The Homeland Problem of Indo-European Language-Speaking Peoples

The acknowledgement of the genetic kinship of Indo-European languages[1] in the past also implies the acknowledgement of the coexistence in conditions of a single language system of their or ancestor languages. Such linguistic system is termed Proto-Indo-European by linguists, and the areal of its proto spreading is called Urheimat (homeland). The latter traditionally implies the territory[2] within which Proto-Indo-European linguistic unity was formed and existed for a certain period of time. As a rule, they try to link it with some archeological culture[3]. Linguists, archeologists, historians and anthropologists of more than one generation tried to determine geographical location of the primordial habitat of Indo-Europeans. In spite of this, the discussion on this theme has had rather hypothetic character so far.

The problem of research of Indo-Europeans homeland, in our view should be divided into two parts. In the first place, we should determine its (i.e. homeland) geographical and chronological co-ordinates, and then - what historical reality is hidden under the linguistic notion Proto-Indo-European and what processes followed the spread of Indo-European languages on the Eurasian continent. The full discussion on both issues is impossible within the frames of one paper, therefore in this paper we only touch upon the first one.

The discussion on the areal of proto spreading of Indo-European languages should be started with listing of those criteria which are essential for the investigation of the problem. In this respect in our view the study done by J.Mellory and D.Adams seems to be reliable: "Encyclopedia of Indo-Europeans culture". However, we consider that certain theses require more  clarity. J.Mellory and D.Adams single out 6 criteria [Encyclopedia...1997: 295-297]. In their view while seeking for Indo-Eoropean homeland we should bear in mind that:


1)The existence of homeland is less probable in historically a priori in the area of settlement of non Indo-Eoropean peoples. For example those of : Tartessian, Iberian, Basque,  Dvavidian, Munda, Elamite, Sumerians, Hattie and etc.

2)We should take into considiration that the existence of Proto-Indo-European in the period earlier than Neolithic age is less probable, because in Proto-Indo-European linguistic system the achievements of "Neolithtic revolution" are well expressed.

In our view this supposition requires certain clarity. Let us start with the designation that in modern Indo-Europeian studies the chronology of Proto-European language is the subject of wide discussion. It is obvious that the conclusions drawn on the basis of glotochronology  lead us to the dating of Indo-Europeans unity by the 5th -4th millennia B.C.,  have a number of drawbacks.  From this viewpoint there was an attempt to implement methodological innovations [Gray...2003: 435-438]. Despite this R.Dickson's remark concerning the fact that any date can be available for the period of Proto-Indo-European existence from 4000 up to 40000 B.C, is still in force today [Gray...2003: 436]. Thus, it may not be a mistake if  we say that the arguments of chronological character while discussing the homeland of Indo-Europeans are of minor importance.  It is not possible to state with preciseness that Proto-Indo-European reality had not been formed earlier than Neolithic Age. Due to the fact that theoritically it is quite possible that Indo-European has more or less well-expressed form as early as Mesolitic epoch and the achievements of  "Neolithic revolution" be spread on it only at following stage. We should also recall that the importance of linguistic paleontology (or of that branch on  which in this case D.Adams and J.Mellory are based on) has been evaluated in diferent ways so far. One part of the scholars holds this viewpoint but others totally oppose to it  and do not hide sarcasm while speaking about it. In this case we consider that  the "middle ground" is to be  found due to the fact that complete negation of the "linguistic paleonthology" means to give up the study of the issue of geographical location of Indo-European homeland. Indo-Europeistics is a branch of linguisrics first of all. If we share the opinion that Proto-Indo-European linguistic system restored by linguists fails to inform us about its geographical and histotical environment at least in general, then generally there is no sense to consider it in historical context. In case of sharing such reasoning we consider it is necessary to bring other arguments of similar type (i.e. obtained by means of linguistic paleontology). Particularly, it is impossible to pass by T.Gamkrelidze and V.Ivanov's work "Indo-European Language and the Indo-Europeans" which from this viewpont (i.e.reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European environment) represents one of the most completete research. In our view especially notable in it is a conclusion on apparent location and affinity with Kartvelian languages  in cultural Ancient near east of the Indo-Europeans homeland [Gamkrelidze ...1984: 869-891]. The importance of such arguments as if the homeland must have been the region with mountain landscape [T.Gamkrelidze..1984:865-866] is not so big because the existence of separate words in this or that proto-language rarely means that these notions were characteristic only for the mentioned proto-language. The same can be said about the separate varieties of animals and plants on which the authors are focused on [Gamkrelidze...1984:465-686].

