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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Indo-Europeans (Chalcolithic / Bronze Age)

Scholars first noticed similarities between Sanskrit and Latin and Greek in the sixteenth century, as Europeans came into contact with India. But it was the Hanoverian 'British Asiatic Society' in eighteenth century India under Sir William Jones which compared words across the three languages and found remarkable similarities.

From this it was deduced that a common 'Proto-Indo-European' (PIE) root lay at the heart of all three languages and their peoples. This linked them back to an ancestral homeland which was probably located in the sweeping expanse of the steppe of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, to the north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Scholars disagree about the precise location of this homeland even today, with a variety of others being proposed which include a potentially-viable but vaguely unlikely Anatolia of the South Caucasus and an entirely unlikely post-glacial western and Central Europe. Even so, the steppe location remains the favoured location, not only because it provided a home to many later, similar groups of nomads such as the Huns, Avars, and early Turkics, but also due to language influences on the neighbouring Uralic-speakers.

FeatureHow these people got there is unknown, but India was one of the first places to be colonised by early humans after they left Africa around 90-70,000 years ago (see the Hominid Chronology feature via the link, rght). Some of these people stayed where they were while others continued to follow the coastline to populate East Asia, especially Early China, and South-East Asia, followed by North Asia and the Americas.

It seems likely that, after migrating inland, other early humans further migrated northwards and, in time, formed communities around the steppe. Whether these communities existed in an unbroken line down to their developing into proto-Indo-Europeans can never be known, although the archaeological record seems to suggest a continuity of occupation.

However they developed, proto-Indo-Europeans were in existence by the sixth millennium BC, in a homeland which seems to have been located somewhere between the Caucasus Mountains and the vast forests on either side of the Ural Mountains, and with the Black Sea to the west and the Caspian Sea to the east.

A grouping of cultural phases between about 3800-3300 BC is identifiable in terms of its containing the 'Five Final Eneolithic' cultures. These were the Late Khvalynsk, the Late Sredni Stog, the Lower Mikhailovka with the Mikhailovka I & II, the Post-Mariupol, and the Repin cultures. All form a prelude to the Yamnaya horizon which involved Indo-European migration. That subsequent migration is a hugely complex and contentious subject.

FeatureWhatever unknown level of unity these early Indo-Europeans may have had, they began to divide in the third millennium BC. Various groups migrated steadily out of the steppe from then onwards, pushed westwards, southwards, and north-westwards by a combination of climate change, population movements, and perhaps pressure from other peoples farther east (more Indo-Europeans, and see feature link).

Indo-Europeans account for some of the world's most notable ancient languages, including Greek, Latin, Pali, Persian, and Sanskrit. Many of the most important modern languages in the world are Indo-European, such as Bengali, English, French, German, Hindi, Russian, and Spanish. More than half of the world's population speak one or more of these languages, either as a mother tongue or a business language.

The once-universal proto-Indo-European language (albeit likely with dialects) gradually altered into distinct languages which can be divided into twelve branches, ten of which contain surviving languages. Very briefly, six of these include the Anatolians (Hittites, Luwians, Lydians, and Pala), the Balts (such as Latvians, Lithuanians, and Old Prussians), Celts and Italics (who between them dominated central and Western Europe), the Germanic peoples (who originate from Old Norse and other proto-Scandinavian groups), Greeks (most notably Mycenaeans and Athenians, plus Dorians), and Illyrians (of the northern and eastern Adriatic coast).

The remainder cover Albanians, Indians (the disputed Indo-Aryan peoples as opposed to the pre-existing Dravidic groups who were generally pushed southwards), Indo-Iranians (in the form of the Alani, Mannaeans, Medians, Persians, Scythians, and others), the Latins (embodied by the Romans), Slavs (who emerged to dominate Eastern Europe by the medieval period), Thracians (of northern Greece and the Balkans which also includes Armenians) plus, finally, the Tocharians (in north-western China, who were closely related to the Anatolian, Celtic, and Latin branches).

Recent genetic testing of living peoples and ancient remains are pointing in a slightly different direction from the standing isolated Caucasian Mountains/Ural Mountains origin for Indo-Europeans. Males carry and transmit via their Y chromosome the history of male migration, something which is critical for tracing the movements of warrior societies.

