Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Brief History of Prehistoric Europe


A rush of new abstracts of genetics papers were released last week at a major academic conference, and before posting about them, it is really time to take a step back and recap the broad outlines of what we believe we know about prehistoric Europe to put those discoveries in a context in which the papers, which often make predictions based on modern and/or ancient populations genetics about the timing of the geographic and demographic expansions of historical linguistic proto-populations.

In my view, these new genetic data points must ultimately be fit to the more concrete, more direct and more accurately dated and characterized archaeological evidence of radiographically and deposit stratum dates relics and remains.

This post  outlines the history of prehistoric West Eurasia with a particular eye towards the phenomena of Indo-European language expansion prior to the Medieveal period. Ultimately, this post concludes when the main subfamilies of the Indo-European languages in Europe and South Asia are in place sometime in the Iron Age, with some footnotes on some of the later linguistic developments in Europe.

Very little of Europe was part of the Indo-European language family at the dawn of the Bronze Age, but by the end of the Iron Age that followed, the Indo-European language family had experienced most of its ultimate expansion in geographic range.  It has also exterminated almost all of Europe's other languages as well as many relatively basal branches of the Indo-European language family itself in Europe.  Most of the later expansions and migrations of Indo-European language speaking peoples, prior to the era of European colonial empires, would be into areas where other Indo-European languages were already spoken.

Twenty-five centuries later after the Indo-European languages began to experience this massive expansion, the only non-Indo-European languages left in Europe by the end of the first century of the current era (i.e. AD aka CE) at the height of the Roman Empire were Basque (in Northern Spain and Southwestern France), the Finno-Uralic languages of Finland and other parts of far Northeastern Europe and North Central Asia, and the various language families of the Caucasus Mountains that form one of the boundaries between Europe and Asia (together with the Ural Mountains, and various bodies of water).  All other non-Indo-European languages now spoken in Europe arrived in the Medieval period.

Almost all of the non-Indo-European and non-Semitic languages of Western Asia were also extinct by then.  The Sumerian language of Mesopotamia, the language of the Harappans, and all of the ever attested non-Indo-European languages of Anatolia and the Zargos Mountains such as Hattic, Hurrian, Kassite, Elamite, and at least one other lost non-Indo-European language family spoken between the Kassite and Elamite linguistic regions in the Zargos Mountains were extinct or moribund by then.

The non-Latin Celtic and Italic languages of Continental Europe were extinct or moribund, although some of the Celtic languages lived on in the British Isles.  The Anatolian languages were also all extinct or moribund by then, as were many of the Indo-European Aegean languages.

This post fits known archaeological cultures whose ages and geographic extend are largely established to particular hypothesized language family affiliations. This post states what is my most likely hypothesis without spelling out in detail the degree of uncertainty with each component of the hypothesis.  But, some of the points are definitely less certain than others.  The short sketch of the Indo-European speaking people's expansion in time and space from a proto-language that I have provided starts with the language spoken by the Yamna people on the Pontic steppe, arguably the last point in time at during which there was a single proto-Indo-European languages spoken in a geographically compact area.  This analysis largely tracks the leading Kurgan hypothesis regarding this process.

An Big Picture Outline of The Main Eras Of Early European Prehistory

The Paleolithic Era

The first hominins to leave Africa, Homo Erectus, evolved in Africa around 2 million years ago and had spread as far as the island of Java in Indonesia by about 1,800,000 years ago.

Neanderthals, the prior hominin residents of Europe and West Asia became distinct from earlier hominins in Europe or Africa around 500,000 to 750,000 years ago.  Neanderthals probably share a branch of the tree of life of the genus homo called Homo Heidelbergus with modern humans that originated in Europe or Africa that broke away from Homo Erectus after Homo Erectus left Africa.  Neanderthals had a range that included all but the coldest parts of Europe, Pakistan, some of India and Central Asia.  It isn't entirely clear to what extent Neanderthals were present in high alpine environments.

Archaeological evidence from the interior of Arabia and Israel place the earliest modern humans to leave Africa, who are the primary source of genetic ancestry for all people who lack African descent in the last five hundred years or so, starting around 100,000 to 125,000 years ago from a population whose civilization in called the Nuba complex in the Nile River Basin until about 80,000 to 75,000 years ago, after which there was a roughly twenty-five thousand year long period of discontinuity in the places where remains of anatomically modern humans first left Africa.  Most modern human Neanderthal admixture today in non-Africans appears to have its origins in this era of non-African prehistory rather than the thousands of years of co-existence in rough geographical proximity to each other that followed.

