How much English is Indo-European

Neolithic migrations influence Indo-European languages

4500 years ago people immigrated from the Eurasian steppe areas to Central Europe and thus possibly contributed to the spread of the Indo-European language family

Almost three billion people today speak one of the 445 languages ​​that belong to the Indo-European language family. This also includes German, English, French, Italian, Greek, Iranian and Russian. A team led by Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, and the Australian Center for Ancient DNA at Adelaide University has now discovered indications of massive migratory movements from the Eurasian steppe areas around 4,500 years ago, which had a significant influence on the distribution of some Indo-European language groups must have. The researchers, including scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man in Jena, contradict some of the most popular theses about the origin of the Indo-European languages, according to which the ancestor of these languages ​​with the early farmers from the Middle East more than 9000 years ago Europe came.

The study is based on a previously unique database: Compared to studies available so far, more than twice as many genomes of prehistoric Europeans were sequenced. "This reflects a fundamental advance in DNA research that makes it possible to test the genomes of dozens of individuals at the same time," says project leader David Reich of Harvard Medical School, the Broad Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "We have developed a new technique that allows us to isolate the parts of the genome that contain the most information about human history and have only sequenced those parts."

In total, the genes of over 90 individuals who lived in Europe between 3000 and 8000 years ago have been sequenced. When analyzing the data sets, two major changes in the population emerged:

The first upheaval goes back to the spread of early farmers across Europe. These moved from the Middle East to the west more than 9,000 years ago and settled in Central and Western Europe around 7,500 years ago. This population group is genetically distinct from the hunters and gatherers living in Europe at the time. So far, two different migration routes of the farmers have been described archaeologically. B. ceramics, from the Mediterranean and the Central and Northern European continent. "The genetic data do not confirm this, however," says first author Wolfgang Haak from the University of Adelaide. "The early farmers from Spain, Germany and Hungary are genetically almost identical, which suggests a common origin in the Middle East."

However, the “hunter-gatherers” have not completely disappeared. "Around 6,000 to 5,000 years ago we see a renewed increase in the proportion of hunter-gatherers in the genome," says co-lead author Iosif Lazaridis from Harvard Medical School. "That means that hunter-gatherer societies must have existed long after the farmers arrived." "But it also shows that hunter-gatherers have gradually been integrated into farming communities," adds Kurt Alt from the University of Basel and from the private university in Krems.

The migration movement from the east

In previous work, some of the same authors had already pointed out the genetic composition of all Europeans from three essential components: genetic components of hunter-gatherer populations and early farmers as well as a third component with similarity to Siberians and the first American Indians. Genome-wide data from early farmers had shown that this third proportion was not yet available in Europe at the time and therefore had to be added later. When and how, however, was unclear.

“It was a real aha when we looked at the first data,” enthuses Lazaridis. "The third part was seen in every individual younger than 4500 years, and in none of the older samples from Central Europe." Haak goes even further: "The signal is so strong that one could almost speak of a genetic dating, based on the occurrence of one, two or all three components." In fact, some outliers were found among the samples that were previously archaeological were classified as older solely because of their orientation, but had the third component. To clarify the age of these burials without additions were 14C-dating commissioned. “The striking similarities in the material legacies of the Corded Pottery and Yamnaya cultures were already known. This close connection has now also been proven scientifically, ”adds Harald Meller, director of the State Museum for Prehistory in Halle (Saale).

"In Germany, it is the so-called Cord Ceramists at the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, in whom the third component appears for the first time and whose genetic make-up marks a second change in population," says Haak. “Based on a direct comparison with individuals of the Yamnaya culture, cattle herders from the Eurasian steppe regions, we estimate the genetic steppe proportion in the cord ceramics from Saxony Anhalt to be a considerable 75 percent,” says Lazaridis, and adds, “that the cord ceramists and the See the Yamnaya population genetically astonishingly similar despite the geographical distance of 2600 kilometers.

How did Indo-European come to Europe?

With a genetic impact of this magnitude, the question arises whether this expansion also had an impact on the spread of languages. "The results suggest that the Cord Ceramists are not only genetically closely related to the steppe shepherds, but may also have had a similar language," says Lazaridis. " Since all Central and Northern Europeans nowadays have a high genetic proportion of the steppe inhabitants of that time, and also speak an Indo-European language, at least a clear contribution from the steppe cannot be ruled out, ”Haak notes. This agrees with the view of linguists, who argue that language development is faster than that of genes, and for whom the Indo-European language with the first farmers is therefore several thousand years too old. Reich adds: "Our results challenge the theory of language spread in the context of the immigration of the first peasants."

However, the interdisciplinary interpretation of archaeological, linguistic and genetic data is controversial. "This is a sensitive topic and has to be approached with care," warns co-author Johannes Krause, director of the new Max Planck Institute for the History of Human History in Jena. “However, with old DNA, we finally have the temporal and genetic resolution that can help us here. In this regard, we have already scheduled a workshop in Jena in October, in which we want to address these questions together with experts from all three disciplines. "

A still unsolved question is that of the origin of the Indo-European language family. Despite the monumental task, Reich, Haak and their colleagues are optimistic that the solution will be approached. Haak says confidently: “The main task now is to gradually plug the gaps in our genetic mapping. We want to understand how similar population groups from Europe, Anatolia, the Caucasus, Iran and India were 3000 to 6000 years ago in order to get closer to the potential origin of the Indo-European languages. "

The samples for the study were compiled by an international team with significant participation from the universities of Mainz, Basel and Tübingen, the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archeology Saxony-Anhalt with the State Museum for Prehistory in Halle, and the new Max Planck Institute for the History of Human History in Jena. More than half of the samples come from Saxony-Anhalt, where valuable new discoveries were made during the construction of ICE routes and federal highways, the genetic analysis of which was also financially supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

PM / HR