Indo-European Y chromosomes carry two primary 'flavours', referred to by geneticists as R1a and R1b. R1a is found strongly in Slavs, Balts, and Indo-Iranians, and is mixed with R1b in Germanic-speaking peoples. The geographic distribution in ancient times for R1a is European Russia just west of the Ural Mountains. R1b is found amongst other Indo-Europeans, being prominent in ancient Celts, Italics, and similar (although it's important to note that not all R1b-carriers are Indo-Europeans).

Geographic distribution appears to have begun with early cattle herders in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq, on the northern extremes of early Sumerian civilisation. Some of these moved into pasturage which can easily be found on the open steppe to the north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. There they intermixed on the open steppe with others to produce Indo-Europeans of the later centum-speaking western branch of Indo-European languages.

Those people were responsible for first taming horses, after which they became a chariot-riding warrior-led force of nature. That Anatolian infusion could not have come via the Neolithic cultures of sixth millennium BC Eastern Europe, simply because the late Bug-Dniester and Dnieper-Donets II cultures stood in the way.

The remaining proto-Indo-Europeans, those who linguistically match the satem-speaking eastern branch of Indo-European languages, were generated across the southern half of the great forests which span either side of the Ural Mountains. This also reduces the original territory which can be ascribed to Uralic-speaking people, but it does tie in with later suspected Indo-European movement. None of the DNA-related evidence invalidates the previous main theory thread. Instead it adds an extra layer of complexity into a story which was probably too simplistic anyway.

Tocharian Indo-European of the Tarim Basin

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Jo Amdahl, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from the BBC Radio 3 programme with Bettany Hughes, from Tracking the Aryans, 2011, and from External Links: Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe (Nature.com), and Peering at the Tocharians through Language, and Indo-European Chronology - Countries and Peoples, and Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny, and The 'Copper Age' - A History of the Concept, Mark Pearce (Journal of World Prehistory, Vol 32, pp 229-250, 2019, and available online via Springer Link).)

c.6000 BC

It is approximately around this time that separation occurs between archaic pre-proto-Indo-European and its parent Nostratic tongue. When speculating about the reason for this, isolation in a mountainous region has to be a key factor.

This event would be prior to the 'Kurgan Hypothesis' homeland, the dominant theory to explain the migrations of Indo-Europeans and the early cultures which they form. Perhaps not coincidentally, this is when the Mesolithic societies of the Caucasus mountains are replaced by Neolithic Farmer societies.

Central Asia Indo-European map 6000 BC
The northern edge of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea is the most probable homeland for the proto-Indo-Europeans (click or tap on map to view full sized)

However, results in 2015 from DNA tests on human remains from two burials in the Caucasus - one from 11,000 BC and the other from 8000 BC - suggests that this separation could be far longer and older than this, perhaps as much as twenty-five thousand years.

Separated by the 'Glacial Maximum', the people here could have been cut off from external DNA contact until as recently as 3000 BC. The section on the Yamnaya horizon which covers Indo-European expansion reveals the research results in more detail.

c.5800 - 5000 BC

Folk migrations by pioneer Near Eastern farmers which began in Europe with the Sesklo culture reach the lower Danube valley and the edge of the Pontic-Caspian steppe by about 5800 BC, principally in the form of the Criş culture.

After several centuries of resistance by and low-scale cultural cross-pollination with the neighbouring foragers - principally members of the Bug-Dniester culture - it would seem that their new herding economy is adopted by a few key forager groups on the River Dnieper.

Einkorn wheat
Einkorn wheat was one of the first cereals to be cultivated and used by humans, a typically Mediterranean species which was brought into use in Europe by Near East Neolithic farmers and their later cultural formations in south-western and Eastern Europe, as well as further afield

It then diffuses very rapidly across most of the Pontic-Caspian steppe as far east as the Volga and Ural rivers. This revolutionary event transforms the economy, rituals, and politics of the steppe-dwellers.

A new set of dialects and words spreads across the steppe with the arrival of the new economic and ritual-political system - ancestors of proto-Indo-European language and culture. Chiefs begin to emerge, along with religious leaders and ministers.

c.4000 BC

FeatureBy this period, if not from the very beginning, the newly-emergent proto-Indo-Europeans across the steppe form an homogenous people who all speak the same general language (see feature link).

