Domestication of the horse
Nordic Bronze Age
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Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European
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Kurgan hypothesis (also known as the
Kurgan theory or Kurgan
model) or steppe theory is the most widely accepted proposal to
Proto-Indo-European homeland from which the Indo-European
languages spread out throughout Europe and parts of Asia.[note 1] It
postulates that the people of a
Kurgan culture in the Pontic steppe
north of the
Black Sea were the most likely speakers of the
Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). The term is derived from the
Russian kurgan (курган), meaning tumulus or burial mound.
Kurgan hypothesis was first formulated in the 1950s by Marija
Gimbutas, who used the term to group various cultures, including the
Yamna, or Pit Grave, culture and its predecessors. David Anthony
instead uses the core
Yamna culture and its relationship with other
cultures as a point of reference.
Marija Gimbutas defined the
Kurgan culture as composed of four
successive periods, with the earliest (
Kurgan I) including the Samara
and Seroglazovo cultures of the Dnieper-
Volga region in the Copper Age
(early 4th millennium BC). The people of these cultures were nomadic
pastoralists, who, according to the model, by the early 3rd millennium
BC had expanded throughout the Pontic-Caspian steppe and into Eastern
Three genetic studies in 2015 gave partial support to Gimbutas's
Kurgan theory regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those
studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a
is also common in South Asia) would have expanded from the Russian and
Ukrainian steppes, along with the Indo European languages; they also
detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was
not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced
with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo European
2.1 Cultural horizon
2.2 Stages of culture and expansion
2.4 Further expansion during the Bronze Age
3.1 Invasion vs. diffusion scenarios
3.2 Anthony's "Revised Steppe Theory"
4 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Arguments for the identification of the
Proto-Indo-Europeans as steppe
nomads from the Pontic-Caspian region had already been made in the
19th century by German philologists Theodor Benfey and especially
Otto Schrader. In his standard work about PIE and to a
greater extent in a later abbreviated version,
Karl Brugmann took
the view that the urheimat could not be identified exactly at that
time, but he tended toward Schrader's view. However, after Karl
Penka's 1883 rejection of non-European origins, most scholars
favoured a Northern European origin. The view of a Pontic origin was
still strongly favoured, e.g., by the archaeologists V. Gordon
Childe and Ernst Wahle. One of Wahle's students was Jonas
Puzinas, who in turn was one of Gimbutas' teachers. Gimbutas, who
acknowledges Schrader as a precursor, was able to marshal a wealth
of archaeological evidence from the territory of the Soviet Union (and
other countries then belonging to the eastern bloc) not readily
available to scholars from western countries, enabling her to
achieve a fuller picture of prehistoric Europe.
When it was first proposed in 1956, in The Prehistory of Eastern
Europe, Part 1, Marija Gimbutas's contribution to the search for
Indo-European origins was an interdisciplinary synthesis of
archaeology and linguistics. The
Kurgan model of Indo-European origins
identifies the Pontic-Caspian steppe as the Proto-Indo-European (PIE)
urheimat, and a variety of late PIE dialects are assumed to have been
spoken across the region. According to this model, the
gradually expanded until it encompassed the entire Pontic-Caspian
Kurgan IV being identified with the
Yamna culture of around
The mobility of the
Kurgan culture facilitated its expansion over the
entire region, and is attributed to the domestication of the horse and
later the use of early chariots.[note 2] The first strong
archaeological evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from
Sredny Stog culture
Sredny Stog culture north of the
Azov Sea in Ukraine, and would
correspond to an early PIE or pre-PIE nucleus of the 5th millennium
Subsequent expansion beyond the steppes led to hybrid, or in
Gimbutas's terms "kurganized" cultures, such as the Globular Amphora
culture to the west. From these kurganized cultures came the
immigration of Proto-
Greeks to the
Balkans and the nomadic
Indo-Iranian cultures to the east around 2500 BC.
