Jared Diamond on the Indo-European Expansion - Peter Myers, February 10, 2002; update July 7, 2002. My comments are shown {thus}.

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Diamond is one of the leading Jewish thinkers today, and, unlike some others, rarely ruffles feathers. Here he summarises the case - exceptionally well, in my opinion - for an Indo-European expansion covering the last 5000 years. Diamond supports Marija Gimbutas rather than Colin Renfrew.

Jared Diamond, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, Vintage Books, London 1991. Later published as The Third Chimpanzee.


More than 4,000 years before the recent expansion of Europeans over all other continents, there was an earlier expansion within Europe and western Asia that sired most of the languages spoken in that region today. Although those earlier conquerors were illiterate, much of their language and culture can be reconstructed from shared word roots preserved in modern Indo-European languages. Their conquest of much of Eurasia, like the subsequent overseas expansion of their descendants, appears to have been an accident of biogeography. ...

Today, most European languages and many Asian languages as far east as India are very similar to each other ... Only 140 of the modern world's 5,000 tongues belong to this language family, but their importance is far out of proportion to their numbers. Thanks to the global expansion of Europeans since 1492 - especially of people from England, Spain, Portugal, France, and Russia - nearly half the world's present population of five billion now speaks an Indo-European language as its native tongue.

To us it may seem perfectly natural, and in no need of further explanation, that most European languages resemble each other. Not until we go to parts of the world with great linguistic diversity do we realize how weird is Europe's homogeneity, and how it cries out for

{p. 226} explanation. ...

Of all the processes by which the modern world lost its earlier lingulstic diversity, the Indo-European expansion has been the most important. Its first stage, which long ago carried Indo-European languages over Europe and much of Asia, was followed by a second stage that began in 1492 and carried them to all other continents (Chapter Fourteen). When and where did the steamroller start, and what gave it its power? Why was Europe not overrun instead by speakers of a language related to, say, Finnish or Assyrian?

While the Indo-European problem is the most famous problem of histoncal lingulstics, it is a problem of archaeology and history as well. In the case of those Europeans who carried out the second stage of the Indo-European expansion beginning in 1492, we know not only their

{p. 227} vocabulary and grammar but also the ports where they set out, the dates of their sailings, the names of their leaders, and why they succeeded in conquering (Chapter Fourteen). But the quest to understand the first stage is a search for an elusive people whose language and society lie veiled in the pre-literate past, even though they became world conquerors and founded today's dominant societies. ...

{p. 232} As of 500 BC, Latin was confined to a small area around Rome and was only one of many languages spoken in Italy. The expansion of Latin-speaking Romans eradicated all those other languages of Italy, then eradicated entire branches of the Indo-European family elsewhere in Europe, like the continental Celtic languages. These sister branches were so thoroughly replaced by Latin that we know each of them only by scattered words, names, and inscriptions. With the subsequent overseas expansion of Spanish and Portuguese after 1492, the language spoken initially by a few hundred thousand Romans trampled hundreds of other languages out of existence, as it gave rise to the Romance languages spoken by half a billion people today.

If the Indo-European language family as a whole constituted a similar steamroller, we might expect to find its trampled debris in the form of older non-Indo-European languages surviving here and there. The sole such vestige surviving in Western Europe today is the Basque language of Spain, without known relations to any other language in the world. (The remaining non-Indo-European languages of modern Europe - Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and possibly Lapp - are relatively recent invaders of Europe from the east.) However, there were other languages that were spoken in Europe until Roman times, and of which enough words or inscriptions have been preserved to identify them as non-Indo-European. The most extensively preserved of these vanished tongues is the mysterious Etruscan language of northwest Italy, for which we have a 281-line text written on a roll of linen that somehow ended up in Egypt as wrapping for a mummy. All such vanished non-Indo-European languages were part of the debris left from the Indo-European expansion.