3) While speaking about the homeland it should be also taken into account the issue of interrelation of Indo-European linguistic groups. Namely: a) we should bear in mind that Anatolian languages had been separated from the single Indo-European space; b)Indo-Iranian, Greek and Armenian languages must have been isolated from other language groups in a certain period of time; c)separate unity was created by Germanic, Baltic and Slavic languages, Celtic and Italian manifested more affinity with Northern groups; d)position of Tocharic language is not quite clear but it cannot be considered to be close to Indo-Iranian;

4) The area of spreading of Indo-European languages must be linked to the area of horse domestication;

5)Linguistic schemes of spreading Indo-Europeans which as a rule accompany the hypotheses of their homeland must correspond to archeological reality. From this vewpoint the fact that methods of  deciphering linguistic and ethnic processes on the basis of archeological artefacts are the subject of a wide discourse in archaeology cannot be a hindrance.  Particularly, the object of consideration is the question as to what is the cause of changes taking place in the depths of archeological cultures; whether the spread of the given artefact  in  a given region, also means the distribution of ethnic groups bearing it in the same region; what historical reality lies under the notion of archeological culture and whether it is possible to identify it with the notion of language or linguistic stock or not... These issues are of crucual importance while considering the  problems of ethnogenesis but in our case (i.e. when we take as the object of study the issue of modern historical processes of geographical location of Indo-Europeans homeland and not the spreading of Indo-European languages in Eurasia) due to the fact that it is easy to reach an agreement there is not a necessity of its in-depth study because it is easy to reach a certain agreement on it.  Particularly, we consider it to be quite logical if we acknowledge that the spread of a complex of archeological artifacts from one region into another between these two regions (at least on the level of intermediate regions) testifies to the cultural and economic ties. We wouls also like to note that it would be nice if we succeed in the identification of hypothetic language stocks (Aryan, Celtic, Tocharian,etc.)with separate archeological cultures because the existence of archeological culture in a significant historical period implies  if not genetic kinship  betwen human beings living in its depths, at least the intensive economic and cultural contacts. The existence of such contacts is a fertile ground for the genesis of separate isoglosses or entire language groups. The theory of homeland which does not take into account at least such aspects of archeological data, naturally, cannot be counted as reliable;

6)The theory of Indo-Europeans homeland must explain the issue of spreading in the area of its historical settlement of every Indo-European language group.

