Review article on the origin of modern humans: the multiple-dispersal model and Late Pleistocene Asia


Review article On the origin of modern humans: Asian perspectives, by Christopher J. Bae, Katerina Douka, and Michael D. Petraglia, Science (2017)


The earliest fossils of Homo sapiens are located in Africa and dated to the late Middle Pleistocene. At some point later, modern humans dispersed into Asia and reached the far-away locales of Europe, Australia, and eventually the Americas. Given that Neandertals, Denisovans, mid-Pleistocene Homo, and H. floresiensis were present in Asia before the appearance of modern humans, the timing and nature of the spread of modern humans across Eurasia continue to be subjects of intense debate. For instance, did modern humans replace the indigenous populations when moving into new regions? Alternatively, did population contact and interbreeding occur regularly? In terms of behavior, did technological innovations and symbolism facilitate dispersals of modern humans? For example, it is often assumed that only modern humans were capable of using watercraft and navigating to distant locations such as Australia and the Japanese archipelago—destinations that would not have been visible to the naked eye from the departure points, even during glacial stages when sea levels would have been much lower. Moreover, what role did major climatic fluctuations and environmental events (e.g., the Toba volcanic super-eruption) play in the dispersal of modern humans across Asia? Did extirpations of groups occur regularly, and did extinctions of populations take place? Questions such as these are paramount in understanding hominin evolution and Late Pleistocene Asian paleoanthropology.

An increasing number of multidisciplinary field and laboratory projects focused on archaeological sites and fossil localities from different areas of Asia are producing important findings, allowing researchers to address key evolutionary questions that have long perplexed the field. For instance, technological advances have increased our ability to successfully collect ancient DNA from hominin fossils, providing proof that interbreeding occurred on a somewhat regular basis. New finds of H. sapiens fossils, with increasingly secure dating associations, are emerging in different areas of Asia, some seemingly from the first half of the Late Pleistocene. Cultural variability discerned from archaeological studies indicates that modern human behaviors did not simply spread across Asia in a time-transgressive pattern. This regional variation, which is particularly distinct in Southeast Asia, could be related at least in part to environmental and ecological variation (e.g., Palearctic versus Oriental biogeographic zones).

Recent findings from archaeology, hominin paleontology, geochronology, and genetics indicate that the strict “out of Africa” model, which posits that there was only a single dispersal into Eurasia at ~60,000 years ago, is in need of revision. In particular, a multiple-dispersal model, perhaps beginning at the advent of the Late Pleistocene, needs to be examined more closely. An increasingly robust record from Late Pleistocene Asian paleoanthropology is helping to build and establish new views about the origin and dispersal of modern humans.

Map of sites with ages and postulated early and later pathways associated with modern humans dispersing across Asia during the Late Pleistocene.

Read more about the article in Materials provided by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.


Migrations painted by Irish and Scottish genetic clusters, and their relationship with British and European ones


Interesting and related publications, now appearing in pairs…

1. The Irish DNA Atlas: Revealing Fine-Scale Population Structure and History within Ireland, by Gilbert et al., in Scientific Reports (2017).


The extent of population structure within Ireland is largely unknown, as is the impact of historical migrations. Here we illustrate fine-scale genetic structure across Ireland that follows geographic boundaries and present evidence of admixture events into Ireland. Utilising the ‘Irish DNA Atlas’, a cohort (n = 194) of Irish individuals with four generations of ancestry linked to specific regions in Ireland, in combination with 2,039 individuals from the Peoples of the British Isles dataset, we show that the Irish population can be divided in 10 distinct geographically stratified genetic clusters; seven of ‘Gaelic’ Irish ancestry, and three of shared Irish-British ancestry. In addition we observe a major genetic barrier to the north of Ireland in Ulster. Using a reference of 6,760 European individuals and two ancient Irish genomes, we demonstrate high levels of North-West French-like and West Norwegian-like ancestry within Ireland. We show that that our ‘Gaelic’ Irish clusters present homogenous levels of ancient Irish ancestries. We additionally detect admixture events that provide evidence of Norse-Viking gene flow into Ireland, and reflect the Ulster Plantations. Our work informs both on Irish history, as well as the study of Mendelian and complex disease genetics involving populations of Irish ancestry.

The European ancestry profiles of 30 Irish and British clusters. (a) The total ancestry contribution summarised by majority European country of origin to each of the 30 Irish and British clusters. (b) (left) The ancestry contributions of 19 European clusters that donate at least 2.5% ancestry to any one Irish or British cluster. (right) The geographic distribution of the 19 European clusters, shown as the proportion of individuals in each European region belonging to each of the 19 European clusters. The proportion of individuals form each European region not a member of the 19 European clusters is shown in grey. Total numbers of individuals from each region are shown in white text. Not all Europeans included in the analysis were phenotyped geographically. The figure was generated in the statistical software language R46, version 3.4.1, using various packages. The map of Europe was sourced from the R software package “mapdata” (

2. New preprint on BioRxiv, Insular Celtic population structure and genomic footprints of migration, by Byrne, Martiniano et al. (2017).