Still more linguistic debris was swept up into the surviving Indo-European languages themselves. To understand how linguists can recognize such debris, imagine that you, as a freshly arrived visitor from outer space, were given one book each, written in English by an Englishman, an American, and an Australian, about his or her country.

The language and most of the words in all three books would be the same. But if you compared the American book with the one about England, the American book would contain many place names that were obviously foreign to the basic language of the books - names like Massachusetts, Winnepesaukee, and Mississippi. The Australian book would contain more place names equally foreign to the language but

{p. 233} unlike the American names - such as Woonarra, Goondiwindi, and Murrumbidgee. You might guess that English immigrants coming to America and Australia encountered natives who spoke different languages, and from whom the immigrants picked up names for local places and things. You would even be able to infer something about the words and sounds of those unknown native languages. We actually know the native American and Australian languages from which those borrowings took place, and we can confirm that your indirect inferences from the borrowed words alone would have been correct.

Linguists studying several Indo-European languages have similarly detected words borrowed from vanished, apparently non-Indo-European languages. For example, about one-sixth of Greek words whose derivations can be traced appear to be non-Indo-European. These words are just the sort that one might expect to have been borrowed by invading Greeks from the natives they encountered: place names like Corinth and Olympus, words for Greek crops like olive and vine, and names of gods or heroes like Athene and Odysseus. These words may be the linguistic legacy of Greece's pre-Indo-European population to the Greek speakers who overran them.

Thus, at least four types of evidence indicate that Indo-European languages are the products of an ancient steamroller. The evidence includes the family-tree relationship of surviving Indo-European languages; the much greater linguistic diversity of areas like New Guinea, that have not been recently overrun; the non-Indo-European languages that survived in Europe into Roman times or later; and the non-IndoEuropean legacy in several Indo-European languages.

Given this evidence for an Indo-European mother tongue in the distant past, can one reconstruct something of this tongue? At first, the notion of learning how to write a vanished unwritten language seems absurd. In fact, linguists have been able to reconstruct much of the mother tongue by examining word roots shared among its daughter languages. ...

{p. 235} By such methods, linguists have been able to reconstruct much of the grammar and nearly 2,000 word roots of the mother tongue, termed proto-Indo-European but usually abbreviated as PIE. That is not to say that all words in modern Indo-European languages are descended from PIE: most are not, because there have been so many new inventions or borrowings (like the root 'sheep' replacing the old PIE root owis in English). Our inherited PIE roots tend to be words for human universals that people surely were already naming thousands of years ago: words for

{p. 236} the numbers and human relationships (as in the table on page 226); words for body parts and functions; and ubiquitous objects or concepts like 'sky', 'night', 'summer', and 'cold'. ...

The obvious next questions are: when was PIE spoken, where was it spoken, and how was it able to overwhelm so many other languages? Let's begin with the matter of 'when', another seemingly impossible question. It is bad enough that we have to infer the words of an unwritten language; how on earth do we determine when it was spoken?

We can at least start to narrow down the possibilities, by examining the oldest written samples of Indo-European languages. For a long time, the oldest samples that scholars could identify were Iranian texts of around 1000-800 BC, and Sanskrit texts probably composed around 1200-1000 BC but written down later. Texts of a Mesopotamian kingdom called Mitanni, written in a non-Indo-European language but containing some words obviously borrowed from a language related to Sanskrit, push the proven existence of Sanskrit-like languages back to nearly 1500 BC.

The next breakthrough was the late-nineteenth-century discovery of a mass of ancient Egyptian diplomatic correspondence. Most of it was written in a Semitic language, but two letters in an unknown language remained a mystery until excavations in Turkey uncovered thousands of tablets in the same tongue. The tablets proved to be the archives of a kingdom that thrived between 1650 and 1200 BC and that we now refer to by the biblical name 'Hittite'.