The reappearance of signs that modern humans lived there again around 50,000 years ago.  In the interim, they spread out of Arabia to destinations including the highlands of West Asia (somewhere), possibly interior oasises in Arabia or the Persian Gulf, and India. 

Neanderthals decline in population in Europe close in time to the arrival of modern humans and some major volcanic eruptions in Europe, and may have declined in population of gone extinct in West Asia and South Asia sooner than then.  Anatomically modern humans called Cro-Magnons arrive in Europe in an era called the Upper Paleolithic which commences in Europe about 43,000 years ago, give or take.  But, Neanderthals do not go extinct entirely in the last caves where their remains have been discovered until around 28,000 years ago.

Before they go extinct, Neanderthals provide via admixture about 10% to the autosomal genome of Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers in Europe (compared to something like 3% in modern Europeans), but subsequent migrations from areas that had far less Neanderthal admixture ultimately dilute this elevated contribution to barely distinguishable levels.  Some remains show signs that later Neanderthals had visible modern human admixture as well and this may have been what gave rise to many thousands of years that marked the first period during which there had been major advances in Neanderthal material culture since they established their signature Mousterian set of stone tools hundreds of thousands of years earlier.

Northern Europe and Siberia are completely depopulated during the Last Glacial Maxmium ca. 20,000 years ago, and is repopulated from the South, in part from a Franco-Cantabrian refugium, from the Italian Peninsula and a Southeastern European refugium starting around 16,000 years ago. The period of the repopulation of Europe, or at least the last few thousand years of it, starting around 12,000 years ago (two thousand years before the Fertile Crescent Neolithic revolution) is called the Epipaleolithic era and is a time of considerable West Asian/Southwest Asian migration into Southern Europe and Northern Africa.

The Neolithic Revolution 

The Neolithic Revolution that commences the Neolithic era is marked by replacement of hunting and gathering modes of food production with farming and herding. In the Fertile Crescent (including the Levant, Anatolia and Mesopotamia), and probably some adjacent areas, there are multiple stages of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic era, but pottery is part of the Neolithic culture by the time it spreads very far into Europe, moving beyond the far Southeastern corner of Europe, mostly in connection with two first wave Neolithic cultures, the Linear Pottery Neolithic (more or less making its way up the Danube River) in the East and the Cardial Pottery Neolithic which makes its way across Southern Europe in the East.  These two waves of migrants, who bring about the Neolithic transition more by migration of entire peoples than by cultural transmission to pre-existing hunter-gather populations.

The early Neolithic era originates in the Fertile Crescent around 8000 BCE (10,000 years ago, aka the start of the Holocene era).  Around a thousand years later, around 7000 BCE, and also about a thousand years before the Neolithic culture spreads into Europe via the Fertile Crescent Neolithic had already spread to the Indus River Valley and the Nile River basin in Europe around 7000 BCE. 

The commencement of the Neolithic era varies from place to place in Europe (from roughly 6000 BCE in the Balkans to 3500 BCE in Scandinavia).

The Atlantic megalithic culture emerged from the Cardial Pottery first wave Neolithic people of Southern Europe.  They may spoken languages that were part of the same linguistic family as Etruscan and the contemporaneous and related Alpine Rhaetic language (not to be confused with the modern Rhaetic language of Switzerland which is Indo-European). The Rhaetic and Etruscan people, in my opinion, most likely had their origins in Southern French Cardial Pottery wave peoples until incoming Urnfield people or Celts drove them out in the Iron Age. The Cardial Pottery people, in turn, had origins in the general vicinity of the Aegean and Anatolia at the dawn on the European Neolithic.

The Cardial Pottery Neolithic migration from which emerged the Atlantic Megalithic people and the next wave Vasconic Bell Beaker peoples, combined, mostly replaced local Mesolithic people, at least in the Southern part of the Bell Beaker area, from a population genetic perspective.

The Copper Age

In Western Eurasia, recognizable civilization begins in the Copper Age, which follows the early Neolithic era, starting around the last half of the 3000s BCE, and ends when the Bronze Age begins, about a thousand years later.  There are places in the Northern fringes of Europe where the arrival of the earliest farming and herding peoples sometimes called the arrival of the Neolithic people in the region, actually involved Copper Age people rather than true early Neolithic populations. 

