The History of English Podcast - Episode 9 Who Were the Indo-Europeans

Welcome to the History of English podcast, a podcast about the history of the English

language and the people who contributed to that history.

Over the last few episodes, we’ve looked at the oldest known ancestor of English, the

ancient Indo-European language called Proto-Indo-European Bilingualist.

We looked at how the language was discovered, and then how it was reconstructed.

We also looked at some of the reconstructed words and the connection many of those words

have to modern English.

But who were these original Indo-European people?

As I’ve mentioned before, a large portion of this ancient language was reconstructed

during the 19th and 20th centuries, but linguists were not entirely sure who these people were.

Many of them had their own opinions and guesses, but there were so many theories that I probably

couldn’t explore all of them in this episode.

And many of these theories were wrong, sometimes really wrong, and even today, this remains

one of the more controversial topics in linguistics.

There are still many differences of opinion as to the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans

and the specific manner in which they migrated to the point where the various Indo-European

languages are spoken today, and I’m certainly not going to resolve all of those debates

in this episode.

But I do believe that a consensus as to the original homeland has started to emerge.

And that’s the view I’m going to present here.

And while some linguists and historians may still disagree with some aspects of this theory,

the theory that I’m presenting in this episode is the majority view today.

Keep in mind that the evidence we have to solve the mystery of the original Indo-Europeans

is very limited.

For much of the history of antiquity, we can rely upon the written accounts of the Greeks

and the Romans and the few other literate people of the time who kept and maintained

written records.

But the Indo-Europeans were the ancient ancestors of the Romans and the Greeks, so we don’t

have written records from these people.

We have to rely upon clues within the original Indo-European language itself, and then we

have to compare those clues to the archaeological evidence.

Eventually, by putting all these pieces together, we can at least narrow down the options to

a general location and a general time frame in which these people lived.

One other quick note before I jump into this topic.

As with the other episodes of this podcast, I’ve utilized lots of different resources

for this episode.

But there’s one particular resource which was invaluable, and I wanted to make a specific

mention of it here.

It’s a recent book by David W. Anthony called The Horse, the Wheel, and Language.

How Bronze Age Writers from the Eurasian Steps Shaped the World.

Anthony is an archaeologist by profession, but he’s spent a tremendous amount of time

studying the origin of the original Indo-Europeans, and his book links the linguistic evidence

with the archaeological and other physical evidence to determine where and when these

people lived.

So check out his book if you want more information about this topic.

Let me also mention that since we’re dealing with the very distant past, I’m electing

to use the traditional terms B.C. and A.D. to distinguish dates.

I realize that modern historians prefer to use B.C.E. and C.E., but those terms can get

confusing in a podcast, so I’ll use the more traditional B.C. and A.D.

So let’s look at the evidence.

In order to analyze the clues to determine who the Indo-Europeans were, we really need

to get a handle on the geography of Eastern Europe and Eurasia.

Obviously the best way to do that is by reference to a map, and you can find a map at

Just click on Episode 9.

But since this is a podcast and many of you listening may not have a map to look at while

listening to the episode, I’m going to try to set the scene for you.

Let me begin by noting that the history of the early tribes of Europe and Asia is really

an East-West history, not so much a North-South history.

What I mean by that is that for centuries and centuries the movement of peoples between

Europe, Asia, and North Africa was eastward and westward.

Trading routes and migratory routes were along these east-west routes.

The Silk Road, for example, was the primary trading route which extended from East Asia

to the Mediterranean.

From ancient China, the trading routes moved westward, through ancient Persia into the

Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean.

But further north, in northern Eurasia, nomadic peoples also moved east-west along the Eurasian

steppes, which are the vast grasslands that extend from eastern Europe all the way to

eastern Asia.

These people included later groups, like the Huns and the Mongols, and probably included

the very first Indo-Europeans.

But why was the movement east-west and not north-south?

