A note yesterday from Russell Gray:
Hi Mark, we have a paper out in Science today. I've attached a copy plus a link to a website where we give a more accessible account of the paper. I expect this will be rather controversial again but we have been very thorough both with improving the quality of the data and with testing the robustness of our geographic inferences.
The link is http://language.cs.auckland.ac.nz
That link goes to an excellent and freely-available site, which contains essentially all of the information in the Science paper, presented in a more accessible way with additional background. There are even animated maps!
The Science paper is Bouckaert, R., Lemey, P., Dunn, M., Greenhill, S. J., Alekseyenko, A. V., Drummond, A. J., Gray, R. D., Suchard, M. A., & Atkinson, Q. D., "Mapping the origins and expansion of the Indo-European language family", Science, 337:957–960.
There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, together with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, to explicitly model the expansion of the family and test these hypotheses. We found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin. Both the inferred timing and root location of the Indo-European language trees fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8000 to 9500 years ago. These results highlight the critical role that phylogeographic inference can play in resolving debates about human prehistory.
Nicholas Wade ("Family Tree of Languages Has Roots in Anatolia, Biologists Say", NYT 8/23/2012) quotes the competition:
[These] results may not sway supporters of the rival theory, who believe the Indo-European languages were spread some 5,000 years later by warlike pastoralists who conquered Europe and India from the Black Sea steppe.
A key piece of their evidence is that proto-Indo-European had a vocabulary for chariots and wagons that included words for “wheel,” “axle,” “harness-pole” and “to go or convey in a vehicle.” These words have numerous descendants in the Indo-European daughter languages. So Indo-European itself cannot have fragmented into those daughter languages, historical linguists argue, before the invention of chariots and wagons, the earliest known examples of which date to 3500 B.C. This would rule out any connection between Indo-European and the spread of agriculture from Anatolia, which occurred much earlier.
“I see the wheeled-vehicle evidence as a trump card over any evolutionary tree,” said David Anthony, an archaeologist at Hartwick College who studies Indo-European origins.
I haven't read the new Science paper carefully. So I'll close for now with a partial list of topically- or methodologically-relevant LLOG posts:
"Dating Indo-European", 12/10/2003
"Ticks and tocks of glottoclocks", 12/11/2003
"Glottochronology revisted, very carefully", 4/25/2004
"More on Gray and Atkinson", 4/28/2004
"Gray and Atkinson – Use of binary characters", 4/28/2004
"The Linguistic Diversity of Aboriginal Europe", 1/6/2009
"Horse and wheel in the early history of Indo-European", 1/10/2009
"More on IE wheels and horses", 1/10/2009
"Inheritance versus lexical borrowing: a case with decisive sound-change evidence", 1/13/2009
"Some Wanderwörter in Indo-European languages", 1/16/2009
"New results on Austronesian linguistic phylogeny", 1/23/2009
"Don Ringe ties up some loose ends", 2/20/2009
Some other coverage:
Heather Pringle, "New Method Puts Elusive Indo-European Homeland in Anatolia", Science News & Analysis 8/24/2012
"Hristio Boytchev, "Researchers identify present day Turkey as origin of Indo-European languages", Washington Post 8/23/2012
Alyssa Joyce, "Disease Maps Pinpoint Origin of Indeo-European Languages", Scientific American 8/23/2012
Razib Khan, "There are more things in prehistory than are dreamt of in our urheimat", Gene Expression 8/23/2012