The Indo-European "Homeland".....


For more than a century and a half linguists have explored every conceivable possibility as a "Home-site" for the people who might be connected with the reconstructed IE proto-language, from which most of the later languages of European and some of those in the Near East finally evolved. There were dozens of wild guesses, some based on a misconstrued Nationalism at which the Germans, as leaders of the IE investigations, were adept. Since mid-century it was clear that any serious considerations would have to be accompanied by archaeological findings, and by l980 the carbon dating methods promised to put real time-dating on the materials the archaeologists dug up.

For anyone who wants to examine this linguistic-archaeological problem, there is a good and full summary in the work of J.P. Mallory: "In Search of the Indo-Europeans", Thames and Hudson l989 (Lib. Cong. 88-50232, ISBN 0-500- 27616-1). This 300 page volume is more than an overview, it is replete with summaries of the linguistic patterns of the spreading IE tongues, and gives clear descriptions of the archaeological sites which have been examined by a host of Russian and Balkan experts, among others. For something more than a quick glance at the field, Mallory is an excellent starter. He seems to have read everything pertinent to the subject, he gives good resources for further reading, and this would seem to be a good and fairly modern introduction to the IE home problem

But a good book always raises more questions than it answers, and this is no exception, so I would like to append a few thoughts which have absorbed me over the years.

Students of botany have been aware that Europe has a limited display of flora of all kinds, and have conencted this with the burn-over which covered all of Europe somewhere around 6000 BC. This is carbon datable, and it is interesting that the burning is general rather than the result of locally set fires. Surely this cannot be a natural result of fire set by lightening, it would seem to have been the preface to a concerted venture into agriculture, which fits well with the general post-glacial interest in farming. The history of the development of the grains involves first einkorn and then later the wheat varieties, which made possible a much larger human population that the world had previously seen. The grains which can, despite rodent losses, weather a long winter as food supply, were the first hint toward the Malthusian theory that population was relative to food supply, and the sudden rise in population in the Indus Valley and soon in Egypt is clear indicator of the correctness of this view.

Since the IE linguistic expansion must in some way be related to a rise in general population, and since these things both arose in the immediate post- glacial period, it appears that we have to correlate the three phenomena of a) warmed climate b) rising population depending on c) development of new agricultural and cross-breeding techniques. The grains of Egypt and the remarkable maize developments in South America are parts of the same phenomenon, which is response to a warming climate by change from the sole hunter-gatherer mode of life.

It was almost half a century ago that Edgar Anderson documented the stages by which plants were bred and cross bred with amasing sophistication, over the course of more than a handful of millennia, in his book " Plants, Man and Life", Univ. of California Press, l952, revised l967. Anderson relies on much previous work by international botanists, and speaks with authority in a readable summary of this aspect of the botanical field. His research fits exactly with the expansion of population which may connect with the Indo European emigration across Europe, and this brings us back to the general European fire of 7000 BC: If general and intentional, it must mean that more food from the earth was required for more mouths to feed.

What we often call Civilization is a very recent phenomenon dating from only the last dozen millennia. There is no evidence for any such widespread expansion of population and anthropological "culture" at any earlier time, nor is ther evidence for writing or any semi-literate graphemic recording system from an earlier period. So we have every right to focus on these developments of Mankind since the glacial retreat as of prime importance to the understanding of what we are about and who we are at the present time.

Some ten millennia removed from the hunter's world, we are cast more in the mold of the mass-workers who can sow multitudious seeds effectively and bring in a giant harvest. This change seems to be something we are not quite easy with. We all have a tendency to consider ourselves as individuals, working in our own private ways, while our jobs and occupations continue to make us, more and more, cogs on a great societal wheel. Such major adjustment of life-values take more time than we have had since the ice sheets went away, watering the rock dust the glaciers ground down.

Mallory gives abundant documentation of activities in the NearEastern and European land masses, but almost nothing about water-adjacent sites and the fisheries which must have dotted the Black Sea and the Mediterranean from the earliest times. Fishing means not only hook and net technique, it will quickly evolve to the raft, floats and finally oared if not sailed boats. The sea is often a good preserver of timber at certain depths, and we might well look for earlier sea-finds than the famous sunk ships of the Greco-Roman period.

It is clear that the early development of bronze as a superior castable metal alloy, involved not only copper from Cypros, but also tin which must have come from Britain. A land route for tin ore is possible, but sea shipping ore is a much more practical mode of transportation for materials in the tons range. The kassiterite of the early Sumerians may well have come to them by sea. Wagons mean roads but a roadway from Brittany to Mesopotamia is most unlikely around 3500 BC. But the sea is always there in good weather. For more on this I will link you later to my study of the historical interpretation of the Greek myths, where there is a chapter on the development of the metals.