Well the answer to that question lies in geography, because there’s a series of natural barriers

extending across Europe and Asia which inhibit north-south travel.

And these barriers extend from western Europe all the way to China.

The most obvious of these barriers lies in the west, and it’s the Mediterranean Sea.

This vast sea, which separates Europe from Africa, prevented significant migrations or

movements from one side to the other.

Originally there were traders who crossed the Mediterranean by boat or ship.

But in these ancient times, large movements or migrations of people across vast seas or

oceans was impractical, if not impossible.

Remember that in ancient times, many of these people were herders who traveled with their

animals, including sheep, oxen, and other animals.

So it wasn’t really possible for tribes of people to cross a large body of water with

the animals in tow.

So the Mediterranean is an obvious barrier inhibiting north-south travel.

As we move eastward, the next natural barrier lies just to the east of the Mediterranean,

and that’s the Black Sea.

This oval-shaped sea is connected to the Mediterranean by a waterway, which forms the dividing line

between Europe and Asia.

Then as we look eastward from the Black Sea, we have another sea, the Caspian Sea.

And as we move eastward from the Caspian Sea, we find the vast deserts and arid regions

of Central Asia.

This includes modern Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

And even though some limited travel through this region was possible, the rugged and dry

terrain made it very difficult for any extended period of travel by large groups of people

and animals.

So we have these three seas that I just mentioned, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the

Caspian Sea.

And these seas together form part of the series of obstacles which limited north-south travel

in ancient times.

So if these seas are natural barriers inhibiting north-south travel, what about the areas in

between them?

Why not just travel through the area in between those seas?

Well, with regard to the area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the answer

is that there is another barrier, the Caucasus Mountains.

This mountain range extends eastward from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, and it basically

creates a wall between those two seas.

The Caucasus Mountains are the home of modern Georgia, Azerbaijan, and southern Russia.

Once again, it was very difficult for a tribe of people together with animals, wagons, and

other belongings to cross a mountain range.

But what about the area between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean?

Well, this was really the only good place to cross from north to south.

This narrow crossing point, which includes the Bosphorus Strait, is not blocked by a

rugged mountain range or other natural barrier.

And not surprisingly, the areas of Europe just to the north of this area, known as the

Balkans, is the location of the oldest settlements in Europe.

This passage became tied to the trading routes coming from the Far East and from Egypt and

North Africa.

All of these trade routes met just south of the area between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean

in what came to be known as the Middle East, also known as the crossroads of the ancient

world for obvious reasons.

So we have the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Caucasus Mountains, and Caspian Sea forming an east-west

barrier inhibiting travel, except for a narrow passage between the Mediterranean and the

Black Sea.

The consequence of these natural barriers is that two ancient east-west highways developed.

The Silk Road, which developed to the south of these barriers, is the most famous.

But to the north of these barriers we find the vast prairie of the Eurasian steppes which

extend from eastern Europe all the way to eastern Asia.

And this massive territory also permitted east-west movements, and it’s the same region

that will become very important to our story.

Now there are three reasons for this little geography refresher.

First to introduce you to the landscape of Eurasia.

Secondly, to introduce the early trade and migratory routes which become very important

as we look at migrations of ancient people.

And third, and perhaps most importantly, to introduce you to the area around the Black

Sea because much of the next couple of episodes of the podcast will center on this region.

So let’s look a little closer at the Black Sea.

Let’s travel clockwise around the Black Sea and see what’s there.

I’ve already mentioned that the Caucasus Mountains extend from the east side of the Black Sea

to the Caspian Sea.

So to the east and southeast we have a mountainous region.

To the south of the Black Sea lies modern-day Turkey, what was once known and referred to

as Anatolia or Asia Minor.

To the west of the Black Sea is the Bosporus Strait and the waterway which extends to the


North of this waterway, as we move clockwise around the Black Sea, is the area known as

the Balkans, the home of modern-day Bulgaria and Romania.

