Kurgan hypothesis

Map of Indo-European migrations from c. 4000 to 1000 BC according to the Kurgan model. The magenta area corresponds to the assumed urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture). The red area corresponds to the area that may have been settled by Indo-European-speaking peoples up to c. 2500 BC, and the orange area by 1000 BC.

The Kurgan hypothesis (also known as the Kurgan theory or Kurgan model) or steppe theory is the most widely accepted proposal to identify the Proto-Indo-European homeland from which the Indo-European languages spread out throughout Europe, Eurasia and parts of Asia.[a][b] It postulates that the people of a Kurgan culture in the Pontic steppe north of the Black Sea were the most likely speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE). The term is derived from the Russian kurgan (курга́н), meaning tumulus or burial mound.

The Kurgan hypothesis was first formulated in the 1950s by Marija Gimbutas, who used the term to group various cultures, including the Yamnaya, or Pit Grave, culture and its predecessors. David Anthony instead uses the core Yamnaya culture and its relationship with other cultures as a point of reference.

Marija Gimbutas defined the Kurgan culture as composed of four successive periods, with the earliest (Kurgan I) including the Samara and Seroglazovo cultures of the DnieperVolga region in the Copper Age (early 4th millennium BC). The people of these cultures were nomadic pastoralists, who, according to the model, by the early 3rd millennium BC had expanded throughout the Pontic–Caspian steppe and into Eastern Europe.[3]

Three genetic studies in 2015 gave partial support to Gimbutas's Kurgan theory regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a is also common in South Asia) would have expanded from the Russian and Ukrainian steppes, along with the Indo-European languages; they also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo-European languages.[4][5][6]



Arguments for the identification of the Proto-Indo-Europeans as steppe nomads from the Pontic–Caspian region had already been made in the 19th century by German philologists Theodor Benfey[7] and especially Otto Schrader.[8][9] In his standard work[10] about PIE and to a greater extent in a later abbreviated version,[11] Karl Brugmann took the view that the urheimat could not be identified exactly at that time, but he tended toward Schrader's view. However, after Karl Penka's 1883[12] rejection of non-European origins, most scholars favoured a Northern European origin. The view of a Pontic origin was still strongly favoured, e.g., by the archaeologists V. Gordon Childe[13] and Ernst Wahle.[14] One of Wahle's students was Jonas Puzinas, who in turn was one of Gimbutas's teachers. Gimbutas, who acknowledges Schrader as a precursor,[15] was able to marshal a wealth of archaeological evidence from the territory of the Soviet Union (and other countries then belonging to the eastern bloc) not readily available to scholars from western countries,[16] enabling her to achieve a fuller picture of prehistoric Europe.


When it was first proposed in 1956, in The Prehistory of Eastern Europe, Part 1, Marija Gimbutas's contribution to the search for Indo-European origins was an interdisciplinary synthesis of archaeology and linguistics. The Kurgan model of Indo-European origins identifies the Pontic–Caspian steppe as the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) urheimat, and a variety of late PIE dialects are assumed to have been spoken across the region. According to this model, the Kurgan culture gradually expanded until it encompassed the entire Pontic–Caspian steppe, Kurgan IV being identified with the Yamnaya culture of around 3000 BC.

The mobility of the Kurgan culture facilitated its expansion over the entire region, and is attributed to the domestication of the horse and later the use of early chariots.[c] The first strong archaeological evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from the Sredny Stog culture north of the Azov Sea in Ukraine, and would correspond to an early PIE or pre-PIE nucleus of the 5th millennium BC.[c] Subsequent expansion beyond the steppes led to hybrid, or in Gimbutas's terms "kurganized" cultures, such as the Globular Amphora culture to the west. From these kurganized cultures came the immigration of Proto-Greeks to the Balkans and the nomadic Indo-Iranian cultures to the east around 2500 BC.

Other Languages
Esperanto: Kurgana hipotezo
한국어: 쿠르간 가설
Bahasa Indonesia: Hipotesis Kurgan
Nederlands: Koerganhypothese
português: Hipótese Kurgan
Simple English: Kurgan hypothesis
slovenščina: Kurganska hipoteza
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Kurganska hipoteza
Türkçe: Kurgan hipotezi
українська: Курганна гіпотеза
中文: 墳塚假說