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


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Late PIE and the Caucasus

The Uruk expansion in Mesopotamia after about 3700 BC intensified during the late Uruk period ca. 3350-3100 BC, and its expansion reached toward the gold, silver, and copper sources in the Caucasus Mountains. The Maykop culture of rich chieftains’ graves with Mesopotamian ornaments developed from this trade network in the North Caucasus Piedmont. A western and probably also a later eastern southern routes, through the shores of the Black and Caspian seas respectively, have been proposed[Anthony 2007].

Steppe-Caucasian trade is supported by Maykop imports found in the north Pontic steppe from the Dniester to the lower Volga in the east, but no Caucasian imports have been found in the Volga-Ural region. Late Maykop peoples – most likely speaking languages ancestral to modern Caucasian languages – probably interacted with individuals from Repin and late Khvalynsk cultures, and the contact was most direct on the lower Don.

Late Maykop graves incorporated carved stone stelae like those of western Yamna. The trading of drugs, wool, and horses has been proposed as main steppe imports into Maykop[Anthony 2007].

It is probably during these times of expansion that admixture in the Middle East was levelled: western Iran had wide impact on Levantine populations in the south and on north-west Anatolians in the west; and the population of eastern Iran and the Caucasus was also composed of the same ancestral components, albeit in slightly different proportions.

Horse trade – including wheels, carts, and the possibility of a quicker transport of metals into Uruk – is proof of an indirect contact between steppe herders and Mesopotamia. The association of exported domesticated horses with experienced breeders and riders of the lower Don offers a solid framework to support the hypothesis of the presence of Late-Indo-European-speaking peoples in Mesopotamia, and thus allow for IE borrowings in Sumerian[Sahala 2009-2013].

The condition of North-West Indo-European as an Euphratic superstratum of Sumerian[Whittaker 2008][Whittaker 2012] would require a more detailed explanation of internal and external influence, and reasons for potential language replacement and expansion in Mesopotamia.

eneolithic_steppe.jpg Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC (detail of the Caucasus and neighbouring regions) [Anthony 2007][Szmyt 2013][Piezonka 2015], Uni-Köln.


  • [Anthony 2007] ^ 1 2 3 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.
  • [Piezonka 2015] ^ Piezonka, Henny. 2015. Older than the farmers' pots? Hunter-gatherer ceramics east of the Baltic Sea. In The Dąbki Site in Pomerania and the Neolithisation of the North European Lowlands (c. 5000-3000 calBC), edited by J. Kabaciński, S. Hatz, R. D. C. M. and T. Terberger. Rahden/Westf.: Marie Leidorf.
  • [Sahala 2009-2013] ^ Sahala, Aleksi. 2009-2013. Sumero-Indo-European language contacts. University of Helsinki.
  • [Szmyt 2013] ^ Szmyt, Marzena. 2013. The circulation of People and Ideas in the Baltic and Pontic Areas during 3rd millennium BC.
  • [Whittaker 2008] ^ Whittaker, Gordon. 2008. The Case for Euphratic. Bull. Georg. Natl. Acad. Sci. 2 (3):156-168.
  • [Whittaker 2012] ^ Whittaker, Gordon. 2012. Euphratic: A phonological sketch. In The Sound of Indo-European: Phonetics, Phonemics, and Morphophonemics, edited by B. N. Whitehead, T. Olander, B. A. Olsen and J. E. Rasmussen. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.