Previous studies of the genetic landscape of Ireland have suggested homogeneity, with population substructure undetectable using single-marker methods. Here we have harnessed the haplotype-based method fineSTRUCTURE in an Irish genome-wide SNP dataset, identifying 23 discrete genetic clusters which segregate with geographical provenance. Cluster diversity is pronounced in the west of Ireland but reduced in the east where older structure has been eroded by historical migrations. Accordingly, when populations from the neighbouring island of Britain are included, a west-east cline of Celtic-British ancestry is revealed along with a particularly striking correlation between haplotypes and geography across both islands. A strong relationship is revealed between subsets of Northern Irish and Scottish populations, where discordant genetic and geographic affinities reflect major migrations in recent centuries. Additionally, Irish genetic proximity of all Scottish samples likely reflects older strata of communication across the narrowest inter-island crossing. Using GLOBETROTTER we detected Irish admixture signals from Britain and Europe and estimated dates for events consistent with the historical migrations of the Norse-Vikings, the Anglo-Normans and the British Plantations. The influence of the former is greater than previously estimated from Y chromosome haplotypes. In all, we paint a new picture of the genetic landscape of Ireland, revealing structure which should be considered in the design of studies examining rare genetic variation and its association with traits.

Here are some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Population structure in Ireland

The geographical distribution of this deep subdivision of Leinster resembles pre-Norman territorial boundaries which divided Ireland into fifths (cúige), with north Leinster a kingdom of its own known as Meath (Mide) [15]. However interpreted, the firm implication of the observed clustering is that despite its previously reported homogeneity, the modern Irish population exhibits genetic structure that is subtly but detectably affected by ancestral population structure conferred by geographical distance and, possibly, ancestral social structure.

ChromoPainter PC1 demonstrated high diversity amongst clusters from the west coast, which may be attributed to longstanding residual ancient (possibly Celtic) structure in regions largely unaffected by historical migration. Alternatively, genetic clusters may also have diverged as a consequence of differential influence from outside populations. This diversity between western genetic clusters cannot be explained in terms of geographic distance alone.

In contrast to the west of Ireland, eastern individuals exhibited relative homogeneity; (…) The overall pattern of western diversity and eastern homogeneity in Ireland may be explained by increased gene flow and migration into and across the east coast of Ireland from geographically proximal regions, the closest of which is the neighbouring island of Britain.

Analysis of variance of the British admixture component in cluster groups showed a significant difference (p < 2×10-16), indicating a role for British Anglo-Saxon admixture in distinguishing clusters, and ChromoPainter PC2 was correlated with the British component (p < 2×10-16), explaining approximately 43% of the variance. PC2 therefore captures an east to west Anglo-Celtic cline in Irish ancestry. This may explain the relative eastern homogeneity observed in Ireland, which could be a result of the greater English influence in Leinster and the Pale during the period of British rule in Ireland following the Norman invasion, or simply geographic proximity of the Irish east coast to Britain. Notably, the Ulster cluster group harboured an exceptionally large proportion of the British component (Fig 1D and 1E), undoubtedly reflecting the strong influence of the Ulster Plantations in the 17th century and its residual effect on the ethnically British population that has remained.

Fine-grained population structure in Ireland. (A) fineSTRUCTURE clustering dendrogram for 1,035 Irish individuals. Twenty-three clusters are defined, which are combined into cluster groups for clusters that are neighbouring in the dendrogram, overlapping in principal component space (B) and sampled from regions that are geographically contiguous. Details for each cluster in the dendrogram are provided in S1 Fig. (B) Principal components analysis (PCA) of haplotypic similarity, based on ChromoPainter coancestry matrix for Irish individuals. Points are coloured according to cluster groups defined in (A); the median location of each cluster group is plotted. (C) Map of Irelandshowing the sampling location for a subset of 588 individuals analysed in (A) and (B), coloured by cluster group. Points have been randomly jittered within a radius of 5 km to preserve anonymity. Precise sampling location for 44 Northern Irish individuals from the People of the British Isles dataset was unknown; these individuals are plotted geometrically in a circle. (D) “British admixture component” (ADMIXTURE estimates; k=2) for Irish cluster groups. This component has the largest contribution in ancient Anglo-Saxons and the SEE cluster. (E) Linear regression of principal component 2 (B) versus British admixture component (r2 = 0.43; p < 2×10-16). Points are coloured by cluster group. (Standard error for ADMIXTURE point estimates presented in S11 Fig.)

On the genetic structure of the British Isles

The genetic substructure observed in Ireland is consistent with long term geographic diversification of Celtic populations and the continuity shown between modern and Early Bronze Age Irish people

Clusters representing Celtic populations harbouring less Anglo-Saxon influence separate out above and below SEE on PC4. Notably, northern Irish clusters (NLU), Scottish (NISC, SSC and NSC), Cumbria (CUM) and North Wales (NWA) all separate out at a mutually similar level, representing northern Celtic populations. The southern Celtic populations Cornwall (COR), south Wales (SWA) and south Munster (SMN) also separate out on similar levels, indicating some shared haplotypic variation between geographically proximate Celtic populations across both Islands. It is notable that after the split of the ancestrally divergent Orkney, successive ChromoPainter PCs describe diversity in British populations where “Anglo-saxonization” was repelled [22]. PC3 is dominated by Welsh variation, while PC4 in turn splits North and South Wales significantly, placing south Wales adjacent to Cornwall and north Wales at the other extreme with Cumbria, all enclaves where Brittonic languages persisted.