And this is the area where the Danube empties into the Black Sea.

And as we continue to move northward through the Balkans in a clockwise motion around the

Black Sea, we arrive at the area north of the Black Sea.

And it’s here that we find the probable home of the ancient Indo-Europeans.

This area north of the Black Sea is the westernmost portion of that vast, grassy region known

as the Eurasian Steppes.

And this region extends from this part of Eastern Europe all the way to the Great Wall

of China.

And really, this is the last geographical feature that’s essential to this story.

So what is a steppe?

Well it’s basically a massive prairie like is found in the central United States.

It’s a transitional region between the desert areas to the south in the Near East and Central

Asia and the Russian forest in the north.

In this transitional region, there’s enough moisture to produce vegetation like grass,

but there’s not enough moisture to produce thick forests.

So it’s basically just a grassy transitional zone that extends across two continents.

This is the same type of transitional zone that we have in the United States between

the western United States deserts and the heavily forested areas in the east.

And that’s where we find the Great Plains.

So it’s basically the same thing.

As I mentioned, the Eurasian Steppes extend across Europe and Asia, with the westernmost

portion being located in this area north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

This region is also sometimes called the Russian Steppe.

Now before we look at the specific evidence to determine the home of the original Indo-Europeans,

let me begin by giving away the ending a bit.

Linguists have generally narrowed the possibilities for the Indo-European homeland down to two

main possibilities.

One option is that the Indo-European homeland was south of the Black Sea in Anatolia, which

is modern-day Turkey.

And that homeland existed around 6500 BC.

This theory was once very popular and it still has its supporters, but it’s largely given

way to the other theory which has emerged as the more dominant theory in light of modern

research and evidence, including both linguistic and archaeological evidence.

This second option holds that the Indo-European homeland was in this area north of the Black

Sea and the Caspian Sea in the Russian Steppe, in the southern area of modern Ukraine and


This theory also suggests that the Indo-Europeans lived there much more recently.

Unlike the 6500 BC date suggested by supporters of the first theory, those who believe that

the homeland was north of the Black Sea believe the original Indo-Europeans were there between

about 2500 BC and 4500 BC.

So why has this second theory become the generally accepted theory for the date and location

of the Indo-European homeland?

Well, let’s look at the evidence.

Let me begin by noting one more time that, like all aspects of Indo-European origins

and migrations, there’s no absolute consensus about anything.

Remember that we’re dealing with prehistory and it’s a matter of deciphering various

clues to reach an ultimate conclusion.

Rather than presenting every possible theory on the subject in this episode, I’m only

going to focus on what I believe to be the current majority view of these issues.

So with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at the evidence.

Let’s start with the time frame when this original Indo-European language would have

been spoken.

It’s actually easier to identify the end of this period than the beginning.

The reason for this is that the original Indo-European language is the parent language from which

all other Indo-European languages were descended.

So it’s the ancestor of all the daughter languages which came later.

So there was a time when this original language was spoken, and at some point the speakers

of this language began to separate from each other and they began to migrate and carry

a version of the original language with them.

At that point we have variations of the original language which will eventually evolve into

the different language families in the various daughter languages like Hittite, Latin, Greek

and Sanskrit.

So if we can determine when these various daughter languages began to appear as distinct

languages, then by definition we are beyond the date when the original language was spoken.

So the first step in this process is to determine when the first known Indo-European languages


Again, if we can establish a date for the first appearance of those languages, we know

we are beyond the period of the original language.

So that will mark the latest possible point in which the original language could have

been spoken.

And in fact, languages don’t just appear overnight.

It usually takes several centuries for one language to evolve into a separate language.

Think about the evolution of Latin into French, Spanish and the other Romance languages.

It took several centuries to get there.

So even when we identify the point at which we have the first known Indo-European languages,

the original language would have been spoken a few centuries before that date.

So we have to allow for that period of evolution and language change as well.

