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, 337 (6097), 957-60

Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family


Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family

Remco Bouckaert et al. Science.

Erratum in

  • Science. 2013 Dec 20;342(6165):1446


There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, together with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, to explicitly model the expansion of the family and test these hypotheses. We found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin. Both the inferred timing and root location of the Indo-European language trees fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8000 to 9500 years ago. These results highlight the critical role that phylogeographic inference can play in resolving debates about human prehistory.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Inferred geographic origin of the Indo-European language family. (A) Map showing the estimated posterior distribution for the location of the root of the Indo-European language tree under the RRW analysis. MCMC sampled locations are plotted in translucent red such that darker areas correspond to increased probability mass. (B) The same distribution under a landscape-based analysis in which movement into water is 100 times less likely than movement into land (see Fig. S5 for results under the other landscape based models). The blue polygons delineate the proposed origin area under the Steppes hypothesis – dark blue shows the initial suggested homeland (6) and light blue shows a later version of the Steppes hypothesis (7). The yellow polygon delineates the proposed origin under the Anatolian hypothesis (11). A green star in the Steppe region shows the location of the centroid of the sampled languages.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Map and maximum clade credibility tree showing the diversification of the major Indo-European subfamilies. The tree shows the timing of the emergence of the major branches and their subsequent diversification. The inferred location at the root of each subfamily is shown on the map, colored to match the corresponding branches on the tree. For clarity, Albanian, Armenian and Greek subfamilies are shown separately (inset). Contours represent the 95% (largest), 75% and 50% HPD regions, based on kernel density estimates (15).

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