Dating the final IE unity

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Wed Dec 15 08:07:51 UTC 1999

In a message dated 12/10/99 10:40:36 PM, Jens wrote:

<<Thus, if there are no basic errors in the presuppositions of the above
(e.g. in the identification of continuations of the Kurgan complex or in
the arrows drawn on maps to show where and when the complex moves), then
it follows that the evidence favoring the Kurgan complex as (pre-)PIE is
logically significant and that, consequently, the Indo-Europeans have been
   Some might say that, for this to be conclusive, the grass has to be
much greener in the archaeological field than it is in that of
lingusitics. The way it seems to me is that, for it to be wrong, the
archaeological grass has to be exceptionally dirty or exceptionally rare.
Is it?>>

With all respect, the arrows showing the spread of the "Kurgan complex" -
which you are depending on - are not linguistic.

Please recall that the first historian to identify the Pit Grave culture (as
Kurgan is called in other locales) with PIE - Kossinna - took the evidence to
mean that the IE homeland was Germany.  Gordon Childe in the 1920's was by
far the guiding light of the theory that shifted that homeland to the Ukraine
- his The Aryans in the Penguin editions were still standardedly assigned in
undergraduate courses in the early '70's.  (But Childe later recanted,
calling his early theories childish, and in 1949 his guess was that Anatolia
was the IE homeland.)  The Pit Graves/Kurgans were again used by M. Gimbutas
as a way of tracking down the IE homeland.  At first this approach followed
the traditional dating 2500BC as the dispersal date.  But in the wake of
C-14,  Renfrew et al, Gimbutas offered a new three wave theory by which PIE
might have come into Europe, with the first wave as early as 4500BC.  Mallory
relies heavily upon Gimbutas for his qualified conclusions.

All of these approaches were entirely based, first of all, on the
archaeological evidence.  Linguistics, along with various other cultural
features, were supporting evidence.  Obviously, the pit graves and pottery
had to be there to justify any identification.

In the meantime, other evidence erupted on the scene - not the least of which
was the use of carbon dating to flesh out the Neolithic Revolution story and
the central position of Anatolia.  Innovations have been continually
back-timed, so that it became apparent that bronze, megaliths, domestication
of animals all preceded the 2500BC steppe elite horsemen of the Ukraine
scenario by thousands of years.  This back-timing also made somewhat
irrelevant the appearance of many later developments often associated with
the "coming of the IndoEuropeans", such as chariots and iron technology.

Perhaps the most recent trend has been the realization that "kurgan"
characteristics did not cause anything but minor changes in a great many
areas where they were adopted.  More important changes seem to have to do
with climate, economics and resulting changes in trade and material
processing and social structure.   In general, the increased populations
created by the Neolithic Revolution stayed where they were both in Europe and
elsewhere "where IE is later found."  The influx was not of new peoples in
most cases and where they were we do not find horse warriors, but rather "the
sheperds of the kurgan culture" as one recent research report described them.
 There is much evidence of pastoralism (the hallmark of the earliest "kurgan"
cultural remains) first moving north and west into central Europe and then
later east into southern Russia.  And finally some of the major areas where
we find "kurgan" developing "on its own" don't turn out to be IE when those
areas enter history.

This is not to say that the "Pit Grave" culture was not IE.  But its overall
impact seems to have been a supplement to some rather strong developments
that were already going on in Europe and in Asia.  Which suggest it was not

I think the simplicity of the kurgan solution is only there so long as you
don't dive into the evidence.  When you do, Renfrew's neolithic proposal
begins to make more and more "common sense."

For a fairly recent and detailed summary of the actual archaeology of eartern
Europe and the western steppes, let me suggest P. M. Dolukhanov's "The Early
Slavs: Eastern Europe from Initial Settlement to Kievan Rus" (Longman pb
1996) - a relatively non-specialist book in print and readily available from
most book distributors.   Dolukhanov carefully and exhaustively cites finds,
site, assemblages and dates - not an easy thing to find in English with
regard to the region.  (He also does the reader the service of separating the
field summaries from his conclusions.)  The conclusions are not favorable to
Gimbutas (or Mallory). See p 94. One obvious reason is that while funeary
practices and pottery types diffuse, the rest of the many cultures involved
do not alter in a fashion that suggests being overwhelmed by significant
groups of outsiders.  Ideas seem more powerful than migrating nomads.

I went back to look at what some other archaeologists were saying - I think
this is representative.

Andrew Sheratt, famous for his identification of the Neolithic secondary
products revolution sometimes cited as supporting a kurgan-origins theory,
not long ago published the "revisions" in his thinking since that time.  These
 include currently supported conclusions  about "the plough and wheeled
vehicles arriving in Europe around 3500 BC as a result of events in the Near
East" and "that Pit-Grave groups penetrated into eastern Hungary into areas
abandoned by Baden communities because of increasing salination after 3000 BC.
"   And finally "if there was a "secondary products revolution", then it was
part and parcel of a continuing series of consumer revolutions in the very
unusual part of the world that we call western Asia (or, more
ethnocentrically, the Near East)..."  Kurgan seems to play a minor role in
Sherratt's latest understandings.

Another eminent British archaeologist, Alasdair Whittle, wrote some years ago
about how overall impressions have changed in the archaeological community in
Europe in the Neolithic (CamUPress 1996).  A number of points he made are
perhaps very relevant to one's thinking about the PIE question.  Whittle
mentioned often that the existing cultures (and perhaps language) of
Neolithic Europe - with its megaliths and population increases and amalgation
of rich Mesolithic cultures as in TRB - would have been a hard thing to
displace by any means.  Even after many centuries, "the LBK/Danubian
tradition [and perhaps its language] would have been a powerful common
element over very broad areas" Another point possibly relevant to language is
the thin stratum represented by intervening cultural changes, Whittle
emphasizing that the Corded Ware complex "can be seen to have massive
continuities with what went before".  Also, Whittle found "Gimbutas's large
population movements and demographic changes" unsupportable from any
evidence.  And he conjectures that the expanse of PIE might be explained as a
"language of communication" across different communities, adapted to both
local needs and interregional trade - the Mediterranean being the logical
site of the most "indigenous" versions.

There is quite a bit more along these lines in the literature.  Should any of
this rule out the kurgan theory?  I don't think so.  But I don't think the
matter can honestly be called settled.  Certainly not on the basis of

You wrote:
<<then it follows that the evidence favoring the Kurgan complex as (pre-)PIE
is logically significant and that, consequently, the Indo-Europeans have been
   Some might say that, for this to be conclusive, the grass has to be much
greener in the archaeological field than it is in that of lingusitics.  The
way it seems to me is that, for it to be wrong, the archaeological grass has
to be exceptionally dirty or exceptionally rare.  Is it?>>

But in fact what the archaeological evidence does is change - which it always
has.  There was a time when there were was no evidence of Hittites or of
Linear B.  And farming was supposed to have entered Europe about 2000BC.
Compare, even in 1981, B. Lincoln (while denying that archaeology would have
anything new to add to the subject) wrote that the first appearance of
IndoEuropeans occured with "the Indo-Aryans in India around 1500 BC, the
waves of invasion into Greece around 1600-1000 BC, and into Anatolia around
2000 BC."

The linguistic evidence on the other hand is fundamentally unchanged since
C-14 was introduced.  (except I suppose for Mycenaean.)  The real question is
whether linguistic conclusions should change.

The problem is basic.  If you date IE unity on the basis of the date of the
earliest wheel (only an example) then you know your dates will change if
evidence of the wheel moves back a thousand years - which it well may.
Unless you can stop the digging, of course.

Steve Long

More information about the Indo-european mailing list