In 1917 scholars were astonished by the announcement that the Hittite language proved on deciphering to belong to a previously unknown, very distinctive and archaic, now-vanished branch ofthe Indo-European family, termed Anatolian. Some obviously Hittite-like names mentioned in earlier letters of Assyrian merchants at a trading post near the Hittite capital's future site push the detective trail back to nearly 1900 BC. This remains our first direct evidence for the existence of any Indo-European language.

Thus, as of 1917, two Indo-European branches - Anatolian and Indo

{p. 237} Iranian - had been shown to exist by around 1900 and 1500 BC, respectively. A third early branch was established in 1952, when the young British cryptographer, Michael Ventris, showed that the so-called Linear B writing of Crete and Greece, which had resisted deciphering since its discovery around 1900, was an early form of the Greek language. Those Linear B tablets date to around 1300 BC. But Hittite, Sanskrit, and early Greek are very different from each other, certainly more so than are modern French and Spanish, which diverged over a thousand years ago. That suggests that the Hittite, Sanskrit, and Greek branches must have split off from PIE by 2500 BC or earlier. ...

The usual conclusion from either glottochronology or pants' seats is that PIE may have started to break up by 3000 BC, surely by 2500 BC, and not before 5000 BC.

There is still another, completely independent approach to the dating problem - the science termed linguistic paleontology. Just as paleontologists try to discover what the past was like by looking for relics buried in the ground, linguistic paleontologists do it by looking for relics buried in languages.

To understand how this works, recall that linguists have reconstructed nearly 2,000 words of PIE vocabulary. It is not surprising that these include words like 'brother' and 'sky', which must have existed and been named since the dawn of human language. But PIE should not have had a word for 'gun', since guns were not invented until about 1300 AD, long after PlE-speakers had already scattered to speak distinct languages in Turkey and India. In fact, the word for 'gun' uses different roots in different Indo-European languages: 'gun' in English, fusil in French, ruzhyo in Russian, and so on. The reason is obvious: different languages could not possibly have inherited the same root for 'gun' from PIE, and they each had to invent or borrow their own word when guns were invented.

{p. 238} The gun example suggests that we should take a series of inventions whose dates we know, and see which of those do and which do not have reconstructed names in PIE. Anything - like gun - that was invented after PIE began to break up should not have a reconstructed name. Anything like brother - that was invented or known before the break-up might have a name. (It does not have to have a name, because plenty of PIE words have surely become lost. We know the PIE words for 'eye' and 'eyebrow' but not 'eyelid', although PIE speakers must have had eyelids. )

Perhaps the earliest major developments without PIE names are battle chariots, which became widespread between 2000 and 1500 BC, and iron, whose use became important between 1200 and 1000 BC. The lack of PIE terms for these relatively late inventions does not surprise us, since the distinctness of Hittite had already convinced us that PIE broke up long before 2000 BC. Among earlier developments that do have PIE names, there are words for 'sheep' and 'goat', first domesticated by around 8000 BC; cattle (including separate words for cow, steer, and ox), domesticated by 6400 BC; horses, domesticated by around 4000 BC, and ploughs, invented around the time that horses were domesticated. The latest datable invention with a PIE name is the wheel, invented around 3300 BC.

Therefore, linguistic paleontology, even in the absence of any other evidence, would date the break-up of PIE as before 2000 BC but after 3300 BC. This conclusion agrees well with the one reached by extrapolating the differences between Hittite, Greek, and Sanskrit backwards in time. Hence if we wish to find traces of the first Indo-Europeans, we should be safe concentrating on the archaeological record between 2500 and 5000 BC, and perhaps slightly before 3000 BC.

Having reached fair agreement about the 'when' question, let's now ask: where was PIE spoken? Linguists have disagreed about the PIE homeland ever since they first began to appreciate its significance. Almost every possible answer has been proposed, from the North Pole to India, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores of Eurasia. As the archaeologist J.P. Mallory puts it, the question is not, 'Where do scholars locate the Indo-European homeland?', but 'Where do they put it now?'

