When in the beginning of the 19th century Rask, Grimm and others discovered the common origin of all Indo-European languages, the natural conclusion was made: Indo-European was once a common Proto-language, spoken by a single nation. When and where was it spoken - this question has been the matter of discussion for two centuries already, and still we not only cannot be sure, but practically each significant linguist introduces his own theory of this.
The reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European language was shaped by Kurilowicz, Meillet, Gamkrelidze & Ivanov, and other famous scientists. The reconstruction of the phonetics, morphology, syntax was so logical, that no other proofs of the existence of the Proto-speech are needed. Although we do not have any historical signs of this language, no documents, inscriptions or mentionings in ancient literature, we can be quite sure that there was some language common for all Indo-Europeans. The problem of the historical homeland is much more difficult, and leads the list of problems discussed by all European historians, linguists, archaeologists in the latest two hundred years.
In the 2nd millennium BC, according to historical evidence, Indo-Europeans already lived separately from each other and spoke different languages. As it is easily seen in the Indo-European Chronology, the first documents written in single Indo-European languages, appear around 1900 BC (Hittite), 1600 BC (Aryan), 1400 BC (Mycenaean Greek). So we should refer at least to the 3rd millennium BC searching for the Indo-European community, and maybe even further, because at the time Hittites and Greeks discover writing, their language systems already bear a great lot of differences, which could be generated only during several centuries, not less.
That is why Indo-Europeanists usually look deeper in time, going to the 3rd or the 4th millennium BC in search for Proto-Indo-Europeans. But again the theories about the exact time when the community broke up, vary.
Last century scholars thought like this: "Where do Indo-Europeans live now? Mostly in Europe, some in India. So Europe is the most probable place for their common origin." This version, supported by many well known linguists in the previous century, is as logical as incorrect, for it ignores the archaeological, historical, biological, linguistic background and remains only a logical conclusion.
Gradually scientists in Europe realized that is would be wiser to consider this matter with the help of all possible research; and since then, linguists, archaeologists, ethnologists, historians and representatives of many other scientific disciplines prefer to work together on the issue.
We are going to describe here several most popular theories of the Indo-European
homeland, with all arguments supporting them and all names of scientists
who agreed with them. Unfortunately, we are not aware which of them is
the truth, so everyone can see, value and choose the most likely one.
§ 2. Theories of the 19th century.
The "European theory" according to which the Indo-Europeans always lived somewhere in the center of Europe (Southern Germany, the Alps, Eastern France), could not stand the critics. Archaeology discovered great changes in Europe in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. These changes affected different sides of the economy, material culture, ethnic situation on the continent, and so in about 3200 BC Europe looked quite different from the previous millennium. A number of completely new ethnic and cultural communities were formed, and today's archaeology cannot call them the descendants of the previous European cultures.
It is natural that this fact was already in the 19th century connected with the coming of a new migration wave - Indo-Europeans. The evidently important role of the cattle breeding in the Indo-European society also witness in favour of the 43rd millennium as the date of their arrival in Europe.
This means at least that Proto-Indo-Europeans did not live in Western or Central Europe, but came there later, being already diversified. In the middle of the 19th century scientists turn to the East. The first who stated the Proto-Indo-European was spoken in Asia was A.Pickte whose theory placed the Proto-people between the Gindukush mountains, the Ox river (today's Amudarya) and the Caspian. This region, Bactria, is mentioned in the Vedic texts as the homeland of Aryans, who were long considered as the most ancient Indo-European nation.
R.Latham was the first to argue with the Asiatic homeland theory (the sixties of the 19th century). As Latham was convinced, it should be searched again in Europe, where the majority of Indo-European speakers are situated. Though Latham's view was not supported by any significant proofs, he was supported by W.Benfey, according to whom the Indo-European languages do not have common names for Asiatic animals (lion, tiger, camel), and therefore these animals were unknown to the Proto-language. But this argument was doomed to failure - even then it was obvious that an incidental lack of some word or term in some language cannot be introduced as a proof to a scientific theory. Still another "Europeanist", L.Lindeschmidt, appeared with a statement that Indo-Europeans migrate always to the east and to the south - all the time in the same direction, both in prehistoric and in historical times.
As for F.Spigel, Eastern Europe seemed the most suitable place for Proto-Indo-Europeans; its mild climate and fertile lands make its population grow fast and therefore migrate over the continent. Spigel's merit was his idea of the "boundary" areas where languages and nations mix and borrow features from each other. Since then, it became clear that no exact borders between ancient languages and ethnic groups can be stated.
