Proto-Indo-Europeans, History of research

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Summary

The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), a reconstructed prehistoric language of Eurasia.

Details

There have been many attempts to identify particular prehistoric cultures with the Proto-Indo-European-speaking peoples, but all have been speculative. Any attempt to identify an actual people with an unattested language depends 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.).

The scholars of the 19th century who first tackled the question of the Indo-Europeans' original homeland (also called Urheimat, from German), 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.

In the early 20th century, the question was associated with the expansion of a supposed "Aryan race". The question is still contentious within some flavours of ethnic nationalism (see also Indigenous Aryans).

A series of major advances occurred in the 1970s due to the convergence of several factors. First, the radiocarbon dating method (invented in 1949) had become sufficiently inexpensive to be applied on a mass scale. Through dendrochronology (tree-ring dating), radiocarbon dates could be calibrated to a much higher degree of accuracy. And finally, before the 1970s, parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia had been off limits to Western scholars, while non-Western archaeologists did not have access to publication in Western peer-reviewed journals. This problem was at least partly addressed by the pioneering work of Marija Gimbutas, assisted by Colin Renfrew, organizing expeditions and arranging for more academic collaboration between Western and non-Western scholars.

The Kurgan hypothesis, currently the most widely held theory, is based on linguistic and archaeological evidence, but is not universally accepted. It suggests PIE origin in the Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Chalcolithic. A minority of scholars prefers the Anatolian hypothesis, suggesting origin in Anatolia during the Neolithic. Other theories (Armenian hypothesis, Out of India theory, Paleolithic Continuity Theory, Balkan hypothesis) have only marginal scientific support.

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External Links

  • WikipediaKurgan culture

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