In 4000 BC, Indo-European was spoken somewhere, but its location is very
Central Europe at the beginning of the 4th Millenium BC
Broadly speaking, three major economic lifestyles were in
competition in Central Europe during the 5th Millenium BC. These
- Cereal farmers (called Linear Ware or Long House after its
pottery and architectural styles) who had inhabited the Danube
and Rhine basins since the late 6th millenium, using slash/burn
techniques to replace forest with farmland. (Linear Ware is
considered sibling to the earlier Impresso culture in the
Mediterranean area. Linear Ware farmers apparently practiced
crop rotation and animal herding for manure fertilization, but
use of the plow probably came 2500 years later.)
- Stockbreeders of the east European steppes. These people are
called Kurgans, after the Russian name for their burial mounds.
In various theories this culture may be derived from pig farmers
to the West (Bug-Dniester ca 6000 BC) sibling to the Danubian
farmers, hunters from the Baltic area to the North, or ancient
farmers and goat herders from across the Caucasus Mountains to
- Pre-neolithic people who engaged in hunting, gathering and
fishing. These were called the ``Megalithic'' (Big Stone) people
because they were entering an advanced phase with spectacular
artifacts leading eventually, for example, to Stonehenge. Though
shown in the North on the map, these people were also present in
forests throughout Europe (and obviously in hostile competition
with the forest-clearing farmers).
This was the era of the ``Secondary Products Revolution'' with
inventions like cheese, leather, beer, and, most notably, the
wheeled wagon. (Cast copper axles have been discovered near the
Cucuteni dominion dated to the 5th millenium BC; and Kurgans are
known to have bridled horses for riding by 4000 BC.)
By 4000 BC, three mixed-farming (dairy) cultures were in
competition in East Central Europe; these were
- Tripolye (and Cucuteni), a branch of the Danubian Linear-Ware
farmers who, however, did not practice cereal farming, but
rather had an economy based on orchards, cows, sheep, and pigs.
- Sredny Stog (and Kemi-Oba), branches of the Kurgan breeders
whose economy featured horses, cows, goats, barley, and animal
byproducts like leather.
- TRB/Funnel Beaker, believed to be a branch of the Erteboelle
Hunters, who began to build primitive villages and adopt some of
the economic ideas of their neighbors, including barley and
There is no universal agreement on which of these three groups
provided the proto-Indo-European language, and you can find sober
scientists guessing that Indo-European was spoken by any combination
of these groups, including none or all three!
Although all three of these groups -- Tripolye, Sredny Stog, and
Funnel Beaker -- could be described as ``early dairy farmers;'' in
fact the cultures were quite distinct: Tripolye was an organized
village society with egalitarian matriarchal customs; Sredny Stog
was a semi-nomadic patriarchal society which stressed
individualistm; the haphazard lifestyle of Funnel Beaker villagers
betrays their recent development from unsettled foragers.
(Cereal farming stresses patience, while stockbreeding requires
physical strength -- this may explain why domesticating large
animals changes a matriarchal society to patriarchal. Furthermore,
the contrast between land-fixed self-growing crops and mobile
animals needing to be tended, may help predict whether ancient
economics will be based on communal or individual property rights.)
The geographical placements on the map are only approximate.
Moreover there was overlap: Kurgan tombs from this era are found as
far West as Czechoslovakia, while Tripolye had settlements in
central Ukraine. Finally, the indicated cultures are only roughly
contemporaneous: Lengyel was 5th milleniums, and TRB/Funnel Beaker
mainly 4th millenium.
With sophisticated mining, smelting and casting, this era might
be called the ``Advanced Copper Age.'' There were metallurgical
centers in the Karanovo area in the Balkans, as well as in
West-Central Asian areas accessible to Kurgan traders, and the
Carpathian Mountains, situated roughly at the central point between
the three competing dairy cultural styles, was a rich source of
But, although the Bronze Age would begin to emerge 1000 years
later, archaeological evidence suggests that by 4000 BC the Balkan
metal industry was entering a ``Dark Age'' lasting several
centuries. Was this apparent conflict related to competition by the
competing dairy cultures being played out in the fertile Danube
Basin just to the North of the Balkans?
A thousand years later, new cultures have emerged, and the
locations of Indo-European branches can be inferred. (It is good to
remember that there was rapid change even in prehistoric times --
Europe's population may have tripled between 4000 and 3000 BC,
although both dates fall in the ``Late Neolithic.'')
Central Europe at the beginning of the 3rd Millenium BC
Again dates and places are approximate: The Bell Beaker culture
emerged about 900 years after Globular Amphora.
Although Indo-European languages do not enter the historical
record until the 2nd millenium BC, there is wide agreement about
Indo-European geography in 3000 BC. Most supporters of both the
Gimbutas Kurgan Theory and Danubist or Anatolian hypotheses would
agree that Usatovo culture can be tentatively identified with the
first speakers of proto-Greek, and both theories usually identify
Tocharian with the Afanasievo culture far to the East in Asia.
Similarly the identifications of Indo-Iranian with Yamnaya,
Balto-Slavic with Battle Axe, and Germanic with Corded Ware (see
below) are not controversial. Most of the other identifications
shown in the map might also be tentatively accepted by theorists on
both sides of the Kurgan-Danubian debate.
In other words, many would agree that the Balkan-Pontic area of
the 5th or 4th millenium BC was a locus for early Indo-European
expansion; the debate is whether Tripolye ``converted'' the Kurgans
to speak I-E, or vice versa! For most experts, the signs of Kurgan
culture among the early Indo-European speakers are unmistakable. As
just one example, the warrior heroes in Homer's Iliad are
buried in Kurgans (though of course Homer doesn't use that Russian
Did Indo-European Language Originate with the Kurgan People?