Gradually Eastern Europe became very popular as the possible IndoEuropean homeland among the 19th century linguists and historians. In the 2nd half of the century the theory comes out about the steppes north to the Black Sea, from the Danube mouth to the Caspian (Benfey, Hommel).
So, the whole century was full of hypothesis about the origin of ancient
Indo-Europeans. Actually, the next, 20th century did not differ much in
it. One of the most important methodological disadvantages of theories
introduced in the previous century, was the following: scientists usually
chose one exact feature in linguistics or archaeology and called it strictly
Indo-European; automatically all cultures and languages which possessed
this feature were considered as Indo-European ones. For instance, in the
beginning of the 20th century the "cord pottery" was proclaimed exactly
an Indo-European development, and respectively all cultures which used
it were declared Indo-European. However, it remained unclear, what to do
for example with Greek cultures which show no cord pottery and use quite
different types of it right up to the 1st millennium BC. Hittites and other
Indo-Europeans in the Near East also used different types of pottery.
§ 3. Theories of the 20th century.
Only in the forties this century it was stated that there was little connection between the archaeological culture, anthropological type and the language of the nation.
In the 50s the breakthrough in the research work began. It was caused first of all by extensive studies of archaeology, and by the emerging of the comparative linguistics. Since then, all scientific disciplines worked together on the issue, and more correct results started appearing. Due contacts with other science branches - paleogeography, paleozoology, biology - also help the research. One typical illustration: Vedic asi- and Avestan anhu- are believed to originate from Proto-Indo-European *ansis with the meaning 'an iron sword'. But the archaeological data proves this stem neither common Indo-European, nor even common Indo-Iranian, because iron working was invented and spread not earlier than in the 9th century BC, when there was no Indo-European community already, and even Indo-Iranian languages were separated.
During the latest decades scientists managed to achieve a common answer on the question 'when?', and now the Proto-Indo-European period is considered to have existed in the 5th and the 4th millennium BC, or, the latest, until 3000 BC. After that the community begins to break up.
The lexical composition of Indo-European languages is a good subject of comparative studies, and it appeared that we can learn much about the ancient Proto-people just studying the languages of the family. A number of common Indo-European terms show that cattle breeding was the most important of occupations among Proto-Indo-Europeans, who used horses, cattle, swine, goats. Terms connected with cultivation of land also make a rather large number. T.Gamkrelidze and V.Ivanov in their fundamental book suppose that the terrain of the homeland must have been mountainous, for all Indo-European tongues produce quite a lot of common words meaning mountains and hills. Among the names of plants, trees and animals one can meet both those which are found in Europe and those which are found only in the Middle East (trees: birch, oak, beech, hornbeam; animals: lion, bear, wolf, jackal, fox, elk, snake, mouse, beaver; birds: eagle, goose, crane). Proto-Indo-Europeans according to language data were aware of the existence of the sea, and used ships to sail over it.
All that helped the research very much, but still the matter is under discussion. Still another discipline which studies the issue is the comparison of Indo-European and other language families. Linguists already in the previous century tried to find common roots in Indo-European and Semitic languages, and not just words of common origin, but the loanwords, to show that some contacts took place between Proto-IE and Proto-Semitic peoples. They were a success, and today more than 20 words are found which can be a proof of ancient close language contacts between ethnic groups before they moved from their homelands. Among them, linguistics name IE *tauro- and Semitic *tawr- (a bull), IE *ghaid- (a goat) and Semitic *gadj- (a goat cub) etc. The same borrowed lexics were borrowed by Indo-Europeans from other Afroasiatic, Caucasian, Urartian, Hurrian, Sumerian languages. Building on this, Gamkrelidze and Ivanov believe that the Indo-European homeland lay in Northern Mesopotamia, between the Caucasus and Anatolia, in what is now Kurdistan and Armenia.
This hypothesis remains one of the strongest, though it faces many objections. For example, both linguists failed to find any archaeological culture in the area which suited the linguistic data of what Indo-Europeans looked like in the period. Moreover, the theory of Eastern Europe as the probable homeland site is still popular, and really has many grounds. In the region of South Russian steppes north to the Black Sea the climate conditions fit well the information provided by comparative linguistics. Traces of very ancient onomastics and hydronymics are found here, so this version is worth studying as well; it was supported by such famous linguists as Gornung, Devoto, Georgiev and others.
Among other versions (see the map) the Balkans, the Volga region, Asia
Minor and even Palestine are suggested. Each linguist gives his proofs,
each provides rich spectrum of proofs, and still it is up to the audience
to decide which place in Eurasia was really the homeland of ancient and
See in the next issue:
- Indo-European migration paths:
why Aryans came to India?
why Celts arrived in Europe?
why Tocharians chose Central Asia?