Media Contacts

Dr Wolfgang Haak
Australian Centre for Ancient DNA
The University of Adelaide
AUSTRALIA
Phone: +61 8313 5565
Mobile: +61 435 252 688
wolfgang.haak@adelaide.edu.au

Professor Johannes Krause
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10
07745 Jena
GERMANY
Phone: +49 (0)3641 686 700
krause@shh.mpg.de

Petra Mader
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Public Relations
Kahlaische Straße 10
07745 Jena
GERMANY
Phone: 03641 686 960
presse@shh.mpg.de

Original Publication

1.
Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, Nadin Rohland, Swapan Mallick, Bastien Llamas, Guido Brandt, Susanne Nordenfelt, Eadaoin Harney, Kristin Stewardson, Qiaomei Fu, Alissa Mittnik, Eszter Bánffy, Christos Economou, Michael Francken, Susanne Friederich, Rafael Garrido Pena, Fredrik Hallgren, Valery Khartanovich, Aleksandr Khokhlov, Michael Kunst, Pavel Kuznetsov, Harald Meller, Oleg Mochalov, Vayacheslav Moiseyev, Nicole Nicklisch, Sandra L. Pichler, Roberto Risch, Manuel A. Rojo Guerra, Christina Roth, Anna Szécsényi-Nagy, Joachim Wahl, Matthias Meyer, Johannes Krause, Dorcas Brown, David Anthony, Alan Cooper, Kurt Werner Alt, and David Reich, "Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe," Nature (522), 207-211 (2015).

Media Coverage

International
February 13, 2015 – Sciencemag
Mysterious Indo-European homeland may have been in the steppes of Ukraine and Russia
February 18, 2015 – Languages of the world
Is “massive migration from the steppe … a source for Indo-European languages in Europe”?
February 26, 2015 - Russia Insider
Scientists: Ancient Indo-European Homeland Was in the Russian-Ukrainian Steppe
March 03, 2015 - BBC News
Genomes document ancient mass migration to Europe
March 03, 2015 - Neue Züricher Zeitung
Die Ahnen der Mitteleuropäer - Mehrere Einwanderungswellen in der Jungsteinzeit

[mehr ...]

March 02, 2015 – swissinfo.ch
Steinzeitliche Ahnen der Mitteleuropäer kamen aus Südrussland
March 02, 2015 - Wiener Zeitung
Gemeinsamer Ursprung
March 02, 2015 - ORF.at
Unsere Ahnen kamen aus Südrussland
March 02, 2015 - Solothurner Zeitung
Steinzeitliche Ahnen der Mitteleuropäer kamen aus Südrussland
March 02, 2015 - blick.ch
Vor 7500 Jahren eingewandert - Sind wir alles Südrussen
March 02, 2015 – kurier.at
Ahnen der Mitteleuropäer stammen aus Russland
March 02, 2015 - www.watson.ch
Unsere Vorfahren waren Immigranten aus Südrussland
March 03, 2015 – U.S.News
Study of ancient DNA backs theory of massive steppe migration to Europe some 4,500 years ago
March 03, 2015 – National Geographic
Europe's Languages Were Carried From the East, DNA Shows
March 03, 2015– ABC News /Associated Press
DNA Study Backs Theory of Massive Steppe Migration to Europe
March 03, 2015 – Press TV (Ir)
Migrant farmers spread languages across Europe, DNA study confirms
March 03, 2015- The Christian Science Monitor
Where did Europe get its languages? Scientists uncover new evidence
March 03, 2015 - ABC Science
Herders spread Indo-European languages
March 03, 2015 - The LEAD
Ancient skeletons hold the key to origins of the spread of Indo-European language
March 03, 2015 – geolounge.com
Geographic Spread of the Indo-European Language Family
March 03, 2015 – National Monitor
New research on ancient DNA provides clues about European languages
March 03, 2015 – haaretz.com
Ancient skeletons hold key to origins of language
March 03, 2015 - PHYS ORG
Research challenges popular theory on origin of languages
March 03, 2015 – hngn.com
Steppe Migration To Europe Could Explain Origin Of Modern Languages
March 04, 2015 – ScienceDaily
Genetic study revives debate on origin and expansion of Indo-European languages in Europe
March 04, 2015 – China Topix
Ancient Massive Migration Resulted in Modern European Languages
March 04, 2015 Sputnik International
Sprechen Sie Russian? Genetic Proof Russia Home to Indo-European Languages
March 04, – sci-tech.today.com
DNA Study Backs Theory of Massive Steppe Migration
March 04, 2015 – SBS
Aussie scientists closer to unravelling language mysteries
March 04, 2015 – Demanjo
DNA study backs theory of massive steppe migration to Europe
March 05, 2015 - Demanjo
Steppe Migration To Europe Could Explain Origin Of Modern Languages
March 06, 2015 – horsetalk.co.nz
Spreading the word: Horse-riding pastalorists behind spread of language
March 09, 2015 – New Telegraph
Indo-European Tongues Traced to Tangled Roots

A massive migration from the steppe brought Indo-European languages to Europe

Published in the journal Nature today, a new study by an international team has shown that at least some of the Indo-European languages spoken in Europe were likely introduced by a massive migration from the Russian steppe.