The Copper Age is when the first cities appear and the Sumerians and Egyptians independently invent writing, as well as the earliest widespread manufacturing of metal. It may also coincide with important, but somewhat obscure, advances in herding and farming technologies including the increased importance of milking cows as a part of people's diet in Europe.

The Minoan Palace civilization in Crete, the Sumerian city-state federation's cultural zenith in Mesopotamia, the pinnacle of the Harappan civilization in the Indus River Valley, and the first historically attested dynasties of ancient, pyramid building, hieroglyphic using, Coptic language speaking Egypt date to the Copper Age.  Some of the Biblical book of Genesis (e.g. at least some of the story of the Creation, the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, and Noah's flood) and the birth story of Moses in the Biblical book of Exodus, clearly draw on Sumerian legends from the Copper Age.

Horses were domesticated in the European Steppe and wheeled vehicles were invented around 3500 BCE, close in time to the start of the Copper Age.

The Bell Beaker culture starts its expansion into Western Europe in the Copper Age.  The Copper Age to Bronze Age Bell Beaker culture was in my best estimate, a non-Indo-European, probably proto-Vasconic (i.e. Basque linguistic family) superstrate imposed on a linguistically non-Indo-European Neolithic Atlantic Megalithic culture substrate that spoke languages in a single language family that were not part of either the Indo-European or Vasconic language families, probably the language derived from the original Cardial Ware pottery Neolithic migrants.

The Pit Comb Ware aka Comb Ceramic culture starts about 3200 BCE and continues until the mid-Bronze Age.  It was linguistically Uralic, is derived from further East in Northern Asia, and is probably the main genetic source for the East Eurasian affinities seen in Northern European autosomal genetics and in uniparental haplogroups like N1a which are seen in Northern Europeans.

The megalithic Funnelbeaker (TRB) people were a declining phase of the LBK Neolithic wave migrants under pressure from both the hunter-gatherer Pit Ware peoples and the emerging Indo-European people who were their neighbors. The pressure from the Indo-Europeans reaches a tipping point around 2900BCE-2400BCE when Indo-Europeans gains a decisive edge over TRB people for some reason. The TRB culture is probably where most of the admixture of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer people and first wave Neolithic people revealed by modern Northern European population genetics took place.  The Funnelbeaker culture is noted archaeologically for showing signs of admixture between hunter-gatherer peoples and the successors to the LBK farmers, probably as a result of declining climate conditions for farming causing hunting and gathering and farming to reach a point of rough economic prestige equity.

Indo-European languages are present only in a proto-Indo-European (PIE) Yamna culture limited to the Pontic steppe (basically, the Ukraine) until the dawn of the Bronze Age, with perhaps a small proto-Tocharian group leaving around 3500 BCE to make a long journal across the Russian steppe via intermediate settlements who arrive in Tarim Basin ca. 2000 BCE, and a proto-Corded Ware culture group that arrives in Poland around 3000 BCE. The current theory is that the Proto-Indo-Europeans of the Yamna culture were mostly nomadic herders who had a minor involvement in farming, but this remains a controversial point.

The Bronze Age

The Bronze Age starts sometime in the mid-2000s BCE and ends with "Bronze Age collapse" around 1200 BCE.  It is associated among other things with the widespread use of Bronze metals (an alloy of copper and zinc from which is more suitable than pure copper in many applications).  The Bronze Age is a period of legendary history in Europe full of heroes, demigods, epic battles, empire builders, warriors, revenge, and explorers, in which it is hard to separate fact from fiction. It is the setting for most Classical Greco-Roman mythology, for most Norse mythology, for most Hindu mythology, for most Greek mythology and for numerous Egyptian legends.

This is the era when chariot warfare became widespread from Egypt to Central Europe to Iran to India, mostly from driven by warriors in expanding linguistically Indo-European populations, and by the peoples reacting to encounters with them.

As set forth below, it was also a period of massive expansions and conquests for two societies in Western Eurasia historically made up of nomadic herders, the Semites and the Indo-Europeans. 

While I don't emphasize the point here given the expressly West Eurasian focus of this post, it is likely although not certain, that the Bronze Age technological package was exported, mostly culturally rather than demically, via the Silk Road from the Pontic Steppe to Northern Asia, triggering the emergence of Bronze Age societies in China and its vicinity with a distinctly Asian character.  Ultimately, these developments may have made possible later expansions across Northern Asia and into West Eurasia of first the Turks and later the Mongols in the first fifteen decades of the current era.