Gimbutas defined and introduced the term "
Kurgan culture" in 1956 with
the intention of introducing a "broader term" that would combine
Sredny Stog II,
Corded ware horizons (spanning the 4th
to 3rd millennia in much of Eastern and Northern Europe).[note 3] The
model of a "
Kurgan culture" brings together the various cultures of
Copper Age to Early
Bronze Age (5th to 3rd millennia BC)
Pontic-Caspian steppe to justify their identification as a single
archaeological culture or cultural horizon, based on similarities
among them. The eponymous construction of kurgans (mound graves) is
only one among several factors. As always in the grouping of
archaeological cultures, the dividing line between one culture and the
next cannot be drawn with hard precision and will be open to debate.
Cultures that Gimbutas considered as part of the "
Bug-Dniester (6th millennium)
Samara (5th millennium)
Khvalynsk (5th millennium)
Dnieper-Donets (5th to 4th millennia)
Sredny Stog (mid-5th to mid-4th millennia)
Dereivka (mid-4th to mid-3rd millennia)
Yamna (Pit Grave): This is itself a varied cultural horizon, spanning
the entire Pontic-Caspian steppe from the mid-4th to the 3rd
Usatovo culture (late 4th millennium)
Stages of culture and expansion
Overview of the
Gimbutas' original suggestion identifies four successive stages of the
Kurgan I, Dnieper/
Volga region, earlier half of the 4th millennium BC.
Apparently evolving from cultures of the
Volga basin, subgroups
include the Samara and Seroglazovo cultures.
Kurgan II–III, latter half of the 4th millennium BC. Includes the
Sredny Stog culture
Sredny Stog culture and the
Maykop culture of the northern Caucasus.
Stone circles, anthropomorphic stone stelae of deities.
Kurgan IV or
Pit Grave culture, first half of the 3rd millennium BC,
encompassing the entire steppe region from the Ural to Romania.
In other publications she proposes three successive "waves" of
Wave 1, predating
Kurgan I, expansion from the lower
Volga to the
Dnieper, leading to coexistence of
Kurgan I and the
Cucuteni-Trypillian culture. Repercussions of the migrations extend as
far as the
Balkans and along the
Danube to the Vinča culture in
Lengyel culture in Hungary.
Wave 2, mid 4th millennium BC, originating in the
Maykop culture and
resulting in advances of "kurganized" hybrid cultures into northern
Europe around 3000 BC (Globular Amphora culture, Baden culture, and
ultimately Corded Ware culture). According to Gimbutas this
corresponds to the first intrusion of
Indo-European languages into
western and northern Europe.
Wave 3, 3000–2800 BC, expansion of the
Pit Grave culture beyond the
steppes, with the appearance of the characteristic pit graves as far
as the areas of modern Romania, Bulgaria, eastern
Hungary and Georgia,
coincident with the end of the
Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and
Trialeti culture in Georgia (c.2750 BC).
4500–4000: Early PIE. Sredny Stog, Dnieper-Donets and Samara
cultures, domestication of the horse (Wave 1).
Pit Grave culture (a.k.a. Yamna culture), the
prototypical kurgan builders, emerges in the steppe, and the Maykop
culture in the northern Caucasus.
Indo-Hittite models postulate the
Proto-Anatolian before this time.
3500–3000: Middle PIE. The
Pit Grave culture is at its peak,
representing the classical reconstructed Proto-Indo-European society
with stone idols, predominantly practicing animal husbandry in
permanent settlements protected by hillforts, subsisting on
agriculture, and fishing along rivers. Contact of the Pit Grave
culture with late
Neolithic Europe cultures results in the
"kurganized" Globular Amphora and Baden cultures (Wave 2). The
Maykop culture shows the earliest evidence of the beginning Bronze
Age, and Bronze weapons and artifacts are introduced to Pit Grave
territory. Probable early Satemization.