Before listing the hypotheses put forward about the Indo-Europeans homeland it is neccesary to emphasise one more direction of currently popular research in Indo-European studies. We mean the data of physical anthropology and molecular genetics[4]. At first sight it looks rather interesting to follow the process of Indo-Europeans expansion to Eurasia on the basis of biological data and not isogloss or archaeological artifacts which rarely give the opportunity of making definite conclusions. In this respect rather interesting studies belong to L.Cavalli-Sforza, A.Amorim, D.Rang, etc. On the basis of the data of genetics there were attempts to compare the Kurgan hypothesis offered by M. Gimbutas and C. Renfrew's Anatolian theory of Europe "Indo-Europeization" [Stone...2005: 125-127]. The studies concerning Europe's  "Neolithitation" are also of interest [Stone...2005: 86-97]. In spite of apparent reliability of similar researches, we consider the conclusions made in these works with certain restriction. The thing is that the observation of the regularities of the ethnic processes in the history of the  Ancient world and  Middle Ages makes us believe that the fact of total substitution of any A group by B group on X territory has not been proved. Even when linguistic and political landscape changed, the new element mostly represented "superstratum minority". There are numerous examples of it: the so-called "barbarian states" of the period after Roman empire, Turkish unities of eastern Europe,  Sparta and Celtic societies. This is the reason that so many regions of Eurasia (if not all) from the standpoint of archaeology provide a picture of continuous development. This fact feeds the supporters of similar hypotheses on paleolithic continuity of homeland and north-European theories.This fact, in our view, will leave a noticable trace on the data of physical anthropology and molecular genetics. Of course,  it is hard to deny the significance of these branches, when it concerns the upper Paleolithic and Mezolithic periods, but while considering the Neolithic age and its post period from this view point we need certain restriction. The search for genetic markers which would prove the spread of Indo-Europeans into Eurasia seems to be almost impossible task.



There have been expressed many suppositions on Indo-European's homeland. In majority of cases they differ from each other. At the modern stage only few of them are regarded seriously. Among them we can name the above mentioned theory of Paleolithic  continuity (M.Alinei); the suppositions according to which the homeland is localized on the territory of the northern Europe (L.Kilian, A.Hausleri, M.Zvelebil); the Indian hypothesis also has its supporters (M.Vitzel, K.Eltst). This concepts are not popular at modern stage, however they are not totally denied. Far more supporters have The Central Europe-Balkan homeland (V.Sapronov, B.Gornung, I.Diakonov, L.Makkai, G.Devoto) and the supporters of its localization in Ancient Near East. Among Ancient Near East hypotheses most popular is C. Renfrew's Anatolian theory which links the name of Indo-Europeans with the spread of Neolithic economy (C. Renfrew, A.Dolgopolsky). Comparatively less attention is paid to Indo- Hittite (E. Sturtevant) and Gamkrelidze-Ivanov's conceptions. In spite of some similarities these hypotheses sharply differ from each other. Here we should take into account that in separate nuances Renfrew's theory along with Central Europe-Balkan hypotheses opposes to Pontic-Caspian theory. According to the latter Indo-Europeans homeland is regarded to be Volga-Uralic steppes and Indo-Europeans expansion to the west is regarded as a phenomenon of the Bronze Age. To Asia Minor and Balkan-Carpatic "camps" can be referred also, A. Sherratt with his so-called conception of "secondary products revolution". He considers the migration concept of Indo-Europeans from Volga-Uralic steppes to the west in early Bronze Age to be anachronism [Sherratt, 2003: 234]. The main supporters of Pontic-Caspian theory are M.Gimbutas, D. Anthony, J. Mallory etc. We can put close to them J. Nickols who with her so-called Sogdian hypothesis proposes important linguistic arguments in favor of the theory of migration of Indo-Europeans from the east to the west. All these theories have certain drawbacks. Traditionally, the discussion about them in Indo-European studies (mainly by the supporters of the opposite theory) occupies an important place. That is why in our view there is no necessity to continue this discussion. Some weaknesses of the above mentioned theories cannot be considered appropriate arguments for our discussion.

While discussing the issue of Proto-Indo-European language and its area of initial spreading attention is to be paid to the so-called Nostratic theory. According to it a lot of language families from Eurasian continent take beginning through from the larger Proto-Nostratic. There is no consensus in literature concerning the classification of Nostratic languages. However, Proto-Indo-European has been always considered its permanent member. The same can be said about Kartvelian and Uralic languages whereas the position of such language stocks as Semitic, Elamite, Dravidian, Altaic, Afroaziatic etc. is not clear. In modern linguistics there is not uniform attitude to Nostratic theory. Probably this is the reason that in Indo-European studies it has less attention. Despite this, we consider that its importance is rather considerable while discussing Indo-Europeans homeland[5] . The point is that special affinity[6] of the Indo-European, in our case Kartvelian and Uralian stocks at least means[7] that the spreading area of ancestor languages (speaking the languages of these families which probably anticipated their formation as independent language families), was close to each other. Perhaps this gives us the right to consider the territory existing between Kartvelian and Uralian language spaces the initial spreading area of Proto-Indo-Europeans.[8]