*** A Footnote On Armenian

I discuss the expansions of all of the major branches of the Indo-European languages during the Bronze Age here except Armenian which has a small current geographic scope, a modern population history from the Armenian genocide not reflected in its current geographic distribution, a complex set of areal influences from other Indo-European languages that is reflected in its varied isoglosses, a historically ill established origin until the Middle Ages, and a possible origin in the Aegean or Eastern Turkey followed by a long distance migration.  This is too much to fit into a "brief" one post history of prehistoric Europe.

*** Bronze Age Semites

A historically documented drought in Mesopotamia at this time finished off the linguistically Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia (which was replaced by the Semitic Akkadian language except for religious purposes) and this is probably the time period when the Semitic taboo against eating pork shared by Jews and Muslims today arose.

The Bronze Age definitely preceded Islamic ethnogenesis (which required the prophet Muhammad to deliver his revelations in the 7th century CE), and probably also preceded Jewish ethnogenesis, as distinct from a merely generalized Semitic ethnic identity. The Semitic Mediterranean maritime trading civilization called the Phoenicians emerged in the late Bronze Age and continued to remain vital through the subsequent Iron Age.

This event lead to the first "intermediate period" in the written history of dynastic Egypt, during which Semitic Hyskos people ruled Egypt. The early Bronze Age was also probably roughly the time that the speakers of the Ethio-Semitic proto-language arrived in Ethiopia, had a meaningful male biased genetic impact, and probably replaced the existing Afro-Asiatic languages from the Cushitic language family.

*** Bronze Age Indo-European Indo-Aryan Expansions

The severe climate events at the start of the Bronze Age reroute the course of the Saravasti River (between the modern Indus and Ganges Rivers of South Asia) which is a key geographic feature in the proto-Hindu Rig Vedas, thereby destroying much of the Harappan civilization of the Indus River Valley that had been built up on its banks.  Indo-Aryans arrive in South Asia about 2000 BCE with room to be a up to few hundred years older (before which Harappan cultural traces preclude earlier dates) if new archaeological discoveries find something a bit older.  The main expansion into the Indian Peninsula continues over a few hundred years to include all of the areas where Indo-Aryan languages derived from their original language, Sanskrit, in which the Rig Vedas, which probably started to be composed around 2000 BCE, are spoken today in South Asia (of which Hindi is the most widely spoken) linguistically.  Religiously all of India's Dravidian language speaking areas as well. 

In the late Bronze Age around around 1500 BCE, the Mittani Empire in the Zargos Mountains of Iran and Northern Mesoptomia was ruled by a Sanskrit speaking elite (rather than the proto-Persian language speaking ruling class one might expect) who ruled over a mostly non-Indo-European Kassite language speaking population and are remembers most for their equestrian manuals which survive to this day in Hittite translation that preserved many of the original Sanskrit derived technical terms.

Genetic traces of the Indo-Aryan superstate dated with genetic evidence to roughly the right historical time period for the arrival of the Indo-Aryans documented by other means are generally much stronger in high caste Indians in general, than in lower caste Indians.  They Indo-Aryans may have invented the caste system, but could also have simply placed themselves in their own caste or a previously much smaller caste at the top of a pre-existing caste system.  Indo-Aryan genetic influences is somewhat difficult to parse because it is superimposed on a pre-existing genetic divided between Ancestral North Indians and Ancestral South Indians that probably predates the Indo-Aryan invasion by at least five thousand years when the Indus River Valley civilization was established by Fertile Crescent Neolithic culture migrants and perhaps even further back into the Paleolithic era.

*** Expansion Of Other Bronze Age Indo-Iranian Populations

The larger Indo-Iranian language macrofamily within the Indo-European language family includes not only Sanskrit derived Indo-Aryan languages, but also most of the languages of modern Iran (including Persian) and most of the languages of modern Afghanistan.  The origins of the Indo-Iranian languages are probably a century or three earlier than the origins of the Sanskrit branch that gave rise to the languages of India a bit closer to Central India than the Cemetery H in Northeast India which is the oldest reliably dated, culturally Indo-Aryan site. 

One possible place of origin for Indo-Iranian society could have been in the conquest of the BMAC archaeological complex of Central Asia, which was the furthest flung colony in the Harappan sphere of influence, allowing them to absorb cultural influences that nomadic herders of Central Asia couldn't have acquired otherwise such as irrigated agriculture concepts.  There are aspects of Zoroastrian religion that seems to parallel BMAC religious ideas.