The Uralic-speaking foragers to their north borrow some of their words, probably through trade contacts. Their expansion sees the beginning of areal dialects (a common language which is spread over a division of areas and spaces with regional differences emerging).

Through a study of these dialects and their progression some idea of movement can be built up. Perhaps first established as part of the Suvorovo culture of this period, the Anatolian dialect moves south (perhaps even earlier than this date - 4400 BC seems a fair approximation), while most of the other proto-Indo-Europeans of this core group appear to expand outwards into the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

Central Asia Indo-European map 4000 BC
The initial expansion of Indo-Europeans took place around 4000 BC, with one group heading southwards towards Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Is the horse domesticated and the horse-drawn wagon adopted at this time? The Sumerian invention of the wheel seems to take place no later than 3500 BC and its use explodes across the ancient world, even reaching the comparatively isolated proto-Indo-Europeans within a century or so.

This horse-drawn wagon/wheel culture forms the basis of the 'Kurgan Hypothesis' homeland period (the most popular theory surrounding Indo-European migration), with most Indo-Europeans now on the steppe.

Suddenly the vast steppe is open to them rather than their being limited to its edges so that they can return to semi-permanent dwellings in the fertile river valleys. Now domesticated animal herds can increase massively in size, populations can also expand, and the Neolithic family clan group begins to break up as smaller kin groups become more mobile.

c.4000 - 3500 BC

This is the early proto-Indo-European phase in the Indo-European homeland on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. It is during this phase - and probably towards the end of it - that the Tocharian branch begins to break away and migrate eastwards, following the Central Asian steppe towards Mongolia and western China.

There they form the Afanasevo culture. The exact details are theoretical but, due to elements of the Tocharian language which preserve early elements of proto-Indo-European, it has been proposed that the Tocharian group is originally made up of western Indo-Europeans who are heavily influenced by their eastern experiences.

Tarim Basin mummies
This example of the Tarim Basin mummies (descendants of the Tocharian migrants) had the usual distinctive European features, along with a full head of red hair which had been braided into pony tails, and items of woven material which match similar Celtic items

c.3500 - 3000 BC

Linguists have pinpointed this period for the development of a pastoral code amongst the early Indo-Europeans who are busy driving their herds of cattle across the vast plains of the steppe.

The theory behind such a code of behaviour is that one group of people happen to see a dot on the horizon which turns out to be another approaching group. Then they have two choices for how they will react: attempt to destroy them or deal with them peaceably.

The pastoralists go with the latter - presume friendship until the evidence disproves it - and this concept generates the word *ghos-ti-, meaning 'stranger, guest', but also 'host'. Both 'guest' and 'host' are direct descendants of this word (as is 'ghost', an unwanted visitor). The same concept is passed down to the Classical Greek world.

c.3500 BC

FeatureThe South Indo-European branch of the Indo-European language has already separated entirely from the other groups, first becoming pre-Anatolian, and then evolving into proto-Anatolian (see feature link).

It retains many archaic features which are later lost from the other branches of the Indo-European language. In time it forms the ancestor of the Hittite language, plus Luwian (with many sub-branches - see circa 1600 BC below for details of these), Lydian, and Palaic, all of which have been part of the Anatolian movement from the Indo-European homeland, heading south through the mountains of the Caucasus, eventually to reach the highlands of Anatolia.

Map of proto-Anatolian migration 3000-2000 BC
This map attempts to illustrate in basic terms the separate paths taken by the Luwians, Hittites, and Pala during their westwards migration and their progress from proto-Anatolians to kingdom-builders (click or tap on map to view full sized)

From there, the Hittites manage to form an empire which encompasses most of Anatolia, although they are later arrivals and it takes them longer to settle than it does the Luwian-speakers. Palaic-speakers are later overrun by the non-Indo-European Kaskans and their dialect dies out following absorption by the Phrygians.

c.3500 - 3300 BC

Other groups have already begun to migrate westwards as part of the Yamnaya horizon, and also southwards away from the Anatolian and Tocharian branches.