To understand why this problem has proved so difficult, let's first try to solve it quickly by looking at a map (see page 228). As of 1492, most surviving Indo-European branches were virtually confined to Western Europe, and only Indo-lranian extended east of the Caspian Sea. Western Europe would be the most parsimonious solution to the search for the

{p. 239} PIE homeland, the solution that required the fewest people to move long distances.

Unfortunately for that solution, in 1900 a 'new' but long-extinct Indo-European language was discovered in a triply unlikely location. Firstly, the language (Tocharian, as it is now known) turned up in a secret chamber behind a wall in a Buddhist cave monastery. The chamber contained a library of ancient documents in the strange language, written around 600-800 AD by Buddhist missionaries and traders. Secondly, the monastery lay in Chinese Turkestan, east of all extant Indo-European speakers and about a thousand miles removed from the nearest ones. Finally, Tocharian was not related to Indo-lranian, the geographically closest branch of Indo-European, but possibly instead to branches used in Europe itself, thousands of miles to the west. It is as if we suddenly discovered that the early medieval inhabitants of Scotland spoke a language related to Chinese.

Obviously, the Tocharians did not reach Chinese Turkestan by helicopter. They surely walked or rode there, and we have to assume that central Asia formerly had many other Indo-European languages that disappeared without the good fortune to be preserved by documents in secret chambers. A modern linguistic map of Eurasia (see page 228) makes obvious what must have happened to Tocharian and all those other lost Indo-European languages of central Asia. That whole area today is occupied by people speaking Turkic or Mongolian languages, descendants of hordes that overran the area from the time of at least the Huns to Genghis Khan. Scholars debate whether Genghis Khan's armies slaughtered 2,400,000 or only 1,600,000 people when they captured Harat, but scholars agree that such activities transformed the linguistic map of Asia. In contrast, most Indo-European languages known to have disappeared in Europe - like the Celtic languages Caesar found spoken in Gaul - were replaced by other Indo-European languages. The apparently European centre of gravity of Indo-European languages as of 1492 was actually an artifact of recent linguistic holocausts in Asia. If the PIE homeland really was centrally located in what became the Indo-European realm by 600 AD, stretching from Ireland to Chinese Turkestan, then that homeland would have been in the Russian steppes north of the Caucasus, rather than in Western Europe.

Just as the languages themselves gave us some clues to the time of PlE's break-up, so too they contain clues to the location of the PIE homeland. One clue is that the language family to which Indo-European has the clearest connections is Finno-Ugric, the family that includes Finnish and other languages native to the forest zone of north Russia (see map on page 228). Now it is true that the links between Finno-Ugric and Indo-European languages are enormously weaker than those between German

{p. 240} and English, which stem from the fact that the English language was brought to England from northwest Germany only 1,500 years ago. The links are also much weaker than those between the Germanic and Slavic language branches of Indo-European, which probably diverged a few thousand years ago. Instead, the links suggest a much older propinquity between the speakers of PIE and of proto-Finno-Ugric. But since Finno-Ugric comes from the north Russian forests, that suggests a PIE homeland in the Russian steppe south of the forests. In contrast, if PIE had arisen much further south (say, in Turkey), the closest affinities of Indo-European might have been with the ancient Semitic languages of the Near East.

A second clue to the PIE homeland is the non-Indo-European vocabulary swept up as debris into quite a few Indo-European languages. I mentioned that this debris is especially noticeable in Greek, and it is also conspicuous in Hittite, Irish, and Sanskrit. That suggests that those areas used to be occupied by non-Indo-Europeans and were later invaded by Indo-Europeans. If so, the PIE homeland was not Ireland or India (which almost no one suggests today anyway), but it also was not Greece or Turkey (which some scholars still do suggest).

