June 21, 2010
There was a time, well before the Turkic population movements, when central Asia was speaking Indo-european languages. During antiquity, Indo-iranian languages were once spoken by populations from the east of Europe up to the Altai mountains of south Siberia (Scythians, Sakas and Sarmatians were such peoples) and down to south Asia.
Nevertheless, prior to this situation, another kind of Indo-european language was apparently present in Asia.
The first (supposedly) Indo-european migration eastwards (from its ancestral home of Ukraine and south Russia) we find tracks of, occured right before 3,500 BC and gave birth to the Afanasevo culture, whose extent was from Kazakhstan to south Siberia and Mongolia. It is likely that the population of the Afanasevo culture was speaking a language that was the ancestor of the Tocharian language (see the Xinjiang article for more details).
The ancient DNA and the archeology reveal hints of this ancient past. A 2004 study expose the nature of the bronze age population (in this study the samples are precisely from 1,300 BC to 400 AD) of Kazakhstan :
“Unravelling migrations in the steppe: mitochondrial DNA sequences from ancient central Asians” (Lalueza-fox et al, 2004 – source)
“The distribution of east and west Eurasian lineages through time in the region is concordant with the available archaeological information: prior to the (…) seventh century BC, all Kazakh samples belong to European lineages; while later an arrival of east Eurasian sequences that coexisted with the previous west Eurasian genetic substratum can be detected. The presence of an ancient genetic substratum of European origin in West Asia may be related to the discovery of ancient mummies with European features in Xinjiang and to the existence of an extinct Indo-European language, Tocharian”
“Most of the retrieved sequences (n = 21, 78%) belong to European (or west Eurasian) mtDNA haplogroups (HV, H, T, I, U and W haplogroups).”
“Haplogroups present in modern Kazakhs, such as B, F, C, Z, D, R, J and Y [Pastmists : almost all typically east-Asian], were not observed in the prehistoric Kazakhs [Pastmists : here, the earliest samples are from the bronze age]. By contrast, two haplogroups observed among the ancient samples, W and I, have not yet been found among modern Kazakhs. The results also indicate that there is an excess of west Eurasian haplogroups in comparison with those currently found (notably haplogroups H and U). However, this may be attributed to the overrepresentation of the earlier temporal period with only west Eurasian haplogroups. The observed absence of east Eurasian sequences prior to the eighth to seventh century BC suggests an earlier prehistoric expansion of peoples containing west Eurasian sequences into Asia, that probably went further east, into present-day China. This expansion may be related to the discovery of mummies that contain European features and west Eurasian mtDNA sequences in the Tarim basin, China, as well as the relict Indo-European Tocharian.”
South Siberia was also once populated mostly by Europoid populations, likely speaking the ancestor of the Tocharian language, in what is known as the Afanasevo culture, appearing as early as 3,500 BC roughly mirroring the supposed Indo-european population movements into the north of Europe at the same time (the similar dates of these population movements, both east and west, probably explain the resemblances between Tocharian, the easternmost Indo-european language, and the westernmost Indo-european languages, found in Europe - Indo-iranian language being likely spread by a later population movement spreading the satem innovation (see below) now overwhelmingly present in Asia but not in the tocharian language). Both these migrations have their origin in the north of the black sea, in the srednij stog and yamnaya cultures of Ukraine and south Russia, a relation hinted in archeology, even more clearly in Asia. In its easternmost known extent, the Afanasevo culture reached the west of Mongolia.
Tracks of these ancient (supposedly) Indo-european migrations can be found in archeology but also in the ancient DNA.
“Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people” (Keyser et al, 2009 – source)
“To help unravel some of the early Eurasian steppe migration movements, we determined the Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial haplotypes and haplogroups of 26 ancient human specimens from the Krasnoyarsk area dated from between the middle of the second millennium BC. to the fourth century AD. In order to go further in the search of the geographic origin and physical traits of these south Siberian specimens, we also typed phenotype-informative single nucleotide polymorphisms. Our autosomal, Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA analyses reveal that whereas few specimens seem to be related matrilineally or patrilineally, nearly all subjects belong to haplogroup R1a1-M17 which is thought to mark the eastward migration of the early Indo-Europeans. Our results also confirm that at the Bronze and Iron Ages, south Siberia was a region of overwhelmingly predominant European settlement, suggesting an eastward migration of Kurgan people across the Russo-Kazakh steppe. Finally, our data indicate that at the Bronze and Iron Age timeframe, south Siberians were blue (or green)-eyed, fair-skinned and light-haired people and that they might have played a role in the early development of the Tarim Basin civilization [i.e. in Xinjiang, northwest China]. To the best of our knowledge, no equivalent molecular analysis has been undertaken so far. “
The study also reveals that during bronze age,90% ofthe mtDNA haplogroups (female lineages) – such as U2, U4, U5a1, T1, T3, T4, H5a, H6, HV, K and I – were west Eurasian/Europoid (and 67% during iron age).
Several of these mtDNA genetic signatures have an exact match in Europe (like for instance mtDNA haplogroup I4 and T1 who are frequently found in the north and north-east of Europe (in the case of T1, the Baltic area is apparently where its frequency is the highest; this very haplotype was also found in ancient DNA from the ancient remains of Kazakhstan (Lalueza-fox et al. 2004) and Xinjiang (Gao et al. 2008)), the U5a1 haplotype is found in north-west Europe, the specific U2e haplotype was found nowadays in an east European individual and in only one Uyghur, the K2b haplotype was found in only two individuals, two Europeans (one Austrian and one Hungarian) and the precise U4 haplotypes of the study were found mostly in the north, the east, the north-east and the south-east of Europe and in the Volga-Ural area as well (but also a few in the Altai region up to the Baikal area), etc…).
The fact that the male lineage, the haplogroup Y-DNA R1a1a, was associated almost exclusively with such west Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups in the female lineages, in the oldest analyzed period, clearly points to a migration from eastern Europe, especially considering archeology which support this view, as the Afanasevo culture had several similarities with the Yamna culture of the north of the black sea. It is also mentionned that at least 60% of the tested ancient individuals had light hair and blue or green eyes.
Interestingly, the oldest mummies from the Tarim basin of Xinjiang (north-western China), among the 2,000 BCE Xiaohe people, were also all R1a1a (and with a few mtDNA lineages having matches in modern Europe, as far as Iceland and Great Britain) (source).
“A western Eurasian male is found in 2000-year-old elite Xiongnu cemetery in Northeast Mongolia” (source)
“We analyzed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y-chromosome single nucleotide polymorphisms (Y-SNP), and autosomal short tandem repeats (STR) of three skeletons found in a 2,000-year-old Xiongnu elite cemetery in Duurlig Nars of Northeast Mongolia.“
“The DNA analyses revealed that one subject was an ancient male skeleton with maternal U2e1 [pastmists: U2e is the European subgroup of U2, an ancient Eurasian mtDNA haplogroup (An haplogroup whose ultimate paleolithical origin is probably India). A more than 30,000 years old man found at Kostenki, south Russia, was found to be U2] and paternal R1a1 haplogroups. This is the first genetic evidence that a male of distinctive Indo-European lineages (R1a1) was present in the Xiongnu of Mongolia“
The human remains also reveal the change in the population of the Altai :
“According to paleoanthropological data, the Caucasoid (in respect of its morphological features) population predominated in the steppes of the Altai–Sayan region during the Neolithic [Pastmists : here, apparently at least starting with the Chalcolithic time], Bronze, and partly early Iron Ages [1–3]. At that time the Mongoloid component was observed only in few cases. However, beginning from the early Iron Age, the presence of this component has been increasing, and becoming prevalent in modern times. Thus, dynamics of the anthropological composition of the Altai–Sayan populations can be characterized by definitely directed replacement of the Caucasoid component by the Mongoloid one.” (excerpt from « Origin of Caucasoid-Specific Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in the Ethnic Groups of the Altai–Sayan Region » (Derenko et al. 2002) | source )
The study « Moleculargenetic analysis of Wanggu remains, inner Mongolia, China » (Yuqin Fu et al. 2006) [source] also reveals a “Caucasoid” input in the ancient Wanggu tribe :
“Recently, we discovered human remains of the Wanggu tribe in the Chengbozi cemetery in the Siziwang Banner of Inner Mongolia, China. [...] Our results show that the genetic structure of the Wanggu tribe in the Jin-Yuan period is a complex matriline, containing admixture from both Asian and European populations.”