FeatureAll of these westwards groups often use four-wheeled wagons to transport their people, and possess wagon/wheel vocabulary which is wholly original to themselves, but which is not shared by the Anatolian group and is only partially shared by the Tocharian group, demonstrating an arrival of the wheel some time around the point at which the Tocharians had been beginning to lose touch with their kinsfolk (see feature link).

The process of migration begins a fragmentation which sees these late proto-Indo-Europeans enter large swathes of Europe, the Near East, and South Asia. One of the first groups to arrive in Europe merges into a widespread Corded Ware culture (from about 2900 BC).

Northern Mesopotamian chariot petroglyphs
The Yamnaya Horizon theory saw many semi-nomadic pastoral tribes migrate huge distances over many generations, helped by their use of four-wheeled wagons and chariots, and the petroglyphs shown here (from northern Mesopotamia) form one of history's earliest recordings of these chariots

Initially (and in part) this covers the Baltic coast out of which the later Belarussians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Prussians will form. The Slavic group is closely related to the Balts but appears to separate from it before the latter reaches the Baltic coastline.

According to David Anthony, the Yamnaya horizon explodes across the Pontic-Caspian steppe around 3300 BC, this being the primary vector through which proto-Indo-Europeans spread westwards.

Plague being suffered by people of the Cernavodă culture may be one reason for this sudden movement. The various interrelated cultural expressions which form the basis of this 'horizon' are created by early proto-Indo-Europeans who belong to semi-nomadic, pastoral tribes which can, more or less, understand each other.

Beginning their migration, these people reach the Carpathian Mountains and the River Danube near modern Budapest, where this folk migration appears to halt.

Nature.com (2015) supports the 'Yamnaya Horizon' theory. By around 4000-3000 BC, farmers throughout much of Europe have more hunter-gatherer (forager) ancestry than their predecessors (showing a gradual blending of earlier hunter-gatherers and the Neolithic farmers who arrived through the Sesklo culture between about 6000-5000 BC).

Ancient wagon
This primitive Yamnaya horizon wagon was unearthed at Lchashen, on the western shore of Lake Sevan in modern Armenia in the South Caucasus, but the style would have been very similar in the North Caucasus and on the Pontic-Caspian steppe

In today's Russia, the Yamnaya steppe herders of this time are descended not only from the preceding Pontic-Caspian hunter-gatherers, but also from a population of 'Near Eastern' ancestry.

Neolithic farmers had expanded around the western coast of the Black Sea to interact with the hunter-gatherers in the sixth millennium BC, and it seems that, eventually, the two groups had intermingled to some extent, producing a population which is mixed with a greater degree of farmers than in farmer/forager crossover zones in Western Europe.

c.3300 BC

Very recently, in far south-eastern Europe, in the North Caucasus mountains, spectacularly ostentatious chiefs have suddenly appeared amongst what had previously been very ordinary small-scale farmers.

They display gold-covered clothing, gold and silver staffs, and great quantities of bronze weapons which have been obtained from the newly-formed cities of Middle Uruk period Mesopotamia, through Anatolian middlemen.

Khakassia standing stone
Burial mounds in the modern Russian region of Khakhassia can be marked with small standing stones as shown here, with this area being a core part of the territory of the Afanasevo culture

This is probably the first true contact between southern urban civilisations and the people of the steppe margins, taking place about 3700-3500 BC, and it forms the basis of the creation of Maikop culture.

Something less obvious to many is that cannabis may be travelling in the opposite direction to the gold and silver which is coming from the south - this time travelling from the Pontic-Caspian steppe to Mesopotamia and the early city states of Sumer.

Greek kdnnabis and proto-Germanic *baniptx seem to be related to the Sumerian kuriibu. Sumerian dies out as a widely spoken language after around 2000 BC, so the connection must be a very ancient one. The international trade of the Late Uruk period (circa 3300-3100 BC) provides a suitable context for this trade.

The link between the early, proto-Indo-European form of the word cannabis (and therefore its probable Sumerian origin of kuriibu) to the proto-Germanic form requires a few steps. In the late Bronze Age, proto-Germanic groups are pretty isolated in southern Scandinavia and along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, but are theorised to be in contact with the proto-Celts (and possibly even dominated by them).

