Welcome to the History of English podcast, a podcast about the history of the English
Over the last few episodes, we’ve focused on the oldest known ancestor of English, the
ancient Indo-European language.
And in the last episode, I look at the evidence to determine when and where these ancient
Now I want to try to put all the pieces together to explore the emergence of the ancient Indo-Europeans
and the spread of their language and culture throughout Europe and Central Asia.
In other words, how do we get from the Indo-European homeland in the Eurasian steppes to the various
places where the Indo-European languages ended up?
So this is the story of the Indo-European migrations.
I’m going to begin by looking at the emergence of these people in the Eurasian steppes.
And then I’m going to explore the advantages they had, which allowed them to migrate over
thousands of miles, carrying their language with them.
Then I’m going to begin to look at the actual migrations of the people from the Eurasian
steppes to the places where the various Indo-European languages emerged.
So this episode will be heavy on history and light on language.
But it’s an extremely important and interesting step in the overall story of English.
In the last episode, I presented the evidence that has led most linguists and historians
to conclude that the ancient Indo-European speaking people lived in the region north
of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in Eastern Europe, in part of the region known as the
The evidence also suggests that these people lived there between 4500 BC and 2500 BC.
This time frame coincides with the emergence of the earliest human civilizations further
south in Mesopotamia and the Middle East.
And based upon the research of archaeologists who’ve conducted research in this region,
many scholars now believe that these first Indo-Europeans were herders associated with
what’s been called the Yamnaya Horizon.
These Yamnaya herders were the first people of the steppes to create a herding economy.
So let’s begin by exploring the evidence that indicates how this culture developed.
I should begin by noting that there is no consensus as to the exact time, order, or
sequence of these events.
I’m relying upon many sources for the discussion in this episode, but I want to once again
give a specific plug to David Anthony’s excellent book, The Horse, the Wheel, and
It’s a very good starting point if you’re interested in the archaeological evidence
surrounding the emergence and migration of the early Indo-Europeans.
So be sure to check out his book if you want to learn more about this topic.
Now many historians of antiquity loved to begin human history at around 10,000 BC.
This may be partly because they like big round numbers, but it also happens to coincide
with the end of the last Ice Age.
So it marks the emergence of the world as we know it today.
As the ice sheets melted, the oceans rose, and the land bridge from continental Europe
to the British Isles began to disappear, and the British Isles actually became islands.
The land bridge also began to disappear between modern Russia and Alaska.
So the geography of the continents as we know them today began to emerge.
But something else also started to happen.
As the world became wetter and warmer, carbon dioxide levels increased.
And with more warmth, more moisture, and more carbon dioxide, plants began to grow in abundance.
Dense forests began to emerge over the Northern Hemisphere.
Now dense forests were good for some animals, but not good for others.
For example, horses thrive in grasslands, but they struggle in forest environments.
And with these new dense forests, the land that was available to roaming horses became
more and more scarce.
In fact, horses became completely extinct in North America.
They also disappeared from modern-day Iran, lowland Mesopotamia, and the Fertile Crescent.
And in Europe, horse populations also declined significantly as a consequence of these expanding
But one of the few places where horses continued to live and where they actually flourished
was the Eurasian steppes.
The environment was perfectly suited for them.
Large open grassy plains enabled horses to live and their populations grew in this area.
So when we first look at the steppe region, say around 7000 BC, we find a region with
a significant horse population.
But we don’t find many humans there.
At this point, most humans were still hunter-gatherers.
There was some very early animal domestication and plant cultivation in parts of the Middle
East, but in Europe and in the areas north of the Black Sea and Caspian Seas, humans
still lived by hunting and gathering.
And at this early stage, the steppe region was a harsh environment for humans.
Hunter-gatherers thrived in the region north of the Eurasian steppes, in the forested areas
of northern Russia.
But further south, in the vast steppe region, which extended east-west across Eurasia, hunter-gatherers
could not survive for any extended period.