In 2004, the study “Different Matrilineal Contributions to Genetic Structure of Ethnic Groups in the Silk Road Region in China” (Yao et al, 2004) estimated the west eurasian input among the Mongolian maternal lineages to 14.3 % (source in PDF format).
It’s also interesting to note that a study on the Eurasian cattle revealed that the Mongolian cattle is partially derived from the European cattle (source : “Genetic diversity and structure in Bos Taurus and bos Indicus populations analyzed by SNP markers”), which reminds of similar conclusions found about the Japanese cattle (see the Xinjiang article for more details). In this context it is also interesting to mention that the Turkic öküz (meaning ox in English (same ancestral root), a word also akin to Sanskrit ukṣán) resembles Tocharian B okso.
Let’s add, to seal the case, a new study ( “Brief Communication: Two-Rooted Lower Canines—A European Trait and Sensitive Indicator of Admixture Across Eurasia”, Christine Lee and G. Richard Scott, American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2011), DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21585 | source ) showing a basically European-specific dental trait, absent in east Asia, but particularly present among Afanasevo, Scythian, Uyghur populations and even in the Ordos (*) region in northern China, as a marker of ancient bronze age (presumed Indo-european) migrations :
“The presence of the two-rooted canines in East Asia may provide some clue as to the eastward migration of new populations into China and Mongolia. The largest numbers of individuals with this trait are concentrated along the western and northern frontiers of China and Mongolia. Archaeological excavations support the large scale movement of people into this area during the Bronze age (ca. 2200 BCE–400 BCE). Burial artifacts and settlement patterns suggest cultural and technological ties to the Afanasevo culture in Siberia, which in turn is linked archaeologically, linguistically, and genetically with the Indo-European Tocharian populations that appear to have migrated to the Tarim Basin ca. 4,000 years ago (Ma and Sun, 1992; Ma and Wang, 1992; Mallory and Mair, 2000; Romgard, 2008; Keyser et al., 2009; Li et al., 2010).”
(*) This seems to be confirmed by archaeology (source): “According to Lebedynsky, the people represented in archaeological finds tend to display Europoïd features, and are thought to be of Scythian affinity. The weapons, found in tombs throughout the steppes of the Ordos, are very close to those of the Scythians, especially the Sakas.“
As for the main Indo-european group of the Indo-european language family in Asia, the Indo-iranians, their ancestors supposedly migrated from the north of the black sea probably becoming the proto-indo-iranians in the region going from Russia up to the north west of Kazakhstan roughly between 2,500 BC to 2,000 BC (explaining the presence of very early Indo-iranian loanwords in Finno-ugric languages (such as Finnish) and east Caucasian languages), spreading progressively up to south Siberia and south of central Asia leaving their tracks in an archaeological horizon named the Andronovo culture, supposedly giving ultimately birth to the Scythian/Saka population.
It must be noted that the oldest written tracks of Indo-iranian language are not found in south Asia but in northern Syria, in a kingdom named Mitanni, in inscriptions dated around 1,400 BC. All the kings of this realm had Indo-aryan throne names, even when they had Hurrian names before being crowned and their capital was named Waššukanni which derives from old Indic vasu-khani (literally “wealth mine”).
The Mitanni inscriptions are in Hurrian, a non-indo-european language (whose ultimate origin is thought to be either Caucasus or Armenia), but indo-iranian terms linked to horses and chariots (and Indo-Aryan divinities as well) are found in these texts.
Given the fact that the oldest found tracks of chariot and horse-riding are found near the south of the Urals (examples about early chariots : Sintashta site (also here) | Saratov site) and in the north of central Asia, it can be surmised that their use was spread by Indo-iranians in Anatolia, west Asia and south Asia.
