4. Miscellaneous aspects of the Aryan invasion debate
4.3. Where did the Kurgan People come from?
4.3.1 Kurgan immigrants
From the east, a foreign IE-speaking population intruded into Europe, soon to be diluted by genetically mixing with the natives, and totally assimilated before they, or rather their language and culture, reached Europe’s western shores. However, it stands to reason that they were still genetically distinct when their entry began. That is why the start of the Kurgan culture was accompanied by a change in the racial composition of the population of South Russia in about 4500 BC: ‘The Dniepr-Donets people are known to be massive Cro-Magnons, continuous from the Upper Palaeolithic; the Strednij Stog-2 men are described as more gracile, tall-statured, dolichocephalic with narrow faces.’1 And again, Maria Gimbutas writes: ‘The skeletal remains are dolichomesocranial, taller-statured and of a more gracile type than those of their predecessors in the substratum.’2
It is this new racial element which the Kurgan Urheimat school identifies as IE. In that case, the cultural change was effected by an incoming new ethnic group. It is fair to observe that the racial type described here as typical of the first Kurgan-making community, is similar to the tall, robust and long-headed type which you find in the Pashtu, Panjabi and Kashmiri populations of contemporary India and Pakistan, as also in the Harappan and pre-Harappan settlements.
But the two racial types coexisted for long, though still culturally distinct: ‘Kurgan II, ca. 4000-3500 BC. Materials from this period demonstrate continuous coexistence with the Dniepr-Donets culture: two different physical types (both of ‘Cro-Magnon C’ type, but with the Kurgan people being more gracile) and burial customs (collective burials in trenchlike pits characteristic of the Dniepr-Donets culture, and single burials of Kurgan type) were proved to be present even in the same villages.’3 This is precisely the type of coexistence which renders cultural assimilation and transmission of the IE language to pre-IE populations possible.
4.3.2. Eastern origins
While V. Gordon Childe, one of the first to identify South Russia as the Urheimat, thought that the Urheimat population and/or culture had come from more westerly regions, ‘Gimbutas, following most recent Russian work, has departed from Childe, to the extent of deriving the Kurgan cultures from the steppes on the Lower Volga and farther east ( ) While linguistic opinion has been moving in the direction of putting the Indo-European homeland in the region of the Vistula, Oder or Elbe, archaeological opinion is now putting it in the Lower Volga steppe and regions east of the Caspian Sea.’4 This was written in 1966, when considerations of the geographical and linguistic location of ‘birch’ and ‘beech’, now quite outdated, were still tempting people to locate the Urheimat in Germany or Poland ‘on linguistic grounds’.
Population geneticists like L.Cavalli-Sforza have also discerned an east-to-west migration through eastern Europe in ca. 4000 BC, and identified this westbound population with the bringers of the Indo-European languages.5
The archaeological evidence also indicates an abrupt change, suggesting an immigration, and more particularly an immigration from the east: ‘Local evolution cannot account for such abrupt changes ( ) The pottery is relatable to the earliest Neolithic in the Middle Urals and Soviet Central Asia.’6 We already saw how the Kurgan people brought the cultivation of millet from Central Asia.7 All in all, there is now a very strong case for an Asian origin, dated to before 4500 BC, of the Kurgan culture. Tracing these pre-Kurganites to India is a job yet to be done, but at present it should certainly be considered one the reasonable hypotheses.
Remark that in this section, I have only quoted findings which predate the ongoing AIT debate by years or by decades. All of them were published by established academic indo-europeanists. On respected platforms, all the necessary information had been made available to deduce an Asian origin of IE. Yet, so strong is the paradigm inertia that few if any established academics have intervened to draw that conclusion openly. Let us therefore add the more recent and more outspoken opinion of Bernard Sergent: ‘The present stage of research effectively permits tracing an Asian origin for the Indo-Europeans well before their dispersion.’8 Sergent affirms in so many words that ‘the Kurgan people had to originate in Central Asia’9, and even that may have been a waystation en route from yet another country of origin.
Editorial note in Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1977/4, p-345. ↩
Marija Gimbutas: ‘Primary and Secondary Homeland of the Indo-Europeans’, Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1985/1-2, p. 191. ↩
M. Gimbutas: ‘Proto-Indo-European Culture: The Kurgan Culture during the Fifth, Fourth and Third Millennia BC’, in Cardona at al., eds.: Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, p. 178. ↩
Ward H. Goodenough: ‘The Evolution of Pastoralism and Indo-European Origins’, in G. Cardona et al., eds.: Indo-European and Indo-Europeans, p.253-265, specially p.255, with reference to V. Gordon Childe: The Aryans. A Study of Indo-European Origins, London 1926. ↩
A.J. Ammerman and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza: The Neolithic Transition and the Genetics of Populations in Europe, Princeton 1984, p.59, and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza. The History and Geography of Human Genes, Princeton 1994, p.108. Honald Haarmann: ‘Aspects of early Indo-European contacts with neighbouring cultures’, Indogermanische Forschungen 1996, p. 12, tries to refute the theory of the geneticists by pointing out early linguistic contacts between IE and North-Caucasian as well as Uralic. In fact, North-Caucasian may easily have borrowed everything it has in common with IE rather than having imparted anything, while Uralic itself migrated from north-central Asia to eastern Europe. ↩
M. Gimbutas: ‘Primary and Secondary Homeland’, JIES 1985, p.191, emphasis added. ↩
B. Sergent: Les Indo-Europeens, p.398, p.432. ↩
B. Sergent, Les Indo-Europeens, p.62. ↩
B. Sergent: Les Indo-Europeens, p.440, with reference to Roland Menk: Anthropologie du Neolithique Europeen, dissertation, Geneva, 1981, ↩