From the Bronze Age until the arrival of Turkic warriors on horses in the first millenium of the current era (for example, the original Huns and in time the Turks who became as superstate population in Anatolia and gave it the Turkish language spoken there today), the languages of Central Asia's herders were Indo-Iranian ones, like Scythian.

An early form of the Persian language was the language of the proto-Zoroastrian Persian religious text called the Avesta, which was composed in the late Bronze Age, around 1500 BCE and is the main intellectual source for the stark religious good-evil duality with God and the Angels in Heaven fighting for good against Satan and his demons in Hell fighting for evil that emerges within Judaism during the intertestamentary period and makes its way into early Christian theology and metaphysics. This probably derived as a result contacts with Zoroastrian ideas during an intertestamentary period of exile to Mesopotamia and was also found in other Jewish sects during the formative period of early Christianity. This kind of dualism was not a part of Hebrew Bible era Judaism in the same way. The recent fantasy movie "Prince of Persia" is set in Bronze Age Iran.

Evidence of non-Indo-European languages including Elamite and a previously unknown language of people from the Zargos mountains, suggest that the Indo-Iranian linguistic monopoly in Iran may have come much later to Southern Iran than had been previously assumed.

One of the confounding issues in historical Indo-European linguistics has been the inability of linguists to meaningfully characterize substrate influences for the Indo-Aryan or other Indo-Iranian languages, nor is there the legendary tradition of migration into the region found in most other Indo-European societies.  This confounding question is accompanied by other ones.  What historical language could have been a source for or influence on Proto-Indo-European as spoken by the Yamna people?  How did the nomadic herders of the Pontic-Caspian steppe develop such an advanced agricultural and metallurgical vocabulary?  What is the cause that drove the sudden expansion of Indo-European languages somewhat before the beginning of the Bronze Age wrecked havoc in Mesopotamia and the Levant?  If horses and the wheel were really important to Indo-European expansion, why was most of the expansion delayed for another thousand years after these technologies were developed by the Indo-Europeans?

Given that the Proto-Indo-European culture was near the fringe of the expansive Harappan empire's advanced civilization, as well as the advanced metallurgy of the Caucasian civilizations of the time, one possibility is that a Harappan cultural infusion to Proto-Indo-European society, fueled by desperate exiles from a rapidly collapsing civilization built around millenia of warless stability and intruding into their territory in search of new homelands, provided an infusion of cultural material that when melded with an otherwise not particularly exceptional Yamna culture created the right combination to gain a decisive advantage over their neighbors.

*** Bronze Age Indo-European Hittite Expansions

It was in the Bronze Age that the Indo-European Hittites, starting with just a two city kingdom, built the first historically attested empire to include all of Anatolia and some of Northern Mesopotamia and the Northern Levant.  The zone of Hittite control extended all of the way to the Levantine northern border of Egyptian control in the vicinity of modern Lebanon.  This was the furthest South that any linguistically Indo-European empire would extend until the Roman empire came to rule the North African coast.  The Hittites and Egyptians fought chariot battles with each other and exchanged royal brides to make alliances.

Hittite expansion which is fairly well documented in Akkadian and Hittite documents (impressed in clay and first written by Mesopotamian traders at frontier trading posts) and also fairly well documented archaeologically, starts in the Bronze Age in Anatolia at about 2000 BCE and leads to the end of Hattic languages.

There is not bona fide dispute over when the Anatolian Indo-European languages became the overwhelmingly dominant language family in Anatolia, even if there is dispute over the pre-Hittite language mix in Anatolia with some arguing for an Indo-European proto-language origin in pockets of Anatolia that were not Hattic or Hurrian, rather than a proto-language origin with the Yamna culture on the other side of the Black Sea from Anatolia that extended to Anatolia's fringes on both the East and West.

The highly divergent character of Anatolian languages in the Indo-European language family has more to do with the great differences between the non-Indo-European language family substrates in Europe and the non-Indo-European language substrates in Anatolia, than it does with its great antiquity or particularly basal position in the Indo-European linguistic tree.

*** Bronze Age Indo-European Expansions Into Greece.

In what is now Greece, in the early Bronze Age, probably also around 2000 BCE, Indo-European Proto-Mycenaean Greek replaces first the non-Indo-European mainland pre-Greek language from the North or Northeast, and then from there goes on to replace the non-Indo-European Minoan language (both mainland pre-Greek and Minoan were probably part of the same non-Indo-European language family). Mycenaean Greek like the Anatolian languages, shows considerable influence from its substrate. Both of these substrate languages may well have been part of the same linguistic family as Hattic.

