New research disputes popular theories on the origins of languages that are spoken today across Europe and Asia.
Over three billion people speak languages of the Indo-European family, which spans across Europe as well as Central, Western and South Asia, but the exact reason as to why these languages are related has been widely debated, the University of Adelaide reported. The findings of a recent study suggest some of these Indo-European languages that are now spoke in Europe are a result of a mass migration from Eastern Russia.
"This new study is the biggest of its kind so far and has helped to improve our understanding of the linguistic impact of Stone Age migration," said co-first author Wolfgang Haak, from the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD). "Using genome-scale data from more than 90 ancient European people, ranging from [3,000 to 8,000] years old, we were able to trace these people's origins."
The researchers pinpointed two key population replacements that took place in Europe during the Stone Age, the first of which was the arrival of farmers in what is now Turkey.
"Their genetic profiles show remarkable similarity despite vast geographic distances and differences in material culture. Whether from Hungary, Germany or Spain, the first farmers are genetically almost identical and must have come from the same origin," said ACAD Director Professor Alan Cooper, co-author on the study.
Even after these farmers arrived, hunter-gatherer populations are believed to have remained in the region, and there was a resurgence of their ancestry across European agricultural populations. The researchers also noticed another ancestry component that was present in all Central European samples after 4,500 years ago (but not before that time), marking another population replacement. The scientists estimated that the "Corded Ware" people took 75 percent of their ancestry from the eastern steppe.
"This large migration almost certainly had lasting effects on the languages people spoke," Haak said. "This later migration sits well with linguists who had suggested a more recent spread of Indo-European, based on similar words for wheeled vehicles that had only been in use since 5000 years ago."
The findings challenge the popular theory that all modern Indo-European languages in Europe come from the first farmers seen in Anatolia over 8,000 years ago. The research is yet to solve the exact origin of Indo-European languages spoken across Eurasia, but the researchers believe the answers are within reach.
"We now want to understand how the people of Europe [3,000 to 6,000] years ago were linked with those in the East, the Caucasus, Iran and India, where Indo-European is also spoken," said Professor David Reich of Harvard Medical School, the Broad Institute, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Nature.