Tarim Basin Mummies
Small River Cemetery No 5 consists of a large number of burials, the earliest dating to about 1980 BC, all of which exhibit a distinctive Indo-European appearance

In support of this is the realisation that 'cannabis' would need to pass through Celtic to reach its Germanic form: the initial 'k' would be a 'kw' in Q-Celtic (of the Hallstatt Celts), transformed to a 'p' in P-Celtic (of the La Tène Celts), and then transformed into a 'b' in Belgic (northern Celtic), and finally adopted into Germanic.

This appears to fit in with the idea that Belgic Celts dominate Northern Europe prior to the rise of the Germanic tribes around the fifth or fourth centuries BC.

c.3300 - 2600 BC

Possibly offshoots of the Yamnaya cultural horizon and its westwards migration which had previously halted temporarily at the River Danube around Budapest, groups of Indo-Europeans now first begin to arrive in Greece (or a little later based on revised theories - passing through and probably interacting with the general mass of Indo-European tribes of the northern Balkans).

They blend with the indigenous populations to later form Mycenaean, Cypriot, and (southern) Italian cultures, plus later Minoan. Similar groups also begin to arrive in north-western Europe, settling amongst earlier populations of Neolithic farmers and Palaeolithic hunters.

Bell Beaker pots
Shown here is a selection of highly distinctive bell-shaped pots which were created by the Bell Beaker folk between around 2900-1800 BC in Europe and the British Isles

Further to the 'Yamnaya Horizon' theory (see previous entry, above), David Anthony adds that the split between the Italic and closely-allied Celtic language groups appears to occur between 3100 and 2600 BC.

Then Bell Beaker decorated cup styles, domestic pot types, and grave and dagger types from the middle Danube are adopted around 2600 BC in Moravia and southern Germany, possibly as a result of trade rather than immediate migration.

However, this material network could be the bridge through which pre-Celtic dialects spread into Germany. The southernmost areas of this, Austria, and Bavaria, seemingly become the location in which proto-Celtic originally develops - in other words the language's homeland.

According to Ellis (1998), the large number of Celtic place-names still surviving in Switzerland and south-western Germany are therefore an indication that when the Celtic peoples appear in the historical record they are already well-settled in this area.

Anthony also echoes Hubert's views that the survival to this day of so many Celtic names for important geographical features (such as the rivers Rhine and Danube) in what are now German-speaking regions points to the names being of indigenous form and of long usage.

Bird vases of the Urnfield culture
Bird vases of the late second millennium Urnfield culture were objects that were closely related to the Urnfield belief system, and it may not be accidental that this vase was found next to a pot containing bird eggs in the cemetery of Békásmegyer, as the two objects together may emphasise the pots' symbolism of life and fertility

c.3000 BC

Whether David Anthony's proposed timescale is accepted or not, a date of around 3000 BC is still used as the probable point at which the remaining Indo-Europeans (excepting the Anatolian branch) begin to separate into definite proto languages which are not intelligible to each other.

A western group will evolve into or subsume the Celtic, Italic, Venetic, Illyrian, Ligurian, Vindelician/Liburnian, and Raetic branches. Early in this western group's expansion, one group apparently detaches itself and heads east (easy enough for steppe nomads to do), to evolve into the Tocharian branch of Indo-Europeans (see 2200 BC, below).

FeatureA north-western branch begins the Germanic ethnic group (which apparently splits away from the western edge of late proto-Indo-European dialects around 3300 BC - see feature link, right).

A northern branch evolves into what will become the Baltic groups and the Slavic groups (with division between the two occurring around 2500 BC). Proto-Greeks form a south-western branch which emerges as the Mycenaeans (around 2500 BC), probably along with Thracians, Dacians, and Phrygians, all of whom seem to be related to the Armenians.

Central Asia Indo-European map 3000 BC
By around 3000 BC the Indo-Europeans had begun their mass migration away from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with the bulk of them heading westwards towards the heartland of Europe (click or tap on map to view full sized)

An eastern branch - or perhaps a branch which populates the eastern steppe because it has greatly emptied of people - remains in this region for another millennium or so. Apparently the people of this group refer to themselves as Arya or something similar.