Conversely, the modern Indo-European language still most similar to PIE is Lithuanian. Our first preserved Lithuanian texts, from around 1500 AD, contain as high a fraction of PIE word roots as did Sanskrit texts of nearly 3,000 years earlier. The conservatism of Lithuanian suggests that it has been subject to few disturbing influences from non-Indo-European languages and may have remained near the PIE homeland. Formerly, Lithuanian and other Baltic languages were more widely distributed in Russia, until Goths and Slavs pushed the Balts back to their current shrunken domain of Lithuania and Latvia. Thus, this reasoning too suggests a PIE homeland in Russia.

A third clue comes from the reconstructed PIE vocabulary. We already saw how its inclusion of words for things familiar in 4000 BC, but not for things unknown until 2000 BC, helps date the time when PIE was spoken. Might it also pinpoint the place where PIE was spoken? PIE includes a word for snow (snoighwos), suggesting a temperate rather than tropical location and providing the root of our English word 'snow'. Of the many wild animals and plants with PIE names (like mus meaning mouse), most are widespread in the temperate zone of Eurasia and help to pin down the homeland's latitude but not its longitude.

To me, the strongest clue from the PIE vocabulary is what it lacked rather than included - words for many crops. PIE speakers surely did some farming, since they had words for plough and sickle, but only one word for an unspecified grain has survived. In contrast, the reconstructed proto-Bantu language of Africa, and the proto-Austronesian language of

{p. 241} Southeast Asia, have many crop names. Proto-Austronesian was spoken even longer ago than PIE, so that modern Austronesian languages have had more time to lose those old names for crops than have the modern Indo-European languages. Despite that, the modern Austronesian languages still contain far more old names of crops. Hence PIE speakers probably actually had few crops, and their descendants borrowed or invented crop names as they moved to more agricultural areas.

{p. 242} That conclusion presents us with a double puzzle. Firstly, by 3500 BC farming had become the dominant way of life in almost all of Europe and much of Asia. That severely narrows down the possible choices for the PIE homeland; it must have been an unusual area where farming was not so dominant. Secondly, it begs the question why PIE speakers were able to expand. A major cause of the Bantu and Austronesian expansions was that the first speakers of those language families were farmers, spreading into areas occupied by hunter-gatherers whom they could outnumber or dominate. For PIE speakers to have been rudimentary farmers invading a farming Europe turns historical experience on its head. Thus, we cannot solve the 'where' of Indo-European origins until we have come to grips with the hardest question: why?

In Europe just before the age of writing, there were not one but two economic revolutions so far-reaching in impact that they could have caused a linguistic steamroller. The first was the arrival of farming and herding, which originated in the Near East around 8000 BC, leapt from Turkey to Greece around 6500 BC, and then spread north and west to reach Britain and Scandinavia. Farming and herding permitted a large increase in human population numbers over those previously sustainable by hunting and gathering alone (Chapter Ten). Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge in England, recently published a thought-provoking book arguing that those farmers from Turkey were the PIE speakers who brought Indo-European languages to Europe.

My first reaction to reading Renfrew's book was, 'Of course, he must be right!' Farming had to produce a linguistic upheaval in Europe, just as it did in Africa and Southeast Asia. This is especially likely since, as geneticists have shown, those first farmers made the biggest contribution to the genes of modern Europeans.

But - Renfrew's theory ignores or dismisses all the linguistic evidence. Farmers reached Europe thousands of years before the estimated arrival of PIE. The first farmers lacked, and PIE speakers possessed, innovations

{p. 242} like ploughs, wheels, and domesticated horses. PIE is strikingly deficient in words for the crops that defined the first farmers. Hittite, the oldest known Indo-European language of Turkey, is not the Indo-European language closest to pure PIE, as one might expect from Renfrew's Turkey-based theory, but is instead the most deviant language and the one least Indo-European in its vocabulary. Renfrew's theory rests on nothing more than a syllogism: farming probably caused a steamroller, the PIE steamroller requires a cause, so farming is assumed to have been that cause. Everything else suggests that farming instead brought to Europe the older languages that PIE overran, like Etruscan and Basque.

