Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The EUROLITHIC project

Nowadays, most Europeans speak a language belonging to the Indo-European language family. However, very different languages were spoken on our continent before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. The EUROLITHIC project tries to find answers to the question which languages these were and where they came from.

2017 - 2022
Guus Kroonen
ERC Starting Grant ERC Starting Grant

Kristian Kristiansen, University of Gothenburg

Since the dawn of history, Europe has been covered by a patchwork of Indo-European dialects: Germanic, Celtic, Italic, Balto-Slavic and Greek. Over the centuries, these dialects evolved into the modern European languages, among which number Russian, Italian, German, Lithuanian and Swedish, as well as the global lingua francas French, Spanish, and English.

The Indo-Europeanization of Europe was probably one of the most profound events ever to have taken place in the prehistory of the continent, and ultimately resulted in the extinction of all previously spoken languages except Basque.

From the palaeogenetic data, we know that three major prehistoric ancestry groups contributed to the European gene pool: 1) hunter-gatherers that repopulated Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum, 2) Neolithic farmers that colonized the continent from the Near East and Anatolia, and 3) Eneolithic nomadic pastoralists that settled Europe from the West Eurasian steppe.

Some of the prehistoric interactions of these groups left traces in the vocabularies of the European Indo-European languages, many of which are still spoken today. The EUROLITHIC project focuses on collecting and analyzing the linguistic evidence for the prehistoric language contacts between incoming Indo-European groups. By tracing the words they adopted from non-Indo-European, Late Neolithic speech communities, it is possible to learn more about the languages that were spoken in Europe before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans.

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