The current location of Indo-aryan languages (India) and the bronze age tracks of it — Mitanni kingdom in north Syria, or also for instance the Indo-aryan name of a governor of Qiltu near Jerusalem, in Palestine, named suardata (apparently from Indo-aryan svàr-data: “gift from the sun” [svàr in Sanskrit, and its Indo-european cousins; a word having quite likely an etymological relation with the name of the Slavic deity Svarog (father of a solar deity) or for instance the Russian verb svarit' ("to burn", "to cook")]) during roughly the same time (there are also possibly some tracks of borrowed Indo-aryan words in the Kassite dynasty in Babylonia – could spontaneously lead us to see the source of Indo-aryan languages in west Asia but as previously stated, many words from the Indo-iranian language family – sometimes from the proto-indo-iranian or at least at a very early stage of Indo-iranian – can be found in the Finno-ugric languages (languages such as Finnish, Estonian or Saami) and languages from the eastern Caucasus rather supports a different place of origin (the fact that these loanwords have been entering these Finno-ugric languages * at diverse stages of evolution of the Indo-iranian language confirm that the Finno-ugric populations have been in close contact with Indo-iranian-speaking populations for many centuries, and the fact that some of these loanwords seem to pertain to the proto-Indo-iranian stage supports the idea that these loanwords aren’t just a legacy of the Scythian and Sarmatian populations. It does support the theory of a homeland of the original Indo-iranians actually in the Russia **-northwest Kazakhstan region). Even in Ugric languages, some words are clearly closer to the Indo-aryan language family than to the Iranic one (e.g. Hungarian tehén (cow) is closer to Sanskrit dhenu- (see Punjabi dhen) than to Avestan dainu (Vedic Sanskrit (earliest known Indo-aryan language) and Avestan (earliest known Iranic language) were still quite close from each others (it is said that these two languages were definitely closer than Italian and Spanish are to each others)). Interestingly, Hungarian szekér (“chariot”) would be derived from an Indo-aryan *śaka-ra.)
* A few examples (among many others) of Indo-iranian roots in Finno-ugric languages that can be found in “The indo-aryan controversy” by Edwin Bryant and Laurie Patton:
Mordvin sazor (younger sister), Udmurt sazer (younger sister) — Sanskrit svasar (sister)
Komi sur, Udmurt sura (beer) — Sanskrit surā- (intoxicating drink)
Finnish and Ostya udar (udder) — Sanskrit udhar (udder)
Finnish marras (dead) — Sanskrit mṛtas (dead)
Finnish muru (crumb), Mansi mur, mor- (crumble) — Sanskrit mur (crumble), Saka murr (crumble), Ossetian mur- (crumb)
Hungarian tei (milk) — Hindi dhai (actually dahi), Kashmiri dai (soured milk)
Finnish sarvi (horn), Mordvin suro, Komi and Udmurt sur, Mari sur — Ossetian sarv, Avestan sru, srva (and sanskrit śṛṇga-)
Mansi mant (bucket) — Sanskrit mantha, manthana, Pali mantha
Finnish vasa, Ostya vasik, Mansi vasir, Hungarian üszo (bull) — Old Iranian vasa, Ossetian waes, Sanskrit vatsa (calf) (and Sanskrit vṛṣa (bull))
and so on.
** It should be mentionned that the Abashevo culture in Russia, is seen as a possible source for the proto-indo-iranian language and indeed the Abashevo culture was influential in the Sintashta site where are seen the oldest known expression of Indo-iranian-like rituals, according to many specialists.