*** Bronze Age Indo-European Germanic Expansions.

It was in the Bronze Age that a proto-Germanic language was probably first spoken across a region including most of modern Germany and Poland, replacing some now lost non-Indo-European languages, some of which probably part of the same linguistic family as the modern Finnish and Uralic languages.  Other languages lost in the expansion of the proto-Germans would have been the languages in the linguistic family of the first European farmers in the region, the Linear Pottery Culture farmers, who arrived via Southeastern Europe, probably from Anatolia or the Caucusas across Balkans to the Danube and tracing this river and its tributaries into Europe.

The Corded Ware culture was a linguistically Indo-European population that dates from ca. 3000 BCE (at the earliest Polish sites) to 2400 BCE at its greatest extent in Western Germany, generally moving from East to West over that time period during the Copper Age to Bronze age transition with the geographic gains weighted towards the tail end of that period. The Corded Ware culture's language was probably either proto-Germanic and the main substrate language in proto-Germanic.

*** Bronze Age Indo-European Tocharian Expansions.

It was in the Bronze Age that the linguistically Indo-European and racially Caucasian people of the Tarim Basin, called the Tocharians established themselves there after migrating from their settlement to the North (around 2000 BCE) and then continued their civilization until well into the Iron Age.  Their civilization would last uninterrupted at this last West Eurasian stop on the Silk Road because East Eurasian lands began for about two and a half thousand years, before being lost to history until the 20th century of the current era.

Since the Tocharians appear to have broken off from the Yamna culture proto-Indo-Europeans earlier than any of the other Indo-European branches and unlike other Indo-European migrants moved into essentially unsettled territory where there were no substrate influences of any kind, their branch of the Indo-European linguistic family tree was probably the most conservative of the original proto-Indo-European language.

*** Bronze Age Collapse.

Bronze Age collapse is associated with the demise of the Hittite Empire in Anatolia, the Trojan War, an "intermediate period" in Egypt, the arrival by boat of the Mycenaean Greek Philistine people referred to in the Bible in the Southern Levant, and the collapse of the pre-Indo-European Atlantic megalithic culture as transformed by the subsequent Bell Beaker culture.  Both its beginning and its end are punctuated by severe extended droughts in the Fertile Crescent region and areas adjacent to it. 

The Iron Age

Bronze Age collapse is followed by the Iron Age which extends at least until, and arguably includes the Classical Greek and Roman civilizations.  Iron implements, which were rare and valuable prior to the Iron Age whose workings were closely held secrets, became ubiquitous after Bronze Age collapse when the secrets of working it and mining finally it got out.  Iron is actually in many ways inferior to Bronze in the applications to which it was put, but was much more amenable to being cheaply mass produced to outfit large armies with metal weapons and armor.

The tail end of the Biblical book of Genesis, the Biblical book of Exodus and the rest of the Hebrew Bible appear from their references to peoples, places and regimes, to be set in a period during or after Bronze Age collapse.

The Celtic and Italic wave probably have its origins in the Urnfield culture which moves from Central Europe into Italy and Western Europe starting around 1300 BCE in the late Bronze Age, and these languages expand into the various Indo-European languages of Italy and Western Europe.  The Italic languages survive today largely via the Romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, etc.) which themselves are remnants of the disintegration of the common Latin language of the Roman empire falling the Western Roman Empire's collapse.  Rome was established some time in the early Iron Age.

Slavic expansion comes much later, not earlier than 200 CE and probably more like the 6th century CE.  This expansion erases most linguistic clues about earlier language in the Slavic region.

The Medieval Period and Beyond

The period after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, around 430 CE, is normally called the Medieval period.

This characterization as an in between period in history makes less sense, however, when describing the late Byzantine Empire (previously the Eastern Roman Empire, which was much more densely populated and affluent, where Greek rather than Latin was the primary language) which didn't experience the defining moment that commenced the Dark Ages, the rise of Islam and expansion of the Islamic empire starting in the 7th century CE which gave rise to a Golden Age of Islam at the intellectual center of the world, and the successor states to the early Islamic empire in the European Medieval period, and moved onto a really new era only much later than the Italian Renaissance.

The non-Indo-European languages of Europe other than Basque and the Finno-Urgric languages of Northeastern Europe which are not attributable to European colonial era immigration to Europe or subsequent immigration to Europe, were established in Europe in the Medieval period. They are Hungarian (Uralic family), Turkish (Turkic family), Hebrew (Semitic family), Maltese (Semitic), and Yiddish (a Hebrew-German creole). In addition, the Indo-European Slavic languages reach their present extent in Europe, and Latin differentiates into the modern Romance languages, only after Rome falls. 

