Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The EUROLITHIC project

Why do we have the languages that we speak in Europe today? When in European prehistory did these languages establish themselves, and what where the prehistoric mechanisms behind the formation of the historical European linguistic landscape?

Duration
2017  -   2022
Contact
Guus Kroonen
Funding
ERC Starting Grant ERC Starting Grant
Partners

Kristian Kristiansen, University of Gothenburg

Image: Minna Sundberg

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. The origin of the European languages is therefore a matter of intense academic debate among linguists, archaeologists and increasingly geneticists.

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. The interactions of potentially all of these groups lies fossilized in the vocabularies of the European Indo-European languages, many of which are still spoken today.

The EUROLITHIC project consists of an interdisciplinary core team of historical linguists and (bio)archaeologists. By mining the vocabularies of different European subgroups for cultural features and linking the results to the archaeological and archaeogenomic records, the team will trace the movements and contacts of the different Indo-European language communities through space and time, thus solving important pieces of the puzzle of European prehistory.

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