Proto-Indo-European has been reconstructed and shown to contain
many words related to horses and stockbreeding. The word kwe-kwlo
(cognate of wheel and cyclos) is reconstructed for the wheel, but in
all theories besides Gimbutas', proto-Indo-European had already
separated into its branches before the wheel was invented.
Opponents of Gimbutas' theory of Indo-European origin base their
case on five assumptions:
- The Kurgan culture is not the sort of giant advance needed to
explain language replacement.
- The language of the Danubian Linear-Ware culture and related
cultures like Tripolye dominated Europe for about two millenia,
and couldn't have disappeared without a trace.
- Expansion circa 4000 BC is too late to explain the diversity
among Indo-European branches.
- The similarities among Indo-European cultures are the result
of coincidental, parallel developments.
- kwe-kwlo meant ``rotate'' and different peoples
independently adapted their versions of the word to denote
Let me answer these ``charges'' one by one:
- The language of the Kurgan horse-riders did expand. All
scholars (except the so-called Indocentric crackpots) admit that
Indo-Iranian was a Kurgan language, and that the languages of
northern India have been replaced by Indo-Aryan, even though
there is no evidence of a major invasion. And it does seem
suggestive that Middle-Easterners were using Indo-Aryan words to
describe horse-riding, even before Indic makes any other
- Language replacement is common. The pre-Roman languages of
Spain and France quickly disappeared (except for Basque); the
Negrito languages of the Philippines have disappeared; Pictish
was dominant in northern Britain during Roman times but hardly a
word of it is known today.
- To the contrary, similarities among the earliest recorded
Indo-European languages (Hittite, Homeric Greek, Sanskrit,
Latin, Old Irish) are about what one would expect if they had
diverged just a few millenia earlier. Today's Lithuanians can
make some sense of Sanskrit, which would probably be impossible
if these languages had diverged before 5000 BC. Anyway, don't
overlook that liturgies and written records serve as a brake on
language change, so languages evolved much more rapidly in
- Archaeologoists gasped in surprise when they unearthed
Tocharian clothing that looked just like Old Irish clothing
thousands of miles to the west. The ancient Indic
horse-sacrificing ritual of asvamedha has detailed
similarities to the horse-sacrificing rituals of the ancient
Romans and Irish; even the compound word asvamedha
appears to be directly inherited from a proto-Indo-European word
- kwe-kwlo survives in many branches of Indo-European so
must have been a basic vocabulary item, a common word used
everyday. Primitive peoples didn't speak of ``rotation'' much
before they invented the wheel.
Finally, the genetic language tree of Indo-European would have a
different structure if Celtic and Italic were spoken in Central
Europe before the Kurgan intrusions. I try to explain
that on a separate page, but briefly:
- All sensible theories agree that Indo-Iranian was a
Kurgan language, i.e. the Andronovo descendants of
Yamnaya/Pit-Grave. If this were an adopted language, one would
expect major changes; instead phonology and grammar of this
branch closely follows proto-Indo-European.
- West European languages like Italic and Celtic
are non-Kurgan in any anti-Gimbutas theory. Thus the I-E tree
would involve two major branches: Western and Kurgan.
- The Afansievo culture (sibling to Yamnaya) is the only logical
candidate for proto-Tocharian. A Balkan or Danubian
(non-Kurgan) origin of Afansievo is farfetched.
- Were the (controversially lumped) Greek-Phrygo-Armenian
languages derived from Kurgan or not? In other case, these
languages (and Tocharian) would be either in the Western branch
or the Kurgan branch of I-E. Instead they form co-equal
branches, with micro-tree structure best modeled (cf. Ringe) as
westward Kurgan migrations (with the Centum-Satem shift in
Yamnaya occurring after Greek separated).
Balto-Slavic/Germanic Equals Battle-Axe/Corded-Ware
Baltic Axe and Corded Ware were sibling cultures, and some
scientists do not distinguish the two. Yet, Baltic seems to be the
Indo-European branch which most closely preserves the prehistoric
proto-Indo-European language, while Germanic has undergone major
changes in grammar, phonology, and lexicon.
While the position of Germanic in the Indo-European tree is
controversial, it has close affinities to Baltic and Slavic, and
many theorists speak of a ``Germano-Balto-Slavic branch.'' Yet the
single most important ``split'' in Indo-European is the Centum/Satem
divide; Baltic and Slavic are Satem languages while Germanic is
Centum like Italic.
Do the prehistories of Battle-Axe/Corded-Ware culture and the
early Germano-Balto-Slavic language shed light on each other?
The reason Baltic preserves ancient Indo-European most closely is
that before the Battle-Axe culture emerged, the only non-Kurgan
people in the Baltic area was a small population of hunter/fishers:
there was no need for proto-Balto-Slavic to absorb an indigeneous
language. The Corded-Ware invaders into present-day Germany,
however, encountered the entrenched Funnel-Beaker Folk, who resisted
Corded-Ware culture for several centuries. Germanic evolved as a
hybrid language, with elements of
- proto-Balto-Slavic, the language of the Baltic Battle-Axe
- an Indo-European dialect, probably sibling to proto-Italic,
derived from an earlier Kurgan-derived intrusion (e.g. Globular
Amphora or Baden culture),
- the indigenous non-Indo-European languages of the
Funnel-Beaker and Erteboelle cultures.
The very name ``Corded-Ware'' provides a strong affirmation of
the Gimbutas Theory. This refers to leather cords which were added
to pottery as ornaments. (Anti-Gimbutists don't like to admit it but
before the advent of Corded-Ware, the Kurgan people were
applying cord ornaments to pottery.) The relationship between cord
and ornament is preserved in Germanic languages! Consider two
cognates in Dutch:
by James D. Allen
- touw -- cord
- tooi -- ornament