29 Nov Indo-European homeland and migrations
Indo-European homeland and migrations: half a century of studies and discussions
Tamaz V. Gamkrelidze & Vyacheslav V. Ivanov
The problem of the initial place from which the original Indo- European dialects spread over Eurasia has been studied by several generations of scholars. Few alternative points of view have been proposed: first an area near the North Sea (in the works of some scholars of the border of the 19th and 20th centuries), then the North coast of the Black Sea (an old idea of Schrader revived by Maria Gimbutas and her followers) or an area closer to the more eastern (Volga-Ural) parts of Central Eurasia. 40 years ago we suggested first in a talk at a conference, then in a series of articles and in a resulting book (published in Russian in 1984) that the Northern part of the Near East (an area close to North-East Syria and North Mesopotamia) may be considered as a possible candidate for the Indo-European homeland; similar suggestions were made by C. Renfrew and other scholars in their later works.
Recent research on these topics has brought up additional evidence that seems to prove the Near Eastern hypothesis for the time that had immediately preceded the dispersal of the Indo-European protolanguage. Indirect evidence on the early presence of Indo-Europeans in the areas close to the Near East can be found in the traces of ancient contacts between linguistic families in this part of Eurasia. Such contacts between Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Kartvelian have been suggested in the work of T. Gamkrelidze and G. Mach’avariani more than 60 years ago. The following studies have established a number of important loanwords from Proto-Indo-European in Proto-Kartvelian. Particularly interesting discoveries in this field were made by the late G. A. Klimov. He has found many new common elements of the two families in addition to a relatively long list in our joint work. The main difficulty in interpreting the results of his investigations is connected to the problem of a possible common Nostratic origin both of Proto-Indo-European and of Proto-Kartvelian. If these two linguistic families were originally cognate, then some part of the correspondences found by Klimov and other scholars might be traced back to the early period of Proto-Nostratic (more than 10 000 years ago). Only those words that were not inherited from this ancient time are important as a proof of the later presence of Proto-Indo-European in the area close to the Proto-Kartvelian (to the southwest of the Transcaucasian area in which the latter spread in the historic time).
In our book, published in 1984, we suggested some common terms shared by these languages, explaining them as possible traces of later Indo-European (probably Indo-Iranian) migrations through the Caucasus. The study of this problem has been enriched through the recent research on Proto-North Caucasian. S. L. Nikolaev and S. A. Starostin have compiled a large etymological dictionary of this family, furthering the comparative studies started by Prince N. S. Trubetzkoy. Starostin has gathered a large collection of the terms of material culture common to North Caucasian and Indo-European. They include many names of domestic animals and animal body parts or products of cattle-breeding, plants and implements. In a special work on this subject Starostin suggested that all these terms were borrowed in the area of the Near East to the South of Transcaucasia in the early 5th mil. BC.
Although we still use the traditional term “North Caucasian”, it is not geographically correct even if applied to such living languages as Abkhaz and to the extinct Ubykh (spoken originally at the southern part of the South-West Transcaucasian area). Since both Hurro-Urartian and Hattic (two ancient dialects of this linguistic group) were spoken in the regions to the South of Transcaucasia already in the 3rd mil. BC, it becomes possible to pinpoint the homeland of the whole family (which at that time was not North Caucasian) in the same area close to the supposed Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Kartvelian homelands. The fricative š in the Hurrian name for ‘horse’, eššə, and an affricate *č (> š) in the forms of the other North Caucasian dialects correspond to the Proto-Indo-European palatal stop *k’ that has become an affricate *č and then a fricative š /s in the Indo-European languages of the satəm type. Similar changes are present in the other borrowings discussed by Starostin. He supposed that the common words discovered by him were mostly borrowed from Proto-North Caucasian (or from a dialect of it) into Proto-Indo-European. The opposite direction of borrowing from an Indo-European dialect of a satəm type can be suggested due to the typologically valid laws of sound change. But no matter which direction of the borrowing should be chosen, the existence of these loanwords is beyond doubt. They clearly point to the location of the Indo-European homeland. In our monograph we suggested that several words shared by Semitic and Indo-European (such as the ancient term for ‘wine’, Hittite wiyana) can be considered Proto-Indo-European borrowings (as distinct from the rest of the most ancient old Semitic or Afro-Asiatic loanwords in Proto-Indo-European). S. A. Starostin suggested that a large number of (mainly West) Semitic words that did not have correspondences in the other Afro-Asiatic languages had been borrowed from Proto-Indo-European. He came to the conclusion: “the original Indo-European (Indo-Hittite) homeland was somewhere to the North of the Fertile Crescent from where the descendents of Indo-Hittites could have moved in two directions (starting with early 5th millennium BC) to the South where they came into the contact with the Semites, and indeed could have driven a part of them further to the South, and to the North (North-East) whence they ultimately spread both to Europe and to India”. The interference of the early dialects of Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Semitic and Proto-Kartvelian to which the early Proto-“North” Caucasian can be added might have led to the formation of a sort of linguistic zone (Sprachbund) that not only shared many words pertaining to a new farming economy, but also had several phonological and grammatical features in common. After we had published our hypothesis on the Near Eastern homeland of the Indo-Europeans, several scholars asked us why, at a time when writing had already been invented, there were no written documents testifying to the presence of Indo-Europeans in these areas. It seems that now there are several possible answers to the question.
