Episode 9: Who Were the Indo-Europeans?

The evidence is examined to determine when and where the original Indo-Europeans lived.  Based upon this evidence, the probable identity of the first Indo-Europeans is revealed.

Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

24 thoughts on “Episode 9: Who Were the Indo-Europeans?

  1. This might be the best podcast I’ve ever listened to. Very addictive. Thank you!

    Is there an episode where you focus only on Old English and discuss the loss of inflections (especially on nouns) WITH actual examples?


    • Thanks! You might want to check out “Episode 53: The End of Endings.” Be aware that the episodes are in chronological order, so you will be skipping ahead in the story.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for interesting episode. I could understand the reasoning behind last possible date of people speaking PIE. But I couldn’t understand about earliest date. You mentioned that If they had word for wheel or wool than they couldn’t have existed before wheel or wool was in common use. But can’t they increase their vocabulary over time and adopt those words later on. I mean can’t they exist before those inventions?


    • The discussion concerning the PIE time frame was based on the research and analysis used by many historical linguists and scholars, so I relied upon their analysis and time frame. My understanding is that PIE is defined as the language which contains the vocabulary that has been reconstructed from the modern Indo-European daughter languages. Thus, by definition, it has to include the reconstructed words for wheels and wool. Like all languages, PIE would have evolved from an even earlier language, and that earlier form of the language would not have included those words. But again, by definition, that language would have been Pre-PIE, and thus outside of the specific time frame identified by scholars. Since languages evolve gradually and slowly, linguists have to draw arbitrary lines in the sand to distinguish different stages of development. So I think this is just a somewhat arbitrary line in the sand. I hope that make sense.

      • Hello!

        I had the same question as was so well articulated by Bhaumik Shah. Thank you both for the clarification.

        I am, Mr. Stroud, gushingly delighted and grateful for the podcast. Rarely have I found learning to be so easy, engaging, and rewarding. I’m hopelessly distracted by the gaps and contradictions that plague so much instruction, and I appreciate very much the thoroughness and coherence of the narrative you present.

        I have trouble taking in information — I routinely listen twice to any information-dense input that is good enough to listen through once — so I find your careful framing, including revisitations of earlier explanations and examples, extra-helpful. It aids my learning enormously when I have the chance to predict the end of your sentence, because it’s a recollection of an earlier lesson. Even when I don’t manage to remember the recalled fact before you finish the sentence, the exercise of memory really helps me own the information.

        Thank you very much indeed.

  3. Don’t know if you can answer this: Why did all the people in this area speak the same language (Proto-Indo-European, Indo-European)? It seems strange to me. After all, language has been around for tens of thousands of years.

    Along the same lines, as the Indo-Europeans swept eastward, did they replace the earlier peoples by either wiping them out or outnumbering them? Did any of the languages extant in, say India or the Russian steppe, survive, or were words from them incorporated into the now mainly Indo-European-derived forms?

    • Hi Linda,

      I think some of these questions are addressed in the upcoming episodes about the Indo-European migrations. I don’t think most modern linguists think that PIE was the sole language spoken in these regions. It is merely a reconstructed language based on the surviving linguistic evidence. It appears to have been the dominant language, but there were likely other isolated languages being spoken around the same time. The Proto-Germanic language shows a significant influence which appears to be from another long lost language that was spoken in the same proximity.

      I don’t know enough about all of the steppe languages, but there are other surviving language families that have their origins in the same general vicinity – including the Caucasian, Uralic and Altaic language families.

  4. I discovered your podcast late but, like many of your listeners, I am enjoy your podcasts which you present in the most engaging manner. On this episode, you talk about PIE’s root to Sanskrit. Dravidian languages have long existed in India before Sanskrit. I am of Dravidian descent and am fiercely protective of Dravidian heritage as it is not appreciated much in India itself.

    • Hi Mani. Yes, the Dravidian languages are unrelated to the Indo-European languages and are still spoken by millions of people in India – especially in the south. I am not sure if the Dravidian languages had any influence on the development of Sanskrit. I would be curious to find out.

  5. Kevin, your podcast is a gem! Thank you for sharing your insights.

    A wheeled toy model from Qoser in Kurdistan is 7500 years old:
    The proximity of this find to the Gobeklie Tepe monuments in Anatolia is very interesting. It is logical that the wheel would be invented where people needed to carry objects over long distances and domesticated animals to do that. It’s also logical that they were close enough to wooded terrain to obtain wood to built wheels. Transition land bordering steppe and forest in climate conditions @ 10,000-20,000 BC sounds right.

    Wonder how close is the Kurdish language(s) to the proto Indo European root?