A recent genetic study suggests that all Ashkenazi Jews derive from an effective population of about 400 people around the time of the Crusades which was also the time of the first post-Roman pogroms and exiles, many of which were very extreme.  For example, Jews were expelled from Britain and any Jews who remained were forced to do so in secrets that were well kept from history as well, for approximately four hundred years after being common place almost all of the major cities across Britain before then. 

European historians call the era starting around 1500 CE in with the Renaissance, and continuing up to the present, the "modern" era.


andrew said...

I'm aware that a few of the Copper Age/Bronze Age dates may need some tweaking (e.g. the Minoan dates), but haven't found time to go back and tweak them.

Va_Highlander said...

Andrew, thanks for this and it's great to see someone drawing so many threads together into a coherent narrative. You wrote:

"One possible place of origin for Indo-Iranian society could have been in the conquest of the BMAC archaeological complex of Central Asia, which was the furthest flung colony in the Harappan sphere of influence, allowing them to absorb cultural influences that nomadic herders of Central Asia couldn't have acquired otherwise such as irrigated agriculture concepts."

I don't understand this paragraph. The BMAC was not Harappan. There is no indication that the BMAC was in any way influenced by "nomadic herders of Central Asia", so I don't really see who is supposed to be absorbing what, here. The BMAC wasn't even "far flung", since its heartland may have been in Baluchistan and Afghanistan.

You also write:

"There are aspects of Zoroastrian religion that seems to parallel BMAC religious ideas."

Sorry, but I don't understand this, either, as I don't know of any parallels between the two. Best guess seems to be that the BMAC worshiped a water goddess as a more-or-less supreme deity. It's hard to see how this parallels Zoroaster.

Va_Highlander said...

For the sake of completeness, even if it is just a lone cry in the wilderness...

If the above quoted paragraph hopes to imply that Andronovo or some other steppe people conquered the BMAC, then it must do so without physical evidence, since there is no suggestion of any wide-scale penetration of BMAC territory by nomadic pastoralists. In fact, there is a distinct and almost surprising lack of evidence of any interaction between the two groups at all, whether friendly or hostile.

The claim that there are recognizably Zoroastrian elements in the culture of the Bactrian-Margiana complex rests upon the interpretations of V I Sarianidi and I feel those interpretations collapse upon close examination. Other than convenience, there is simply no apparent reason why he should call this structure a "temple" and that one a "palace". There is no compelling reason for him to connect any ash pit brought to light with fire worship. And, frankly, Sarianidi's belief that potsherds can be carried by the wind, and therefore tell us nothing in an archaeological context, renders his entire methodology suspect.

Lurking behind your suggestion, of course, is an assumption that the Andronovo peoples spoke an Indo-European language or languages and evidence compelling us to make such an assumption does not exist. We might with equal certainty claim that the BMAC also spoke an IE language or, for that matter, that neither did. We simply don't know.

andrew said...

In response to the two comments from Va Highlander:

1. There is a fair amount of evidence that BMAC and Harappa had active and regular trade and shared some cultural practices. I have read accounts suggesting that BMAC may have even been in a quasi-colonial relationship with the Harappans. It also isn't clear what path Fertile Crescent agriculture took to get to BMAC. One plausible intermediate step is the Indus River Valley rather than the Caucusas or the Balkan/Danubian complex.

2. The notion of a BMAC source of agricultural techniques for Indo-Europeans and in particular Indo-Iranians and Tocharians is developed in some detail in Mallory's Tarim Basin book. The PIE people didn't invent farming themselves (even if they originally had it, they lost farming skills before regaining them). It also makes logical sense that Indo-Europeans would acquire farming knowledge from the farmers closest to their turf. If PIE weren't farmers, they had to get farming from somewhere, and if they got it from the Caucasus, why weren't there more Caucasian loan words related to farming. BMAC is closer to Indo-European turf in Central Asia than any other farming society east of the Caucasus in the relevant time frame.

3. The BMAC civilization died. Either it withered or it was conquerered. There have been nomadic pastoralistist who have lived in BMAC territory for periods after BMAC died (including, as I understand it, in the present). There aren't a lot of other candidates for a conquest of BMAC at the relevant time if there was a conquest. We don't have much evidence regarding the cause of BMAC's demise period (at least in available English language sources, much of the work was done by Russian researchers and isn't widely known in the West). Ergo, the suggestion of warfare as a possibility. If there was a conquest, it makes sense for a farming/trading community to have outsized cultural impact on a less settled community.

