Anatolian hypothesis

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The Anatolian hypothesis proposes that the dispersal of Proto-Indo-Europeans originated in Neolithic Anatolia. The hypothesis suggests that the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) lived in Anatolia during the Neolithic era, and associates the distribution of historical Indo-European languages with the expansion during the Neolithic revolution during the seventh and sixth millennia BC. The alternative and more academically favored view is the Kurgan hypothesis.

The main proponent of the Anatolian hypothesis was Colin Renfrew, who in 1987 suggested a peaceful Indo-Europeanization of Europe from Anatolia from around 7000 BC with the advance of farming by demic diffusion ("wave of advance"). Accordingly, most of the inhabitants of Neolithic Europe would have spoken Indo-European languages, and later migrations would at best have replaced these Indo-European varieties with other Indo-European varieties.[1]

The main strength of the farming hypothesis lies in its linking of the spread of Indo-European languages with an archaeologically known event (the spread of farming) that is often assumed as involving significant population shifts.


A 2003 analysis of "87 languages with 2,449 lexical items" found an age range for the "initial Indo-European divergence" of 7,800–9,800 years, which was found to be consistent with the Anatolian hypothesis.[2] In 2006, the authors of the paper responded to their critics.[3] In 2011, the same authors and S. Greenhill found that two different datasets were also consistent with their theory.[4] An analysis by Ryder and Nicholls (2011) found that: "Our main result is a unimodal posterior distribution for the age of Proto-Indo-European centred at 8400 years before Present with 95% highest posterior density interval equal to 7100–9800 years before Present." which was found to support the Anatolian Hypothesis.[5] A computerized phylogeographic study published in 2012 in Science, using methods drawn from the modeling of the spatial diffusion of infectious diseases, also supported the Anatolian hypothesis.[6][7]


Against the Anatolian hypothesis stands the argument that PIE contains words for technologies that make their first appearance in the archaeological record in the Late Neolithic, in some cases bordering on the early Bronze Age, and that some of these words belong to the oldest layers of PIE. The lexicon includes words relating to agriculture (dated to 7500 BCE), metallurgy (7500 BCE), stockbreeding (6500 BCE) the plow (4500 BCE), gold (4500 BCE), domesticated horses (4000–3500 BCE) and wheeled vehicles (4000–3400 BCE). Horse breeding is thought to have originated with the Sredny Stog culture, semi-nomadic pastoralists living in the forest steppe zone in present-day Ukraine. Wheeled vehicles are thought to have originated with Funnelbeaker culture in what is now Poland, Belarus, and parts of Ukraine.[8]

Many Indo-European languages have cognate words meaning axle; for example: Latin axis, Lithuanian ašis, Russian os' , and Sanskrit ákṣa. (In some, a similar root is used for the word armpit: eaxl in Old English, axilla in Latin, and kaksa in Sanskrit.) All these are linked to the PIE root ak's-. The reconstructed PIE root i̯eu-g- gives rise to German joch, Hittite iukan, and Sanskrit yugá(m), all meaning yoke. Words for wheel and cart/wagon/chariot take one of two common forms, thought to be linked with two PIE roots: the root kwel- "move around" is the basis of the unique derivative kwekwlo- "wheel" which becomes hvél (wheel) in Old Icelandic, kolo (wheel, circle) in Old Church Slavonic, kãkla- (neck) in Lithuanian, kyklo- (wheel, circle) in Greek, cakka-/cakra- (wheel) in Pali and Sanskrit, and kukäl (wagon, chariot) in Tocharian A. The root ret(h)- becomes rad (wheel) in Old High German, rota (wheel) in Latin, rãtas (wheel) in Lithuanian, and ratha (wagon, chariot) in Sanskrit.

Most estimates from Indo-Europeanists date PIE between 4500 and 2500 BC, with the most probable date falling right around 3700 BC. It is unlikely that late PIE (even after the separation of the Anatolian branch) post-dates 2500 BC, since Proto-Indo-Iranian is usually dated to just before 2000 BC. On the other hand, it is not very likely that early PIE predates 4500 BC, because the reconstructed vocabulary strongly suggests a culture of the terminal phase of the Neolithic bordering on the early Bronze Age.

Revision of the theory[edit]

Reacting to criticism, Renfrew revised his proposal to the effect of taking a pronounced Indo-Hittite position. Renfrew's revised views place only Pre-Proto-Indo-European in 7th millennium BC Anatolia, proposing as the homeland of Proto-Indo-European proper the Balkans around 5000 BC, explicitly identified as the "Old European culture" proposed by Marija Gimbutas. He thus still situates the original source of the Indo-European language family in Anatolia around 7000 BC. Reconstructions of a Bronze Age PIE society based on vocabulary items like "wheel" do not necessarily hold for the Anatolian branch, which appears to have separated from PIE at an early stage, prior to the invention of wheeled vehicles.[9]

Map showing the Neolithic expansion from the seventh to fifth millennium BC.

According to Renfrew (2004), the spread of Indo-European proceeded in the following steps:

Other approaches to dating[edit]

Glottochronology has been used by some linguists to attempt to date languages by the changes in their lexicon over time. The method has been much criticized because of the assumption of a constant change rate. More recently phylogenetic methods have been used by scholars such as Russell D. Gray and Quentin D. Atkinson which allow variable rates on different branches. They dated PIE to a period which would fit Renfrew's hypothesis.[10]

However the finding was disputed. A revision of glottochronology by Sergei Starostin allows rate variation with time and dates the earliest PIE to 4670 BC, prior to the breakaway of Hittite, and the later PIE (origin of all other IE languages) to 3810 BC.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ C. Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, (London: Pimlico 1987)
  2. ^ Russell D. Gray & Quentin D., Atkinson Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin Nature 426, 435–439
  3. ^ Peter Forster & Colin Renfrew (eds.)Phylogenetic methods and the prehistory of languages Cambridge, Chapter 8, especially section. 10
  4. ^ Russell D. Gray, Quentin D. Atkinson and Simon J. Greenhill Language evolution and human history: what a difference a date makes Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 12 April 2011 vol. 366 no. 1567 1090–1100
  5. ^ Robin J. Ryder, Geoff K. Nicholls Missing data in a stochastic Dollo model for binary trait data, and its application to the dating of Proto-Indo-European Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics) Volume 60, Issue 1, pages 71–92, January 2011
  6. ^ Pringle, Heather (24 August 2012), "News & Analysis: New Method Puts Elusive Indo-European Homeland in Anatolia", Science 337 (6097): 902, doi:10.1126/science.337.6097.902, PMID 22923555 .
  7. ^ Remco Bouckaert, Philippe Lemey, Michael Dunn, Simon J. Greenhill, Alexander V. Alekseyenko, Alexei J. Drummond, Russell D. Gray, Marc A. Suchard, and Quentin D. Atkinson (24 August 2012), "Report: Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family", Science 337 (6097): 957–960, doi:10.1126/science.1219669, PMID 22923579 .
  8. ^ Piggott, Stuart (1983). The earliest wheeled transport: from the Atlantic Coast to the Caspian Sea. Cornell University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-8014-1604-0. Retrieved 17 December 2011. 
  9. ^ Colin Renfrew, Time depth, convergence theory, and innovation in Proto-Indo-European, in Alfred Bammesberger and Theo Vennemann (eds.), Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2004)
  10. ^ Russell D. Gray and Quentin D. Atkinson, Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin, Nature, vol. 426 (27 November 2003, pp 435-439.
  11. ^ Václav Blažek, On the internal classification of Indo-European languages: survey, Linguistica online (November 2005)