The First Farmers
in Anatolia and the PIE People: A theory
[this was simply a quickly written lecture for a class several years back. It was done off the top of my head and represents a rather crude theory that many might object too. Still, here it is.]
This is the material for the lectures I intended to give you
this last week before the unfortunate arrival of too much snow. You should read
it before the next class since I will be asking you question about it and you
won’t understand much of the lecture I give that day if you haven’t.
[What follows is my theory on where Proto-Indo-European was
first developed and how it spread. It is based on the work of many specialists
and I have taken the reconstruction that seems best to me. If you are
interested, you can explore the subject in more depth. Wikipedia is a good
place to start. Use it whenever you come across terms you don’t understand well
As we have seen, between 10,000 BC and 7500 BC people along
the mountain flanks of the Fertile Crescent [see map under Week 5] began to
farm. From the area now known as Syria and Palestine-Israel trade routes were established to get obsidian
from Anatolia [check maps and pictures under “Origins of Agriculture-Migration
to Anatolia,” esp. map #34 ]. Obsidian is an almost glass like stone that can
produce a cutting edge as sharp as any steel knife. The best site to obtain
obsidian is in the Konya plain of Anatolia from the volcanoes of the Hasan Dag
mountains. The will be important later in time. [check maps # 26 and # 35 under
“Origins of Agriculture-Migration to Anatolia”]
As the traders from Syria moved into this new territory they
spread the “Neolithic Package” i.e. the techniques of growing wheat and barley
and domesticated goats and sheep. This soon led to the spread of Neolithic
farming communities in Anatolia. These communities were probably composed of
native Anatolian hunters and gathers, who already had a very advanced level of
society complete with art and huge religious shrines as early at 9000-8000 BC
[see the two links for Gobekli Tepe and read the short article on the site
under the first one], and a smaller number of immigrants from the agricultural
zone in Syria.
The most impressive of these new communities was Catalhoyuk
dated to c. 7500 BC to c. 5700 BC. It is the largest and best preserved such
site yet discovered, though there must have been many more spreading out
through Anatolia. Catalhoyuk is a large mound composed of layer after layer of
the reamins of human settlement first excavated in 1961. It now has a permanent
team of archaeologists and a huge covering to protect the site [see the two
videos and others links to CatalHoyuk. The video in Spanish is only there for
you to see the pictures.]. The reason that Catalhoyuk was such a rich site was
it was on a well watered plain [see maps #28-31 under “Origins of Agriculture”]
that was close to the obsidian source in the Hasan Dag Mts. In fact, the folks
at Catalhoyuk painted a mural showing the layout of their town and two mountain
peaks, one of which is a volcano blowing its top. [Read the article under
“Catalhoyuk-The Origins of PIE?” and look at “Picture of Catalhoyuk”]
It covers about 32.5 acres and could have housed 5-8,000
people in a large cluster of mud-brick houses. There were no streets or paths
between the houses. House walls were connected and had to be entered from the
roof. Walls were plastered, and some were painted with elaborate murals
including the one mentioned about with the exploding volcano.
The people were farmers ... with sheep, and the first signs
of cattle. They also grew wheat, barley, peas, pistachios, almonds and even
The domesticated animals are important to our story so pay
attention to them. The domesticated
sheep and goats started in the Zagros Mts between Iran and Iraq [See map of
domesticated animals]. These animals were added to the Neolithic Package very
early and thus came to Anatolia. It is also important that they did NOT have
the horse, an animal of the Eurasian steppes, far from the Fertile Crescent.
This type of farming, while resulting in harder work and
occasional food shortages, could support many more people than hunting and
gathering. Instead of 1 person per sq. mile these settlements could feed 25-50
people per sq. mile. This is the explanation of how a relatively few local
languages out of thousands would survive and give rise to most of the 6,000
languages of today. Proto-Indo-European is one such language, but so is
Proto-Afro-Asiatic (Egyptian, Berber, and Semitic languages) and Proto-Bantu
(grandmother of hundreds of sub-Saharan African languages, e.g. Swahili and
Zulu). Once a group of people get the Neolithic Package first, they will began
to grow rapidly and spread out looking for new farm land. This could be
relatively slow, but it would steadily spread the original language, now
breaking into many different dialects (remember our Scottish “Star Trek”
episode?) which would eventually become completely different languages, exactly
the way Old English broke off from ancient Germanic and eventually developed
into the language you now speak. This is what happened with the speakers of an
extinct language historical linguist call Proto-Indo-European, or PIE.
