„The Neolithic revolution” in Europe.
The problem of the origin of the Indo-Europeans



The Neolithic period marks the final stage of the Stone Age, when the unproductive forms of economy (hunting, fishing, picking) changed to productive ones (growing and farming). In this historical period in different regions of the globe people grew a lot of plants (wheat, barley, rice, corn, beans, potatoes, etc.) and bred almost all kinds of contemporary domestic animals (sheep, pig, cattle, etc.). They invented more advanced methods of stone processing (polishing, cutting, screw driving), as well as they learnt to make new labor tools – axes, chisels, and clay dishes. All this caused such crucial changes in the life activity of an ancient man, which made the English archeologist Gordon Child call them a Neolithic revolution.[1]

In the territories of the Old World five ancient areas of productive economy are distinguished: Middle Eastern, Southern-Eastern, Far Eastern, North African (The Sahara-Sudan area) and Guinea-Cameroon.[2] The Middle Eastern region, stretching over the whole Anatoly, the mountains in Iran, a significant part up to the Persian channel, the desert Negev and the valley of Jordan in Israel, as well as the western coast of the Mediterranean sea, played a special role in the spreading forms of new economy in Europe. These regions were a part of the so-called the Fertile Crescent, where at the beginning of the Holocene favourable conditions occurred for growing plants and feeding cattle.[3] Contemporary scientist claim that the new ways of running economy in the Middle East spread all around in the 8th century B.C. One of the consequences of the „Neolithic revolution” in this region was the foundation of Jericho – a city surrounded by the oldest most powerful fortifications. Soon cities appeared in other parts of the Fertile Crescent.[4]

In the 7th century B.C. the basic forms of productive economy started to spread in Europe. This was happening either through tribal migrations from the territories of Middle East, which had already mastered the basic skills of farming or through borrowing their experience, which was transferred to the local ground and was enriched by new ideas.[5]

In the first half of the 6th century B.C. the area of early farming archeological cultures covered the whole Balkans, where farming started to spread to the other regions of Europe. Soon, in the basin of the Middle Danube the Culture of line-stripe pottery appeared, which played a leading role in the mastering of new economic forms by humanity of the Western, Central, and East-Central Europe.[6]

In the Neolithic period another form of productive economy was becoming more and more intense: the shepherd farming agriculture, which changed human model of life to semi-stationary. This form of economy occurred along the steppe line in Europe, which spreads over a wide path from the Zaolzie (Trans-Olza Silesia) region to the Azov Sea region and the Northern Black Sea region and then to the territories of contemporary Hungary.[7]

The oldest Neolithic shepherd farming culture on the territory of Ukraine is the Bugo-Dnister (64005300 B.C.), the area of which occupies the basin of the Southern Bug and the Dniester rivers. The settlement of this culture consisted of 611 houses of rectangular shape with the stone basis, with the girders of the carcass placed in it.[8]

The beginning of the „Neolithic revolution” on the territories of Poland is connected with the culture of line-stripe pottery, the monuments of which first appeared here about 54005300 years ago in Silesia and Little Poland and in the East (in the region of Rzeszow). The settlements of this culture left the remnants of 58 big dwellings, which can still be seen. The houses had the length of 40 meters and the width of 58 meters.[9] They were build of wooden pillars and took the shape of a rectangular or a trapezium. Research shows that a house of this kind may have been inhabited by 16 to 20 people.[10] Animal farming and crop growing were the basis of the economy in this community. Its eastern area also covered the territories of contemporary Ukraine (Volhynia and The Carpathians).

Animal farming and crop growing became widespread in most regions of Europe by the end of the 5th and the early 4th century B.C., that is still in the Eneolithic period, also called the Copper era, whose distinctive features included: the spread of metal products, mostly made of copper, and the creation of conditions for regular inter-tribal exchange. The first primitive collective order began to disappear. Property distinctions occur, the family tribal noblemen win authority over houses and clans. Also, the beliefs and burial traditions underwent significant change in this historical period.

In the Eneolithic period farming tribes of the Cucuteni-Tripillian (or Tripolie) archeological culture lived in the forest-steppe zone of the Dnieper right bank. They appeared in the 6th century B.C. and existed for about 2500 years.[11]

On early stage the Tripillian tribes covered the pools of the Prut, Dniester, and the Southern Bug. Later they moved to the territory between the Southern Bug, the Dnieper and the Upper Dniester. On late stage of the Tripillian culture development its representatives occupied Volhynia, overcame the Dnieper and came to the Black sea in the Northern-Western sea area. Trypillya culture left a bright impact in the ancient history of Ukraine, which was already indicated by the first discovery scientist Vikenty Hvoyka, who suggested a theory about the pro-Slav character of this cultural-historical notion.[12]