They form the Indo-Aryan ancestors of a good deal of India's modern population (except for the southernmost parts - see 2200 BC, below). Also formed slightly later from this eastern grouping are the ancestors of the Kurds, Persians, Mannaeans, Medians, and related peoples (see 1200 BC, below), possibly also including the Sakas. All of these groups are classed as Indo-Iranians.

c.2500 BC

Nature.com (2015) has this as the approximate time at which the Yamnaya steppe people come into contact with Western Europe's population of farmers and increasingly farming-orientated hunter-gatherers.

The Late Neolithic Corded Ware culture is one of the first results of this arrival (having already made its earliest appearance around 2900 BC). Corded Ware people from what is now Germany trace around seventy-five percent of their ancestry to the Yamnaya, documenting a massive migration into the heartland of Europe from its eastern periphery.

The Karakum burial with a valuable horse sacrifice added
This king's tomb in the Indo-European settlement in the Karakum (modern Turkmenistan) contains a valuable horse to accompany him into the afterlife

This steppe ancestry persists in all sampled Central Europeans until at least 1000 BC, and is ubiquitous in present-day Europeans.

It would also seem to be around this time that a process begins in which the so-called West Indo-European tribes, most of whom speak dialects which are intelligible to the other tribes, start a long process of fracturing and dividing.

They appear to form a divide into two groupings due to location and contacts. The northern group becomes isolated from direct contact with the Mediterranean civilisations and it is these people who become the proto-Celts of the Urnfield culture.

The southern group of West Indo-Europeans appear to migrate westwards and southwards into the western Balkans and Italian piedmont, and through Illyria and northern Italy. In time, and due to terrain, they divide further into semi-isolated tribes, becoming more civilised in habits and areas of technology due to contact with southern Greeks and Etruscans.

Aeneas in Latium
This second century AD relief in Rome depicts Aeneas landing in Latium, although such a migration myth was a much later addition to the history of the Latins than their true migration as Indo-Europeans

Those in the Balkans in part cross by sea into the Italian peninsula, and settle mostly along the south-eastern coast. Those groups which have filtered down from the north Italian piedmont occupy swathes of central Italy, with two tribes, Latins and Faliscans, crossing over the Apennines to the west coast.

Due to their semi-isolation to the west of Italy their language does not undergo the 'qu/kw' to 'p' shift which occurs across most of the West Indo-European dialects.

c.2350 - 2300 BC

Possible Indo-European tribes in the Zagros Mountains, the Gutians are first mentioned. They go on to dominate southern Mesopotamia for a century.

In the same period, Indo-European tribes in the form of the Luwian peoples settle across southern Anatolia. It seems more than coincidental that 'barbarians from the north' are causing problems in cities within Syria such as Ebla at the same time.

General Map of Sumer
The Sumer into which the Gutians gatecrashed was formed by a complex network of city states and canals (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Without any written evidence to support such a claim, it does seem likely that it is Luwians which are responsible for probing expeditions farther south.

c.2200 - 2000 BC

An indigenous Bronze Age culture emerges in Central Asia between modern Turkmenistan and down towards the Oxus (otherwise known as the Amu Darya), the somewhat nebulous region which is known as Transoxiana.

It is known as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation (centred on the later provinces of Bactria and Margiana). Indo-European tribes on the eastern steppe soon integrate themselves into it.

In fact, these Indo-Europeans seem to have remained in the old homeland to the north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea longer than other Indo-European groups, at least partially generating the Sintashta culture and Andronovo horizon on the eastern steppe.

It may also be this Oxus culture, or a neighbouring Indo-European group which feeds off its progressive nature, which forms the 'spiral cities' of the Kazakhstan steppe. Items which have so far been recovered from recent exploration in this region include make-up equipment, a chariot, and numerous pieces of pottery.

Proto-Indo-European spiral city
Professor Gennady Zdanovich recently (2010) made fresh discoveries on the modern Kazakhstan steppe of Bronze Age 'spiral' cities which exhibit many signs of having been built and used by Indo-Europeans, around 2000 BC

The artefacts are daubed in swastikas (symbols of the sun and of eternal life). Evidence of ritual horse burials are also found, which ties in with ancient Indo-Aryan texts which describe the animals being sliced up and buried with their masters.