In an interesting symmetry, many Northern Irish samples clustered strongly with southern Scottish and northern English samples, defining the Northern Irish/Cumbrian/Scottish (NICS) cluster group. More generally, by modelling Irish genomes as a linear mixture of haplotypes from British clusters, we found that Scottish and northern English samples donated more haplotypes to clusters in the north of Ireland than to the south, reflecting an overall correlation between Scottish/north English contribution and ChromoPainter PC1 position in Fig 1 (Linear regression: p < 2×10-16, r2 = 0.24).

North to south variation in Ireland and Britain are therefore not independent, reflecting major gene flow between the north of Ireland and Scotland (Fig 5) which resonates with three layers of historical contacts. First, the presence of individuals with strong Irish affinity among the third generation PoBI Scottish sample can be plausibly attributed to major economic migration from Ireland in the 19th and 20th centuries [6]. Second, the large proportion of Northern Irish who retain genomes indistinguishable from those sampled in Scotland accords with the major settlements (including the Ulster Plantation) of mainly Scottish farmers following the 16th Century Elizabethan conquest of Ireland which led to these forming the majority of the Ulster population. Third, the suspected Irish colonisation of Scotland through the Dál Riata maritime kingdom, which expanded across Ulster and the west coast of Scotland in the 6th and 7th centuries, linked to the introduction and spread of Gaelic languages [3]. Such a migratory event could work to homogenise older layers of Scottish population structure, in a similar manner as noted on the east coasts of Britain and Ireland. Earlier communications and movements across the Irish Sea are also likely, which at its narrowest point separates Ireland from Scotland by approximately 20 km.

Genes mirror geography in the British Isles. (A) fineSTRUCTURE clustering dendrogram for combined Irish and British data. Data principally split into Irish and British groups before subdividing into a total of 50 distinct clusters, which are combined into cluster groups for clusters that formed clades in the dendrogram, overlapped in principal component space (B) and were sampled from regions that are geographically contiguous. Names and labels follow the geographical provenance for the majority of data within the cluster group. Details for each cluster in the dendrogram are provided in S2 Fig. (B) Principal component analysis (PCA) of haplotypic similarity based on the ChromoPainter coancestry matrix, coloured by cluster group with their median locations labelled. We have chosen to present PC1 versus PC4 here as these components capture new information regarding correlation between haplotypic variation across Britain and Ireland and geography, while PC2 and PC3 (Fig 4) capture previously reported splitting for Orkney and Wales from Britain [7]. A map of Ireland and Britain is shown for comparison, coloured by sampling regions for cluster groups, the boundaries of which are defined by the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS 2010), with some regions combined. Sampling regions are coloured by the cluster group with the majority presence in the sampling region; some sampling regions have significant minority cluster group representations as well, for example the Northern Ireland sampling region (UKN0; NUTS 2010) is majorly explained by the NICS cluster group but also has significant representation from the NLU cluster group. The PCA plot has been rotated clockwise by 5 degrees to highlight its similarity with the geographical map of the Ireland and Britain. NI, Northern Ireland; PC, principal component. Cluster groups that share names with groups from Fig 1 (NLU; SMN; CLN; CNN) have an average of 80% of their samples shared with the initial cluster groups. © EuroGeographics for the map and administrative boundaries, note some boundaries have been subsumed or modified to better reflect sampling regions.

Genomic footprints of migration into Ireland

Quite interesting is that it is haplogroups, and not admixture, that which defines the oldest migration layers into Ireland. Without evidence of paternal Y-DNA lineages we would probably not be able to ascertain the oldest migrations and languages broght by migrants, including Celtic languages:

Of all the European populations considered, ancestral influence in Irish genomes was best represented by modern Scandinavians and northern Europeans, with a significant single-date one-source admixture event overlapping the historical period of the Norse-Viking settlements in Ireland (p < 0.01; fit quality FQB > 0.985; Fig 6). (…) This suggests a contribution of historical Viking settlement to the contemporary Irish genome and contrasts with previous estimates of Viking ancestry in Ireland based on Y chromosome haplotypes, which have been very low [25]. The modern-day paucity of Norse-Viking Y chromosome haplotypes may be a consequence of drift with the small patrilineal effective population size, or could have social origins with Norse males having less influence after their military defeat and demise as an identifiable community in the 11th century, with persistence of the autosomal signal through recombination.

European admixture date estimates in northwest Ulster did not overlap the Viking age but did include the Norman period and the Plantations

The genetic legacies of the populations of Ireland and Britain are therefore extensively intertwined and, unlike admixture from northern Europe, too complex to model with GLOBETROTTER.

All-Ireland GLOBETROTTER admixture date estimates for European and British surrogate admixing populations. A summary of the date estimates and 95% confidence intervals for inferred admixture events into Ireland from European and British admixing sources is shown in (A), with ancestry proportion estimates for each historical source population for the two events and example coancestry curves shown in (B). In the coancestry curves Relative joint probability estimates the pairwise probability that two haplotype chunks separated by a given genetic distance come from the two modeled source populations respectively (ie FRA(8) and NOR-SG); if a single admixture event occurred, these curves are expected to decay exponentially at a rate corresponding to the number of generations since the event. The green fitted line describes this GLOBETROTTER fitted exponential decay for the coancestry curve. If the sources come from the same ancestral group the slope of this curve will be negative (as with FRA(8) vs FRA(8)), while a positive slope indicates that sources come from different admixing groups (as with FRA(8) vs NOR-SG). The adjacent bar plot shows the inferred genetic composition of the historical admixing sources modelled as a mixture of the sampled modern populations. A European admixture event was estimated by GLOBETROTTER corresponding to the historical record of the Viking age, with major contributions from sources similar to modern Scandinavians and northern Europeans and minor contributions from southern European-like sources. For admixture date estimates from British-like sources the influence of the Norman settlement and the Plantations could not be disentangled, with the point estimate date for admixture falling between these two eras and GLOBETROTTER unable to adequately resolve source and proportion details of admixture event (fit quality FQB< 0.985). The relative noise of the coancestry curves reflects the uncertainty of the British event. Cluster labels (for the European clustering dendrogram, see S4 Fig; for the PoBI clustering dendrogram, see S3 Fig): FRA(8), France cluster 8; NOR-SG, Norway, with significant minor representations from Sweden and Germany; SE_ENG, southeast England; N_SCOT(4) northern Scotland cluster 4.

