Kurgan hypothesis

The Kurgan hypothesis, introduced by Marija Gimbutas in 1956, combines archeology data with that of linguistics to try to locate the original focus of Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE). The name comes from the Russian term of Turkish origin, “kurgan”, which means tumuli characteristics of these peoples and mark their expansion in Europe.

German philologists are the first to look for an Indo-European home outside the Middle East. Theodor Benfey first proposes southern Russia; Otto Schrader then specifies the Pontic steppe. As a result of Karl Penka’s refutation, based on racial reasoning to argue a home in Europe, western or central Europe is now accepted by most researchers. However, some still prefer a steppe home, including philologist Karl Brugmann and archaeologists V. Gordon Childe and Ernst Wahle. Jonas Puzinas, a Lithuanian archaeologist and disciple of Wahle, still favors the Pontic steppe, especially when he was a teacher of Marija Gimbutas. The latter, by synthesizing Soviet archaeological discoveries hitherto ignored by the West, eventually developed the “Kurgan hypothesis” in 1956. This hypothesis, which has had a strong impact on Indo-European studies, presupposes a gradual expansion of “kurgan culture” from its original basin of the Dnieper, Don and Volga regions (first half of the millennium BC) , until embracing the entire Pontic steppe during the Bronze Age (first half of the millennium BC). Marija Gimbutas, the main researcher at the origin of this hypothesis, insists on the diffusion of the bronze metallurgy to follow the dispersion of the Kurgan people and she defines the kurgan as a cultural evolution which.

The hypothesis of Gimbutas divides the kurgan culture into four stages (Kurgan I, II, III and IV) and identifies three waves of expansions (I, II and III): Gradually, because of his mastery of the horse, this civilization knows an important geographical dispersion, resulting in the “kourganisation” (according to Gimbutas’ word) of the North-Pontic cultures and, beyond, of Europe. Marija Gimbutas relies on a very comprehensive analysis of the material found in Russia, Ukraine and Poland. In a series of articles, published between 1968 and 1979, it clarifies and deepens the conclusions made in 1958. In the 1970s, Marija Gimbutas reformulated her hypothesis, defining what she called la as an agglomerate of.

Subsequently, some, notably Puzant Topalian in the Armenian literary magazine Meneq (“Our opinion”), affirm the absence of kinship ties between the culture of Kurgan and the culture of Corded Ceramics.

Marija Gimbutas has continued to evolve her hypothesis: her successive formulations are based on a chronology and on archaeological material uncovered since the 1930s. These evolutions are largely related to the problems of dating artefacts by the use of radiocarbon.

In 1952, Gimbutas exposed his vision of the evolution of Indo-Europeans in a balanced way, in a non-racialist but culturalist approach (it is not so much the expansion of a conquering people as the expansion, that is, adoption, techniques and languages): this approach integrates the results of Soviet research on Pontic Neolithic populations. About ten years after his first writings on the subject, Gimbutas places the starting point of the Kurgan civilization east of the interfluve Don-Volga. Until the end of her life, Gimbutas continues to integrate the new results into her theory: thus, she updates the chronology and certain elements of her first writings, radically modifying the meaning. It was in the 1970s that Gimbutas’ hypothesis took its definitive form, not in the form of a clear and explicit summary of his theses but by a sum of articles and texts retouched. It is especially his principal pupil, James Mallory, who formulates with the most force: in his eyes, the kurgans constitute the mark of a society more and more unequalitarian.

Beyond the evolutions since the initial formulation of the 1950s, there are points in common between the various variants of the hypothesis. Thus, Gimbutas does not question the idea of ​​an original home east of the Don or a chronology in four periods, but the latter is refined. It describes the assimilation of the North Pontic culture by the three waves of expansion “kurganes”. According to Demoule in his essay But Where Have the Indo-Europeans Passed (2014), the cultural fragmentation of the beginning of the millennium is evidenced by the artifacts uncovered that show less wealth and dispersiontechniques, resulting in crops sharing many common traits, within the framework of strong regional disparities.

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