Social Sciences Spain , Valladolid, Thursday, March 19 of 2015, 16:28

Valladolid researchers help to shed light on the origin of Indo-European languages

A study published in the Nature magazine reveals that 4,500 years ago there was a massive migration of peoples from the Russian steppes to Central Europe, which favoured the expansion of Indo-European languages

Cristina G. Pedraz/DICYT Reseachers of the Prehistory and Archaeology Department of the Universidad de Valladolid (UVA) were part of the international scientific team that has shed light on the origin and expansion of Indo-European languages. In order to achieve this the most wide-ranging research work involving ancient DNA to date has been carried out, to be precise of 69 individuals who lived in Europe between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago.

This massive study of ancient DNA has clarified the migration patterns of the first Europeans. It has revealed that some 4,500 years ago there was a massive migration of peoples from the Russian steppes to Central Europe, which brought Eastern and Western Europe into direct contact and favoured the expansion of Indo-European languages (the common core of almost all current European languages) all over the continent.

As has been explained to DiCYT by Manuel A. Rojo, a researcher from the Prehistory and Archaeology Department of the UVA who took part in the study recently published in the Nature magazine, the so-called "steppe hypothesis" is therefore highlighted. This idea proposes that the first groups of Indo-European language speakers “consisted or shepherds who inhabited the meadows between north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and that their languages extended throughout Europe after the invention of the wheel and the cart and their corresponding emigration”

Evidence is thus put forward on what has been a controversial subject, the origin and expansion of Indo-European languages through Europe. The “steppe hypothesis” was opposed by the "Anatolian hypothesis“, according to which the Indo-European languages “reached Europe from Anatolia some 8,500 years ago”.


The results of the study also reveal that some 7,000-8,000 years ago groups closely related to the first farmers other than indigenous hunter-gatherers arose in Germany, Hungary, and Spain, while Russia was inhabited by another group of hunter-gatherers. Nevertheless, some 5,000-6,000 ago there was a resurgence of hunter-gatherer groups all over Europe except Russia.

Soria contribution


The 69 sequential genomes include those of individuals from the collective burial ground of La Mina in Alcubilla de las Peñas in the province of Soria, which date from 5,700-5,800 years ago. There are also others in the Cueva dels Trocs in the Alta Ribagorza region in the province of Huesca, a site of some 7,300 years of age.


According to Manuel A. Rojo, the DNA of these individuals is extremely well preserved on the Soria site owing to the fact that “it is not exposed to climatic contrasts”. The same is true of the Cueva dels Trocs “because the cave is at an altitude of 1,530 metres which means that it forms a natural fridge, in such a way that it can be said that the best ancient DNA in the world is preserved here”.

Researchers from nine countries have taken part in the study: Australia, the United States, Germany, China, Russia, Hungary, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. It was led by Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide in Australia; Kurt Alt of the University of Mainz, Germany; and David Reich and Losif Lazaridis of the Harvard Medical School of Boston in the United States.




Bibliographic reference:
Haak, W., Lazaridis, I., Patterson, N., Rohland, N., Mallick, S. et al. (2015). “Massive migration from the steppe is a source for Indo-European languages in Europe". Nature. DOI 10.1038/nature14317