“In 1370 BC a treaty between the king of Mitanni, Mattiwaza (old reading Kurtiwaza), and the Hittite king, Suppiluliumas, was concluded and there is an oath guaranteed by a series of gods including such Indo-aryan divinities as Indra, Mithra, Varuna and Nasatya. In the 14th century BC in the hittite city of Bogazkoy (pastmists: in this time named Hattusa) a trainer from the land of the Mitanni named Kikkuli composed a treatise on horse training where he employed numerous Indo-Aryan terms (Thieme 1960; Mayhofer 1966; 1974; Kemmenhuber 1968). The first time the Indo-aryans appeared in the Near East dates, however, from the 17th century BC when the Hurrians (non-Indo-European) came from north-east Anatolia and founded the Mitanni kingdom. It was dominated by Indo-Aryans who had brought chariots, blood-horses, and the skills of horse-training. The names of Mitanni kings known from documents of the Tel-Amarna [Tell el-amarna] archive in Egypt and from the cuneiform texts and seals of the Near East are Indo-Aryan. The Indo-Aryans formed elite charioteer squadrons (Yankoska 1979; 1981; 1987). Judging by the descriptions of their dress and weapons, which included a hood, a bow, and a quiver with shaft-hole arrows (Zaccani 1978), the Aryans had come to Mitanni from the steppes. None of those features were known in the near East but had analogues only in the steppes. This is an elite dominance migration pattern: The dominance is secured by the introduction of new chariot battle tactics. The dominant group was presumably small and soon assimilated.”
Seemingly confirming this theory, many of the words meaning “horse” throughout west Asia during antiquity seem derived from the satem form of the Indo-european root designating the horse (*ekwos), pointing again towards the Indo-iranians (speaking a satem Indo-european language in which horse was said “asva“) as the spreaders of mounted horses and chariotry in this region during bronze age (like for instance: Hurrian “essi“, Akkadian “sissu” and several others. Among them, quite revealing are the Hittite word “azu(wa)“, the Luwian assuwa and the Ugaritic “ssw” which are extremely close to the Indo-iranian word and seem to clearly be a loanword from this language family. The rise of the Hittites (an Indo-european Anatolian people (i.e. from modern day Turkey) whose language isn’t a satem language), that was posterior to the rise of the Mitanni (that were also their direct neighbors), owed much to an efficient use of chariotry.
The specialists generally consider satem a later innovation well after the proto-indo-european language which was centum-like. This conforts the idea that the horse was introduced and domesticated late in west Asia and the Near East, apparently disproving the theory that the Indo-european languages appeared in either Asia minor or the Middle-East, as the stem for “horse” was omnipresent in basically all the Indo-european languages and, as such, obviously already part of the proto-indo-european language from which almost all the known Indo-european languages are derived (with maybe the exception of the Anatolian languages that could be derived from an earlier stage) while the horse was basically absent until the last part of bronze age in most of west Asia (regions such as the middle or near-East and most of Asia minor).
In south Asia, the Gandhara graves culture of Swat Valley in northern Pakistan seems to represent the advance of these Indo-iranians in south Asia, also importing the horse in these lands.
Nowadays, the west Eurasian haplogroups are still found in the central Asian (and south Siberian, like the Altaians) populations even though they are mixed with numerous east Asian haplogroups.
This map from a september 2010 study, “In the heartland of Eurasia: the multilocus genetic landscape of Central Asian populations“ (Martinez-Cruz et al. 2010 ; European Journal of Human Genetics , (8 September 2010) | doi:10.1038/ejhg.2010.153), describe the origin of the populations having contributed to the Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan modern populations (also showing the differences within the different linguistic families, Turkic or Indo-iranian) :
Like in the east of Afghanistan and the north of Pakistan, Tajikistan, a region speaking an Indo-iranian language related to Persian, is known to harbor a certain number of Europoid individuals in its autochthonous population.
“In fact, it’s in the more eastern variants of the Andronovo civilization – notably in the Bishkent culture, in the south of Tajikistan – that a probable expression of indo-iranian rituals is visible in the archeological clues. In the Tulkhar cemetery, the sepultures of the males have a little rectangular hearths that quite remind of the altar-hearth (ahavaniya) of the first indo-aryan priests while the tombs of the females have got little circular hearths that evoke the garha-patya (always associated with women) in the indo-aryan home.
Even if a few points are still quite controversial, the fundamentally indo-iranian identity of the bronze age steppic cultures is seen as almost certain.”
From “In search of the Indo-europeans. Language, archeology and myth”, J. P. Mallory