The great specialist on Iranian, W. B. Henning, who had worked for many years on the problem of the name of Tocharians, suggested in a posthumous article that their early ancestors were Gutians who had invaded Mesopotamia in ca. 2350—2200 BC. In an article written after we had already published our book, we have developed Henning’s idea (based mainly on the etymological links of Near Eastern Guti and Tukri and Central Asian names of corresponding Indo-European Kuchean and Tocharian ethnic groups), also paying attention to the possible explanation of some names of Gutian kings preserved in Sumerian texts. Recently it has been suggested that an unknown “Pre-Sumerian” language, reconstructed on the basis of the phonetic values of many cuneiform signs, was an archaic “Euphratic” Indo-European dialect spoken in Southern Mesopotamia in the second half of the 4th mil. BC. According to this hypothesis, the phonetic values of approximately one hundred of the early signs that are different from the Sumerian ones go back to the Euphratic words. A large number of Anatolian personal names (of a very archaic Indo-European type) have been found in the Old Assyrian texts from trade colonies in Asia Minor. The continuation of the excavations in Kanish that have yielded more than 23000 cuneiform tablets has made it possible to discover in them many Anatolian Indo-European names and loanwords. The Old Assyrian documents in Kanish are encountered in the archaeological levels II and Ib dated by the first centuries of the 2nd mil. BC (on the base of the recently found lists of eponyms); they precede Old Hittite texts for ca. 250 years.
At that time the two Anatolian groups of dialects — a Northern (Hittite) one, displaying centum dialect features, and a Southern (Luwian), partly similar to the satəm languages — were already quite distinct. From the very beginning, the idea of the Indo-European homeland in the Near East was connected to the discovery of a possible link between the appearance of speakers of Indo-European dialects in Europe and the spread of the new farming technology. This trend of thought has been developed in the archeological works of Sir Colin Renfrew. Subsequent attempts to support this hypothetical connection were made by comparing genetic data on the time and space characteristics of the European population. The farming terms common to Indo-European and other linguistic families discussed above show that the innovations were not restricted to one group of languages and were transmitted and exchanged between different ethnic formations. The area of the interference of these families coincides with the kernel of the rising farming in the Near East.
That process of global (multilingual and multicultural) change had led to the diffusion of the results of the Neolithic revolution. The main directions of this diffusion coincide with the trends of the Indo-European migrations, but the new objects might have been introduced earlier than some of their Indo-European names and the latter might precede the coming of those who coined the terms. The spread of Near Eastern innovations in Europe roughly coincides with the split of Proto-Indo-European (possibly in the early 5th mil. BC), but some elements of the new technology and economy might have penetrated it much earlier (partly through the farmers close to the Tyrrhenian population as represented 5300 years ago by the genome of the Tyrolean Iceman). The diffusion took several thousand years and was probably already all over Europe ca. 3550 BC. At that time Indo-European migrations were only beginning. The speakers of the dialects of Proto-Indo-European living near the kernel of the technological revolution in Anatolia should have acquired the main results of this development. The growth of farming economy in Europe became more active with the split of the proto-language and the dispersal of the Indo-Europeans. The astonishing scope and speed of that process were afforded by the use of the domesticated horse and wheeled vehicles. The Indo-Europeans did not have to be pioneers in this field, but they were probably skillful in spreading other peoples’ innovations. Recent work on the Botai culture of North Kazakhstan makes it possible to suppose a contribution of the Proto-Yeniseian people to the development of horse domestication. For approximately fifteen hundred years serious preparatory work on horse domestication and the use of wheeled vehicles had been going on in different parts of Eurasia. Then, almost suddenly, the results are witnessed.
On the border of the 3rd and 2nd mil. BC both of these important innovations appear together, usually in a context implying the presence of Indo-Europeans: traces of Near East-type chariots and the ritual use of the horse are clear in (probably Ancient Iranian) Margiana (Gonur), we see chariots on the Anatolian type of seals in Kanish; Hurrian sculptures and other symbols of horse abound in Urkeš as if foretelling the future Mespotamian-Aryan and Hurrian excellent training of horses in Mitanni (as later in Urartu). One of the first examples of the sacrificial horses used together with chariots in an archaic ritual was found in Sintashta; the following studies of the cities of the Transuralian Sintashta-Arkaim area made it clear that some Indo-European (and maybe Iranian as well) elements were at least partly present there. The movement of Indo-Europeans to the north of the Caspian Sea in the northeast direction documented in the Sintashta-Arkaim complex led them much farther to the Altai-Sayany area where recent genetic investigations found traces of a Caucasoid element. Another Indo-European group moving in a parallel eastward direction using the South Silk Road caused the presence of a similar anthropological group among the population of Central Asia. It may be supposed that the Caucasoid anthropological type of the Iranian and/or Tocharian population of Eastern Turkestan, attested in the mummies recently found there as well as in the contemporary images of the native people, should be considered as the result of these migrations from the West to the East.
The problem whether the boats played a role comparable to that of chariots at the time of early migrations is still to be decided by maritime archaeology. It seems that before the efficient use of chariots and horses, long-term mass movements were hardly possible. The first changes in the geographical position of separate dialects, e.g. when the Anatolians separated the Greeks from the rest of the East Indo-European group (that included the Armenians and Indo-Iranians), were caused by rather small-scale migrations close to the original homeland in the Near East.
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