Indo-European tongues from Turkey

Friday, November 28, 2003 Posted: 9:23 AM EST (1423 GMT)

LONDON (Reuters) -- Farmers in an area that is now in Turkey may have spoken the first words of Indo-European languages around 8,000 years ago, researchers said.

Indo-European languages, which include Greek, Latin, English and Sanskrit among many others, originated thousands of years ago but their roots have been hotly debated by experts.

One theory is that nomadic Kurgan horsemen from the steppes of Asia started the spread of Indo-European languages about 6,000 years ago during their conquest of Europe and the Near East.

But other experts believe it started in Anatolia, now in Turkey, and expanded with the spread of agriculture.

Russell Gray and Quentin Atkinson, of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said in a report in the science journal Nature this week that their analysis, which is based on evolutionary biology techniques, "is consistent with the Anatolian farming theory."

In a commentary on the research, David Searls of the Bioinformatics Division of GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals said Gray and Atkinson calibrated and cross-validated branchings of the language tree against known historical events.

"The range appears to be several millennia too early to support a prominent theory that the proto-language was disseminated by nomadic Kurgan horseman," he added.