As Alain de Benoist has noted, there are two main schools of thought on the Indo-European urheimat (homeland): one which derives the Indo-Europeans from the North, and another which brings them from South Russia (and ultimately the Near East).
Suprà: Zones of Indo-European origin proposed by scholars over the 19–20th centuries, showing a trend toward the northwest over time.
At the beginning of the 20th century the origin of the Indo-Europeans was located in the Saxony-Denmark-Scania region by Gustaf Retzius (anatomist), Karl Penka (ethnologist), and Ludwig Wilser (philologist). This Nordic Theory, defended by the archæologist Gustav Kossinna, was the prevailing school of thought on Indo-European origins until it after WWII. It was supplanted, at least in the English-speaking world, by the Kurgan (South Russian) Theory and the Anatolian Theory, both of which bring the Indo-European languages into Europe via invasions from the east.
The Kurgan Theory is based on ideas developed by the Anglo-Australian Marxist Vere Gordon Childe (1892–1957) and feminist Marija Gimbutas (1921–94) who, despite their undeniable expertise as archæologists, actually created more confusion than solved problems in their field of ancient history. Gordon Childe had opposed the Nordic Theory since 1926 for ideological reasons, deeming it too close to German nationalism. Childe argued that the Indo-Europeans came from the South Russian steppes between the Black Sea, Caucasus, Volga, and Caspian: home of the Kurgan (Turkic for ‘burial mound’) or ‘Ochre-Grave’ culture, based on their custom of smearing the dead with red ochre. The ochre facilitated decomposition and left residues on the skeleton. Indo-Europeanists like Hermann Hirt objected to this theory based on the improbability of a steppe invasion impressing its culture and language upon settled populations.
After the War academic favour swung from Kossinna to Childe, who had also, since 1936, developed his theory of the so-called ‘Neolithic Revolution,’ arguing that the transition from the Old Stone Age ‘hunters’ to the New Stone Age farmers constituted a ‘revolution’ dictated by ‘economic necessity.’ Even his most ardent supporters have admitted this not only unconfirmed but sharply contradicted by historical data. In fact there was no revolution, but a slow and gradual transformation of Mesolithic society due to factors of religion, culture, politics, and manpower.
The advent of radiocarbon dating – the real revolution – also threw his theory into turmoil, revealing older dates for this culture in the north than on the steppe. Childe, feeling outdated and retreating into absolute scepticism regarding Neolithic Nordic civilisation, committed suicide in 1957. His disciple, Marija Gimbutas, stepped up to reinvigorate the Kurgan theory. From 1956 to 1993 the Lithuanian-American scholar wrote a series of articles reconstructing four waves of Kurgan invasion from the Pontic/Volga steppe over the period 4400–2500 B.C. She injected more serious arguments into the theory than Childe, even if they were later proved inconsistent.
Gimbutas then worked out the famous theory of the Neolithic Mother Goddess, positing a matriarchal, pacifist ‘Old European’ civilisation destroyed by violent battle-axe-wielding Indo-Europeans from the steppes. She further argued that certain Neolithic pottery marks anticipated the invention of ideographic writing. Gimbutas’ theories on Neolithic feminism and ideographic script were demolished by further in-depth studies, and finally the origin of the Indo-Europeans on the Kurgan steppe was itself disproven by carbon dating in favour of northern Europe.
In fact, the archæology can just as well be taken to support an Indo-European invasion south and eastward into Eastern Europe, with groups such as the proto-Greeks deriving from the Neolithic cultures of Saxony and Thuringia: ‘The expansion of Nordic culture into central and southern Russia left in its wake the megalithic Volyn culture as well as the middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo cultures: these are all characterized by Globular or Corded ceramics and battle-axes. They invaded the territory of the Finno-Ugric Pit-Comb Ware hunters, and encroached upon the painted-pottery farmers of Tripolje. These invasions were vehemently denied by Nikolai Marr and his comrades in the Soviet school of archæology, for whom the existence of an Indo-European Urheimat was “a bourgeois prejudice, just like faith in the existence of God,” and to whom the Indo-European invasions represented a facet of capitalist mythology.’ [Romualdi, The Indo-Europeans (1978), p. 29]
Circumstantial evidence also suggests a Nordic habitat for the early Indo-Europeans, as highlighted by Evolian scholar Adriano Romualdi and archæologist Lothar Kilian: ‘most of the names for trees and animals common to the Indo-European languages, as well as the terms relating to the climate and division of the year, pertain to the Nordic regions. The Indo-Europeans knew of spring, summer and winter, but not autumn.’ The sturdy, brush-maned Greek horses immortalised by Pheidias on the Parthenon frieze are clearly depicted performing the Tölt, a fifth gait of which only Scandinavian ponies are genetically capable: imported by the chariot-driving ancestors of the Hellenes? Perhaps.