Yet around 5000-3000 BC - at the right time for PIE origins - there was a second economic revolution in Eurasia. This later revolution coincided with the beginnings of metallurgy and involved a greatly expanded use of domestic animals - not just for meat and hides, as humans had been using wild animals for a million years, but for new purposes that included milk, wool, pulling ploughs, pulling wheeled vehicles, and riding. The revolution is richly reflected in the PIE vocabulary, through words for 'yoke' and 'plough', 'milk' and 'butter', 'wool' and 'weave', and a host of words associated with wheeled vehicles ('wheel', 'axle', 'shaft', 'harness', 'hub', and 'lynch-pin').

The economic significance of this revolution was to increase human population and power far beyond the levels made possible by farming and herding alone. For instance, through milk and its products one cow gradually yielded many more calories than did its meat alone. Ploughing allowed a farmer to plant much more acreage than he could with a hoe or digging stick. Animal-drawn vehicles allowed people to exploit far more land and still bring its produce to their village for processing.

For some of these advances it is hard to say where they arose, because they spread so quickly. For example, wheeled vehicles are unknown before 3300 BC, but within a few centuries of that date they are widely recorded throughout Europe and the Middle East. But there is one crucial advance whose origin can be identified: the domestication of horses. Just before their domestication, wild horses were absent from the Mideast and southern Europe, rare in northern Europe, and abundant only in the steppes of Russia eastwards. The first evidence of horse domestication is for the Sredny Stog culture around 4000 BC, in the steppes just north of the Black Sea, where archaeologist David Anthony has identified wearmarks on horses' teeth that indicate use of a bit for riding.

Throughout the world, wherever and whenever domestic horses have been introduced, they have yielded enormous benefits for human societies (Chapter Fourteen). For the first time in human evolution, people could travel overland faster than their own legs could propel them. Speed helped hunters run down their prey and helped herders

{p. 243} manage their sheep and cattle over large areas. Most importantly, speed helped warriors to launch quick surprise raids on distant enemies and to withdraw again before the enemies had time to organize a counterattack. Throughout the world the horse revolutionized warfare and enabled horse-owning peoples to terrorize their neighbours. The stereotype that Americans hold of Great Plains Indians as fearsome mounted warriors was actually created only recently, within a few generations from 1660 to 1770. Since European horses reached the US West in advance of Europeans themselves and other European goods, we can be sure that the horse alone was what transformed Plains Indian society.

Archaeological evidence makes clear that domestic horses had similarly transformed human society on the Russian steppe much earlier, around 4000 BC. The steppe habitat of open grassland was hard for

{p. 244} people to exploit until they could use horses to solve the problems of distance and transport. Human occupation of the Russian steppe accelerated with horse domestication and then exploded with the invention of ox-drawn wheeled vehicles around 3300 BC. The steppe economy came to be based on the combination of sheep and cattle for meat, milk, and wool, plus horses and wheeled vehicles for transport and supplemented by a little farming.

There is no evidence for intensive agriculture and food storage at those early steppe sites, in marked contrast to the abundant evidence at other European and Mideast sites around the same time. Steppe people lacked large permanent settlements and were evidently highly mobile - again in contrast to the villages with rows of hundreds of two storey houses in southeast Europe at the time. What the horsemen lacked in architecture they made up for in military zeal, as attested by their lavish tombs (for men only!), filled with enormous numbers of daggers and other weapons, and sometimes even with wagons and horse skeletons.

Thus, Russia's Dnieper River (see map on page 243) marked an abrupt cultural boundary: to the east, the well-armed horsemen, to the west, the rich farming villages with their granaries. That proximity of wolves and sheep spelt T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Once the invention of the wheel completed the horsemens' economic package, their artifacts indicate a very rapid spread for thousands of miles eastwards through the steppes of central Asia (see map). From that movement, the ancestors of the Tocharians may have arisen. The steppe peoples' spread westwards is marked by the concentration of European farming villages nearest the steppes into huge defensive settlements, then the collapse of those societies, and the appearance of characteristic steppe graves in Europe as far west as Hungary.