Given the fact that they appear in the historical record around the same time, the Andronovo people and other Indo-Europeans who integrate into the Oxus may be related to the Anatolian branch of Indo-European languages which had begun to divide from the other branches around 3500 BC (see above).

Alternatively, and more likely, they are related to the comparatively late migration of Indo-Iranians and Indo-Aryans who later form the Alani, Mannaeans, Medians, Mitanni, Persians, Scythians, and Indians, and possibly also the non-migrating Sakas.

2000 - 1700 BC

Climate change from around 2000 BC onwards greatly affects the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, denuding it of water as the rains decline. The people are forced to migrate away, abandoning many of their cities.

River Oxus / Amu Darya
The River Oxus - also known over the course of many centuries as the Amu Darya - was used as a demarcation border throughout history - it was also a hub of activity in prehistoric times, providing a home to the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, or Oxus Civilisation

Indo-Iranian groups now become dominant here, over the next millennium or so. Some of their descendants enter today's Iran to found states such as those of the Mannaeans, the Median empire, and early Persia.

FeatureSome go even farther, even earlier, to form the Mitanni empire or head westwards across the Pontic steppe to dominate remaining groups there (see feature link). Others cross the rivers of modern Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush mountains and enter India between 1700-1500 BC. They eventually form their own kingdoms there such as Magadha, plus Kalinga, and the Kaurava state.

c.2000 BC

DNA analysis in 2015 of three males from this period backs up the theory that Ireland is populated via waves of immigration. The males are from Rathlin Island and they live very soon after metallurgy is introduced into Ireland.

They show a different DNA pattern from earlier populations, with a third of their ancestry coming from the Pontic steppe (today's Ukraine and southern Russia), which links them directly to the Indo-Europeans.

Urnfield culture bronze sword from Bavaria
This perfect Late Bronze Age sword of the Urnfield culture in Central Europe was discovered as part of a burial, lying next to the remains of a man, woman, and child

They show a close genetic affinity with the modern Irish, Scots, and Welsh, but not so close a connection with the English, who are much diluted by the Anglo-Saxon admixture.

While these arrivals are not necessarily Celts as such, they can seemingly be counted as proto-Celts or proto-Italics, springing as they do from the same stock which settles in Central Europe and later forms the basis of Celtic culture.

Indo-Europeans are nomadic, moving quickly in their four-wheeled carts or chariots. While many of them may indeed be expanding and migrating slowly, generation by generation, it would not take much for a small group (less than a hundred thousand) to leave the others behind.

When they reach water they may learn to make boats from the Mediterranean types which are already occupying the coastal areas. This rapid movement can be compared favourably with how quickly the later Cimbri travel from Jutland to Italy, and the journey could be completed in well under a decade of travel.

Cashel Man
The Cashel Man bog body of Ireland has been compressed by four thousand years of peat build-up, but his outstretched hand can still be made out above his legs (to the left of the picture)

c.1600 BC

Following the beginnings of their migration into Anatolia of around 3500 BC and settlement around 2300 BC onwards (see above), the Luwian peoples now begin to emerge into history divided into two groups: Arzawans to the west and Kizzuwatnans in the east.

The poorly-attested peoples of Ishuwa, Karkissa, and Lukka are probably also Indo-Europeans. The Mycenaeans also emerge into history at this time, having been located in Greece (and later Cyprus) since at least 2400-2200 BC.

Around the same time, an Indo-Aryan group, perhaps part of the migration towards India, arrives in northern Mesopotamia to rule the Hurrians as a warrior class called the Mitanni.

Mitanni warriors
Mitanni warriors are shown here dressed in a typical northern Mesopotamian costume which they most likely picked up following their arrival in the region in the 1600s BC

c.1450 BC

The Indo-European Phrygians begin to infiltrate from the Balkans into Bithynia in western Anatolia. Within about two and-a-half centuries they create their own kingdom in western Anatolia. Various other Indo-European peoples also populate the Balkans area, such as the Thracians.

c.1200 - 900 BC

Social collapse and a dark age engulf the Near East. During this period, various tribal groups found new cities and kingdoms, among them the Medians and Persians on the Iranian plateau. Indo-European groups in Europe filter into Italy, where they form the two main groups of Italic peoples, the Oscan-Umbrians (which includes the Umbri) and Latino-Faliscans (which includes the Latins).