4. In addition to purported fire worship, a potential BMAC religious point could be funerary practices (i.e. a possible distaste for inhumation). Another potential connection related to psychoactive substance use in BMAC worship that may have carried over to Rig Vedic and Avestan era practice, I understand that there are hints of that. I believe that Sarianidi may be a source for my thoughts on a potential Zoroastrian connection.

andrew said...

Almost all the points I make on BMAC which are questioned are made here. This is not to say that those points are wrong, but they do come from solid mainstream sources, not my original research.

Va_Highlander said...

How wonderful that you've found me and thanks ever so much for your response.

1. Which accounts of the BMAC have you read?

Obviously, trade alone between the BMAC and the Harappans does not suggest a colonial relationship, even if we accept that the BMAC might be intrusive in Margiana and the north. I don't see significant parallels between the two material cultures and I don't have reports of significant amounts of BMAC cultural material appearing in IVC contexts or the reverse.

And even if the BMAC was intrusive in the north, irrigation-dependent agriculture was practiced in the oases north of the Kopet Dag from a very early date, with reasonable cultural continuity through Namazga V. Agriculture also might have come to Turkmenistan along some northerly route from Anatolia, leap-frogging from oasis to oasis, and even the Kopet Dag itself was not an impenetrable barrier, by any means. I see no reason to think agriculture spread from South Asia northward, especially when a site such as Mehrgarh suggests that, if anything, the neolithic may well have spread the other way, from the Iranian plateau toward the supposed Harappan homeland.

2. On the strength of your report, I think Mallory might be assuming facts that are not in evidence. I don't have an example of any Andronovo people borrowing anything from the Bactrian Margiana culture. As I say, aside from simple proximity there is no evidence of any relationship between them at all.

The relevant fact that we have from the Tarim is that an apparently mixed population, speaking two distinct branches of Tocharian, was living there in the first millennium CE.

Among the things we do not know are when, exactly, Tocharian arrived in the Tarim Basin and who brought it there. If it arrived with the earliest Bronze workers from Siberia, then what impact did subsequent population events and cultural exchanges have on that language? 2,000 years is a very long time and these people were not isolated for the very reasons that had brought them there.

A more parsimonious explanation might be that the agriculture of the oases arrived from the oases of Central Asia directly, with no intermediary. That would also explain the mud bricks of Hami. If I'm not mistaken, agriculture on any significant scale post-dates the earliest mummies of the Tarim by more than a thousand years. Again, there is no convincing reason to assume cultural or linguistic continuity over the time spans that you suggest and such a radical shift in subsistence strategies would seem to argue rather against it.

Va_Highlander said...


3. I see no evidence that the BMAC fell to violence, so by the dichotomy you propose "withered" it is. The same seems to be true of the Indus Valley Civilization, as you're no doubt well-aware, and I think there's a consensus forming that it was climate change that got them. Changing weather patterns may have been the doom of the Bactrian Margiana culture too, directly or otherwise.

4. As I say, the purported fire worship is questionable and all that you cite seems straight out of Sarianidi. The one nugget you still have is supposed traces of ephedra in a BMAC context, but that seems a slender reed and the biggest hurdle still remains. So far, we find no significant cultural parallels or borrowings, or any substantial evidence of interaction, whether peaceful or hostile, between the Bactrian Margiana culture of the oases and the Andronovo peoples.


I think you've done a commendable job, here, stating the conventional model as clearly and as succinctly as I've seen. My argument is not with your treatment, but with the "solid mainstream sources" informing that treatment. At Dienekes' place, I saw you recently call that Bayesian analysis of Indo-European by Bouckaert, et al, a "toy model". I agree, with a few reservations, but I have honestly come to feel that the mainstream model is not nearly so robust as some pretend and hardly better. The Tarim Basin seems one of those places where conventional wisdom only works if you take a lot on faith, a faith that I don't think is warranted by the data we actually have.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. There seems considerable evidence of Andronovo peoples in the Tarim Basin and I think that explains in broad strokes how bronze came to the Far East. That does not necessarily explain how Tocharian reached the Tarim, though. Without hard evidence to contradict it, again it might be less of a stretch to assume Tocharian came, along with desert agriculture, mud bricks, and so on, from Central Asia, and not from Siberia, where obviously not one of those things is attested in the material record.