So to figure out when the original Indo-European period ended, let’s try to find the date of

the first daughter languages.

Now linguists have looked at all of the ancient Indo-European languages and they’ve identified

the earliest known date when each one existed.

And in some cases they have very specific dates and for others they have a general time


Again this is not to say that the languages first appeared on those dates.

Obviously those languages would have been in existence before those dates.

But these are the earliest dates that we can actually confirm that the languages were on

the ground and being spoken in those regions.

So we can say with some certainty that we have the descendants of the original language

in place on those dates.

So we’re therefore outside of the range of the original language by these dates.

Now based upon all of the research of linguists and historians, the first Indo-European languages

to appear as distinct languages were the ancient Hittite language in modern day Turkey, the

very earliest Greek language known as Mycenaean Greek, and the Old Indic language of India

which was the ancestor of Sanskrit.

Now for each of these very old ancient languages, linguists have identified the earliest known

date during which each of these was being spoken.

So let’s start with the oldest known Indo-European language, the Hittite language of Anatolia,

which remember is modern day Turkey.

Hittite is part of the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European family tree.

All of those Anatolian languages are believed to be about the same age, having evolved from

the original Indo-European language about the same time.

But we know the most about the Hittite language, so I’ll focus on that one.

You may remember from earlier episodes that the Hittites are mentioned in the Old Testament

of the Bible, and that their language has existed in cuneiform inscriptions for centuries.

But it wasn’t until the early 20th century that linguists deciphered the language and

determined that it was actually an Indo-European language.

So what about the first known date of the language?

Well according to researchers, the Hittite language was an established language in Turkey

as early as 1900 BC.

And remember that there were also related languages within this Anatolian branch, which

were also being spoken in other parts of Turkey or Anatolia during this same time frame.

And since it would have taken some time, probably several centuries, for these languages to

become distinct and established in these areas, the ancestral language would have been spoken

a few centuries prior to this date.

So 2500 BC is generally given as a rough estimate for the date when the original Indo-European

ancestors of the Hittites arrived in Anatolia.

So around 2500 BC, the early ancestors of the Hittites arrived in modern-day Turkey.

By 1900 BC, the various Anatolian languages, including Hittite, had developed and can be

documented as established languages in these regions.

So that gives us our first date to work with.

If the ancestors of these Anatolian speakers separated around 2500 BC, that would mark

the latest possible date of the original Indo-European language.

However, there’s one little caveat to the use of this date, 2500 BC.

Hittite has several unique features which have led some linguists to conclude that it’s

not a descendant of the original Indo-European language at all, but instead is a sibling

or cousin of the original Indo-European language.

In other words, the Anatolian languages and the original Indo-European language may have

each descended from an even older common ancestor.

And if that’s true, the dates during which Hittite was spoken will not be of much help.

So with that caveat in mind, let’s look at the next oldest Indo-European language.

The next oldest language for which we have confident dates is the ancient Mycenaean Greek

language which appeared in Greece no later than 1650 BC.

The Mycenaeans are considered the first Indo-European Greeks, and their language is the oldest known

Greek dialect.

Now again, we have Mycenaean Greek on the ground and being spoken in 1650 BC.

So it would have taken some time to get to this point from the original language.

Linguists estimate that Mycenaean Greek probably originated as a dialect of the original Indo-European

language at least 500 to 700 years earlier.

So that puts the split of the earliest Greek speakers from the original Indo-European speakers

at around 2200 BC.

So that’s just a short period after the estimated split of the Hittite ancestors in 2500 BC

that I just mentioned.

But we’re getting the same general time frame.

The next oldest language family is Old Indic, which is the precursor of Sanskrit.

Old Indic appeared in writing as far back as 1500 BC.

But again, by this point Old Indic was an established language, which had evolved from

an even older Indo-Iranian language, which itself was an offshoot of the original Indo-European


So if we account for the time that it would have taken for this language to fully evolve

into Old Indic, linguists estimate that the earliest Indo-Iranian language was in place

and distinct from the original Indo-European language by 2500 to 2300 BC.