In the 1980s Prof. Colin Renfrew appeared on the scene and realised the Kurgan thesis was getting seriously leaky. As a good ex-serviceman of His Majesty, Lord Renfrew was predisposed to disregard evidence for the Nordic theory (like his compatriot Gordon Childe) as smelling of Nazis. For an alternative to Gimbutas he literally invented the Anatolian theory, acc. to which the Indo-Europeans originated from Anatolia in the 7th millennium (??!), whence they allegedly brought the Eastern Neolithic agricultural revolution to Europe, by cultural transmission(?) and not physical migration.
Renfrew’s ideas enjoyed some popularity amongst unwary amateurs and academic eccentrics seeking alternatives to the Nordic theory, until Hittite scholars proved conclusively that the Indo-European languages of Anatolia are younger than the non-Indo-European. The Hittites, Luwians, and other I.-E. in Anatolia were an invading minority who introduced the characteristically Aryan aristocratic horse-warrior ethos to areas with no prior trace of this culture, or only traces in limited areas toward the Euphrates. Previously Anatolia was occupied by pre-Indo-European Pelasgians, Hattians, Hurrians, and Caucasians. If the Indo-Europeans originated here in the Stone Age they would have made up the vast majority of the region, but were in fact a small minority. Indeed, it’s that all the Neolithic groups who spread into Europe from Anatolia in the 7th millennium were associated with pre-Indo-European peoples.
Soviet linguists Thomas Gamkrelidze and Vyacheslav Ivanov made a clumsy attempt to salvage Ex Oriente Lux in 1985: their interpretation (based on the flawed Glottalic and Nostratic theories) located the Indo-European homeland in the northern Middle East and Southern Caucasus. Proto-Indo-European is linked with the South Caucasian (Kartvelian) languages/cultures and ‘Proto-Indo-European culture typologically belongs to the family of ancient Near Eastern [Semitic] civilisations.’ Gamkrelidze and Ivanov’s theory is politically underlain by the belief in progressive evolutionary development from lower to higher (communistic) forms of society, from the perspective of the working class. [See Philip L. Kohl and G. R. Tsetskhladze, ‘Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archæology in the Caucasus,’ in P. L. Kohl and Clare Fawcett (ed.), Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archæology (Cambridge, 1996)]
The Anatolian Theory was quickly consigned to the dustbin by linguists. The concept of the substratum (indigenous languages leaving traces in invader languages) is a universally accepted linguistic proof. In Scandinavia, there is no linguistic trace of pre-Indo-Europeans even any Indo-European peoples before the Germanic, meaning that the language must have very ancient roots here. The Nordic theory has quietly returned to the academic fold, strengthened by Prof. Jean Haudry’s circumarctic cosmological thesis and Prof. Wolfgang Schmid’s model of Indo-European expansion from a Baltic nucleus, which is suggested by the status of Lithuanian as the most conservative living Indo-European language. Specialists in the Indo-European field who retained support for a North European origin into the late 20th century include linguist Giacomo Devoto, Indologist Paul Thieme, and archæologists Pere Bosch-Gimpera and Alexander Häusler.
Current archæology does not support a large-scale invasion of Indo-Europeans from the east, practically returning to an early-20th century consensus on the homeland of the Indo-Europeans. Instead, the earliest speakers of these languages were indigenous Northern Europeans in the area of the Mesolithic Maglemose culture, between the Rhine, the Baltic and the Vistula, including Jutland and Southern Sweden. This developed into the Ertebølle, Nordic Megalithic (6500 B.C.), and the pastoralist Neolithic Funnelbeaker culture (Trichterbecherkultur, TRB), the likeliest source of the lactose tolerance gene and native cattle breeds in Europe. TRB then evolved into the Corded Ware and Globular Amphoræ cultures, also known as the Battle-Axe cultures. It is from these cultures that the Indo-Europeans spread throughout Europe.
The Kurgan Theory, of which the ‘new’ Anatolian Theory was merely a distillation, has been widely discredited and survives largely on the strength of academic inertia. The most rigorous scholars in the field have swept the floor with Renfrew’s model, which no longer has any scientific backing. A recent study comparing the DNA of modern and prehistoric Europeans found no evidence amongst European populations for the notable influx of Middle-Eastern genes which must have occurred if European civilisation truly originated from the southeast.