3000–2500: Late PIE. The
Pit Grave culture extends over the entire
Pontic steppe (Wave 3). The
Corded Ware culture
Corded Ware culture extends from the
Rhine to the Volga, corresponding to the latest phase of Indo-European
unity, the vast "kurganized" area disintegrating into various
independent languages and cultures, still in loose contact enabling
the spread of technology and early loans between the groups, except
for the Anatolian and Tocharian branches, which are already isolated
from these processes. The Centum-Satem break is probably complete, but
the phonetic trends of
Satemization remain active.
Further expansion during the Bronze Age
Main article: Indo-European migrations
Kurgan hypothesis describes the initial spread of
Proto-Indo-European during the 5th and 4th millennia BC. As used
by Gimbutas, the term "kurganized" implied that the culture could have
been spread by no more than small bands who imposed themselves on
local people as an elite. This idea of the PIE language and its
daughter-languages diffusing east and west without mass movement
proved popular with archaeologists in the 1970s (the pots-not-people
paradigm). The question of further Indo-Europeanization of Central
and Western Europe, Central Asia and Northern India during the Bronze
Age is beyond its scope, far more uncertain than the events of the
Copper Age, and subject to some controversy. The rapidly developing
field of archaeogenetics and genetic genealogy since the late 1990s
has not only confirmed a migratory pattern out of the Pontic Steppe at
the relevant time, it also suggests the possibility that the
population movement involved was more substantial than
Invasion vs. diffusion scenarios
Gimbutas believed that the expansions of the
Kurgan culture were a
series of essentially hostile, military incursions where a new warrior
culture imposed itself on the peaceful, matrilinear (hereditary
through the female line), matrifocal, though egalitarian cultures of
"Old Europe", replacing it with a patriarchal warrior society, a
process visible in the appearance of fortified settlements and
hillforts and the graves of warrior-chieftains:
The process of Indo-Europeanization was a cultural, not a physical,
transformation. It must be understood as a military victory in terms
of successfully imposing a new administrative system, language, and
religion upon the indigenous groups.
In her later life, Gimbutas increasingly emphasized the authoritarian
nature of this transition from the egalitarian process of the
"nature/Gaia" Mother Goddess to a patriarchal society and the worship
of the patristic / father / sun / weather God (Zeus, Dyaus). Contrary
to several critics'[who?] opinions, matriarchal hierarchical
structures in Gimbutas' opinion are the same as a patriarchal society,
not the actual opposite: an egalitarian society without hierarchy.
J. P. Mallory (in 1989) accepted the
Kurgan hypothesis as the de facto
standard theory of Indo-European origins, but he recognized criticism
of any alleged, but not actually stated (the slow accumulation of
influence through coecerion or extortion – Gimbutas' actual main
scenario – was often taken as general and immediate raiding and then
conquest) "radical" scenario of military invasion:
One might at first imagine that the economy of argument involved with
Kurgan solution should oblige us to accept it outright. But
critics do exist and their objections can be summarized quite simply:
Almost all of the arguments for invasion and cultural transformations
are far better explained without reference to
Kurgan expansions, and
most of the evidence so far presented is either totally contradicted
by other evidence, or is the result of gross misinterpretation of the
cultural history of Eastern, Central, and Northern Europe.
Anthony's "Revised Steppe Theory"
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
The Horse, the Wheel and Language describes his
"Revised Steppe Theory". David Anthony considers the term "Kurgan
culture" so lacking in precision as to be useless, instead using the
Yamna culture and its relationship with other cultures as a point
of reference. He points out that
Kurgan culture was so broadly defined that almost any culture with
burial mounds, or even (like the Baden culture) without them could be
He does not include the
Maykop culture among those that he considers
to be IE-speaking, presuming instead that they spoke a Caucasian
Late Glacial Maximum
Archaeogenetics of Europe
Out of India theory
Paleolithic Continuity Theory
Kurgan solution is attractive and has been accepted by
many archaeologists and linguists, in part or total. It is the
solution one encounters in the Encyclopædia Britannica and the Grand
Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse."