So again, we’re looking at almost the exact time frame.

So that gives us 2500 BC for the split of the Anatolian branch, 2200 BC for the split

of the Greek branch, and 2500 to 2300 for the Indo-Iranian branch.

So based on all of this, historians tend to use 2500 BC, give or take a few centuries,

as the end of the original Indo-European period.

So by 2500 BC, the original Indo-European language had begun to fragment into dialects

that later became the Anatolian group, the Indo-Iranian group, and the Hellenic or Greek


So that’s how we know the approximate date at which the original Indo-European period


But when did it begin?

Actually this takes us much further back in time, where we have even less evidence.

But there are clues buried within some of the original Indo-European words that we’ve

looked at in some of the earlier episodes.

So let’s start with words related to woven wool textiles and fabrics.

The key here is woven wool.

Woven wool textiles and fabrics did not exist before 4000 BC, and some archaeologists believe

that they didn’t exist before 3500 BC.

Woven wool textiles are made from long fibers that didn’t grow on wild sheep.

It required domesticated sheep bred for long wool, and this long wool allowed ancient people

to create woolen textiles.

The original Indo-European language also contained root words for sheep, ewe, ram, and lamb,

which indicates access to domesticated sheep.

So these people apparently had domesticated sheep with wool, which was long enough for

woolen fabrics and textiles.

Now based on archaeological evidence, sheep were domesticated between 8000 BC and 7500

BC in the eastern portions of modern-day Turkey and the western portions of modern-day


But for around 4000 years, they were only used for meat.

They didn’t have the long wool required for textiles until around 4000 BC to 3500 BC.

This conclusion is based on the animal bone evidence in the archaeological record.

Another clue as to the location of the original Indo-European speakers, which I’ll focus

on in more detail in a minute, is that sheep were initially domesticated in the Near East

and later brought to Europe.

The longer hair required for textiles may have evolved in the colder European climate,

and the longer hair may have then started to be used for fabrics.

So anyway, woven wool textiles appeared in Europe and the Near East after 3300 BC, though

wool-bearing sheep could have appeared as early as 4000 BC in the northern Caucasus


So all of this suggests that the original Indo-European language had to be spoken after

around 4000 BC when sheep with long wool existed.

So that’s the first big clue as to the earliest possible date of the Indo-European language.

But now let’s consider the original Indo-European words related to wheels and wagons.

Wheeled wagons did not exist before 4000 BC.

The original Indo-European language has two words for wheel, and other words for axle

and phil, which was the pole to which animals were yoked, and it also has a verb meaning

to ride in the sense of go in a vehicle.

Archaeology and inscriptions on ancient relics indicate that wheeled vehicles were widespread

after 3400 BC, and there’s no evidence of wheeled vehicles before 4000 BC.

By 3500 BC or so, the wheeled vehicle had probably been invented, and by 3000 BC its

use was widespread throughout the Near Eastern Europe.

So this gives us pretty much the exact time frame as the woven wool words.

The original Indo-European language had to have been spoken after wheeled vehicles existed

around 4000 BC.

So based on the linguistic and archaeological evidence, the original Indo-European language

was being spoken by around 4000 BC, and we can even say 4500 BC to be a little bit generous

and extend that possible time frame back a bit.

And that language had fractured and split into separate daughter languages by 2500 BC

as I mentioned earlier.

So that narrows the maximum time frame in which this original Indo-European language

could have been spoken from around 4500 BC at the beginning to around 2500 BC at the


So that’s the when.

What about the where?

Well, this has tended to be the most controversial issue among historians and linguists.

So where did these original Indo-European speakers live?

Again, part of the answer lies in the words the Indo-Europeans used.

The Indo-European words for plants and animals include many of those found in temperate climates.

