Indo-Europeans, respectively, the genetic record obviously cannot yield any direct information as to the language spoken by these groups. The current interpretation of genetic data suggests a strong genetic continuity in Europe; specifically, studies of mtDNA by Bryan Sykes show that about 80% of the genetic stock of Europeans originated in the Paleolithic, suggesting that languages tend to spread geographically by cultural contact rather than by replacement. Absence of unequivocal indications of underpinning unidirectional population movements, however, fail to settle theories on Indo European language assimilation. [Mallory, 1989 p.254: "Nevertheless, the archeological evidence advanced for the origins of the Corded Ware horizon has, so far, failed to make a thoroughly convincing case for population movements or intrusions, the minimum requirement of our search for the trajectory of the earliest Indo-Europeans."] This notion already gave rise to a new incarnation of the "European hypothesis" suggesting more local continuity, and holding the Indo-European culture to be the result of many local developments that shared certain wide range common ideas.The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology - Timothy Darvill, Oxford University Press, 2004, p101 [] ]


Using stochastic models of word evolution to study the presence/absence of different words across Indo-European, Harvcoltxt|Gray|Atkinson|2003 suggest that the origin of Indo-European goes back about 8500 years, the first split being that of Hittite from the rest (Indo-Hittite hypothesis). Harvcoltxt|Gray|Atkinson|2003 go to great lengths to avoid the problems associated with traditional approaches to glottochronology. However, the calculations of Harvcoltxt|Gray|Atkinson|2003 rely entirely on Swadesh lists, and while the results are quite robust for well attested branches, their calculation of the age of Hittite, which is crucial for the Anatolian claim, rests on a 200 word Swadesh list of one single language and are regarded as contentious. A more recent paper (Atkinson et al., 2005) of 24 mostly ancient languages, including three Anatolian languages, produced the same time estimates and early Anatolian split.

A scenario that could reconcile Renfrew's beliefs with the Kurgan hypothesis suggests that Indo-European migrations are somehow related to the submersion of the northeastern part of the Black Sea around 5600 BC: [As alleged by Ryan and Pitman, in "Noah's Flood : The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History " (1998)] while a splinter group who became the proto-Hittite speakers moved into northeastern Anatolia around 7000 BC, the remaining population would have gone northward, evolving into the Kurgan culture, while others may have escaped far to the northeast (Tocharians) and the southeast (Indo-Iranians). While the time-frame of this scenario is consistent with Renfrew, it is incompatible with his core assumption that Indo-European spread with the advance of agriculture.

Of course, the spreading of IE as a trade language does not need to be based upon a Black Sea deluge. Since the genetic and archaeological evidence, especially in western Europe, shows little support for the Kurgan theory, it may be easier and more scientific to see the spread of Indo-European languages as the spread of a common language among diverse mesolithic groups that permitted entry into the marketplace of ideas and technologies that arrived in the Neolithic period.


ee also

*Proto-Indo-European language
*Comparative linguistics
*List of Indo-European roots
*Armenian hypothesis
*Aryan invasion
*Paleolithic Continuity Theory

External links

* [ Indo-European Roots Index] , from The American Heritage Dictionary
* [ Kurgan culture]
* [ Indo-European Origins in Southeast Europe]

Further reading

* Atkinson, Q. D., Nicholls, G., Welch, D. and Gray, R. D. (2005). From Words to Dates: Water into wine, mathemagic or phylogenetic inference? Transactions of the Philological Society, 103(2), 193-219.
* – [ Scholar search] .
* Renfrew, Colin (1987). "Archaeology & Language. The Puzzle of the Indo-European Origins". London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0-224-02495-7
* Sykes, Brian. The seven daughters of Eve (London, Corgi Books 2001)
* Watkins, Calvert. (1995) How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics. New York: Oxford University Press.

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