March 02, 2015

Almost three billion humans today speak languages belonging to the Indo-European family. The reason why these languages are related has been a mystery for more than two hundred years. A new study by an international team led by scientists at Harvard Medical School and the Australian Center for Ancient DNA now has shown that at least some of the Indo-European languages spoken in Europe were likely introduced by a massive migration from the Russian steppe.This new study challenges one of the most popular views about the origin of Indo-European languages in Europe, which is that the ancestor of all these languages arrived in Europe with early farmers expanding from the Near East more than 9,000 years ago.

Corded Ware burial with vessel, perforated animal teeth and shell sequins, Oechlitz, Saalekreis, Saxony-Anhalt Zoom Image
Corded Ware burial with vessel, perforated animal teeth and shell sequins, Oechlitz, Saalekreis, Saxony-Anhalt

By studying genome-scale data from more than 90 ancient European individuals ranging from 3,000 to 8,000 years old, the study documents two major population replacements:

The first was the arrival of Europe’s first farmers, who had expanded from Near East more than 9,000 years ago and had reached Central Europe and the Iberian Peninsula in the West by 7,500 years ago. The pottery they made looked very different, and some archaeologists have suggested that they were unrelated to each other and came from two separate migration waves. But the genetic data suggests otherwise. Wolfgang Haak, a geneticist at the University of Adelaide, and co-first author of the new study, observes: “The first farmers, whether from Hungary, Germany or Spain, are genetically almost identical: they are from the same origin.”

Remarkably, the hunter-gatherers that lived in Europe before the first farmers did not disappear. “By 6,000-5,000 years ago, a resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry had occurred in agricultural populations across Europe,” says Iosif Lazaridis, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, and the other co-first-author of the new study. “This shows that populations with substantial hunter-gatherer ancestry persisted in parts of Europe even after the arrival of the first farmers.” “This also shows that hunter-gatherers had been slowly but steadily integrated into farming communities”, adds co-author Professor Kurt Alt from the Danube Private University Krems and University Basel, Switzerland.

A massive migration from the East

Burial of a young woman inside a carefully built stone cist, Rothenschirmbach, distict Mansfeld-Südharz, Saxony-Anhalt Zoom Image
Burial of a young woman inside a carefully built stone cist, Rothenschirmbach, distict Mansfeld-Südharz, Saxony-Anhalt

In earlier studies, several of the same authors had shown that Europeans today are a mixture of three very different ancestral populations: hunter-gatherers, first farmers, and a population with eastern affinities that was not yet present in Europe at the time of the first farmers. It was unclear when and how this eastern component arrived in Europe. “When we first looked at the new data, it was a Eureka moment,” says Lazaridis. “The eastern ancestry was present in every single sample starting at around 4,500 years ago, and absent in every single one before that time.”

Haak goes even further: “The great power of the genetic data can be seen from the fact that we could go almost as far as to genetically date samples based on whether they have one, two or all three of the components. Indeed, three individuals were assigned based on their archaeological context to a period older than 4,500 years ago and yet the genetics revealed that all had eastern ancestry. The team then decided to commission radiocarbon dates: “The noticeable similarity[b1]  of Corded Ware and Yamnaya cultures is also seen in their material remains. This affinity could now also be testified scientifically.”, adds co-author Professor Harald Meller, director of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, which provided a substantial number of prehistoric specimens.

“People associated with the Corded Ware culture are the first group with evidence of the eastern ancestry and also have the most, suggesting a major genetic turnover around this time” says Dr Haak. “We estimate that around 75% of the ancestry of the Corded Ware people in Germany came from a population related to the Yamnaya people who were steppe pastoralists from Russia expanding westwards,” says Lazaridis, adding that “the Corded Ware and the Yamnaya are genetically very similar despite living 2,600 km apart”.

Indo-European languages from the steppe

Grave 99 (father, mother, 2 sons) in situ, Naumburg, district Burgenlandkreis, Corded Ware culture ca. 2659-2501 B. Zoom Image
Grave 99 (father, mother, 2 sons) in situ, Naumburg, district Burgenlandkreis, Corded Ware culture ca. 2659-2501 B.

This large migration from the east almost certainly had lasting effects on the languages people spoke. “Our results make a strong case that the Corded Ware people, who were overwhelmingly of steppe origin, also spoke a steppe language,” says Lazaridis. ”Since the people that succeeded the Corded Ware in northern Europe also trace more of their ancestry to the steppe than to the first farmers, it seems likely that the steppe migrants contributed at least some of the Indo-European languages”, concludes Haak. Reich adds: “These results challenge the theory that all Indo-European languages in Europe today owe their origin to the arrival of the first farmers from Anatolia more than eight thousand years ago.”

“The combination of archaeology, linguistic and genetic data is highly controversial and has been treated like a hot potato”, adds co-author Professor Johannes Krause, director Max Planck Institute for the Sciences of Human History in Jena. “But these are very exciting times and we’ve already scheduled a workshop later this year to tackle old and newly arising questions with experts from all three disciplines”.

For example, the new study doesn’t solve the centuries-old problem of the location of the homeland of all Indo-European languages, which are distributed widely not only in Europe but in Asia. However, Reich, Haak and the team are optimistic that a solution to the problem of Indo-European origins may be within reach, despite the magnitude of the task: “The priority now is to carry out similar ancient DNA studies to understand how the people of Europe 3,000-6,000 years ago were linked with those in Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran and India.

 
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