Who were the Pre-Indo-Europeans?
November 2, 2014 1:57 AM   Subscribe

What are the latest studies on Pre-Indo-European culture, and what's the current thoughts on Marija Gimbutas' work?

So, I'm fascinated by pre-Indo-European Europe and the Kurgan hypothesis, even though I once had an art history teacher who was the biggest Gimbutas zealot ever. (It made for a bizarre class, that was for sure. She spent an inordinate amount of time on cave paintings, and she would wax poetic at length about the matriarchal glories of Old Europe and the evils that the Indo-Europeans brought to this goddess-worshiping Garden of Eden. I'm not really exaggerating either.)

I've also read a number of historical romances (almost all written in the 60s and '70s) which contrast the earth-centric goddess-loving matriarchal pre-Indo European societies with the patriarchal Indo-European nomads with their macho gods and horses. A lot of them were terrible, but I always wanted to research the subject more.

So, I'm skeptical about how much of a blissful Eden pre-Indo European Europe was; but I find the idea of a Europe so ancient and different from what we know now to be wonderfully haunting and evocative. I love imagining a Europe shrouded in primeval forests, populated by cultures that are as lost to us as the mysterious folk who built the vast ruins found by King Juba during his expedition of the Canary Islands in 50 BC.

I mean, sure, I know I'm romanticizing here, and likely the lives of many aboriginal Europeans were nasty, brutish and short, but I'd sure like to know more about them, as opposed to "the people we vaguely know lived before the Proto-Indo-Europeans." Çatalhöyük, Göbekli Tepe and the Vinča culture are all fascinating places.

I've read Don Ringe's essays on this, and it's very interesting, but most of what I've found trying to dig up "pre-Indo-European" material just brings up stuff that's thirty or forty years old. (And if I google Paleo-Europe, the concept of the Pre-Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European culture clash is usually brushed over.)

So, what's the latest work on Pre-Indo-European Europe, and what do scholars now think of Gimbutas's ideas? Are Gimbutas's ideas considered to have any merit? Was the culture of those aboriginal European societies markedly different from the Indo-European immigrants?
posted by suburbanbeatnik to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I presume you've read David Anthony's The Horse, The Wheel & Language?
posted by kariebookish at 4:36 AM on November 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

So, what's the latest work on Pre-Indo-European Europe

Welcome to the world of whole-genome sequencing from ancient remains: Ancient human genomes suggest three ancestral populations for present-day Europeans
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:50 AM on November 2, 2014

More reader-friendly BBC article, Making of Europe unlocked by DNA
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:57 AM on November 2, 2014

Well, that's interesting, but I already knew something of that.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:27 AM on November 2, 2014

Seconding The Horse, the Wheel, and Language.

Short David Anthony:
  1. Gimbutas is correct that the Kurgan cultures that appeared in Eurasian Steppes and later in Europe were definitely the Indo-Europeans. The archeological evidence is overwhelming (according to Anthony).
  2. Gimbutas's narrative of a peaceful, matriarchal pre-Indo-European culture being invaded and conquered by the patriarchal Indo-Europeans is way too simplistic. Yes, the Kurgan cultures were more warlike, but archeological evidence shows they were't populous enough to field armies that could conquer neighboring territories.
  3. Instead, Anthony uses linguistic clues to theorize that the Indo-Europeans were an inclusive culture that welcomed foreigners into their ranks, and spread mostly through assimilation.

posted by 1970s Antihero at 1:31 PM on November 2, 2014

In terms of assessing Gimbutas's scholarship, you might want to read Cynthia Eller's Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, which is essentially a book-length critique of your Art History professor's position.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:44 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

According to the steppe hypothesis about the Proto-Indo-Europeans they lived in the steppe north of the Black and Caspian Seas. This hypothesis was proposed by Gimbutas in the 1970s. The hypothesis is supported by a recent study on the Proto-Indo-Europeans, which was published in the March 2015 issue of the scholarly journal Language, in an article entitled "Ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis supports the Indo-European steppe hypothesis". The article is authored by Will Chang, Chundra Cathcart, David Hall and Andrew Garrett.
posted by paulfromgent at 1:25 PM on July 14, 2015

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