Science

Ancient Massive Migration Resulted in Modern European Languages

By | Mar 04, 2015 08:31 AM EST
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Europeans

A woman dressed in 19th century costume peddles handmade sweets in the Ukrainian city of Lviv.(Photo : REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH/FILES)

A wave of migrants from the eastern fringes of Europe some 4,500 years ago left their traces in the DNA - and possibly the languages - of modern Europeans, according to a new study.

Over three billion people speak languages of the Indo-European family that spans across Europe as well as Central, Western and South Asia. The exact reason as to why these languages are related has been widely debated.

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The findings of a recent study suggest some of these Indo-European languages now spoken in Europe are a result of a mass migration from Eastern Russia.

"This new study is the biggest of its kind so far and has helped to improve our understanding of the linguistic impact of Stone Age migration. Using genome-scale data from more than 90 ancient European people, ranging from [3,000 to 8,000] years old, we were able to trace these people's origins," said co-first author Wolfgang Haak, from the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD).

Among the shifts in the genetic make-up of ancient Europeans they found was that DNA associated with the Yamnaya people appeared strongly in what is now northern Germany. The Yamnaya were herders that lived in the steppe north of the Black and Aral Seas.

Researchers identified two key population replacements that took place in Europe during the Stone Age, the first of which was the arrival of farmers in what is now Turkey.

Andrew Garrett, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley, said it was significant the mass migration occurred at a time some models had previously identified for Indo-European expansion.

"This large migration almost certainly had lasting effects on the languages people spoke," Haak said.

The findings challenge the popular theory that all modern Indo-European languages in Europe came from the first farmers in Anatolia over 8,000 years ago. The research has yet to solve the exact origin of Indo-European languages spoken across Eurasia, but researchers believe the answers are within reach.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.


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