Another study that strengthens the need to ascertain haplogroup-admixture differences between Yamna/Bell Beaker and Sredni Stog/Corded Ware.

Text and images from preprint article under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license.

Featured image, from the article on Science Reports: The clustering of individuals with Irish and British ancestry based solely on genetics. Shown are 30 clusters identified by fineStructure from 2,103 Irish and British individuals. The dendrogram (left) shows the tree of clusters inferred by fineStructure and the map (right) shows the geographic origin of 192 Atlas Irish individuals and 1,611 British individuals from the Peoples of the British Isles (PoBI) cohort, labelled according to fineStructure cluster membership. Individuals are placed at the average latitude and longitude of either their great-grandparental (Atlas) or grandparental (PoBI) birthplaces. Great Britain is separated into England, Scotland, and Wales. The island of Ireland is split into the four Provinces; Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, and Munster. The outline of Britain was sourced from Global Administrative Areas (2012). GADM database of Global Administrative Areas, version 2.0. The outline of Ireland was sourced from Open Street Map Ireland, Copyright OpenStreetMap Contributors, ( – data available under the Open Database Licence. The figure was plotted in the statistical software language R46, version 3.4.1, with various packages.

Review article about Ancient Genomics, by Pontus Skoglund and Iain Mathieson


A preprint article by two of the most prolific researchers in Human Ancestry is out, and they request feedback: Ancient genomics: a new view into human prehistory and evolution, by Skoglund and Mathieson (2017). Right now, it is downloadable on Dropbox.


The first decade of ancient genomics has revolutionized the study of human prehistory and evolution. We review new insights based on ancient genomic data, including greatly increased resolution of the timing and structure of the out-of-Africa event, the diversification of present-day non-African populations, and the earliest expansions of those populations into Eurasia and America. Prehistoric genomes now document patterns of population continuity and change on every inhabited continent–in particular the effect of agricultural expansions in Africa, Europe and Oceania–and record a history of natural selection that shapes present-day phenotypic diversity. Despite these advances, much remains unknown, in particular about the genomic histories of Asia–the most populous continent, and Africa–the continent that contains the most genetic diversity. Ancient genomes from these and other regions, integrated with a growing understanding of the genomic basis of human phenotypic diversity, will be in focus during the next decade of research in the field.

The paper may be highly recommended as an introduction for anyone interested in the field of Human Ancestry in general.

However, its short summary of steppe ancestry expansion (where the Corded Ware culture predominates) is still reminiscent of the infamous “Yamnaya -> Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker” model set forth by the 2015 Nature articles on the subject, and Kristiansen’s Indo-European Corded Ware theory.

Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine):

The next substantial change is closely related to ancestry that by around 5000 BP extended over a region of more than 2000 miles of the Eurasian steppe, including in individuals associated with the Yamnaya Cultural Complex in far-eastern Europe (1; 38) and with the Afanasievo culture in the central Asian Altai mountains (1). This “steppe” ancestry is itself a mixture between ancestry that is related to Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe and ancestry that is related to both present-day populations (38) and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers (46) from the Caucasus mountains, and also to the populations of Neolithic (11), and Copper Age (56) Iran. Steppe ancestry appeared in southeastern Europe by 6000 BP (72), northeastern Europe around 5000 BP (47) and central Europe at the time of the Corded Ware Complex around 4600 BP (1; 38). These dates are reasonably tight constraints, because in each case there is no evidence of steppe ancestry in individuals immediately preceding these dates (47; 72). Gene flow on the steppe was extensive and bidirectional, as shown by the eastward flow of Anatolian Neolithic ancestry– reaching well into central Eurasia by the time of the Andronovo culture ~3500 BP (1)–and the westward flow of East Asian ancestry–found in individuals associated with the Iron Age Scythian culture close to the Black Sea ~2500 BP (143).

Copper and Bronze Age population movements (14; 78 Martiniano, 2017 #8761; 85; 112), as well as later movements in the Iron Age and Historical period (70; 119) further distributed steppe ancestry around Europe. Present-day western European populations can be modeled as mixtures of these three ancestry components (Mesolithic hunter-gatherer, Anatolian Neolithic and Steppe) (38; 57). In eastern Europe, further shifts in ancestry are the result of additional or distinct gene flow from Anatolia throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age in the Aegean (42; 51; 55; 72; 87), and gene flow from Siberian-related populations in Finland and the Baltic region (38). East-west gene flow also brought new ancestry–related to populations from 265 Copper Age Iran–to the Levant during the Copper and Bronze ages (39; 56).

