A recent study has suggested that a vast human migration by ancient Eastern European steppe herders may have spread Indo-European languages to other parts of Europe.
The study was carried out by a team of researchers from the US, Australia, and other countries by assessing multiple libraries of DNA samples from the remains of 69 people who lived some 3,000 to 8,000 years ago in Europe.
The group used an enrichment procedure known as in-solution hybridization and deep sequencing of nearly 395,000 targeted Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP) to assess the DNA samples.
The study was published in the Nature journal on Monday.
The data from the genomes of the 69 ancient Europeans showed that the herders had migrated en masse from the continent’s eastern periphery into Central Europe, thus expanding Indo-European languages, which make up the majority of spoken languages in modern day Europe.
The group discovered that early farmers traveled from the Mediterranean to Spain and on to Germany and Hungary around 7,000 to 8,000 years ago.
The famers’ DNA was distinct from the indigenous hunter-gatherers they came across during their travels, but eventually both groups mixed and by 5,000-6,000 years ago the migrants’ genetic signature had melded with that of the indigenous Europeans.
“Against this background of differentiated European hunter-gatherers and homogeneous early farmers, multiple population turnovers transpired in all parts of Europe included in our study,” said senior author and DNA researcher David Reich.
“These results provide support for a steppe origin of at least some of the Indo-European languages of Europe,” he added.
Most indigenous European languages, such as English, Russian, Greek, and French, are part of the Indo-European group and all have shared vocabulary and grammar features.
“An open question for us is whether the languages spoken by these steppe migrants were just ancestral to a sub-set of Indo-European languages in Europe today — for example, Balti-Slavic and maybe Germanic — or the great majority of Indo-European languages spoken in Europe today,” Reich told BBC News.
He added that the Indo-European languages used in India and Iran probably diverged from that of steppe travelers before they migrated into central Europe.
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