Of the innovations that drove the steppe peoples' steamroller, the sole one for which they clearly get full credit is the domestication of the horse. They might also have developed wheeled vehicles, milking, and wool technology independently of the Mideast's civilizations, but they borrowed sheep, cattle, metallurgy, and probably the plough from the Mideast or Europe. Thus, there was no single 'secret weapon' that alone explains the steppe expansion. Instead, with horse domestication the steppe peoples became the first to put together the economic and military package that came to dominate the world for the next 5,000 years especially after they added intensive agriculture upon invading southeastern-Europe. Hence their success, like that of the second-stage European expansion that began in 1492, was an accident of bio-geography. They happened to be the peoples whose homeland combined abundant wild horses and open steppe with proximity to Mideastern and European centres of civilization.

{p. 245} As archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, from the University of California, Los Angeles, has argued, the Russian steppe peoples who lived west of the Ural Mountains in the fourth millenium BC fit quite well into our postulated picture of proto-Indo-Europeans. They lived at the right time. Their culture included the important economic elements reconstructed for PIE (like wheels and horses), and lacked the elements lacking from PIE (like battle chariots and many crop terms). They lived in the right place for PIE: the temperate zone, south of Finno-Ugric peoples, near the later homeland of Lithuanians and other Balts.

If the fit is so good, why does the steppe theory of Indo-European origins remain so controversial? There would have been no controversy if archaeologists had been able to demonstrate a rapid expansion of steppe culture from southern Russia all the way to Ireland around 3000 BC. But that did not happen; direct evidence of the steppe invaders themselves extends no further west than Hungary. Instead, around and after 3000 BC, one finds a bewildering array of other cultures developing in Europe and named for their artifacts (for instance, the 'Corded Ware and Battle-axe Culture'). Those emerging Western European cultures combine steppe elements like horses and militarism with old Western European elements, especially settled agriculture. Such facts cause many archaeologists to discount the steppe hypothesis altogether, and to see the emerging Western European cultures as local developments.

However, there is an obvious reason why the steppe culture could not spread intact to Ireland. The steppe itself reaches its western limit in the plains of Hungary. That is where all subsequent steppe invaders of Europe, such as the Mongols, stopped. To spread further, steppe society had to adapt to the forested landscape of Western Europe - by adopting intensive agriculture, or by taking over existing European societies and hybridizing with their peoples. Most of the genes of the resulting hybrid societies may have been the genes of Old Europe.

If steppe people imposed PIE, their mother tongue, on southeastern Europe as far as Hungary, then it was the resulting daughter Indo-European culture, not the original steppe culture itself, that spread to derived granddaughtter cultures elsewhere in Europe. Archaeological evidence of major cultural change suggests that such granddaughter cultures may have arisen throughout Europe and east to India between 3000 and 1500 BC. Many non-Indo-European languages held out long enough to be preserved in writing (like Etruscan), and Basque still survives today. Thus, the Indo-European steamroller was not a single wave, but a long chain of events that has taken 5,000 years to unfold.

As an analogy, consider how Indo-European languages came to

{p. 246} dominate North and South America today. We have abundant written records to prove that they stem from invasions of Indo-European speakers from Europe. Those European immigrants did not overrun the Americas in one step, and archaeologists do not find remains of unmodified European culture throughout the sixteenth-century New World. That culture was useless on the US frontier. Instead, the colonists' culture was a highly modified or hybrid one that combined Indo-European languages and much of European technology (such as guns and iron) with American Indian crops and (especially in Central and South America) Indian genes. Some areas of the New World have taken many centuries for Indo-European language and economy to master. The takeover did not reach the Arctic until this century. It is reaching much of the Amazon only now, and the Andes of Peru and Bolivia promise to remain Indian for a long time yet.