The remarkable activity of the Russian archaeologists in the Ukraine has shown that there was much activity in that area at a very early date. But as always happens with archaeological digs, a valuable portion of the site may be destroyed. In this case, we have found bones and pottery and funeral arrangements, but far more information could have been gathered from the small and microscopic evidence available at those sites. We now have excellent techniques for studying plant seeds and even more interestingly the pollens of the area, which can give us not only information about the natural botanical setting, but also what the populations was about agriculturally. As soon as you dig up a site you lose the pollen evidence, so in a sense the more you find the more you miss. However there are more sites to be explored, and it is to be hoped that future work will start at the top microscopically, and only afterward go down to the level where the bones are resting.

Anthropolgists always note certain measurements about bones, in the case of Europe there has been much interest in the long and round headed skull types which mark two variant human strains. But with computers we can now establish much more detailed databases for ALL the bones found with a given skeleton, or a given camp, and a detailed study of these by anatomists who understand how muscles and tendons fasten to the bones will give us much more detailed information than we have had before. It seems that we are learning more about everything at an accelerating rate, and out main problem may be trying to keep up with what we can know. If the few skeletal remains from Herculaneum in 78 AD can tell us about the work habits and social status of one individual, then we should be able to gather some of the same type of information from older bones too. Of course long burial may remove significant details, but our scientific eyes are getting sharper all the time.

It would be interesting to determine an "earliest date" for a given type of site, an 'ante quem nihil' kind of dating. Hunters need much area to survive, they may not even show up on a hunted area after some centuries. But if dates for sites start to overlap, we may be witnessing larger populations with the possibility of an agricultural assist. This is where the biologist with his microscope and the pollens becomes important.

The database for Indo Euroepan linguistics is immense, there are thousands of entries with thousands of cross references and cognate linkings, all established with scientifically rigorous detail since the early l9th century. The learned linguisitic literature is replete with information in books, not as easily surveyed as if in a computer database, but the material is there. Now what we need is an equally detailed and more easily available database for the archaeological work done in the pre-historical (IE...) areas of Nearer Asia and Easteren Europe. This should include along with site dating all the asembled information about every skeleton discovered, every bowl fired and decorated, every implement of every kind, all furnished with details of kind and accurate dimensions. When we have a database for the archaeological-anthropological findings which is in size and detail commensurate with the established IE linguistic database, then we can start to consder the possibilities of which populations may have spoken which languages. Until we have two parallel databases to compare, we have no way to connect "skeletal remains" with "speakers". That is the great gap in the IE home-theory. We don't know much about who was who, let along who said what!

But there is another mass if information which I believe has not been properly read. I became convinced years ago, when I was studying Sanskrit in my historical linguistics doctorate program, that the Greek myths had little to do with the spirituality of the Indic myths, even when there were thematic and linguistic parallels. (Campbell travelled a similar route, but went wrong in the direction of a popular and fashionable spiritualism.) I have discussed this mismatch with Indian scholars and find they have the same misgivings about Greek mythology.

Many years ago I realized that the Greek myths, even when they were historically connected to the Indic materials, as with certain deity names, were really part of a very detailed historical account. Much of the mythic data points to the third and fourth millennium BC, the time when the horse was being tamed, the cow bred, ships built for transport and the "heroes" facing the problems of working in concert with others in a social setting. Heracles and Achilles are tragic failures in a socializing world, the two man team is as far as they could go in the social direction.

Rather than try to summarize my extensive materials, let me link you to the dozen chapters of my study of the Greek Myths. In brief, I have only tried the historical approach in stories which I found had absolutely no meaning in their related form. The Greeks flourished long after the creation of a Bronze Age world, but their myths seem to be constantly drawn back to the problems of that earlier world, even earlier than the Minoan-Mycenean level of the second millennium BC. Rather than see the myths as meaningless stories which have lost their point, I became convinced that they were part of a lost historical tradition. And since that tradition reaches back to the later levels of the Indo European dating, and overlaps as literary record with much of the anthroplogical materials which archaeologists have been assembling in East Europe and the Balkans, I call attention to my analysis as corroborating evidence regarding the later Bronze Age civilizaion. Whether this will tie up convincingly with the linguisitic database of Indo European linguistic- historiography, is something we cannot tell at the present time.

For my detailed twelve chapter study, which is long and must be read slowly, you can use this link to The Greek Myths.

Return to Main index

William Harris
Prof. Em. Middlebury College
www.middlebury.edu/~harris