Where could such space have been?  In scholarly literature there is no single opinion regarding the formation of Kartvelian languages and its genetic ties. Although we have reason to suppose that the initial area of their spreading was not far from the Caucasus territory. If we take into account that south Iran and India were settled with other members of Nostratic stocks (Elamite and Dravidians) and Uralic environ and Central Asia probably were settled by Uralian and Altaics ancestors, it seems to be reasonable if south middle Asia and north Iran is considered to be  such intermediate territory. In Mesolithic period[9] this part of the area seems to be closely connected on the one hand, with Uralic environ [Matyuishin, 2003: 368-372], and on the other, with Ancient near east. These ties had not been weaken neither in Neolithic nor in Eneolithic periods. In this period three  archeological cultures were formed: Jeitun, Hissar, Keltiminar [Yusupov, 1997:13-24]. In our case of special importance is Jeitun culture. All achievements of "Neolithic revolution" are well represented in it. Its ties with near eastern reality also bears intense character, at the same time it continues local Mesolithic traditions too. These circumstances in our view, allow us to state that the above formilated conclusions of the clothness of ancient near eastern world of the Indo-European's original homeland on the basis of linguistic paleontology agrees well with the southern middle Asian theory. The same can be said about the achievements of the  "Neolithic revolution". It doesn't oppose (Southern Middle Asian theory) to the issues of Proto-Indo-Europeans chronology either.

The idea of linking Indo-Europeans with near eastern Neolithic reality is not new. However, we consider that from this view point the idea of Southern Middle Asian hypothesis has more arguments because: a) it doesn't cross historical area of a priori non Indo-European population of near east; b) within its frames as we will see below there can be made interesting conclusions on spreading of domestic horse in ancient near east; c) by means of it, the reconstruction of logical ways of its spreading on Indo-European language stocks in their historical homeland becomes reasonable.