Words like birch, otter, beaver, lynx, bear, horse, bee, honey, snow, and ice.

But there are no Indo-European cognate words for animals or vegetation native to tropical

or Mediterranean or desert climates.

Words like monkey, lion, bamboo, parrot, palm tree, or camel.

Now the absence of a word doesn’t prove that the word or the thing the word describes didn’t exist.

It may be the case that there’s simply not a surviving cognate word.

But the fact that there are so many words for plants and animals in temperate climates

and no such words for plants or animals in tropical or desert climates.

That suggests that these people lived in cooler, temperate climates further north.

As I mentioned in an earlier episode, the Indo-European words bee and honey are of particular importance.

Honey has been reconstructed as medhu in the original Indo-European language.

This word is also the source of the word mead, which is a honey-based alcoholic drink that

was popular for centuries.

And here’s why those words are so important.

You can’t have honey or mead without honeybees.

And honeybees were not native east of the Ural Mountains, which is the mountain range

that divides Europe from Asia.

So this also narrows the scope of the possible homeland of the original Indo-Europeans.

It basically removes Siberia and much of northeastern Eurasia, including the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan.

Another clue that excludes this same region from consideration is the fact that the area

east of the Urals continued to be occupied by hunter-gatherers until 2500 BC, which remember

marks the end of the original Indo-European period.

Since the people in this region were hunter-gatherers, there were no domesticated animals in this

region until after that time frame.

Yet the original Indo-European language had words for domesticated animals, like sheep,

oxen, and horses.

So this also tends to exclude this same region.

However, farming and herding were practiced in the areas south and west of the Urals during

this period.

In other words, on the European side of the Urals.

So that’s a major clue that we’re looking at the area of Europe, not Asia east of the Urals.

Another clue is the word horse.

The fact that this word exists in the original Indo-European language is also of particular


Horse has been reconstructed as equo in the original Indo-European language.

This is the source of the modern English word equine.

I talked about the many ways in which that word was used in the original Indo-European

grammar in the last episode.

Well between 4500 BC and 2500 BC, which remembers the period during which the original Indo-European

language was being spoken, horses were rarely found or were completely absent in the Near

East, Iran, and the Indian subcontinent.

But they were numerous and very important in the Eurasian steppes.

So as we narrow the range of possibilities where the original Indo-European language

was spoken, we can start to exclude Asia east of the Urals, and the Near East, Iran,

and Indian subcontinent.

That leaves temperate Europe and the temperate parts of Anatolia and the Caucasus Mountains.

Another clue is some of the strong similarities between the original Indo-European language

and the early Uralic languages.

The Uralic language family is distinct from the Indo-European language family, and it

includes most of the few languages of Europe that are not of Indo-European origin.

These languages are spoken in northern Europe and Siberia, including Magyar in Hungary,

as well as Finnish and Estonian.

Now these languages show evidence of word borrowings from the Indo-European languages.

Proto-Uralic, which was the first version of the Uralic languages, may have borrowed

several words from the original Indo-European language.

That includes words for give, sell, bring, wash, fear, spin, walk, drill, price, water,

name, and a few others.

And this suggests very early contact between the first Uralic speakers and the first Indo-European


The homeland of the first Uralic languages was probably in the forest zone north of the

Russian steppes, and more specifically the forest zone in the southern flanks of the

Ural Mountains.

So the contact must have been in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains, and we’ve already

established that the Indo-European speakers were most likely not present east of the Urals.

So this leaves the area south and west of the Urals that I mentioned earlier.

In earlier episodes of the podcast, I also mentioned several cultural factors that are

indicated by the original Indo-European vocabulary, and these can basically be summarized as follows.

The original Indo-European speakers raised and bred animals because we have words like

bull, cow, ox, ram, ewe, lamb, pig, and dog, and we have words meaning to drive cattle

and to shear, as in wool, and weave, as in textiles, and yoke, as worn by oxen.

