More on Cucuteni-Tripolye culture and the Indo-European homeland

Ana R. Chelariu,

A few years ago (Journal of Indo-European Studies v. 40, nr. 3-4, Fall/Winter 2012) Axel Kristinsson from Reykjavik Academy, Island, offered a new hypothesis on the Indo-European expansion.

After discussing succinctly the previous solutions for the IE homeland, Kristinsson advances his idea that the most remarkable pre-historic culture, the Cucuteni Tripolye (CT) culture, may very well be created by the Indo-Europeans: “…the evidence for material culture seems to fit best with a classic sedentary farming culture like the CT culture, rather than a semi-nomadic culture we would expect on the steppe although the evidence cannot be claimed to be conclusive.” This culture appears by the middle of 6th Century BC at the foothills of the East Carpathian Mountains in Romania spreading eastwards through Bessarabia towards Dnieper and northwards reaching the area near Kiev. The CT culture presupposes a large population benefiting of favorable conditions for developing primitive agriculture, flourishing in apparent peaceful conditions for two millennia. Kristinsson’s argument for locating the IE homeland in the CT region is based exactly on the ideal geographic position of this culture at the junction between the forest and the steppe areas.

In Kristinsson’s opinion the large spread of the Indo-Europeans should be regarded not as a problem but rather as evidence of a migration phenomenon that started probably at the beginning of the 4th millennium B.C., as a result of some events that should be estimated. As a macro-historic the author had studied the cyclic expansions of many societies reaching conclusions that he considers applicable to the I-E expansion. Thus, careful examination of massive movement of populations from the history of Europe could offer a better solution for solving the IE spread. He gives as examples the Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, or the Vikings migrations from the history of Europe, not to mention the populating of the Americas.

The author argues that large movements function on a common mechanism that works inside these cycles. According to his studies there are two varieties of expansions capable to work separate or together:

  1. The simplest model of expansion is by colonizing, occupying new lands for agriculture needed to sustain and growth of families. This kind of colonization the population density is essential; even if the indigenous population from the occupied territories is practicing agriculture the large number of newcomers becomes dominant; this generates a process of ‘democratization’, the elites of the minority disappearing in time.
  2. The second model of expansion named ‘expansion system’ is based on competition; the cultures in which this type of expansion could be observed are more conformist and belong to the same linguistic group. Within this same culture-society competition springs between divided political groups and constant fighting for political and military power; gradually, the military elites need more soldiers and start recruiting from among the farmers, who request new lands as reward; in time, the intense use of existing lands and the population growth leads to need for new territories attained by military force.

Outlining these work hypotheses on the cyclic expansions the author thought they could be successfully apply in the IE expansion problem.

Against the Kurgan hypothesis Kristinsson argues that the elite invasion and domination does not imply language replacement as history demonstrates, one example from the recent European history being the Normand elite in England. Another argument the author brings against the elite groups infusion is that the warriors on horse carts are recorded around 2000 BC, and the IE dispersal begins around the 4th millennium.

Expansions of such large scale can generate language changes particularly in the agricultural societies lacking a powerful organized state. Thus Kristinsson argues that the beginning of the IE expansion was the result of a large growth of populations on the West side of the CT culture region, which created the need for new land, determining the gradual spread towards the East steppe. Another consequence of the growth in population density was the intensifying of the internal fights among tribes shown in the increased number of arrow heads discovered around the CT sites, which could be the result of competition among groups within the society. This idea is sustained in the Romanian tradition by the reminiscence of group fights as expressed in the ballad of Miorița, which parallels the youth fights from the Nart (Ossetic) sagas.

Another aspect brought into the discussion by the author is that around the 4th millennium some important agricultural technologies developments happened including the plough and the wheel, the use of oxen for traction vehicles, the presence of a new breed of sheep richer in wool, together with an increase in farmers’ production and use of milk and dairy in Europe and West Asia. All these innovations had as consequence growth in population, therefore the pressure within the CT society that led to successive invasions eastwards beginning with 3500 BC, and colonization of the steppe lands. As a result the CT culture starts to break up, and Corded Ware cultures emerged in northern of Europe, showing a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and the Yamna culture in the East adopting to the new conditions, but both cultures still keeping some characteristics of the CT culture.

Kristinsson argument is that in the process of colonization of the steppe regions the newcomers changed their way of life adapting to the new environmental conditions. The big differences in the quality of the CT ceramic and the ceramics of Corded Ware or Yamna cultures are due, as the author believes, to the fact that the production of ceramic was in general a women’s occupation, while populations movement was preponderantly masculine: men supposedly formed new families with local women that were not acquainted with the style and quality of the CT ceramic.