Strazny: "The single most popular proposal is the Pontic steppes (see
^ a b Parpola in Blench & Spriggs (1999:181). "The history of the
Indo-European words for 'horse' shows that the Proto-Indo-European
speakers had long lived in an area where the horse was native and/or
domesticated (Mallory 1989:161–63). The first strong archaeological
evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from the Ukrainian
Srednij Stog culture, which flourished c. 4200–3500 BC and is likely
to represent an early phase of the Proto-Indo-European culture
(Anthony 1986:295f.; Mallory 1989:162, 197–210). During the Pit
Grave culture (c. 3500–2800 BC), which continued the cultures
related to Srednij Stog and probably represents the late phase of the
Proto-Indo-European culture – full-scale pastoral technology,
including the domesticated horse, wheeled vehicles, stock breeding and
limited horticulture, spread all over the Pontic steppes, and, c. 3000
BC, in practically every direction from this centre (Anthony 1986,
1991; Mallory 1989, vol. 1).
^ >Gimbutas (1970) page 156: "The name
Kurgan culture (the Barrow
culture) was introduced by the author in 1956 as a broader term to
Pit-Grave (Russian Yamna), names used by Soviet scholars
for the culture in the eastern
Ukraine and south Russia, and Corded
Ware, Battle-Axe, Ochre-Grave,
Single-Grave and other names given to
complexes characterized by elements of
Kurgan appearance that formed
in various parts of Europe"
^ Mallory 1989, p. 185.
^ Strazny 2000, p. 163.
^ Gimbutas 1985, p. 190.
^ a b Haak; et al. (2015). "Massive migration from the steppe is a
Indo-European languages in Europe".
bioRxiv 013433 .
^ a b Allentoft; et al. (2015). "Population genomics of Bronze Age
Eurasia". Nature. 522: 167–172. doi:10.1038/nature14507.
^ a b Mathieson; et al. (2015). "Eight thousand years of natural
selection in Europe". bioRxiv 016477 .
^ Theodor Benfey, Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft und orientalischen
Philologie in Deutschland seit dem Anfange des 19. Jahrhunderts, mit
einem Rückblick auf die früheren Zeiten (Munich: J.G. Cotta, 1869),
^ Otto Schrader, Sprachvergleichung und Urgeschichte, vol. 2. Jena,
Ger.: Hermann Costanoble, 1890.
^ Rydberg, Viktor (1907). Teutonic Mythology. 1. London, UK: Norrœna.
p. 19. Archived from the original on 2013-01-21.
^ Karl Brugmann, Grundriss der vergleichenden Grammatik der
indogermanischen Sprachen, vol. 1.1, Strassburg 1886, p. 2.
^ Karl Brugmann, Kurze vergleichende Grammatik der indogermanischen
Sprachen, vol. 1, Strassburg 1902, p. 22-23.
^ Karl Penka, Origines Ariacae: Linguistisch-ethnologische
Untersuchungen zur ältesten Geschichte der arischen Völker und
Sprachen (Vienna: Taschen, 1883), 68.
^ Vere Gordon Childe, The Aryans: A Study of Indo-European Origins
(London: Kegan Paul, 1926).
Ernst Wahle (1932). Deutsche Vorzeit, Leipzig 1932.
^ Gimbutas, Marija (1963). The Balts. London, UK: Thames & Hudson.
p. 38. Archived from the original on 2013-10-30.
^ Anthony 2007, pp. 18, 495.
^ Bojtar 1999, p. 57.
^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, 22:587–588
^ Razib Khan, Facing the ocean, Discover Magazine, 28 August 2012.
^ Haak 2015.
^ Gimbutas 1982, p. 1.
^ Gimbutas, Dexter & Jones-Bley 1997, p. 309.
^ Mallory 1991, p. 185.
^ a b Anthony 2007, pp. 306–307, "Why not a
^ Anthony 2007, p. 297.
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