During the last Ice Age, the Paleolithic cultures of Europe were naturally barred from the Asian part of the Eurasian continent by the large ice sheets, the Ural mountains, a Caspian Sea three times larger than what it is today, the Caucasus mountains and the Black Sea which poured into the Meditterranean with a much broader flow. Only through Anatolia (Turkey) and through small paths south of the Urals could people enter, and enter they did in three major waves; one happening 50.000 years ago, another 35.000 years ago, and the last, a mere 20.000 years ago.
More or less half of all Europeans today descend directly from these first Ice Age Europeans, and we all carry about 50 % of their DNA. The rest stems from later migrations into Europe, particularly the Indoeuropean kind.
Of languages, it is possible that Proto-Uralic (the ancestor of Finnic and Ugric languages such as Hungarian) was a part of the easternmost European languages of the Ice Age. It is also possible that Basque descend from a proto-Iberian language.
On the Asian side of the Urals/Caucasus were people who may have been Proto-Indoeuropeans. Proto-Turks also lived much further east than most of them do today. To the southeast were people who may have been Proto-Sumerians, and others who spoke Proto-Afro-Asiatic languages (the ancestors of Old Egyptians and Semitic languages).
Here is a map picturing the cultural regions associated with particular language families and their origins (the “Proto-language”). It is unknown exactly what languages were spoken in Europe prior to the Indoeuropean expansion because these languages went extinct eventually. All European languages possess words and forms descended from these extinct languages, as they blended with the new languages that were to come later.
Doggerland was a piece of land between England and Denmark/Norway that emerged after the ice sheets receded, but which then got flooded. The Doggerland people were among the earliest migrants into Scandinavia after the Ice Age, just as they were among the first to settle Brittannia.
The next map shows from what regions the first Scandinavians emerged:
- The Ice Age Iberian culture that had survived after the Magdalenian culture got dispersed into several tribes. People from Iberia migrated first into the new land that had emerged from the ice, Doggerland, and from then into Denmark and Norway.
- The Danube river culture
- The Balkan/ Don river culture
- Uralic culture with added genomes from East Asia (Proto-Mongolian).
In all modern Scandinavians, there are some traces of each of these ancestors. The East Asian input is particularly evident among the Sámi, as it is among other Finno-Ugric groups such as the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia.
During the Neolithic, many different and quite expansive, stable and long-lasting cultures emerged in Europe. This happened just as the Indoeuropean Jamna/Yamnaya culture group emerged just to the east of the border between Europe and Asia, north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus.
While the European Neolithic peoples were largely sedentary, agricultural and remarkably peaceful compared to later eras, the Indoeuropean Yamnaya was a shepherding, nomadic culture just like their Semitic neighbours to the south of the Caucasus, and just as the latter would challenge the early civilizations of the Middle East and North Africa, so the Indoeuropeans would challenge the cultures of Old Europe and of the Indus Valley civilization. People who lived further to the north in Scandinavia and Finland remained hunter-gatherers for a long time still.
The next map shows the Indoeuropean expansion through archaeology; how the Yamnaya culture expanded and influenced a new culture that was to dominate in Northern Europe, often called the Beaker Bell culture, the Corded Ware culture, or the Battle Axe culture. These were the people who eventually brought the Indoeuropean language structure into Scandinavia and many other places in Europe.
The next map shows the expansion of Indoeuropean language branches into Europe, Iran, Pakistan and India (at the cost of what had been before). For the most part, the Indoeuropeans adopted any cultural system that they encountered; In southeast Europe and Asia, they simply took over the previous civilizations; in northwestern Europe they made do with the somewhat more barbarian forms of life that they found there, and which they were used to. They took dominating positions, married the local women and influenced language and religion and societal structure, to what degree appears to have varied depending on the strength of the previous culture that they tried to dominate.
Some of the Indoeuropan brances are now extinct, such as the Anatolian. Many Indoeuropean groups moved into Anatolia (present day Turkey), and spoke “Anatolian” languages, but these went extinct as their cultures crumbled and gave way to Turkic peoples who came later. The majority of European languages today, as well as a great number of Asian languages such as Hindi, Urdu and Iranian, are Indoeuropean of origin.
The main branches of the Indoeuropean language family.:
- Anatolian (extinct)