Starting with 3100 BC elements of Yamna culture, including probably speakers of IE west dialects, ancient Greek and Phrygian, could be observed moving along the Danube towards the Balkans, inducing the Pre-Anatolian local population movements across the Bosporus into Anatolia. Populations speaking IE western dialects, pre-Greek and Phrygian from the Carpathian region may have had contact with speakers of north IE dialects, Italic or Celtic, forming a Schprachbund of linguistic influences.  By 2800 BC the CT culture separated into two branches that gradually merged or disappeared into other cultures. Interestingly, while the CT culture is known through its settlements the following cultures are visible by their graves.

The dispersal of IE language over the European continent is a unique phenomenon. Kristinsson hypothesis is based on the idea that for a language to become dominant a massive migration of democratized non-elitist populations of farmers using a common language for communication it is necessary: ‘Under such circumstances, an indigenous language can be displaced even if the population didn’t change much as happened in parts of the Roman Empire, in Ireland under British rule or in large parts of Latin America under Spanish rule.’ (p. 373)

These two hypotheses, the colonization and the expansion system working in conjunction, could be applied in the case of Dacia: country conquered by the Roman centralized state in expansion, where the local population did not change as a consequence of the war, but received an infusion of colonists during and after the Roman military occupation left Dacia. These colonists were Roman citizens speaking Latina Vulgate, coming from the surrounding neighborhood, territories already Romanized, such as Pannonia, Illyricum, Moesia Superior, Dalmatia, Noricum, etc., attracted by the richness of the annexed territories.  The economic and social relations established primarily through transhumance between the population from conquered Dacia and the people speaking the same Romance language from the south and west of Danube favored the formation of a Schparchbund, using a common vocabulary specialized in economic needs. According to Kristinsson hypotheses, the Bulgaro-Slavic invasion of farmers, a non-elitist colonization type, mainly of economic nature not as a military force, resulted in the language imposition in the areas with a week organizational system, which spread from Poland to Macedonia, but not prevailing in regions with a more stable social structure such as Dacia Romana.

In spite of the fact that the author insists that his hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis, he believes that it offers a better solution for the IE problem; his arguments seem to bring a clearer picture on the possibility that Cucuteni-Tripolye culture is the homeland from where the IE diffusion began with the first division: the west side – Cucuteni to west and north of Europe, the east side – Tripolye – toward the east, “similar to the classic but depreciated centum-satem split” (p.423) but probably predating by a millennium the actual formation of the two isoglosses. Most importantly, this hypothesis shed a new light on the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture, requesting more in depth studies of this relatively less studied culture.

One note should be added here: even though Kristinsson considers that the comparative mythology should not be regarded as a valid source in the IE discussions, one should not ignore the few patterns that could be observed in most of the IE cultures, such as the dragon fighter, for example. Certainly, a great deal of caution should be applied, but since he accepts linguistics as a legitimate source and if linguists could detect and agree on a common IE religious vocabulary then by default we could accept the existence of a common religious ideology. The existence of a number of mythical patterns in most of the IE cultures could very well be considered as expression of a common mythology, detectable through the process of comparison and elimination.  Besides the youth group fights mentioned above, another significant example offered by Bruce Lincoln (1986) could be taken into account: the motif of anthropogenic creation. He lists a series of documents from ancient times through medieval era, following the Indo-European motif of creation of man, right up to the turn of 19th century, when in a Romanian text entitled “Questions and Answers” dating to 1809, he finds:

“Question:  ‘From how many parts did God made man?’

Answer:   ‘From eight parts: the body from soil; bones from stones; blood from dew; eyes from sun; thoughts from clouds; breath from wind; intellect from moon; the gift of prophecy from the Holy Spirit.”

By comparing these documents B. Lincoln could observe the following scheme common to the Indo-European myths: flesh/earth; bones/stones; hair/plants; blood/water; eyes/sun; mind/moon; though/clouds; head/sky; breath/wind, evidently very close to Romanian data.

If the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture is the product of the IE group it will be a challenge to detect some of the IE patterns already established in the field, but it could also be very interesting. For that matter the Romanian heritage may offer some assistance, even if it may seem difficult. Future research could definitely open very interesting results.



Colarusso, John.

2006                The Functions Revisited, a Nart God of War and Three Nart Heroes. JIES 34, p 27.

2008                The Hunters (Indo-European Proto-myths: The Storm God, The Good King, The Mighty Hunter) JIES 36, p. 442.

Lincoln, Bruce

1986                Myth, Cosmos, and Society: Indo-European Themes of Creation and Destruction, Harvard Univ. Press