Origins of ‘Transeurasian’ languages traced to Neolithic millet farmers

The origins of modern Japanese, Korean and Turkish languages were traced back to millet farmers living in northeastern China around 9,000 years ago. This was done using linguistic, genetic, and archaeological evidence.
Wednesday's findings reveal a common genetic ancestry of the many millions of people who speak Transeurasian languages, which the researchers called Transeurasian languages. They cover an area of more than 5,000 miles (8,000 km).

These findings show how humanity's acceptance of agriculture after the Ice Age enabled the dispersal and spread of major language families around the globe. Millet was an important crop in the transition from hunter-gatherers to an agricultural lifestyle.

There are 98 Transeurasian language varieties, including Korean, Japanese and other Turkic languages in Europe, Anatolia Central Asia, Siberia and parts of Europe.

The origins of this language family can be traced back to Neolithic millet farmers living in the Liao River Valley, which includes parts of the Chinese provinces Liaoning and Jilin as well as the region of Inner Mongolia. Over thousands of years these farmers traveled across northeastern Asia, and their descendants languages expanded north and west into Siberia, the steppes, and into the Korean peninsula. Then they crossed the sea to reach the Japanese archipelago.

Research revealed the complexity of modern cultures and populations' origins.

Martine Robbeets (comparative linguist), leader of the Archaeolinguistic Research Group of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and the lead author of the Nature study, said, "Accepting the fact that the roots of one’s language, culture, or people lie outside the current national boundaries is a type of surrender of identity which some people aren’t yet prepared to make."

"Powerful countries like Japan, Korea, and China are often depicted as having one language, one culture, and one genetic profile. Robbeets said that it is a fact that people with nationalist agendas are uncomfortable with: All languages, cultures, and humans, even those in Asia, have mixed heritages."

Researchers created a database of vocabulary concepts for all 98 languages. They also identified core words that were inherited from agriculture and created a language family tree.

Mark Hudson, an archaeologist, was co-author of the study. He said that the researchers looked at data from 255 sites in China, Japan and the Korean peninsula. They found similarities in artifacts such as pottery and stone tools, and also in plant and animal remains. They also considered the dates of 269 crop remains from different sites.

Researchers discovered that northeastern Chinese farmers eventually added rice and wheat to their millet, which was then transmitted to Japan by the Korean peninsula around 1300BC.

Researchers performed genome analyses on 23 ancient remains and analyzed existing data about other people who lived in north- and east Asia up to 9,500 years ago.

Modern Chinese languages were born independently but in a similar way, with millet as well. Robbeets stated that while the Transeurasian language progenitors grew broomcorn in the Liao River Valley, the Sino-Tibetan language originators farmed foxtail in China's Yellow River region. This paved the way for separate language dispersal.