Nowadays, on the territory of Ukraine about 1500 Trypillya settlements have been discovered, some of which (near the villages Dobrovody, Talyanka, Maydanetske in the Middle Dnieper area) covered the space of 250400 hectares, where up to 23 thousand of one-stored houses were built.[13] Their walls were covered by clay and were decorated by bright pictures. „The Tripillians” produced ceramics, which impresses by esthetic superiority of shapes and the wealth of ornament. During the excavations of the Tripillian culture monuments, a great number of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic monuments, among which there were about 50 statues with realistic, individual features of face.[14] Tripillian settlements, where up to 1015 thousand people lived, existed for about 70100 years, and then were burnt by inhabitants themselves who moved to another place. In archeological literature they are called „protocities”.[15]

When Ukraine became an independent country, the Tripillian culture was in the centre of attention of wide publicity circles. The fashion for collecting things from Trypillya monuments became wide spread among politicians, businessmen, collectors. The ethno genetic myth around the people of Tripillia started to arise: a famous Ukrainian writer Sergiy Plachynda named it „the whole Ukrainian” and the creator of Ukrainian state, which seemed to have a seven thousand-year’s history.[16]

From the psychological point of view, these statements can be treated as national pride and a distorted form of protest against the theory about the Ukrainian nation having no state of their own. The theory was part of the official USSR ideology and even nowadays it is spread by some chauvinistic circles of the Russian Federation and their followers in Ukraine.

One of the reasons for so much attention to Tripillia is that many elements of material and spiritual culture of the Ukrainian ethnos started to form particularly in the times of Tripillia.

This was somehow emotionally denoted by an Ukrainian scientist-historian V. Petrov: „There are no doubts that in the Tripillian period Ukraine started to develop some features, which belong to the ethnographical culture of the Ukrainian nation nowadays, as an industrious bread baking nation. Since the times of Tripillia up to nowadays for 5 thousand years bread baking has existed and a baker has oxen at his farm. In the same climate and regional conditions, on the banks of the same rivers and plains, on fertile soil, among wheat fields oxen walk. The grey smoke is rising from the houses, covered by clay and decorated by stripes of colorful paints. As in Tripillian times, a woman uses clay and decorates the house and stove with paint. And at the house entrance there is a picture of eternal tree, in modern interpretation: a home plant, embroidery, which dates back to Tripillia when it was marked by pictures”[17]. However, the place and role of Tripillia in the ethno-cultural history of Ukraine for some (objective and subjective) reasons still have not been expressly highlighted in scientific literature. The works of archeologists, whose professional interests are dedicated to Tripillia, For quite a while have had no system and have not given the whole picture of this phenomenon. So, it comes as no surprise that the activation of search for Ukrainian national sources, which was mostly undertaken by writers and amateurs caught them suddenly. Having turned out to be unprepared for polemics with their more active though less educated opponents, the representatives of academic science[18] mostly limited their ideas by late and enough awkward efforts to explain their positions.[19] So far they have not given the right results: the discussions around Trypillya culture are not over, being accompanied by political and personal blame, which are seen in the periodical press and from time to time appear on culture web-sites, and discussed on the radio or television, etc.

The creators of the Neolithic Dnieper-Donetsk and the Neolithic Middlestogivsky-hvalynsky historical-cultural communities, where separate archeological kinds of culture are distinguished.[20] The area of the Middlestogivsky monuments occupied the border of steppe and forest-steppe line along the Lower Dnieper and Don. The domestication of a horse on Ukrainian territories is connected particularly with their creators.[21] In the second half of the 4th century B.C. the movable horse groups of cattle farmers in a steppe strengthened the pressure on local farmers of Trypillya, who were suffering from internal crisis, caused by ecological reasons (the establishing of dry climate, exhausting of the ground, etc.) At the same time economic and cultural relationships are deepened between them: the late representatives of Tripillia borrowed the customs of burying, rope ornament, which was used to decorate ceramics, etc. This is proved by archeological research data: the research of bone remnants of people from late Tripillian Vyhvatyn grave, located on the bank of Dniester, it showed that human remnants burred here belonged to ancient Mediterranean type, which was wide spread among the farmers of the Balkans and the Danube, and the women – to a massive European variation, typical for the cattle farmers of the Black sea.[22] This also witnesses about the fact, that regular marriage relationships were supported between the representatives of different cultural traditions, who lived in the neighborhood. At the end of its continuous period, Tripillia split up into 5 separate cultures, which finally disappeared, having left no obviously traceable lines of development.[23]

