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Where Did Ancestor Of Indo-European Languages Originate?

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Researchers say they have a good idea of where exactly in the world the ancestral language of all Indo-European languages -- which cover the world and number as many as 400 -- arose.

A decades long debate abut where that singular ancestral language, dubbed Proto-Indo-European or PIE, sprang into being may be settled by two studies being readied for publication, researchers say.

Through different methodology, both studies have come out in support of a leading hypothesis, that PIE was first spoken among pastoral herders living in the vast steppes north of the Black Sea in what is today parts of Ukraine and Russia.

The researchers put the emergence of the proto-language at around 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.

One of the studies, based on the analysis of ancient DNA, suggests those ancient herding people have left their genetic signs in most living Europeans today.

It used ancient DNA from 69 European individuals living between 8,000 and 3,000 years ago to genetically track ancient population movements.

There is evidence for a massive migration of steppe peoples into central Europe around 4,500 years ago that could have disseminated an early form of Indo-European language, the study authors suggest.

A second study has used linguistic analysis to try and determine when -- and where -- PIE first arose, and came up with a dating of 6,000 years ago, consistent with the steppe hypothesis and the subsequent migrations into Europe around 1,500 years later.

Not all linguists agree with the assertions of the new studies; many hold to what is known as the Anatolian hypothesis, which posits that the first PIE speakers were farmers living in Anatolia (present day Turkey).

Under that hypothesis, PIE moved along with the spread of farming from its birthplace in the Middle East's Fertile Crescent west into Europe and east into Asia.

The DNA-based study "levels the playing field between the steppe hypothesis and the Anatolian hypothesis by showing that the spread of farming was not the only large migration into Europe," says ancient DNA specialist Pontus Skoglund.

While a number of linguists and archaeologists say they welcome the DNA data on ancient migrations, they say they're not convinced by what they suggest is a speculative link to the movements of language.

The migrations of the steppe peoples could have been a secondary wave after the original spread of the farmers, they say, and the evidence for one group or the other as being the origin of PIE is inconclusive.

The authors of the DNA study don't dispute that, and concede there hypothesis remains just that, and that "the ultimate question of the Proto-Indo-European homeland is unresolved by our data."

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