In Greece, Mycenaean power is gradually eroded by the invading Dorians from the north, with domination coming by 1140 BC. The surviving Ionic-speaking Mycenaeans gather and flourish in Athens, or as Sea Peoples in conquered Levantine territories which probably include Phillistia, or in new colonies which are founded well away from the Dorians, such as Epirus.

One of the earliest proto-Celtic cultures has already started to appear in Central Europe, this being the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture. Proto-Celtic groups also migrate outwards, some ending up in Britain, where they eventually push back or integrate with the indigenous population and settle in the fertile south and east. They also later infiltrate into Ireland (although see c.2000 BC, above).

Zagros Mountains
The Zagros Mountain range provided the Medes with their home, but it was also the Assyrian gateway into Iran, one that was used in later attacks on the Indo-European Persians and Medes

1000s? BC

FeatureNorse legend mentions gods who are described as members of two groups: the Aesir and the Vanir. This latter is very suggestive of early contact between Germanics in Scandinavia and the seagoing Veneti who seemingly live along the Gulf of Gdansk and the Vistula. However, the exact origins of the Vanir and the war between them and the Aesir are open to intense speculation (see feature link).

There is strong evidence amongst the various peoples of the Indo-European diaspora that two distinct groups of deities are honoured. This appears to be best preserved amongst Hindus, who talk about them as Devas (suras) and Asuras (not-suras).

Some cultures later preserve the worship of both, while others choose one or the other and indicate some sort of conflict between them. The Aesir appear to be Asuras. Two Hindu Asuras, known as Thor and Ermin amongst Germanics, appear in the Norse pantheon.

One thing which can be said with some certainly is that the Vanir do not seem to be Suras/Devas. That leaves the possibility that the Aesir/Vanir war is a legendary account of a human war, but whether between Germanics and Celts, or against the Kvens whom they are steadily displacing in southern Scandinavia is unclear.

The Asynjur of Norse mythology
The equally fierce and hard-fighting Asynjur were the female equivalent of their male Æsir counterparts in Norse mythology, all of whom formed the principle gods of the Norse pantheon (click or tap on image to view full sized)

A war involving Germanics is a certainty: in fact, two wars. It is already known that Indo-European tribes who have evolved into Germanics have entered Scandinavia and have displaced someone, almost certainly Finno-Ugric speakers. There's also evidence that Celts enter Jutland, such as influences on semi-Germanic tribes like the Cimbri.

So which of these interactions with Germanics is the cause of war? Both have names which could evolve over time into 'Vanir'. 'Veneti' could lose its 't' due to softening, while the 'k' of Kven would easily soften to 'ch', leaving 'ven'. Unfortunately the answer remains out of reach.

8th century BC

An Indo-European people known as the Armenians first enter Anatolia, migrating into the region around Lake Van which will be their homeland for the next 2,300 years. In Europe, while the Indo-European Celts are beginning to expand from their traditional territory in southern Germany, the early Germanic peoples still seem to be occupying a homeland in southern Sweden and the Jutland peninsula.

Around the shores of the Black Sea, groups such as the Cimmerians, Scythians, and Thracians all appear to bear similarities in culture and perhaps even language, which allows them to act in various raids and battles as unified forces against the established city states of Anatolia and Mesopotamia.

Gold and amber jewellery
Celtic gold and amber jewellery unearthed from a burial show that this group of Indo-Europeans had achieved very high levels of skill in their creations by the first millennium BC

6th century BC

The Indo-European Bactrians are conquered by their cousins, the Persians. By this stage all of the various Indo-European branches have fully splintered, and have developed into groups which have their own individual histories and daughter languages.

The proto-Indo-European language itself will have died out around 2500 BC, when its daughter languages began to appear, but its core language remains a part of all its descended forms, even today.

A large proportion of the ancestral steppe homeland of the proto-Indo-Europeans today falls within the borders of Ukraine, southern Russia, and Kazakhstan, with the final western section in Romania providing a gateway towards Central Europe.

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