The open grassy steppes were largely useless to humans.
Humans can’t live on grass and the steppes were difficult to cross by foot.
There were also relatively few animals in the steppe region which could be captured
and eaten by humans.
As a result, an extended migration into the steppes beyond the river valleys could be
a life-threatening event.
But around 5700 B.C., all of that started to change.
Around that time, domesticated sheep and cattle began to arrive from areas in southeastern
But it took about five more centuries, until around 5200 B.C., for the people of the steppes
to incorporate cattle herding into their economy.
And the arrival of cattle and sheep changed everything.
This may not seem like a big deal.
I mean, it’s just some cattle and sheep, right?
But for historians of this period, it’s a seismic event.
Because now, for the first time, human beings could actually enter into and live within
the steppe region for longer periods of time.
And that means they could begin to cross the steppes.
So what’s the connection there?
Well, with the arrival of cattle and sheep, these people stopped being hunter-gatherers
in the traditional sense of the term.
They now had domesticated animals.
They were herders.
Though the humans couldn’t live off of grass, the cattle and sheep could.
And the humans could live off the cattle and sheep.
Cattle meant that these people had regular access to meat, and also milk, cheese, and
But more on that later.
These people were no longer hunter-gatherers, dependent on what they could find and catch.
They could now travel with their food resources.
And in time, as we’ll see, they could live off the animals for extended periods of time
without even having to kill or eat them, because they provided milk, cheese, and other dairy
products which could be replenished without sacrificing the animal.
But just as importantly, as I discussed in the last episode, sheep began to evolve after
they were introduced to the colder climates of Europe.
Sheep wool began to grow longer and thicker in the colder climate.
And that enabled these ancient humans to use the wool for weaving.
And woven textiles and fabrics started to be produced.
That meant these people could make clothing, tents, and other textile products as they
Now, longer treks into the cold and forbidding steppes were possible.
Not necessarily easy, but possible.
To put this timeline into some additional context, at the time when cattle and sheep
were first introduced into the steppes, around 5700 B.C., and when they were first domesticated
there, around 5200 B.C., the first agricultural communities were just starting to emerge
at Sumer in southern Mesopotamia.
But even so, it would still take another 2,000 years for the first cities to emerge there,
which would be the first cities known to the world.
Meanwhile, the first European agricultural settlements and farming villages were just
starting to emerge in the Balkans, around modern-day Romania and the surrounding areas.
These Balkan settlements were spawned by the adoption of agriculture, farming, and crop
planting in those areas.
But in the steppes there is no evidence of widespread farming.
These people were herders, not grain farmers.
Around this same time, the post-glacial warming period after the end of the Ice Age reached
Forests of elm, oak, and lime had spread across northern Europe north of the steppes.
And wild honeybees, which nest in oak and lime trees, spread with these trees throughout
But these trees did not extend into Asia beyond the Ural Mountains.
So as I mentioned in the last episode, honeybees were confined to this area west of the Ural
Mountains and not the area east of the Urals.
By this point, we’ve established that cattle and sheep had been introduced to the steppes.
And this allowed the first extended forays by humans into the steppes beyond the river
But as I said, it wasn’t easy.
It was difficult and potentially dangerous.
Both humans and the animals needed access to water to survive.
And when these people left the river valleys for the vast openness of the steppes, there
was no guarantee that they would have access to water.
They also had to carry their belongings with them as they traveled, which meant that shelter
and supplies were limited.
There was only so much humans could carry over long distances.
But circumstances started to change a few centuries later, around 4800 B.C.
We are now almost at the beginning of the period in which the original Indo-European
language was spoken.
Around this time, another major event occurred when horses were domesticated.
Many archaeologists believe that horses were first domesticated in this same steppe region
north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, where the original Indo-Europeans likely originated.
Remember, wild horses flourished in this area because it was basically an open grassy pasture.
And when these people first figured out how to domesticate horses, they did it to create
a new source of meat.
