Something is very wrong with models based on the so-called ‘Yamnaya admixture’ – and archaeologists are catching up (II)

A new article by Leo S. Klejn tries to improve the Northern Mesolithic Proto-Indo-European homeland model of the Russian school of thought: The Steppe hypothesis of Indo-European origins remains to be proven, Acta Archaeologica, 88:1, 193–204.

Abstract:

Recent genetic studies have claimed to reveal a massive migration of the bearers of the Yamnaya culture (Pit-grave culture) to the Central and Northern Europe. This migration has supposedly lead to the formation of the Corded Ware cultures and thereby to the dispersal of Indo-European languages in Europe. The article is a summary presentation of available archaeological, linguistic, genetic and cultural data that demonstrates many discrepancies in the suggested scenario for the transformations caused by the Yamnaya “invasion” some 5000 years ago.

Excerpts:

Both teams [Reich/Anthony, and Willerslev/Kristiansen] interpreted this resemblance in the same way: as evidence of mass migration of the Yamnaya culture from the steppes into the Central and Northern Europe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware cultures, and these are universally recognised as Indo-European. Since earlier in this part of Europe existed a different pool of genomes, geneticists presumed that the Yamnaya migration alone had brought the Indo-European languages into Europe. It is difficult to say to what extent the pre-convictions of the involved archaeologists influenced these conclusions, or whether the results of the genetic studies attracted archaeologists with such beliefs.

Mismatch of cultural manifestations

First, we might question the idea of the Yamnaya culture as a unity rather than a loose conglomerate of cultures. Merpert (1974) divided it into nine local groups but did not recognise them as separate cultures. However, in 1975 I suggested that Nerushay (Budzhak) monuments should be recognised as a distinct culture (Klejn 1975), although still as a part of the same broader steppe community.

This was accepted by other specialists (Ivanova 2012; 2013; 2014). Generally, in the western branch of this community, a mixture of the eastern rites of interment with local, Balkan ceramics can be observed. It should be noted that hitherto all genetic samples were taken from eastern material (in the vicinity of Samara in the Volga basin and Kalmykia), while the central thesis concerns the intrusion of the western branch of this community (Budzhak culture) into Europe.

yamnaya-corded-ware.connection
The spread of cultural-historical communities of the Yamnaya culture and the location of the Budzhak culture. GAC – Globular Amphora culture; CWC – Corded Ware culture. After Ivanova 2013.

Simultaneity of cultures

The Yamnaya culture (Chernykh & Orlovskaya 2004a; Heyd 2011; Frȋnculeasa et al. 2015) appears not to be the predecessor of the Corded Ware cultures but is contemporary with them. The Corded Ware cultures appeared also around the turn between the fourth and third millennium BC (Stöckli 2001; Furholt 2003). Their derivation from the Yamnaya seems, therefore, to be less probable. This is evidenced by the fact that the corded beakers or amphorae found in the Budzhak culture are not the prototypes of the corded beakers or amphorae found in more northern territories, but seem instead to be an outcome of contemporaneous contacts (Ivanova 2014; Klejn 2017c).

Discrepancies across the haplogroups

Even more remarkable is the variation in the distribution of types of Y chromosome. In the Yamnaya population, R1b is not just a single occurrence (there are about seven known occurrences) while in the Corded Ware population a different clade of R1b is found and R1a is predominant (several instances). Thus the postulate of unbroken succession finds no support!

yamna-into-corded-ware
Distribution of artefacts and customs of the Yamnaya culture in the area of the Corded Ware cultures. After Bátora 2006.

Paradoxical gradient

In the tables presented in the article by Reichs’ team (Haak et al. 2015) the genetic pool connecting the Yamnaya culture with the Corded Ware people is shown to be more intense in Northern Europe (Norway and Sweden) and decreases gradually from the North to the South (Fig. 6). It is weakest around the Danube, in Hungary, i. e. areas neighbouring the western branch of the Yamnaya culture! This is the reverse image to what the proposed hypothesis by the geneticists would lead us to expect. It is true that this gradient is traced back from the contemporary materials, but it was already present during the Bronze Age (Klejn 2015a).