Similar processes were taking place during the Eneolithic period in the Polish territories as well. Important and irreversible changes in economy and social system of local tribes took place in this historical epoch, which is sometimes called „the second Neolithic revolution”.[24] About 4100 years B.C. the Funnelbeaker culture spread here, the area of which occupied a huge territory from the Netherlands in the west, to Volhynia in the east, Southern Sweden in the north, and the present-day Czech territories in the south. Crop growing with the usage of cattle was the basis for its complex economy. The creators of this culture were already familiar with the wheel and the 4 wheeled trucks, the picture of one of them was discovered on a pottery utensil, found in Borochintsy.[25] They advanced much more than the representatives of Tripillian in this sphere, whose transportation consisted from sledges, pulled by one or two oxen.[26]

It’s interesting that on Volhynia the Funnelbeaker culture and the Tripillian culture were occupying the same regions for some time. Researchers report that the relationships between them were mostly peaceful: the area of these historico-cultural communities were separated by some „buffer zone” of 4050 km. in width, where short-term settlements appeared rarely.[27]

About 4450 years B.C. a crop and cattle culture called the Globular Amphora culture appeared in Europe. Its monuments are located from the Elbe in the west, the Baltic Sea in the north, Volhynia and Podillya in the east, and Romania in the south. In the settlements of this culture the remnants of carcass-girder houses were researched, whose walls were covered by clay. The dead were buried in stone graves or in ground holes or graves. The origin of the Globular Amphora culture is controversial: some scientists think that it was created on the basis of some local culture, others point to a Eneolithic culture of the Northern Black Sea area.[28]

The „Neolithic revolution” in Europe chronologically corresponded to an early and late stage of the development of the Indo-European language. According to the linguistic data, the lexical stock of the early Indo-Europeans included the names of domesticated animals (sheep, cows, pigs), labor tools used in crop-growing and cattle-raising.[29] At the late stage the lexicon of the Indo-European language was filled with new notions which reflect the further development of reproductive forms of economy: the horse was added to the list of domesticated animals; the words appear which witness to the transition to soil cultivation, the appearance of wheeled transportation pulled by oxen, the mastering of new metal processing skills using copper, silver and gold; finally to the establishing of a patriarchal social system, etc.[30]

The search for the ”motherland” of the Indo-Europeans before their community split up into separate language groups and languages – the languages that are spoken by the majority of the Europeans – had an ancient and very complicated history. The roots were sought for in India, in the Central Asia and in different regions of Western, Central and Eastern Europe, and even in the Middle East. It is possible to outline several theories, the ones with best grounding, out of a great deal of theories that have already been proposed.

1.       The motherland of the Indo-Europeans was located between the Rhine in the west, with the North Sea and the Baltic Sea in the north, the Alps, the Balkans and the Black Sea in the south, the Volga-Done steppes in the east. These territories were inhabited by numerous tribes of Europeides in the 6th5th centuries B.C., who kept advancing in the south-eastern direction. In the 5th century B.C. Neolithic cultures developed on the ground of a local Mesolithic culture, the creators of which were weakly diversified speakers of the Indo-European language (Ertebolle-Ellerbek, Line-stripe pottery, Tripillians and the Kurgan burial culture of the Dnieper and Don estuaries, etc.).[31]

2.       The oldest speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language inhabited the steppe zone of the Northern Black Sea area and the Azov Sea area, where in the 5th century B.C. the Mariupol culture formed, based on a local Mesolithic roots, and which was a part of the Dnieper-Donetsk historico-cultural community of the Neolithic period. Soon afterwards, the culture of the first real cattle farmers - the „Srednij Stog” culture formed here in the process of productive economy development in the last quarter of the 5th – the first half of the 4th century B.C. This culture is connected with the first migrations of Indo-European tribes into southern-western and eastern directions. These cultures grew in power during the next historical period, when the Kurgan culture appeared in East-European steppes. This caused the split of the old Indo-European language into separate groups.[32]

3.       The motherland of the Indo-Europeans should be looked for in the East of Asia Minor and in the Armenian Upland, where at the end of the 5th century B.C. the tribes of the Indo-European community began to spread over the western regions of Anatolia, the Balkans, and the south of the Central Europe. The „circular path” theory was also proposed, in which the ancient Indo-Europeans moved to Europe around the Caspian Sea, through the Central Asia.[33] Another theory, called the Balkan version, challenges the previous one. According to the latter, ancient farmers – the speakers of the undivided Indo-European language first migrated from Asia Minor to the Balkans, and in the 6th5th century B.C. began to inhabit the farthest places in Europe, having started the formation of separate groups of ancient and modern languages of the Indo-European language family.[34]

None of these theories cannot be considered to be proved, because of the absence of convincing linguistic, archeological and anthropological arguments. The first theory is the best grounded, according to which the motherland area included the territories of modern Ukraine and Poland.

