A more recent, revised and updated version of this paper has been published (2019)

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Revision as of 18:18, 30 May 2017

There is a long-held assumption, since the kurgan hypothesis was laid out (Gimbutas 1963), that Corded Ware herders had helped spread Indo-European languages into Europe and Asia. This assumption, continued into modern times (Beekes 2011), is not fully explained by recent archaeological research (Anthony 2007; Anthony 2013; Harrison and Heyd 2007; Heyd 2012), and recent findings in ancient human genetics question it on the grounds of a different path for human migration from the steppes.

To reject this old tenet has wide-ranging consequences:

  • The natural trend of Indo-Europeanists to date Indo-European proto-languages all separated at the same time, and usually farther back in time than is warranted by the linguistic evidence (Kortlandt 1990) is challenged, offering a more naturally stepped separation. There is no need to place all known Indo-European branches simultaneously separated in a massive expansion into Corded Ware, Middle Dnieper, Bell Beaker, and Fatyanovo/Abashevo/Sintashta cultures (Anthony 2007; Anthony 2013).
  • Some Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian similarities can be thought of as stemming from a common Corded Ware language substrate, with potential implications for the still prevalent three-dorsal series theory – which seems to be a resilient tradition from the early days of the centum–satem division of Indo-European, and has long been contested with sound linguistic arguments (Lehmann 1952). The association of this language substrate with Proto-Uralic offers an elegant explanation for these developments, and is supported by linguistic, archaeological, and now also ancient genetic data.
  • A shared linguistic unity of Italic, Celtic, Germanic, and probably Balto-Slavic, is likely to have existed, probably slightly earlier than Proto-Indo-Iranian, and both later than a potential Paleo-Balkan community.
  • Pre-Germanic is more likely to have been imported into southern Scandinavia by peoples of mainly R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 lineages (maybe already mixed with I1-M253 lineages), marking the transition to the Nordic Bronze Age. The precise pre-North-West-Indo-European linguistic landscape of Scandinavia is unknown, but the previous arrival and likely expansion of peoples of R1a1a1b-Z645 lineages might have brought with them (Uralic) languages of east Europe, which had probably in turn replaced earlier Neolithic languages (Kroonen 2012).
  • An Italo-Celtic community is compatible with this expansion model, as is their close contact with a Pre-Germanic community, in a period of intense economic exchanges during the Bronze Age.


Anthony, D. 2007. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Anthony, D. W. 2013. Two IE phylogenies, three PIE migrations, and four kinds of steppe pastoralism. Journal of Language Relationship (9):1-21.

Beekes, Robert S.P. 2011. Comparative Indo-European Linguistics. An introduction. 2nd ed. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Gimbutas, Marija. 1963. The Indo-Europeans: Archeological Problems. American Anthropologist 65 (4):815-836.

Harrison, Richard, and Volker Heyd. 2007. The Transformation of Europe in the Third Millennium BC: the example of ‘Le Petit-Chasseur I + III’ (Sion, Valais, Switzerland). Praehistorische Zeitschrift 82 (2).

Heyd, Volker. 2012. Yamnaya gropus and tumuli west of the Black Sea. Travaux de la Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée. Série recherches archéologiques 58 (1):535-555. Kortlandt, Frederik. 1990. The spread of the Indo-Europeans. Journal of Indo-European Studies 18 (2):131-140.

Kroonen, Guus. 2012. Non-Indo-European root nouns in Germanic: Evidence in support of the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis. In A Linguistic Map of Prehistoric Northern Europe, edited by R. Grünthal and P. Kallio. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seura.

Lehmann, W. P. 1952. Proto-Indo-European Phonology. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.