The author also uses questionable interpretations from selected articles to advance his (as of today) untenable positions regarding a Mesolithic origin of the reconstructible Proto-Indo-European language.

1. Glottochronology, for a PIE origin:

If based on the data of glottochronology (taking into account all disputes) the period of initial dispersal is to be dated to the 7th-5th millennium BC.

2. Doubts on the origin of R1b-L51 subclades expressed in Genetic differentiation between upland and lowland populations shapes the Y-chromosomal landscape of West Asia, by Balanovsky et al. (2017), Human Genetics 136, 4. 437-450:

The currently available dataset does not contradict the hypothesis that R-GG400 marks a link between the East European steppe dwellers and West Asians, though the route and even direction of this migration is disputable. It does, however, demonstrate that present-day West European R1b chromosomes do not originate from the Yamnaya populations analyzed in (Haak et al. 2015; Mathieson et al. 2015) and raises the question of their origin. A Bronze Age origin is more likely than a Neolithic one (Balaresque et al. 2010), but further ancient DNA studies may be necessary to identify this source.

Just yesterday I read the post The retraction paradox: Once you retract, you implicitly have to defend all the many things you haven’t yet retracted, by Andrew Gelman. While – in my opinion – the post does not live up to its title, it poses an interesting question, as to how ad logicam (fallacy fallacy) is often used today in research: One author proposes something that is later demonstrated to be wrong, so everything they wrote or write can be said ipso facto to be wrong…especially if they accept that it was wrong.

This is usual with amateur geneticists (those who don’t publish, and are therefore not subjected to criticism): if anyone is wrong (whether in Archaeology or Genetics), then they are wrong in everything else. It seems to me that Klejn’s theses against recent genetic results rest on the same assumption: The Yamna -> Corded Ware migration model is wrong, ergo the Yamna homeland model is wrong.

I guess this same fallacy is what a lot of angered geneticists (whether professional or amateurs) are going to use to dismiss Klejn’s criticism, trying to focus on what he clearly does not grasp – about genomic data of Yamna peoples and their expansion – to disregard his doubts on genetic interpretations entirely.

I have warned many times about how simplistic interpretations of genetic data would cause a general mistrust in the field, and that archaeologists won’t take the discipline seriously, no matter how many articles get published in famous research tabloids like Nature or Science…

Those who dismiss this warning lightly seem to forget the fate of other recent “scientific breakthroughs” which were initially so promising that Humanities appeared to matter no more, like glottochronology for Linguistics and, to some extent, that of radiocarbon analysis for Archaeology.
EDIT: see here a recent example of discusion on discrepancies between archaeological and 14C-based chronologies, whereby ‘scientific data’ obviously needs archaeological context for a meaningful interpretation

Featured image: The direction of the supposed migration of the bearers of the Yamnaya culture into the area of the Corded Ware cultures. After Haak et al. 2015.

NOTE: I obviously don’t agree with Klejn’s main model: he criticises the Proto-Indo-European steppe homeland, and more specifically the expansion of Yamna peoples with R1b-L23 subclades, which I support. But, probably because of his “pre-convictions” (as he puts it when describing proponents of the steppe hypotheses) about the Proto-Indo-European homeland in Northern Europe during the Mesolithic, he was one of the first renown archaeologists to criticise the obvious inconsistencies in the genetic model of migrations based exclusively on the “Yamnaya ancestral component” concept, and to provoke the necessary reaction from (until then) overconfident geneticists, and he deserves credit for that.

In my opinion, the Russian school’s “Northern European Mesolithic” homeland model – as I have said before – could be based on the appearance of EHG ancestry, or maybe on the expansion of haplogroup R1b with post-Swiderian cultures, but the timeframe proposed is too early for any reconstructible parent proto-language, even for Indo-Uralic.