The geographic structure of these population transformations gave rise to population structure of present-day Europe. For example Anatolian Neolithic ancestry is highest in southern European populations like Sardinians, and lowest in northern European populations (38). Steppe ancestry is at high frequency in north-central Europeans and low in the south. Isolation-by-distance may have contributed to these patterns to some extent, but the contribution must have been small. In much of Europe, extreme population discontinuity was the norm.

Featured image: from the article, “Major Holocene population movements and expansions that have been demonstrated using ancient DNA.”


Effective migration in Western Eurasia reveals fine-scale migration surface features


Interesting poster from SMBE 2017, Maps of effective migration as a summary of global human genetic diversity, by Benjamin Peter, Desislava Petkova, Matthew Stephens & John Novembre, of the JNPopGen group of the University of Chicago.

You can read the full poster in the original PDF, or in compressed image. The following are important excerpts:

Aim: To answer the following questions:

  • Which regions have high/low effective migration?
  • How well is human genetic diversity explained by this pure isolation-by-distance model?
  • How does the explanatory performance of EEMS compare to PCA?

Method: It uses the method proposed by Petkova et al. (2016) to fit a map of time-averaged (effective) migration rates to geographically referenced samples, and merges data from 24 different studies (8740 individuals from 469 populations) to assess human genetic diversity on global and continental scale.

  1. Basic workflow:
    • Merge data, remove duplicated & related individuals.
    • Remove Hunter-Gatherer and recently admixed populations. Their locations are still indicated with (H) and (X), respectively
  2. EEMS analysis
    • Calculate genetic distance matrix between all individuals.
    • Fit migration map to data using EEMS MCMC algorithm
  3. Comparison to PCA: Standard PCA using flashpca (Abraham & Inouye 2014) was used, they compare correlation of genetic distance induced from first ten PCs with the fitted EEMS distance

Interpretation: A continuous habitat is approximated by a discrete grid (light gray). A Bayesian model is used to infer the most likely migration rates, which are given on a log scale compared to the Average (BLUE= 100x higher, BROWN=100x lower

Map of effective migrations in Europe

Results (see maps):

  1. Global diversity patterns correlate with topographical features
  2. In Western Eurasia, EEMS reveals fine-scale migration surface features

Discussion: EEMS Maps are intuitive and direct way to visualize geographically referenced genetic data.

Dense sampling (WEstern Eurasian panel) in particular yields high resolution and accuracy, but the method works well at a global scale (FST=0.06) and just in Western Eurasia (FST=0.01).

EEMS-maps are able to reasonably well predict genetic differences, but hunter-gatherer populations and admixed populations were a priori excluded.

Discovered via Eurogenes. Full image via Reddit.

Rhetoric of debates, discussions and arguments: Useful destructive criticism for scientific & academic research, reasons and personal opinions; the example of Proto-Indo-European language revival

Rhetoric (Wikipedia) is the art of harnessing reason, emotions and authority, through language, with a view to persuade an audience and, by persuading, to convince this audience to act, to pass judgement or to identify with given values. The word derives from PIE root wer-, ‘speak’, as in MIE zero-grade wrdhom, ‘word’, or full-grade werdhom, ‘verb’; from wrētōr ρήτωρ (rhētōr), “orator” [built like e.g. wistōr (<*widtor), Gk. ἵστωρ (histōr), “a wise man, one who knows right, a judge” (from which ‘history’), from PIE root weid-, ‘see, know’]; from that noun is adj. wrētorikós, Gk. ρητορικός (rhētorikós), “oratorical, skilled in speaking”, and fem. wrētorikā, GK ρητορική (rhētorikē). According to Plato, rhetoric is the “art of enchanting the soul”.

When related to Proto-Indo-European language revival, as well as in modern scientific research of any discipline, discussions are sometimes interesting in light of historical rhetoric, as they might get really close to some classical (counter-)argumentative resources, however unknown they are to their users…

Sophists taught that every argument could be countered with an opposing argument, that an argument’s effectiveness derived from how “likely” it appeared to the audience (its probability of seeming true), and that any probability argument could be countered with an inverted probability argument. Thus, if it seemed likely that a strong, poor man were guilty of robbing a rich, weak man, the strong poor man could argue, on the contrary, that this very likelihood (that he would be a suspect) makes it unlikely that he committed the crime, since he would most likely be apprehended for the crime. They also taught and were known for their ability to make the weaker (or worse) argument the stronger (or better).

So, for example, if people might generally think that evolution is very likely to have occured, because of the scientifical data available, one only has to say something like “God put those proofs there to confound people and prove their faith“. And, even if there is no single reason to give why that person is entitled to interpret the Bible that way, and to determine what ‘God thought’ when ‘inventing proofs of a false evolution’, in fact there is no need to give rational arguments: this very likelihood of evolution is in itself a proof of how good God is in cheating us…

Statistics was a discipline mostly unknown to sophists, but I’m sure they more or less imagined the typical bell curve that population beliefs and opinions follow. If interpreted the other way round, one could say that the more an idea is believed by people, the more likely is that someone will come along with another, competing one. In fact, that’s natural evolution, too: without that universal trend that life has to differentiate itself from the normal, matter would have never changed and get more and more complicated…