I mean, horses were a cheap source of winter meat because they would use their hooves to
break through the snow and ice to eat the grass underneath.
Other animals would not or could not do that.
So this meant that horses could feed themselves through winter, and that alleviated the burden
of maintaining a large herd of other types of domesticated animals, which were difficult
to maintain in the harsh winters of this region.
A few centuries later, probably around 4200 B.C., it’s believed that the steppe from
eating horses to riding them took place.
Again, this same region is believed to be the place where horse riding first began.
Eventually, over the next thousand years or so, horse riding would spread outward from
this region into neighboring regions.
And here we find the first major advantage which these steppe herders had over their neighbors.
The domestication of the horse, combined with the ability to ride them, gave these people
a massive advantage over other people whom they would eventually encounter.
Horse riding had major economic consequences for the people of the steppes.
It made herding much easier and much more efficient.
Without horses, a herder could herd around 200 sheep.
But on horseback, the same herder could herd around 500 sheep, two-and-a-half times as many.
Therefore, horse riding allowed individuals to maintain larger herds of cattle and sheep,
which permitted greater accumulation of animal wealth.
It also ensured increased mobility and more long-distance trade.
And it allowed these people to scout for water and other sources of food much more efficiently
It also probably increased warfare against other herders and against settled agricultural
Well, because larger herds required larger pastures, which meant conflicts with other
herders and sometimes fixed agricultural settlements.
Warfare and conflicts between these people and their neighbors was tribal in nature.
In other words, there were no organized armies, just raiding and fighting between clans.
And these factors may have led to the expansion and migration of these people across the steppes.
So we’ve talked about the advantages of horse domestication and horse riding, which
was initially unique to this area and which gave these people a distinct economic and
military advantage over their neighbors.
We now have to introduce another piece of the puzzle.
This piece is the result of some recent research, not by linguists or archaeologists, but by
It’s a fascinating bit of research, which may tell us a lot about how this particular
group of people were able to spread themselves and their language over such a vast geographic
And it had to do, surprisingly enough, with their ability to consume milk and dairy products.
As I’ve said, the original Indo-European speakers in the region north of the Black
Sea were herders and pastoralists, but they were not especially skilled at grain agriculture
and crop planting, like was starting to occur to the west of the Black Sea in the Balkans.
They were also backward compared to emerging societies in the Near East when it came to
things like writing, arithmetic, cities, and irrigation systems.
So how was it that the language of these steppe herders, who appear at this point to be at
a disadvantage compared to many of their neighbors, how was it that their language spread so far
Some genetics researchers now believe that their primary advantage may have come from
an early lactose-tolerant mutation, which has been clearly documented.
So let’s explore this research.
Lactose is the main sugar in milk.
And in order to consume milk and other dairy products, humans have to produce an enzyme
called lactase, which allows for the body to digest the lactose.
So if you produce this lactase enzyme, you can consume milk and dairy.
If you don’t produce this enzyme, you can’t.
Today, a majority of the world’s population produces this enzyme, and they can consume
In other words, they are lactose-tolerant.
But that was not the case in early humans.
In fact, it’s not until around this period in our story of early humans that this genetic
mutation began to occur.
Early humans, when they were hunter-gatherers, produced the lactase enzyme as babies, and
they could consume milk as small children.
But as children grew older, they would stop producing the enzyme, and the children would
So babies could drink milk, but they lost that ability as they got older.
But a mutation occurred in Europe, which allowed adults to continue to produce lactase and
therefore maintain the ability to consume milk and dairy products throughout their lifetime.
In other words, they became lactose-tolerant in adulthood.
And according to recent genetic research on the worldwide distribution of this genetic
mutation, it probably emerged first in the very steppe region that we’ve been discussing,
in the area north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, between 4600 and 2800 BC.
That puts the mutation right in the heart of the Indo-European homeland, during the
exact same time frame that the original Indo-European language was being spoken.