All of these words are associated with domesticated animals.

And the original Indo-European speakers consumed milk and dairy foods because we find words

for sour milk, whey, and curds.

The original Indo-European speakers farmed and tended crops, so some basic farming existed

because we find words meaning aard, which is a scratch plow, and yoke, worn by oxen

pulling a plow, and we find words meaning grain, furrow, and grind and pestle, which

are used to turn grain into flour.

There are also some other cultural clues indicated by the vocabulary of the original Indo-Europeans.

For example, they had terms for movable wealth, which ultimately became the term for herds,

and they had separate terms for fixed or immovable wealth.

They had male-centered households, based on kin terms.

They believed in their own souls, and they had one or more sky gods.

And they had a social hierarchy, which began at the household level, and then moved up

to the family level, and then the clan, and then a clan chief, and then all the way to

the tribal level.

And it should also be noted that there’s no known Indo-European word for city.

So based on all of this evidence, we can conclude the following.

These people lived between 4500 to 2500 BC.

They were tribal farmers and herded cattle and sheep, so they were not hunter-gatherers.

They had access to and collected honey from honeybees, and they drank mead.

They used and drove wheeled wagons.

They made woolen textiles, produced by weaving.

They plowed fields.

They had cows, and cows played a prominent role in their society, both in daily life

and religion.

They worshipped sky gods.

They lived in a temperate climate, not the Mediterranean, tropical, or desert climate.

They lived south or west of the Ural Mountains, which divide Europe and Asia.

So they lived on the European side of the Urals.

They did not live in the northern forested steppes of Eurasia, because those people were

either hunter-gatherers or basic herders without farming during this period.

They did not live in the Near East, Iran, or the Indian subcontinent, because those

areas didn’t have horses during this period.

They lived in relative proximity to the Urals, because of the connections between the original

Uralic language and the original Indo-European language.

And they probably lived in proximity to the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black Sea

and the Caspian Sea, because of some connections with the ancient languages spoken in that

region as well.

When all of those factors are combined, and we look at the archaeological record and the

anthropological record, this narrows the possible location of the original Indo-European

speaking people to the area west of the Ural Mountains and north or east of the Caucasus

Mountains in the steppes of modern Russia and the eastern Ukraine.

Basically, it’s the area immediately north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

And here’s another important key.

The archaeological evidence in this region confirms the existence of peoples who fit

the description of the Indo-European speakers that I just laid out.

These people were the herders of what is called the Yamnaya Horizon.

They were the first peoples of the steppes to create a herding economy.

And these were very likely the first speakers of the original Indo-European language.

And they are thus the oldest known linguistic ancestors of English.

When we combine the cultural factors that I mentioned before with the archaeological

evidence of the people who lived in this region around this time, we start to get a more complete

picture of who these people were.

Archaeologists have determined that these people knew and used copper and silver and

possibly gold, but they did not use iron.

So that means that they were part of the so-called Bronze Age, which preceded the Iron


The linguistic and archaeological evidence also indicates that these people had warlike

tendencies, and that they engaged in raiding for cattle and raiding for revenge.

So we now have an emerging view of these original Indo-Europeans.

We can reasonably determine where and when they lived, north of the Black Sea and Caspian

Sea in the Eurasian steppes between 4500 BC and 2500 BC.

And we start to get a picture of how these people lived.

In the next episode, I’m going to conclude our look at the original Indo-Europeans, the

speakers of English’s oldest ancestor.

It will be a true history episode, as I’m actually going to try to establish a timeline

from the very beginning of the Indo-Europeans to their migration throughout Europe and Central


This is the story of the Indo-European migrations, and that will set the stage for our look at

the Western European branches of the Indo-European languages, specifically Greek, Latin, Celtic,

and the Germanic languages.

Those are the languages which directly influenced and led to the English language we have today.

So until next time, thanks for listening to the History of English podcast.

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