It should be assumed that from geographical view point Tocharian languages moved only insignificantly. And Anatolians spreading in Ancient near east, in our view must be linked with Kura-Araxes  archeological culture.Naturally at this stage in the genesis of Kura-Araxes culture the participation of the element came from south middle Asia and northern Iran cannot be considerded as a proved fact[10], however, we consider  that the emphasis  on several  circumstances from this view point could show interesting perspectives of the research. Particularly, 1)with the Kura-Araxes  culture the Bronze Age starts in the Caucasus and the adjacent territory which is followed by significant cultural, economic and probably ethno-linguistic changes. Their trace is evident from archeological materials of the 4th millennium BC. Namely, significant inflow of peoples moved from the south Middle Asia towards Ural. In its turn the southern migrants assimilate the territory of the southern middle Asia which becomes the basis for the formation of Anau culture [Yusupov, 1997:24-26]. At the same time the monuments of Leila depe's style spread in Georgia and considerable inflow of population moved from the southern to the northern Caucasus, which caused the formation of Maykop culture [Japaridze, 2003:277-278]. The Kura-Araxes  tribes aslo spread quickly to the Caucasus, etc. We shouldn't forget the fact that it is just at that period that Sumerians emerged in the southern Mesopotamia. It is not excluded that their migration could be connected with the above mentioned events in any form. The spread of Indo-European (Anatolian) langiages to the west, should be considered in this context (we should emphasize  that at this stage our  purpose is to determine as to which  logical cultural and historical processes accompanied the spread of Indo-European languages to the west);  2)The existence of Hittites on the territory of the Asia minor is evidenced from the end of  3rd millennium B.C. The fall of the Kura-Araxes  culture also coincides with this period. It looks like its population leaves its old settlement partly because of northern neighbors  and partly because of worsening  of the climatic conditions [Japaridze, 1998:170-174]. Just this fact becomes the reason of cultural genesis of Khirbet-Kerak in Syria. Certain mass migration towards Balkans is also supposed. Should we seek  the historical ground for Anatolians spread in Asia Minor in the context of this events? 3) We should pay attention to the issue of spreading the domesticated horse in ancient Near East. Many archeologists consider that Kura-Araxes population was familiar with the horse at the time when they had not yet the opportunity to assimilate this element of culture as a result of link with the steppes [Japaridze, 1998: 108-109]. According to new data [Mashkour, 2003: 129-139] it also becomes obvious that domestic horse may spread on the territory of the  northern Iran in the 4th millennium B.C or earlier period. It should be mentioned that in other regions of Ancien near east we haven't found special materials. Let us recall the above mentioned traditional relations of the Middle Asia. We attach great importance to these relations in the process of the "Indo-Europeization" of Europe. Also, let us recall the supposition according to which the domestication of the horse must have occured in that environment in which the domesticated donkey was spread [Encyclopedia...2008: 441-442]. For us it is significant to mention that the most popular is the concept of domestication of horse in the steppes of the eastern Europe. Proceeding from the above mentioned, an interesting area of spreading the domesticated horse is manifasted in the 4th millennium B.C, which aproximates very much the territory perceived by us as Indo-European space; 4)It is of paticular impotrance that the Kura-Araxes culture reveals weak relations with Ancienr near east (unlike the archeological cultures of its forerunner), whereas its northern neighbor Maykop culture seems to be rather advanced from this viewpoint. Can it be an argument of participation of non-local element in the creation of the Kura-Araxes  culture? We should emphasize once more that the above mentioned discourse (on spread of Indo-European languages to the west) may only be a hypothesis.

In case of sharing Southern middle Asian hypothesis, obviously the issue of alternative explanation of spreading Indo-European languages in Europe is needed. From this view point, we consider it to be interesting to pay attention to the process of "Neolithization" of Uralic steppes. It has long been noted that in this part of the world the formation of production and development could happen from three  possible centres: The Central Europe-Balkan,Caucasus and southern middle Asia [Kuzmina, 2003: 203].In the period of Neolith and Eneolith the contacts from Caucasian steppes haven't been attested.We can't say the same about southern middle Asia. Despite the fact that while discussing the issues of Indo-European study, less attention is paid to this process, we can't help mentioning, that both Mesolithic, Neolithic and Eneolithic periods these regions ( i.e. Uralic and southern middle Asia) were closely connected with each other.[11] We should not forget either that domesticated sheep played a crucial role in mastering  of the steppes and formation of the Normadic culture there.The sheep as well as goats and cattle were not found in the Uralic steppes and its adjacent territories [Matyuishin, 2003: 375]. It is reasonable to suppose that it was spread there from Caspian, where one of the oldest environmet of its domestication existed.

Of course, we don't wish to diminish the importance of the Central Europe-Balkan areas when speaking about the Volga-Uralic steppes.  We simply mention that according to archeological data the formation of agriculture in Ural and its eastern part mainly occurred due to the influence of the southern Middle Asia[12]. The spread of Indo-European languages, more precisely its non-Anatolian and non-Tocharian part in Europe is regarded by us as a result of ethnic and cultural diffusion in the mentioned direction. From this view point our attitude differs from the supporters of the Pontic-Caspian theories, who connect this process with those coming from the west[13] . In our view such approach gives an interesting opportunity to interconnect archeological arguments offered by N. Danilenko [Danilenko,1974] with the linguistic conclusions made by J.Nichols [Nichols,1997;  Nichols,1998].

At the end we wish to state that the Pontic-Caspian theories in our view require a number of corrections. First of all, it concerns the distribution schemes[14] of Indo-European stocks offered by them in Europe. Although it seems to us that they are closer to the truth while speaking about the issue of "Indo-Europeization" of Europe than Central Europe-Balkan, Anatolian and of course Northern European models.