That trend is observed in research, too, as man is obviously another animal and its intelligence another natural feature subjected to the evolutive machinery of nature. That’s why Occam’s razor is never a sufficient argument to end a research field or hypothesis: you have e.g. Gimbutas’ theories (or Renfrew’s, if you like) – even though obviously not completely proven hypothesis -, about some prehistoric speakers being successful in their conquests and migrations through Eurasia, which infers with logic that what happend with Indo-European languages expansion is what has almost always happened in the known history of language expansion, using the most probable extrapolation they can with the facts we know. But you will still find competing hypothesis about an unlikely millennium-long, peaceful spread and mix of languages through and from Europe or Asia, based on some controversial facts and a great part of imagination. And, even if such theories are far away from what can generally be considered rational, they will certainly find supporters; and it’s not bad that such unlikely ideas emerge: science is built up thanks to some of such marginal ideas which eventually prove true; apart from the million ones that prove false and disappear, and some dozens that are sadly able to remain, like homeopathy or Esperanto-like conlanging, as I’ve said before. The same happens with the human body, which went through mutation obtaining lots of advantages, but at the same time dragging some genetic illnesses along…

About Proto-Indo-European research, it’s more or less straightforward which hypothesis and theories are considered generally accepted, and which ones minority views. Nevertheless, that doesn’t prevent renown experts from accepting some marginal hypothesis in some aspects of PIE reconstruction, while keeping the general view on other ones; neither does that prevent renown linguists and philologists to consider Proto-Indo-European, or comparative and historical grammar in general, an absurd work: the ex-Dean of a southern Spanish University, a Latin professor, deems PIE an “invention”; in his words, “from Lat. pater, Gk. pater, and Eng. father, we say there is a language that said what, ‘pater‘? pfff”; he obviously considers “language=written & renown language system”; the problem with that thought is that if PIE becomes spoken (i.e. written too) and renown, just as Old Latin became Classical Latin – instead of disappearing as the other Italic dialects – the whole reasoning is useless; so it’s also useless now. One of the most famous Indo-Europeanists in Spain, F. Adrados (e.g. marginal supporter of Etruscan as an IE language) and Bernabé (e.g. marginal supporter of the Glottalic theory, I think), even if dedicated to Indo-European reconstruction, deemed PIE revival – in some news in Spanish newspaper El Mundo – a “uthopia“, but considered at the same time possible that Greek and Latin (respectively) became EU’s official language: it’s not that they don’t consider speaking PIE impossible, but only that there are “better” alternatives: better, I guess, for Romance or Greek speakers or philologists…

About Proto-Indo-European language revival for Europe, thus, it is difficult to ascertain if it is the most rational choice, as it is to ascertain if liberal thoughts are more rational than conservative ones. I have lived in other countries within the European Union, and have visited other parts of Spain where the spoken language is not Spanish; from that experience, the different attitudes I’ve found are overwhelming: when you speak in English or German anywhere in Europe, the conversation is everything but fluent; also, if you speak English in the UK, German in Germany, French in France, or Czech in Czechia, even mastering quite well the regional language, you’ll never get the same reaction as if a Catalan (from a Catalan-speaking region) speaks Spanish in, say, Galicia (a Galician-Portuguese speaking region), as both use a language (Spanish) common to both of them. That was also the idea behind the first Esperanto out there, probably Volapük, and it has been the idea behind every conlang trying to be THE International Auxiliary Language since then; and none has succeeded. That was also the idea behind Hebrew revival in Israel, for speakers of a hundred different languages living in the same territory: they had other modern, common languages to choose instead of an ancient, partially incomplete, and “difficult” (in Esperantist terms) one, too, and it succeeded.

Latin use in Europe, on the other hand, has been declining ever since the first Romance dialects developed, and had its latest offcial (i.e. legal) use in Europe, apart from the Catholic church, at the beginning of the XX century in Hungary – curiously enough, a non-Indo-European speaking country. Its revival has been proposed a thousand times since then, but has never recovered its prestige, as Germanic-speaking countries have taken the lead in Western Europe, and Slavic-speaking countries in the East. It is hard to explain now why English- or German- or Polish-speaking peoples should learn and speak again the language of the Romans and the Roman Empire, with which they have little history in common…

The rest of known language revivals, like Cornish or Manx, or even e.g. the partial revival (“sociolect”) of Katharevousa Greek, not to talk about the so-called “revivals” – in fact “language revitalizations” – of Basque, Catalan, Breton, Ukrainian, etc. have been just regionally oriented language (or prestige + vocabulary) revivals with cultural or social purposes.

So, is Proto-Indo-European revival a “correct”, or “sufficiently rational” option, given the known facts? As an opinion, it is neither correct nor incorrect, as being “Indo-Europeanist for Europe” is like being leftist or conservative in politics; just like supporting Hebrew revival wasn’t (a hundred years ago) “sufficiently rational” in itself, and controversy over its revival have never ended. But, the reasons behind PIE revival can and should be questioned, as the reasons behind a conlang adoption (i.e. the concepts of “better” and “easier” when applied to language) can and should be critically reviewed. In Proto-Indo-European, it refers – I think – to two main questions:

1) Did Proto-Indo-European exist? i.e. can we confidently consider any proto-language something different from especulation or mere unproven hypothesis? The answer is “it depends”. Proto-Indo-European was probably a language spoken by prehistorical people, as probable as any generally accepted scientific theory we can support without experimental proofs, like theories on the Universe, its creation or development: they might prove wrong in the future, but – following the necessary abstraction and common sense – it’s not difficult to accept most individual premises and facts surrounding them. That migh be said about proto-languages like Proto-Slavic (ca. 1 AD), Proto-Germanic (ca. 1000 BC), Proto-Greek or Proto-Indo-Iranian (ca. 2000 BC) or Proto-Indo-European, especially about its European or North-Western subbranch (ca. 2500-2000 BC); on the other hand, however, about proto-languages like ‘Proto-Eurasiatic’ or ‘Proto-Nostratic’, or ‘Proto-Indo-Tyrrhenian’, or ‘Proto-Thraco-Illyrian’, or ‘Proto-Indo-Uralic’, or ‘Proto-Italo-Celtic’ (or even Proto-Italic), or ‘Proto-Balto-Slavic’, and the hundred other proposed combinations, it is impossible to prove beyond doubt if and when they were languages at all.

2) Is the Proto-Indo-European reconstruction trustable enough to be “revived”? i.e. can we consider it a speakable language, or just a linguistic theoretical approach? Again, it depends, but here mostly mixed with political opinions. In light of Ancient Hebrew – a language that ceased to be spoken 2500 years ago -, “revived” as a modern language introducing thousands of newly coined terms – many of them from Indo-European origin -, to the point that some want to name it “Israeli”, instead of “Hebrew” (as we call MIE “European” or “Europaio” instead of “Indo-European”), I guess the answer is clearly yes, it’s possible: in any possible case, Indo-European languages have a continuated history of more than 4000 years, and modern terms need only (in most cases) a sound-law adjustment to be translated into PIE. Also, in light of the other proto-languages with a high scientifical basis and a similar time span, like Proto-Uralic, Proto-Semitic or Proto-Dravidian, there is no possible comparison with Proto-Indo-European: while PIE is practically a fully reconstructed and well-known language without written texts to ‘confirm’ our knowledge, the rest are just experimental (mainly vocabulary-based) reconstructions. There are, thus, proto-languages and proto-languages, as there are well-known natural dead languages and poorly attested ones; PIE is therefore one of the few ones which might be called today a real, natural language, like Proto-Germanic, Proto-Slavic or Proto-Indo-Aryan.

However, anti-Europeanists (or, better, anti-Indo-Europeanists for the European Union) won’t find it difficult to say a simple “a proto-language is not enough to be revived, as Ancient Hebrew was written down and PIE wasn’t”, thus disguising their sceptic views on the politics behind the project with seemingly rational discussion. While others will also state, in light of our clear confrontation with conlangs, that “proto-language is nothing different from a conlang”, thus disguising their real interest in spreading their personal desire that a proto-language be similar to a conlang. One only has to say: “Classical Latin couldn’t be reconstructed by comparing Spanish, French and Italian” – when, in fact, the question should be something like “could the common, Late Vulgar Latin, be reconstructed with a high degree of confidence, having just the writings of the first mediaeval romance languages?” The answer is probably a simple “yes,and quite well”, until proven the contrary, but by expressing the first doubt one can easily transform the possible-reconstruction argument in an apparently unlikely one; enough to convince those who want to be convinced…

Thus, whereas some people consider PIE a natural language, confidently reconstructed, but impossible to speak today because of political matters, others just consider it another invention, nothing different from Esperanto, while Esperantist talk about it as a “worse” or “more difficult” alternative to it: you could nevertheless find all opinions mixed together when it comes to destructive discussions, as the objective is not to defend an own rational and worked idea, but simply to destroy the appearance (or likelihood, in sophistic terms) of the rival’s idea. Be it anti-Europeanism, anti-Indo-European-reconstrution or anti-everything-else-than-Esperanto, you don’t have to defend your position: just repeat your known anti- cliches, and you’ve “won”. Apparently, at least.

Cicero noted what Greek rhetors already knew before about usual debates, and how arguments should be made and countered so that no idea is left accepted. In that sense, discussions were (and are) generally so unnecessary, that the Socratic Method seems to be still the best philosophical approach to discussions, even those concerning scientifical (i.e. “most probable”) facts: Instead of arriving at answers, non-expert (and often expert) discussion is used to break down the theories others hold, not “to go beyond the axioms and postulates we take for granted” and obtain a better knowledge, as Greek philosophers put it, but just to destroy what others build up.

So, for example, we might get these general rules to counter any argument, even if it’s not only based on opinions, but also on generally accepted facts:

1) Demonstrate the falseness of a part of the rival’s argument; then, infer the falseness of the whole reasoning. For example, let’s say Gimbutas’ view is out-dated, or that we at Dnghu included something considered nowadays ‘wrong’ in our grammar: then PIE revival is also mistaken; nothing more to explain. Or, let’s say that Hebrew revival is not “equal” to a proto-language revival, and that therefore the comparison is ‘false’ – even if comparisons are there to compare similar cases, not “equal” cases, which would be absurd – then, the whole PIE revival project is ‘equivocal’ or ‘absurd’. That’s the view about PIE revival you can find in some comments made on American blogs out there.

