Megalithic site, standing stone, dolmens

Indo-European peoples swept from the east into Europe, bringing their culture and language that displaced much of the Neolithic traditions that had held sway for millennia, but are now mostly lost to the dirt and ashes.

But some remnants of the peoples now known only as the Funnel Beaker Culture survive on in many European words, according to a new study in the American Journal of Archaeology.

Starting about 5,000 years ago, the Yamnaya culture from the Caspian steppe brought most of its words into Europe. They included terms for everyday ancient life: the root terms for “wheel,” “wagon,” “cow,” and “horse,” thus held sway on the tongues of Stone Age Europe. But those ancient immigrants bringing their language from Asia did not have words for certain local plants and animals and other phenomena: “turnip,” “shrimp,” “pea,” sturgeon,” and “bean” all fit into this category, according to the historians and linguists from the University of Copenhagen.

So instead, the native cultures that had dominated Europe prior to the influx of populations supplied their traditional words for the native flora and fauna.

(To date, almost all the modern European languages are shaped by Indo-European influence, except for Basque, Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian).

By assessing the linguistic roots of the tongues of Europe – and comparing them with the physical archaeological evidence from so long ago – the scientists determined that the southern part of Scandinavia must have been the place where the Funnel Beaker Culture mingled and merged influences with the Yamnaya-influenced Single Grave Culture.

“The new Single Grave Culture is likely to have adopted much farming and hunting terminology from the local Funnel Beaker Culture that inhabited southern Scandinavia and Denmark until around 2600 B.C.,” said Guus Kroonen, one of the authors, an historical linguist. “There is a cluster of words in European languages such as Danish, English, and German [that] stand out because they do not conform to the established sound changes of Indo-European vocabulary.”