Anatolian hypothesis

The Anatolian hypothesis, first developed by British archaeologist Colin Renfrew in 1987, proposes that the dispersal of Proto-Indo-Europeans originated in Neolithic Anatolia.


The hypothesis suggests that the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) lived in Anatolia during the Neolithic era, and associates the distribution of historical Indo-European languages with the expansion during the Neolithic revolution of the seventh and sixth millennia BC. An alternative (and academically more favored view) is the Kurgan hypothesis.

The main competitor to the Kurgan hypothesis is the Anatolian hypothesis advanced by Colin Renfrew in 1987. It states that the Indo-European languages began to spread peacefully (by demic diffusion) into Europe from Asia Minor from around 7000 BCE with the Neolithic advance of farming (wave of advance). Accordingly, most of the inhabitants of Neolithic Europe would have spoken Indo-European languages, and later migrations would at best have replaced these Indo-European varieties with other Indo-European varieties.[1] The expansion of agriculture from the Middle East would have diffused three language families: Indo-European toward Europe, Dravidian toward Pakistan and India, and Afro Asiatic toward Arabia and North Africa. Reacting to criticism, Renfrew revised his proposal to the effect of taking a pronounced Indo-Hittite position. Renfrew's revised views place only Pre-Proto-Indo-European in 7th millennium BC Anatolia, proposing as the homeland of Proto-Indo-European proper the Balkans around 5000 BC, explicitly identified as the "Old European culture" proposed by Marija Gimbutas. He thus still situates the original source of the Indo-European language family in Anatolia around 7000 BC. Reconstructions of a Bronze Age PIE society based on vocabulary items like "wheel" do not necessarily hold for the Anatolian branch, which appears to have separated from PIE at an early stage, prior to the invention of wheeled vehicles.[2]

Map showing the Neolithic expansion from the seventh to fifth millennium BC.

According to Renfrew (2004), the spread of Indo-European proceeded in the following steps:

The main strength of the farming hypothesis lies in its linking of the spread of Indo-European languages with an archaeologically known event (the spread of farming) which scholars often assume involved significant population shifts.

Support from Bayesian analysis

Bayesian analysis

A 2003 analysis of "87 languages with 2,449 lexical items" found an age range for the "initial Indo-European divergence" of 7,800–9,800 years, which was found to be consistent with the Anatolian hypothesis.[3] Using stochastic models to evaluate the presence or absence of different words across Indo-European, Gray & Atkinson (2003) concluded that the origin of Indo-European goes back about 8500 years, the first split being that of Hittite from the rest (Indo-Hittite hypothesis).

In 2006, the authors of the paper responded to their critics.[4] In 2011, the same authors and S. Greenhill found that two different datasets were also consistent with their theory.[5]

An analysis by Ryder and Nicholls (2011) found support for the Anatolian hypothesis:

Our main result is a unimodal posterior distribution for the age of Proto-Indo-European centred at 8400 years before Present with 95% highest posterior density interval equal to 7100–9800 years before Present."[6]

A computerized phylogeographic study published in August 2012 in Science, using methods drawn from the modeling of the spatial diffusion of infectious diseases, also showed strong support for the Anatolian hypothesis,[7] despite having undergone corrections and revisions.[8]

Linguist Paul Heggarty from the Max Planck Institute writes in 2014:[9]

"Bayesian analysis has come to be widely used in archaeological chronologies... Its application to linguistic prehistory, however, has proved controversial, in particular on the issue of Indo-European origins. Dating and mapping language distributions back into prehistory has an inevitable fascination, but has remained fraught with difficulty. This review of recent studies highlights the potential of increasingly sophisticated Bayesian phylogenetic models, while also identifying areas of concern, and ways in which the models might be refined to address them. Notwithstanding these remaining limitations, in the Indo-European case the results from Bayesian phylogenetics continue to reinforce the argument for an Anatolian rather than a Steppe origin."