And the timing also means the mutation occurred shortly after the early Indo-Europeans began
to domesticate cattle and goats.
Now many geneticists believe that this particular genetic mutation tended to occur when early
humans began to domesticate cattle and other milk-producing animals.
And they have identified the same mutation amongst the tribes in Arabia after the domestication
And it occurred again among the Tutsi tribes in Africa after they domesticated cattle.
Cattle would have been used initially for meat and for plowing and pulling wagons.
They would also be used for products like leather.
But once this genetic mutation occurred within a tribe, and it spread to enough members of
that tribe, a new kind of pastoral society emerged, one in which people kept cattle primarily
for milk and dairy, rather than meat.
In other words, it resulted in dairy farming.
This type of farming is far more efficient than raising cattle for slaughter.
It produces five times as many calories per acre.
Therefore, with this genetic mutation in place, the original Indo-European speakers could
raise and feed more people, and therefore more warriors, on the same amount of land
as their neighbors.
Remember that Europe was very sparsely populated at this time, so even modest population growth
could produce significant population advantages.
As these dairy farmers began to outnumber neighboring foragers and grain farmers, they
would have expanded at the expense of their neighbors.
Their culture, their way of life, and their languages would have traveled with them.
This advantage would have allowed them to expand into areas previously occupied by foragers
and grain farmers, like the Balkans, Central Europe, and the Indian subcontinent.
But it would not have been an advantage against established cities, like those in Sumeria
and Mesopotamia, and this may explain some of the limits of Indo-European expansion.
As dairy farmers, Indo-European speakers would have also had the advantage of mobility.
This is also a military advantage.
Farmers have homes and villages that they have to defend, but herders and pastoralists
can fight when and where they choose, particularly when you add the advantage of being able to
ride on horseback, which these people had mastered.
By around 4000 B.C., which, remember, is very early in the period of the original Indo-European
language, Indo-European speakers were beginning to spread from the area north of the Black
Sea westward into the Balkans and the Danube Valley west of the Black Sea.
Remember that this area had seen some of the first agricultural settlements in Europe.
It was the area located just north of the pass between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean
Sea which I discussed in the last episode.
This was one of the few points which permitted relatively easy travel from the north to the
And grain agriculture and copper-making technology from the Near East had spread into this region
of southeastern Europe.
And as the horse-riding Indo-Europeans moved into this region from the north, the likely
result was an era of warfare, migration, and dislocation.
The archaeological record also seems to confirm this.
These Indo-Europeans who were moving westward into the Balkans were likely the ancestors
of the Hittites and the other Anatolian speakers.
If you recall, the Anatolian branch, which includes Hittite, is the oldest branch of
the Indo-European language family.
But more on that later.
So let’s look at what the archaeological evidence indicates in this Balkan region west
of the Black Sea.
Archaeologists have discovered that the early settlements in this region were abandoned
around 4000 BC, which is the period in which the first Indo-European herders began to move
into this region.
But they also noticed something else.
A particular type of burial associated with these Indo-European step-people, called Kurgan
burials, began to appear in this region of the Balkans at the same time and in much greater
Kurgan graves were pit graves covered by wooden beams and marked by a round mound on top.
And as I said, these graves were the type generally associated with these Indo-European
And here is a very important key.
When modern archaeologists discovered these Kurgan burial sites in the Balkans, the bodies
uncovered in those graves averaged almost 4 inches taller than people discovered in
other graves of the same time period in the same region.
This is believed to be confirmation of the physical advantages which these step-herders
had as a result of their increasing reliance on dairy farming.
So compared to most of the populations of Europe and Asia, these step-dairy farmers
had begun to develop distinct advantages over their neighbors in Europe and Central Asia.
They had domesticated horses and had developed the ability to ride them.
And this increased their mobility, which increased the size of the herds which they
could maintain, and that increased their wealth substantially.
