Institute of Archaeology


Archaeology and Language Revisited

07 February 2024, 6:30 pm–7:30 pm

A colorful graphic showing probability distributions (graph) for Indo-European languages

Paul Heggarty (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima) will give a Guest Lecture at the UCL Institute of Archaeology on 7 February.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Prof Stephen Shennan


Archaeology Lecture Theatre G6
UCL Institute of Archaeology
31-34 Gordon Square

The Institute of Archaeology World Archaeology Section is pleased to announce a Guest Lecture by Dr Paul Heggarty of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima (formerly of Max Planck Institute For Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena): Archaeology and Language Revisited: A New Database, Family Tree and Origins Hypothesis for the Indo-European Language Family

All welcome!


Long before archaeology came of age, a predecessor discipline had already proven how some vast expansive processes, deep in prehistory, must have shaped the demography and culture of Eurasia.  The great ‘Indo-European’ family of languages all stemmed from just a single common source — but where, when, and why? 

It fell essentially to archaeologists — not least Gimbutas and Renfrew — to forge the great debate on how Indo-European could have come to exist at all.  After decades of stand-off, the ancient DNA revolution has suddenly brought a tantalising sense of end-game.  And now, a recent article in Science* presents a new large-scale database and time-calibrated Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of the family tree of the Indo-European languages themselves.  The result is a controversial new chronology, with repercussions potentially akin to the radiocarbon revolution in archaeology.

Indo-European is dated to c. 8120 years ago, as a central estimate of when its proto-language first began to spread and diverge.  This date — significantly earlier than commonly assumed — and the multiple deep and early branches in the Indo-European family tree, fit fully with neither the farming nor the Steppe pastoralist hypothesis for its origins.  Instead, separate aspects of each combine into a ‘hybrid’ hypothesis:  Indo-European originated in the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent, and only some of its main branches later came through the Steppe, as a secondary staging-post. 

In this talk, the paper’s first author sets out all aspects and controversies in the field, including: claims on the roles of the wheel and horse; methodology for Bayesian phylogenetic analysis of language families; the crucial Indo-Iranic branch; and how the ancient DNA record might also correspond to a hybrid hypothesis of Indo-European origins.