> Volume 294, Number 5544, Issue of 2 Nov 2001, pp. 988-989.
> Spreading the Word, Scattering the Seeds
> Ben Shouse
> CAMBRIDGE, U.K.--According to the "farming-language dispersal hypothesis,"
> throngs of farmers, armed with seeds, genes, and language, swept across
> the land beginning 100 centuries ago, pushing aside indigenous
Well, the farming-language dispersal hypothesis exists in several versions,
of course. But by far the most prominent version is the one developed by
the archaeologist Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University -- and Renfrew's
version is not quite as described here.
In Renfrew's view, farming spread across the landscape together with
languages, but there was little associated movement of peoples or genes.
In other words, hunter-gatherers accepted farming from their farmer
neighbors, and at the same time accepted the languages of those farmers,
but few people moved, and there were no massive displacements of
populations. All that spread was farming and languages.
It is true, though, that linguists have problems with this fascinating
scenario. Most obviously, Renfrew's interpretation requires the
Indo-European languages to have begun spreading across Europe, from the
Near East, about 9-10,000 years ago -- in line with the archaeological
evidence for the spread of farming. But this is too early for us
linguists. All the linguistic evience points strongly to the conclusion
that the ancestor of the Indo-European languages -- Proto-Indo-European --
must still have been spoken as a unified and localized language
approximately 6000 years ago, and that its descendants could only have
started spreading out -- by whatever means -- after that date, by which
time farming had already long been established in much of the territory
which is historically Indo-European-speaking. Pushing the spread of the IE
languages several thousand years further back into the past requires that
these languages should have spread out over a wide area and then not
changed at all for 3000 years or more -- a linguistic impossibility.
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