    • Interesting. I wonder how confident scholars are in the proposed date of that toy. It is an amazing find if it is really that old. As far as Kurdish is concerned, it is an Indo-European language, but I don’t know how close it is to PIE. Given that it is part of the Indo-Iranian sub-family, I suspect that it is no more closely related than any of those other related languages.

    • In reference to the toy, here’s the museum that apparently has it: http://www.mardinmuzesi.gov.tr/; I’m having trouble finding any reference to the car on their website, however.

      In reference to Kurdish, my guess is that it started to appear as a distinct language around the 5th century CE, but I don’t really know; that’s when Median (the oldest Northwest Iranian language we have record of) started to disappear. But Median itself is not well understood, so that doesn’t provide much clarity. Encyclopædia Iranica has some insights, though: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kurdish-language-i

      In summary, Kevin’s answer is best: “Given that it is part of the Indo-Iranian sub-family, I suspect that it is no more closely related than any of those other related languages.”

  6. I’m delighted to have many more of your podcasts left to listen to. There are so many aspects of this series that interest me and I love the level of detail you have chosen to give us. Your voice and the speed at which you read seem just right for the material.

    • This episode was actually prepared and posted back in 2012 before several of the most recent DNA studies were released related to early European migrations. As you may know, these recent studies have tended to confirm that there was an early migration of people from the Eurasian steppe region into western Europe during a timeframe that corresponds to the spread of the Indo-European languages. I do mention some of those more recent studies in a later episode.

  7. Kevin, this podcast is wonderful so far, and this episode particularly enlightening. Thank you so much.
    I’ve had a rough awareness for decades of the framework of the relations among Indo-European languages – I’m a native speaker of American southern English, like you, and I studied French and German in high school, majored in Latin and Greek and threw in a year of college Russian. But it was only from learning Japanese (by living and working in Japan, not studying in a classroom) that I realized how similar IE languages really are and how different, in similar ways, they are to non-IE languages.
    I had a general sense of IE but no idea how much we actually have learned about the language and its people through the forensic linguistics you describe so meticulously.
    Thanks again. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    • Great! I’m glad you discovered the podcast, and I hope you continue to listen and enjoy the story of English. 🙂

  8. a lawyer who can’t spell DNA. You’ve clearly never heard of it.

    I keep telling you, and you keep not even acknowledging anything so important.

    How is it you’re prepared to discuss length of wool, and ecosystems of honeybees, and you’ve never heard of DNA.

    Go back to the library. I know you’ve not been there in a few years….

    Research the new papers on R1b. They’ve sequenced DNA from ancient skeletons all over Eurasia.

    R1b was not found in Europe until the end of the Neolithic, when it had begun to trickle into eastern Europe. Its home was the Eurasian steppes. At the beginning of the Bronze age R1b suddenly flooded into Europe, all away across Germany. Meanwhile a southern development called the Bell Beaker people, whatever they were, except they migrated in small groups and traded and carried metal, led to R1b taking over France, Spain and Britain.

    The Indo-Europeans got help from a late Neolithic plague pandemic.

    As for the Paleolithic haplogroup of Europe – that was I2.

    R1b is an Indo European marker. There were Indo-Europeans. It doesn’t take no sheep to know this, as if the sheep or the language had managed to convince the more arrogant among us.

    I can see where the ancient Indo-Europeans clearly had certain vocabulary words and technology that Neolithic people of the Near East did not. That never shut up academic idiots insisting they were the Indo-Europeans. But, since the DNA evidence came out, those people have literally all climbed back under their home rocks and not been heard from, about anything.

    • First, this particular episode was prepared and released several years ago before the DNA studies you referenced. Those DNA studies are mentioned in later episodes which I prepared around the time that the studies were released.

      Second, the point of this episode was to explain how scholars used the linguistic and other evidence available to them at the time to determine who the first Indo-Europeans were. Obviously, they did not have access to DNA research at the time.

      And lastly, I’m allowing your comments for now. I enjoy a lively discussion and don’t mind a substantive criticism of me or the podcast, but I don’t entertain personal insults directed at me or anyone else. If you have something substantive to contribute, feel free to do so, but if you are here to sling insults around, find another forum.

  9. Hi Kevin – I have only recently discovered your excellent podcast and am enjoying it very much. I see you started the podcast back in 2012, three years before the first ancient DNA data were published which confirmed that the concensus view you had chosen of steppe PIE origins and Bronze Age IE transmission into central and western Europe by migrations was correct! It is fascinating to see how the three disciplines of Indo-European language studies, archaeology and genetics have gradually converged on that concensus view over the last 30 years or so with Ancient DNA and archaeology finally providing a robust basis for the chronology.

    Thank you for your extremely interesting podcast.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast series. I’m also happy that the DNA evidence largely confirms the narrative I presented in these episodes. I didn’t want to go back and re-do these episodes. 😉

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