It also gave them a huge advantage in raiding and warfare.
And they had developed a specific genetic mutation for lactose tolerance which allowed
them to consume milk and dairy products in adulthood.
And this allowed them to feed and support more people without sacrificing their animals.
And it produced a population which was generally larger and healthier than their neighbors.
It’s believed that the early Indo-European herders became more warlike as their mobility,
superior numbers, and better nutrition allowed them to win battles against other peoples.
And by the way, I mentioned earlier that researchers have identified the same genetic mutation
for lactose tolerance among the first peoples of the Arabian Peninsula to domesticate camels
and the first Tutsi tribes in Africa to domesticate cattle.
And in those cases, just like with the Indo-Europeans, this genetic mutation led to a period of tribal
growth and was immediately followed by a period of expansion at the expense of their neighbors.
So this appears to be part of a recurring trend in ancient history between cattle domestication
lactose tolerance, tribal growth, and eventual economic and military expansion.
One other quick note about genetics, just to be clear.
I am not saying, as some have in the past, that the original Indo-Europeans were genetically
superior to other people in general.
It was just that they had acquired lactose tolerance early on.
And that gave them an advantage relative to their neighbors for a period of time until
the mutation had spread far beyond those original Indo-Europeans.
But that short-term advantage would have been a huge factor in the growth and expansion
of these tribes over the next few centuries.
We can now move ahead a bit in our story to around 3500 BC.
So right now, we’re in the middle of the period in which the original Indo-European
language was being spoken.
At this point, the steppes started to become significantly drier and colder.
This meant that animal herds had to be moved more frequently.
And while the steppes were now open to these ancient humans, it was still challenging,
and it was a difficult environment.
As these herders moved, they had to carry their belongings with them, including clothing
And that was a challenge.
And it became even more of a challenge in the drier and colder environment.
With less water and colder temperatures, they needed access to more water and shelter.
And they needed to migrate even more often because vegetation was becoming more limited.
And herds were now growing bigger and bigger.
It is at this point that the final piece of the puzzle arrived.
It was a new technology which allowed these early Indo-Europeans to become masters of
And that thereby enabled their language to spread over vast distances.
And that technology was the wheeled wagon.
Around 3400 BC, the wheeled wagon was introduced to the steppes.
Remember that the original Indo-European language had two words for wheel.
And they also had other words for axle and theel, which is the pole to which animals
And they also had a verb meaning to ride, in the sense of ride in a vehicle.
Archaeological evidence also confirms the introduction of wheeled wagons in this area
around the same time.
Now no one knows exactly when the first wheel or wheeled vehicle was discovered.
I think we have this popular notion that the wheel was invented by cavemen in the Stone
That notion probably comes from comic strips, maybe from the Flintstones.
But the reality is that the wheel, and certainly the wheeled vehicle, is a much more recent
Around 4000 BC, potters were using a potter’s wheel to make pottery and clay vessels in
And around 3600 BC, the first pictures and drawings of wheeled vehicles began to appear
And the archaeological records confirm that wheeled vehicles were in use on the Eurasian
steppes by a couple of centuries later.
Regardless of exactly when and where the wheeled vehicle was invented, they were on the steppes
around 3400 BC.
And here’s why that’s so important.
Before the wheeled vehicles arrived, these herders had just started to break free from
the river valleys, where water and vegetation were abundant.
But remember, it was still a risky venture.
But now they could load up their wagons with water and food and tents and other belongings
and head out into the steppes with their herds for extended periods of time.
These herders could now move indefinitely.
And they could live on the steppes for months at a time.
The wagon, which was pulled by the cattle, basically became a mobile home.
And it permitted the dispersal of people throughout the steppes and eventually throughout Europe
and Central Asia.
The steppes became large open pastures, which in turn allowed herders to keep even larger
But again, this increased mobility and larger herds increased the potential conflict with
other nomadic herders competing for the same land.