Suppose that some future archaeologist should dig in Brazil, after written records have been destroyed and Indo-European languages have disappeared from Europe. The archaeologist will find European artifacts suddenly appearing on the coast of Brazil around 1530, but penetrating the Amazon only very slowly thereafter. The people whom the archaeologist finds living in the Brazilian Amazon will be a genetic mishmash of American Indians, blacks, Europeans, and Japanese, speaking Portuguese. The archaeologist will be unlikely to realize that Portuguese was an intrusive language, contributed by invaders. to a hybrid local society.

Even after the PIE expansion of the fourth millenium BC, new interactions of horses, steppe peoples, and Indo-European languages continued to shape Eurasian history. PIE horse technology was primitive and probably involved little more than a rope-bit and bareback rider. For thousands of years thereafter, the military value of horses continued to improve with inventions ranging from metal bits and horse-drawn battle chariots around 2000 BC to the horseshoes, stirrups, and saddle of later cavalry. While most of these advances did not originate in the steppes, steppe peoples were still the ones who profited the most, because they always had more pasture and therefore more horses. As horse technology evolved, Europe was invaded by many more steppe peoples, among whom the Huns, Turks, and Mongols are best known. These peoples carved out a succession of huge, short-lived empires, stretching from the steppes to Eastern Europe. But never again were steppe peoples able to impose their language on Western Europe.

{p. 247} They enjoyed their biggest advantage at the outset, when PIE bareback riders invaded a Europe entirely without domestic horses.

There was another difference between these later recorded invasions and the earlier unrecorded PIE invasion. The later invaders were no longer Indo-European speakers from the westem steppes, but speakers of Turkic and Mongol languages from the eastern steppes. Ironically, horses were what enabled Turkish tribes from central Asia in the Eleventh Century AD to invade the land of the first written Indo-European language, Hittite. The most important innovation of the first Indo-Europeans was thus turned against their descendants. Turks are largely European in their genes, but non-Indo-European (Turkish) in their language. Similarly, an invasion from the east in 896 AD left modern Hungary largely European in its genes but Finno-Ugric in its language. By illustrating how a small invading force of steppe horsemen could impose their language on a European society, Turkey and Hungary provide models of how the rest of Europe came to speak Indo-European.

Eventually, steppe peoples in general, regardless of their language, ceased to win in the face of Western Europe's advancing technology. When the end came, it was swift. In 1241 AD the Mongols achieved the largest steppe empire that ever existed, stretching from Hungary to China. But after about 1500 AD the Indo-European-speaking Russians began to encroach on the steppes from the west. It took only a few more centuries of tsarist imperialism to conquer the steppe horsemen who had terrorized Europe and China for over 5,000 years. Today the steppes are divided between Russia and China, and only Mongolia remains as a vestige of steppe independence.

Much racist nonsense has been written about the supposed superiority of Indo-European peoples themselves. Nazi propaganda invoked a pure Aryan race. In fact, Indo-Europeans have never been unified since the PIE expansion of 5,000 years ago, and even PIE speakers themselves may have been divided among related cultures. Some of the most bitter fighting and vilest deeds of recorded history pitted one Indo-European group against another. The Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs whom the Nazis sought to exterminate conversed in languages as Indo-European as that of their persecutors. Speakers of proto-Indo-European merely happened to be in the right place at the right time to put together a useful package of technology. Through that stroke of luck, theirs was the mother tongue whose daughter languages came to be spoken by half the world today. {end}

Joseph Needham and David Anthony on Cultural Diffusion across the steppes ofter 2000 BC: needham-anthony.html.

To purchase The Third Chimpanzee from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060984031/qid=1013282331/sr=2-2/ref=sr_2_2/t/103-7143450-4198250.

To purchase any of Jared Diamond's books second-hand via ABEBooks: http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BookSearch?an=jared+diamond.

Marija Gimbutas, Colin Renfrew, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza on the Aryan invasion of Europe: gimbutas.html.

More detail on the Aryan destruction of the Harappan civilization: rig-veda.html.

Write to me at contact.html.