All the researchers agree that „Indo-European” conquest of Europe, whenever and wherever it started, finished in the epoch of Bronze (the end of 3rd2nd century B.C.), when the Indo-Europeans assimilated almost entirely with the ancient Neolithic people of Western, Central and Eastern Europe. The last nations inhabiting these vast historico-geographical regions before the Indo-European (for example, the Etruscans) disappeared in the 1st century B.C. The exception are Basques, whose language is considered to be linguistically isolated and cannot be classified within any language group.

[1] More detailed info about this  К. П. Бунятян, Давнє населення України, Kиїв 1999, p. 91.

[2] В. Н. Станко, М. І. Гладких, С. П. Сегеда, Історія первісного суспільства, Київ 1999, p. 179180.

[3] J. Piontek, A. Marciniak, Człowiek. Pierwsze cywilizacje, [In:] Wielka Encyklopedia Geografii Świata, P. 9, Poznań 1998, p. 113.

[4] See: Дж. Мелларт, Археология Ближнего Востока, Москва 1982.

[5] Н. С. Котова, Неолитизация Украины, Луганск 2002.

[6] В. С. Титов, Культура линейно-ленчатой керамики, [In:] Археология Венгрии, Москва 1980, p. 253288; S. Marinesku-Bilcu, Tirpestifrom Prehistory to History in Eastern Romania, „British Archeological Report International Series”, Oxford 1981,107, p. 187.

[7] К. П. Бунятян, Давнє населення…, p. 126.

[8] Н. С. Котова, Буго-Дністровська культура [In:] Енциклопедія трипільської культури (in two parts), P. 2, Київ 2004, p. 72.

[9] J. Piontek, A. Marciniak, Człowiek. Pierwsze cywilizacje, p. 117.

[10] http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehistoria_ziem_polskich

[11] Енциклопедія трипільської культури (in two parts), P. 2, Київ 2004, p. 580.

[12] В. В. Хвойко, Каменный век Среднего Поднепровья, [In:] Труды Х Археологического съезда, P. 1, Москва 1901, p. 736812.

[13] Первісне суспільство, p. 243.

[14] М. Ю. Відейко, Трипільська цивілізація, Київ 2003, p. 123127.

[15] М. М. Шмаглій, М. Ю. Відейко, Трипільські протоміста, „Археологія”, № 3, 1993, p. 6253.

[16] С. Плачинда, Коли постала держава Україна, „Столиця”, № 12 (57), 1997, p. 10.

[17] В. Петров, Походження українського народу, Київ 1992, p. 34.

[18] The leading archeological institution of Ukraine is the Institute of Archeology at the National Academy of Science, where about 100 scientists work.

[19] See, for example: Л. Л. Залізняк, Про трипільців, семітів та нардепів-трипіллязнавців, „Дзеркало тижня”, № 18/493, 15–21 May 2004.

[20] Первісне суспільство, p. 168, 275.

[21] Д. Я. Телегін, Середньостогівська культура епохи міді, Київ 1973.

[22] М. С. Великанова, Палеоантропология Прутско-Днестровского Междуречья, Москва 1975, p. 18.

[23] Етнічна історія давньої України, Київ 2000, p. 20.

[24] J. Piontek, A. Marciniak, Człowiek. Pierwsze cywilizacje, p. 117.

[25] P. Kaczanowski, J. K. Kozłowski, Najdawniejsze dzieje ziem polskich, [In:] Wielka historia Polski, P. 1, Kraków 1998, p. 117123.

[26] М. Ю. Відейко, Трипільська цивілізація…, c. 61.

[27] Первісне суспільство, c. 247.

[28] А. Л. Монгайт, Археология Западной Европы, P. 1, Москва 1973, c. 278279; И. К. Свешников, Культура шаровидных амфор, [In:] Свод археологических источников, Москва 1983.

[29] Л. Л. Залізняк, Нариси стародавньої історії України, Київ 1994, p. 86.

[30] More detailed info about this: Т. В. Гамкрелидзе, В. В. Иванов, Индоевропейский язык и индоевропейцы, P. 1, 2, Тбилиси 1984.

[31] L. Kilian, Zum Ursprung der Indogermanen, Bonn 1983; J. Makkay, A Neolithic Model of Indo-European Prehistory, „The Journal of Indo-European Studies”, 1992, Vol. 20,34 etc.

[32] The last modifications of this theory see: J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans, London 1989; D. W. Anthony, The Archaeology of Indo-European origins, „The Journal of Indo-European Studies”, Vol. 19,34, 1991.

[33] Т. В. Гамкрелидзе, В. В. Иванов, Индоевропейский язык и индоевропейцы.

[34] C. Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London 1987. See also: К. Ренфрю, Происхождение индоевропейских языков, „В мире науки”, 1989,2, p. 7281. The same: Разнообразие языков мира, распространение земледелия и индоевропейская проблема, „Вестник Древней Истории” 1998,3, p. 112121.