This may have also encouraged the building of alliances between herders to manage the
As you may recall from an earlier episode, the original Indo-European speakers used the
same word for both a guest and a host.
The word was ghosti.
And the existence of this word suggests the reciprocal nature of the relationship as herders
allowed each other to pass through their respective territories.
In other words, today’s host is tomorrow’s guest.
These relationships established mutual obligations, similar to kinship relationships, and were
necessary to facilitate the movement of these herds.
So now we have all the pieces in place.
The cattle, sheep, and domesticated horses gave these early Indo-Europeans access to
A genetic mutation allowed them to consume milk and dairy products, which allowed them
to become dairy farmers and support bigger and healthier populations, and to maintain
large herds without having to slaughter them for food.
So as the size of the tribes increased, the physical size of the tribe members increased,
and the size of their flocks increased.
So that meant their power and wealth increased.
It also required more mobility, since large herds need more land to graze.
This resulted in a sophisticated system of guest-host relationships.
And when the covered wheeled wagon was introduced a short time later, their mobility increased
They were now masters of the steppes, and they were on the move.
We’ve now entered the era of pastoral nomads.
Movement and migration became the norm for these people.
The horse and wagons had transformed the steppes from an ecological barrier to a transcontinental
highway, and it enabled the spread and expansion of the original Indo-Europeans.
We are now ready for the expansion of the Indo-European language.
As I said, with the growth in the population of these tribes, combined with the growth
in the size of the herds, there was a constant need for migration and expansion.
It was basically a nomadic lifestyle which meant move or die.
Sometimes this expansion occurred through military power.
Sometimes it occurred through migration and displacement of other peoples.
Sometimes it occurred through intermarriage and coalition building and integration.
Sometimes it was likely a combination of these factors.
So the original Indo-European language expanded with the expansion of these people, but not
always through military conquest.
But these Indo-European people tended to be the dominant people in these new societies.
And the language of the dominant group tends to perpetuate.
So that was typically the original Indo-European language spoken by these people.
Earlier I mentioned that around 4200 B.C. or so, Indo-European herders were beginning
to spread southwestward around the Black Sea in a counterclockwise direction.
And as you may recall, they encountered farming settlements in the Balkans west of the Black
And the archaeological evidence indicates that many of these settlements were abandoned
and overrun by the Indo-Europeans.
So historians believe this branch of early Indo-Europeans were the early ancestors of
the oldest known branch of the Indo-European family tree, the Anatolian branch.
As its name suggests, these speakers continued their southward migration for the next few
centuries, eventually ending up in Anatolia, which is modern-day Turkey, south of the
The most well-known of these Anatolian speakers were the Hittites.
But they don’t emerge until a little later in our story.
But while these speakers were continuing their migration southward, another branch probably
started to emerge.
Around 3600 B.C., another branch of early Indo-European speakers had probably started
to separate from the main group.
But this group appears to have moved eastward along the steps into central and eventually
These were the ancestors of the Ticarian speakers in northwestern China.
An early split at around this time for this group is not shared by some historians, but
it does help to explain why the Ticarian language is a Kentem language, but all the other eastern
Indo-European languages are Satem languages.
Remember from an earlier episode, there was a general division of the Indo-European languages
into an eastern group, which used an S sound for certain words, like the Sanskrit word
Satem for hundred, and there was a western group of languages, which used a K sound,
like the Latin word Kentem for the same word, hundred.
And this K sound used within the Kentem group appears to be a continuation of the original
K sound used by the original Indo-Europeans.
But these Ticarian speakers, who lived all the way in western China, did not speak a
Satem language like the other eastern groups.
So it’s believed that these early ancestors of the Ticarian speakers broke away from the
main group of Indo-Europeans before the Kentem-Satem split occurred.
Again, this is one theory.
And they lived around the Ural River in the steppe region for a while, between Europe
And later they migrated eastward, across modern Kazakhstan, east of the Caspian Sea, into
the mountains in the area where modern-day China, Russia, and Mongolia meet.