Criticism of Bayesian analysis

Bayesian analysis has been criticized on account of its inferring the lifespan of a language from that of some of its words; the idiosyncratic outcome of, for example, the Albanian language raises doubts about the method and the data. Furthermore, other lexicostatistical (and some glottochronological) studies have produced results different from the results produced by Gray and Atkinson.[10]



The main objection to this theory is that it requires an unrealistically early date. Most estimates from Indo-Europeanists date PIE between 4500 and 2500 BC, with the most probable date falling right around 3700 BC. It is unlikely that late PIE (even after the separation of the Anatolian branch) post-dates 2500 BC, since Proto-Indo-Iranian is usually dated to just before 2000 BC. On the other hand, it is not very likely that early PIE predates 4500 BC, because the reconstructed vocabulary strongly suggests a culture of the terminal phase of the Neolithic bordering on the early Bronze Age.[11]

According to linguistic analysis, the Proto-Indo-European lexicon seems to include words for a range of inventions and practices related to the Secondary Products Revolution, which post-dates the early spread of farming. On lexico-cultural dating, Proto-Indo-European cannot be earlier than 4000 BC.[12]

PIE contains words for technologies that make their first appearance in the archaeological record in the Late Neolithic, in some cases bordering on the early Bronze Age, and that some of these words belong to the oldest layers of PIE. The lexicon includes words relating to agriculture (dated to 7500 BCE), stockbreeding (6500 BCE), metallurgy (5500 BCE), the plow (4500 BCE), gold (4500 BCE), domesticated horses (4000–3500 BCE) and wheeled vehicles (4000–3400 BCE). Horse breeding is thought to have originated with the Sredny Stog culture, semi-nomadic pastoralists living in the forest steppe zone in present-day Ukraine. Wheeled vehicles are thought to have originated with Funnelbeaker culture in what is now Poland, Belarus, and parts of Ukraine.[13]


Many Indo-European languages have cognate words meaning axle; for example: Latin axis, Lithuanian ašis, Russian os' , and Sanskrit ákṣa. (In some, a similar root is used for the word armpit: eaxl in Old English, axilla in Latin, and kaksa in Sanskrit.) All these are linked to the PIE root ak's-. The reconstructed PIE root i̯eu-g- gives rise to German joch, Hittite iukan, and Sanskrit yugá(m), all meaning yoke. Words for wheel and cart/wagon/chariot take one of two common forms, thought to be linked with two PIE roots: the root kʷel- "move around" is the basis of the unique derivative kʷekʷlo- "wheel" which becomes hvél (wheel) in Old Icelandic, kolo (wheel, circle) in Old Church Slavonic, kãkla- (neck) in Lithuanian, kyklo- (wheel, circle) in Greek, cakka-/cakra- (wheel) in Pali and Sanskrit, and kukäl (wagon, chariot) in Tocharian A. The root ret(h)- becomes rad (wheel) in Old High German, rota (wheel) in Latin, rãtas (wheel) in Lithuanian, and ratha (wagon, chariot) in Sanskrit.


Other difficulties with the theory could be:

  1. The idea that farming was spread from Anatolia in a single wave has been revised. Instead it appears to have spread in several waves by several routes, primarily from the Levant.[14] The trail of plant domesticates indicates an initial foray from the Levant by sea.[15] The overland route via Anatolia seems to have been most significant in spreading farming into south-east Europe.[16]


Lazaridis et al. (2016), writing on the origins of Ancestral North Indians, note:[17]

"Nonetheless, the fact that we can reject West Eurasian population sources from Anatolia, mainland Europe, and the Levant diminishes the likelihood that these areas were sources of Indo-European (or other) languages in South Asia."

However, Lazaridis et al. previously admitted they "don't know if the steppe is the ultimate source" of the Indo-European language family and that more data is needed.[18] Furthermore, other geneticists such as Carles Laluenza-Fox of the University of Barcelona are uncertain as to the location of the oldest branches of Indo-European.[18]

See also



  1. Renfrew 1990.
  2. Renfrew 2003, pp. 17–48.
  3. Gray & Atkinson 2003, pp. 435–439.
  4. Atkinson & Gray 2006, pp. 91–109.
  5. Gray, Atkinson & Greenhill 2011, pp. 1090–1100.
  6. Ryder & Nicholls 2011, pp. 71–92
  7. Bouckaert 2012, pp. 957–960.
  8. "Letters: Corrections and Clarifications". Science. Vol. 342. 20 December 2013. p. 1446.
  9. Heggarty 2014, pp. 566–577.
  10. Holm 2007, pp. 167–214.
  11. Anthony & Ringe 2015, pp. 199–219.
  12. Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 101–102.
  13. Piggott 1983, p. 41.
  14. Pinhasi, Fort & Ammerman 2005, pp. 2220–2228.
  15. Coward 2008, pp. 42–56.
  16. Özdogan 2011, pp. S415–S430.
  17. Lazaridis 2016, Supplementary Information, p. 123.
  18. 1 2 Curry, Andrew (3 March 2015). "Europe's Languages Were Carried From the East, DNA Shows". National Geographic. National Geographic Society.


Further reading

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