When and how did this language migration take place. If
there is PIE, there must be a Pre-PIE. [see chart under “Pre-PIE People to see
how this is reconstructed] I believe that this was a language spoken in
Anatolia well BEFORE 4500 BC. While possible, I do not think that this Pre-PIE
was spoken by the people of Catalhoyuk, but rather further to the north of
Anatolia. Catalhoyuk, however, gives us a good idea of how these people would
have lived, in large farming villages, sending out new settlers every
generation or so. These settlers would move into a new area unfamiliar with
agriculture and settle down, intermarrying with many of the local
hunter-gathers who would be speaking other languages. Since the farmers had
more food, controlled the trade, and outnumbered the locals, the newest version
of Pre-PIE would dominate but would be spoken with some words and
pronunciations from the local people. This is how the Bantu languages in
southern Africa picked up the strange “click” sounds of the San bushmen [go
back and review the little film under “The ‘First’ Language?”]. This is one way
languages can change.
So we can imagine these villages of these Pre-Pie people
spreading out along Northern Anatolia around the shores of ... the Black
Sea? There is a problem here, one that
became a disaster for some of these villages.
Look at the map of the “Euxine Lake” of 6000 BC. ‘Euxine’ is an old
Greek word for the Black Sea and it is a lake because it contained fresh water
and was much smaller than the present day salt water Sea. Look carefully at the
shoreline. There is a big land bridge to Europe and Anatolia in the east
stretches straight up into the Ukraine and southern Russia. What changed to
create the modern day shoreline of the salty Black Sea?
Think back to earlier in the semester when we spoke of the
ice cap melting when the world began to undergo global warming c. 12,000 BC.
The level of the oceans began to rise. As the Atlantic Ocean rose, so did the
Mediterranean Sea. At that land bridge something had to give and one day around
4500 BC the Mediterranean waters broke through the land bridge in a spectacular
jet of water and began to flood the basin of the Euxine Lake. Eventually the
waters rose to about the level of the Black Sea today which is now permanently
connected to the Mediterranean.
Imagine the effect on the farming communities inside the
flooded area. The water of the lake had risen at the pace of a man or woman
walking rather fast, and we have to imagine that anyone living there walked
away as fast as possible, abandoning their villages, fields, and heavy
equipment. Now is was much harder to make it to Europe from Anatolia without
boats and the eastern shore of the rising water now nearly touched the Caucasus
As you can read in the little blog post under “A theory of
the origins of PIE”:
Think of the Euxine basin as a tube of
toothpaste that has been stepped on. All those people have to squirt somewhere.
The farmers go up the great river valleys in every direction. It forces the
spread of agricultural communities into Europe and out towards the Ukraine and
points east. There is probably a reflux of farmers back into Anatolia as well.
This is when Pre-PIE dialects split - one branch went back
into Anatolia and began to develop into the “Anatolian” language family.
Hittite is the best known of these. It is related to Indo-European languages in
some ways, as you can tell from this Hittite word: watar. It means
The new Black Sea now separated the northern farmers from
their old communities and felds. As the refugees struggled to re-establish
themselves along the river valleys north of the sea their language quickly
developed into a scatter of Proto-Indo-European dialects. PIE along with
languages like Proto-Hittite are daughter languages of Pre-PIE, the old
Historical linguists have tried to reconstruct this PIE
language. You are assigned a short version of their reconstruction to read. It
was created by examining the lexicon of EVERY Indo-European language we know
about and picking out the words that seem to go back to a common root. Then
that root is reconstructed using rules of sound changes too complicated for me
to understand. When you complete your assignment (due as soon as you can e-mail
it to me, but definitely by next Tuesday’s class!) you will have completed your
first work of linguistic archaeology. You should also have some idea of the
type of society these PIE people had.
Interestingly, they had a word for fresh-water lake, *mori.
In later languages that develop from PIE it is often used to mean a large sea.
I think the original word was the Pre-PIE word for the Euxine Lake, the biggest
body of water the speakers of that language would have know. Well, until the
Mediterranean came crashing in on them.
That is the origin of PIE and how languages migrate.
Remember, languages can migrate without the genetic inheritance from the first
speakers of that language. How many of you have ancestors who spoke Old
English? We will review your work and
discuss this new PIE society when we meet next and I will show you how one
branch of them reached China and another became so isolated in northern Russian
that their language developed into Indo-Iranian. These are the people who
invented the chariot and they are, as far as I know, the ONLY Indo-European
people to refer to themselves as Aryans. There descendants today are in Iran
(literally the land of Aryans), India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and an odd
little place called Ossetia.