And these speakers spoke an Indo-European dialect, which ultimately developed into the
Ticarian branch, which was spoken in Xinjiang in the northwestern corner of China.
And it was a language that was actually spoken there until around the seventh century A.D.
And the physical evidence for the early separation of the Anatolian speakers of Turkey and the
Ticarian speakers of northwestern China around this time frame, we also have some linguistic
evidence to confirm this.
I’ve already mentioned the Kentem-Satem distinction.
And both of these early languages were spoken in the east, but remember they were not Satem
languages like the other eastern Indo-European languages.
So that suggests that they must have separated from the original group at a different point
than the rest of the Satem language ancestors.
The other clue is that these Anatolian and Ticarian languages don’t have reconstructed
Indo-European words for wagons or wheels.
And that suggests that they must have separated from the main Indo-European groups before
the wagon and the wheel vocabulary was adopted into the early Indo-European language.
In other words, before wheeled wagons existed in the steppes.
As I said earlier, wheeled wagons appeared on the steppes around 3400 B.C.
So this evidence suggests that these groups were separate and distinct from the main group
before 3400 B.C.
It’s around this same time, say around 3400 or 3500 B.C., that the very first cities started
to emerge in southern Mesopotamia.
Those are the cities of Uruk and Ur in the area known as Sumer.
So everything we’ve discussed up to this point has occurred in early human prehistory before
cities of any kind existed anywhere.
And though it doesn’t directly concern our story of the early Indo-Europeans, I should
note that the first known writing starts to emerge at this point in those early cities
And the writing developed to record economic transactions and to compile inventories.
This was the ancient Sumerian language, which is not an Indo-European language.
But the idea of writing and the written language is important to our story.
So hold on to that idea because it soon becomes very important.
Since I mentioned Sumer at this point, I guess I should also mention another group there
who will become important to our story a little bit later.
The Semitic people who spoke a group of closely related Semitic languages.
At around this point in our story, they still lived in Mesopotamia.
Some of them lived and spoke Semitic languages in the south of Sumer.
But most of them lived further up the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in central Mesopotamia.
Since the ultimate origin of our alphabet lies with the descendants of these Semitic
speakers, this is a good time to mention them, as it is their first known appearance on the
And it’s at this point in our story that something else very, very important to our
Around 3300 B.C., many linguists and archaeologists believe the first ancestors of the Germanic-speaking
tribes started to split away from the main group of Indo-European speakers.
Since these were the ancient linguistic ancestors of English, they are of particular interest
At this point, the Indo-Europeans were probably not a specific group of people as much as
an interrelated group of nomads and herders.
They were probably somewhat analogous to the Celtic people of central and western Europe
who emerged many centuries later.
And by that I mean that these people had a shared set of dialects within the same language
family and they also shared other common cultural features.
But they probably did not see themselves, nor were they probably viewed by others, as
some unified group of people or tribes.
We kind of lumped these various interrelated people together in retrospect.
So there were many subgroups within this larger Indo-European group.
And one of these lived on the western edge of the region where the early Indo-European
dialects were being spoken, specifically in and around the northwestern portion of the
They were part of a culture that archaeologists call the Ussutovo culture.
And it’s this group of Indo-Europeans who spoke a dialect which many historians now
believe led to the original Germanic language from which English derived.
So with this little cliffhanger in place, I’m going to conclude this episode at this
And next time, we’ll take a closer look at these ancestors of the Germanic speakers
and how their language found their way to the Germanic homeland in northern Europe.
And we’ll also complete the migrations of the Indo-European tribes to establish a general
time frame for the emergence of the first Greeks, the first Latin speakers, and the
So in sum, next time we’ll conclude our look at the original Indo-Europeans.
And we’ll begin to look at the ancestors of the early Germanic tribes and the immediate
ancestors of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Celts.
So until next time, thanks for listening to the History of English podcast.