2) You can also confirm a part of your rival’s argument, and then, by doing it, carry that argument to its extreme, to the extent that the consequences of it are intolerable, and the paroxism completely distorts your rival’s argument. That’s more or less what I usually do when confronting conlanging as a real option for the European Union, by saying “OK, let’s adopt the ‘better’ and ‘easier’ language: first Esperanto, then the “better” and “easier” Esperanzo, then Lojban, then Pilosofio, then Mazematio, etc. etc. ad infinitum” – so, as a conclusion, one might accept that “better” and “easier” are not actually good reasons to adopt a language; hence the arguments based on “better” and “easier” cliches are opinion, not ratio.

3) The most common now (and then, I guess, in spoken language) is personal discredit, by which you can infer that his argument is also corrupted. That is what some have made when lacking more arguments, calling me personally (and the Indo-European language Association in general ?!) a “racist”, “nazi”, or “KKK-like” group; or trying to discredit me personally by saying I don’t master the English language; or that I misspelled or ‘was wrong’ in reconstructing this or that PIE name or noun; or even just because I am “an amateur”, – thus suggesting we all have to be “language professionals” to propose a trustable PIE revival. A recent example of this is our latest Esperantist visitor, saying I am “close to being racist” because I propose PIE for the EU – thus obviously inviting readers to identify “language=race”, saying that “I propose one language = I propose one race = I am a racist”, and therefore if “I=racist” and “I propose PIE revival” => “PIE=x”. The whole reasoning is nonsense, but he is not the first – and won’t be the last – educated individual to say (and possibly believe) that…

4) The fourth is actually only a minor method derived from the third, used in desperate cases, which consists on taking a sensible, emotional example of the consequences of the generalization of the rival’s argument, to demonstrate the moral baseness of the one who defends it; then, if he is discredited, his argument is corrupted, too [see point 3]… That is what some desperate people do when saying that PIE revival for the EU is “bad” (or “worse”) for non-IE-language-speakers like Finnish, Hungarian, Estonian, Basque or Maltese peoples. In fact, anyone who had taken a look at our website, or had made a quick search about me, would have found that I began this project of PIE revival to defend European languages (at least minority languages, as national or official languages are already well protected) against the European Union’s English officious imperium and English-German-French official triumvirate. Also, if we left PIE revival, only some languages (the official, i.e. national ones, 25 today) would get EU support, while the rest just die out or resist with some regional or private support. With Modern Indo-European, on the other hand, there will only be one official language supported by the European Union, and the rest really equal in front of each other and the Union, be it English, Maltese, Basque, Saami or Piedmontese. Nowadays, English is the language spoken in institutions, Maltese has an official status before the EU, while Saami is official in its country, Basque is only official in its territory, and Piedmontese, Asturian, Breton, and the majority of EU regional languages are only privately and locally defended. Nevertheless, one only has to say “supporting Indo-European is what Nazis did, PIE revival is racist and wants to destroy non-Indo-European peoples and cultures”; and, there you are: nothing proven, nothing reasoned, but the simplest and most efficient FUD you can find to counter the thousand arguments in favour of this revival project.

However unnecessary and unfruitful it might seem, I still discuss – or even directly look for debate -, because I get a benefit of such long, active pauses from my study, unlike those tiny passive TV- or radio-pauses I insert between study hours, especially in these stressful exam periods. Indeed I can find something to discuss in any website at any time, but I’m generally interested in debating these language political options. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand why some people get mad (at me, the project, or even the association or the whole world), when in fact taking part on any discussion is freely accepted by all of us, and it’s me who put new ideas and proposals on the table, and the others who just have to criticize them…

Something valuable for life I learned from psychology (possibly the only thing…) is about Chomsky’s reaction on Skinner’s comments: my professor (close to Freudian psychoanalysis), who told us the story – I hope I got it well, I cannot find it out there – thought it was Skinner who “won” the debate, by answering to Chomsky’s criticism, who in turn had criticized Skinner’s work, Verbal Behaviour, for his “scientistic”, not scientific, concept of the human mind. In fact, the younger Chomsky had just applied science to psychology (a need that psychology still has), simplifying the understanding of mind with a strict cognitive view, and criticizing some traditional views that psychologists accepted as ‘normal’. Skinner and those who followed his behavioural school of thought overreacted, mostly based on the belief that Chomsky’s reasons were against their lives and professional options, when in fact reason and opinion are in different planes. Chomsky, instead of entering the flame (yes, trolling existed back in the 60’s) did nothing. When asked years later, about why he didn’t reply as expected to all that criticism, he just said: “they missed the point”; he said what he had to say, criticized what he wanted, proposed an alternative, and left the discussion. And still, even by not answering, cognitive revolution provoked a shift in American psychology between the 1950s through the 1970s from being primarily behavioral to being primarily cognitive.

If you want to debate about opinions – be it PIE revival, Europeanism, general politics, Star Trek or the sex of angels -, entering into unending criticisms and personal attacks, that’s OK; but you should do it if and when you want, as I only do it because I obtain something beneficial, having a good time, laughing a little bit, relaxing from study, thinking about interesting reasons that might appear for or against my views or ideas, etc. And you should do it to get something in (re)turn, be it that same stress relief I (and most people) get, or other personal or professional benefits whatsoever. If not, if maybe you are getting more stressed trying to “convince” me or others, to “make us change our minds” with great one-minute ‘reasons’, by discussing directly your opinions as if they were ‘true‘, then you are clearly “missing the point” (using Chomsky’s words) with these discussions, and – as our latest Esperantist commenter (Mr. Janoski) puts it – “losing your time”, “trying to understand” something…