Thus, we believe that the homeland of peoples speaking Indo-European languages was located on the territory of the southern Middle Asia and northern Iran. Here as early as Mesolithic period the process of the formation of Proto-Indo-European linguistic peculiarities may have started. This process must have been considerably accelerated by the spread of farming in this part of the world (i.e. Southern Middle Asia and northern Iran) and formation of Hisar and Jeitum like archeological cultures. The disintegration of Indo-European linguistic space may have started in the fifth and fourth millennia B.C. Its spread on the Eurasian continent proceeded in two directions. The spread of Anatolian languages to the west must have been linked with the formation of the Kura-Araxes culture, and then its disintegration in the second half of the third millennium B.C. Tocharian languages were not subjected to significant movement. Agriculture must be considered as a marker of Indo-Europeans expansion to Volga-Ural. According to the Pontic-Caspian theory there was located the Indo-Europeans's homeland which in our opinion, was the homeland only for "old-European" and wing of Aryo-Graeco-Armenian stock. In our view such reasoning does not break any of D.Adams and J.Melor's criteria mentioned. All linguistic arguments proposed by T.Gamkrelidze and V.Ivanov also remain in force. We believe that consideration of historical and theoretical issues (what historical reality lies behind the linguistic notion of "Proto-Indo-European"; in which form Indo-European language stocks were spread and how all this was reflected in archeological material) adds more significance to the proposed hypothesis in future.

[1] According to the classification recognised in modern linguistics to the Indo-European family belong: Anatolian, Tocharic, Celtic, Italian, Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Albanian, Greek, Armenian, Indo-Arial, Iranian, Messapian, Illinic, Frigic, Tracsic, Venetic groups [Mallory, 2006: 153]. In scholarly literature we can find the attempts to place here some so-called Mediterranean languages [Gergiev, 1958: 87-104]. An assumption was also made on the Indo-European nature of the Kartvelian languages [Melikishvili, 2002: 40]. However, similar approaches cannot be considered by us as overall recognized.

3 In scholarly literature we can also find the attempts to determine the size of the estimated area of the homeland (Encyclopedia...1997: 290-291).

4 There are some assumptions in Indo-European studies which aim at presentation the issue in different light. We mean the concepts opposed to the genetic kinship of Indo-European languages [Demoule, 1991: 169-202], on the one hand and on the other, concepts directed against placing the proto spreading areal of "Proto-Indo-European" language into more or less local area [Alinei, 2000: 21-50]. In case of sharing similar approaches, we believe it is possible to face the necessity of consideration the problem of authenticity of the issue under study. However, the number of their supporters (i.e. similar concepts) and the reliability of their arguments have not yet given the ground for this.

[4] The significance of this branch was especially increased in the second half of the 20th century.

[5] In scholarly literature more bold hypotheses are also expressed. See [Gornung, 1964]. From this view point   in Georgian linguistics the tendency of affiliation of Proto-Katrvelian and Proto-Indo-European languages to each other is popular.

[6] It is interesting to note that comparatively seldom is found an assumption about the affinity between Kartvelian and Uralic. 

[7] Nothing to say about their distant genetic relatedness.

[8] On the basis of approximately the same assumption B. Gornung seeks Indo-European's homeland in the central European region [Gornung, 1964].

[9] We mean the period in which the spread of Nostratic languages is supposed.

[10] From archeological point of view the territory of the northern Iran has not been fully studied. The same can be said about archeological monuments of Caucasian materials in the context of generalization of this part of the area.

[11] On this issue see: [Danilenko, 1969:181; Eneolith...1982: 327-328].

[12] We can have different position in relation to Volga environ.

[13] We have emphasized once more that the purpose of this work is not interpretation of the issue in historical context.

[14] On this issue see: [Silagadze, 2008: 14-19].


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