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Don
Don

One fact that many geneticists seem to ignore is that Western Europe probably wasn’t IE speaking until the spread of the Italo-Celtic people. Italy and Iberia certainly weren’t, according to the historical record, and there’s some evidence for a Vasconic (Bell Beaker?) substratum in France, Britain and Ireland. The Ital0-Celtic folk, of course, were the successors to the Urnfield culture, which was the successor to the Tumulus culture, the first Central European culture to have kurgans. I’d like to know what the main Tumulus culture Y haplogroups were. I’d guess R1b but with R1a predominating at the higher levels of… Read more »

Don
Don

IE languages seem to have been spread to the Indian subcontinent and to Eastern Europe by people whose Y haplotype was predominantly R1a. But we also have IE in central and Western Europe, and in Western Europe the most common Bronze Age Y haplotype seems to have been R1b. I don’t think that automatically means IE languages first entered western Europe with the first major group of R1b folk. It may mean that the original IE homeland contained both R1a and R1b folk, or it could mean that the people who brought IE to Western Europe adopted IE and a… Read more »

Carlos Quiles

There is no “evidence” on the language spoken by any of these prehistoric people, indeed. We just hypothesize a steppe origin for Late Proto-Indo-European, believe that a Yamna expansion fits archaeologically and temporarily (using guesstimates), and try to go back speculatively from known ancient languages to the steppe. In my opinion, haplogroups only serve to further precise admixture, and genetics to help archaeology, and anthropological interpretation to help linguistics. There is no magic R1b-IE, or R1b-Vasconic, or R1a-IE, or N1c-Uralic, or any other simplistic assumption which can make things simple for ‘autochthonous continuity’ proposals. The complexity of European history implies… Read more »

theempiricalmage
theempiricalmage

R1a is by no means, “Eastern European”. One of the most comprehensive studies on Y-Haplogroups to date, involved R1a origins. In 2014 study by Peter A. Underhill et al., using 16,244 individuals from over 126 populations from across Eurasia, concluded that there was “compelling evidence that the initial episodes of haplogroup R1a diversification likely occurred in the vicinity of present-day IRAN”. As when compared to anywhere in the Steppe, Central Asia, or Europe, the diversities of early, mid, and late R1a haplotypes around the Iranian plateau (in particular Eastern Iran) was nearly an order of magnitude higher. It’s clear the… Read more »

Don
Don

IE languages seem to have been spread to the Indian subcontinent and to Eastern Europe by people whose Y haplotype was predominantly R1a. But we also have IE in central and Western Europe, and in Western Europe the most common Bronze Age Y haplotype seems to have been R1b. I don’t think that automatically means IE languages first entered western Europe with the first major group of R1b folk. It may mean that the original IE homeland contained both R1a and R1b folk, or it could mean that the people who brought IE to Western Europe adopted IE and a… Read more »

Don
Don

You seem to have a positive genius for misinterpreting what people write. What I’m saying is that anyone who believes that IE languages were brought to Western Europe directly from the steppes is being silly. The real story is more complicated than that. And there are a lot of good reasons for thinking that BB folk weren’t speaking IE languages and were probably speaking Vasconic languages. My point about R1b is that it’s a mistake to assume BB folk must have been speaking IE languages because of their predominant y haplotype. The transition of Western Europe to IE languages happened… Read more »

Don
Don

You seem to have a positive genius for misinterpreting what people write. What I’m saying is that anyone who believes that IE languages were brought to Western Europe directly from the steppes is being silly. The real story is more complicated than that. And there are a lot of good reasons for thinking that BB folk weren’t speaking IE languages and were probably speaking Vasconic languages. My point about R1b is that it’s a mistake to assume BB folk must have been speaking IE languages because of their predominant y haplotype. The transition of Western Europe to IE languages happened… Read more »

Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons

Guys, Everyone has a narrative. Don’t fool yourselves. There is no such thing as oprah “your truth”. for eg, – Carlos in that, steppe, eastern Bell beakers, R1b, IE , genetics papers, archeology ,story… a. does not go very well with the fact: the 3 Bronze Age Portuguese, R1b1a2a1a2 from Martiniano had not steppe ancestry at all. Does it not? b. Or that all ancient historians, since 6 century BC, clearly separated Lusitanians from celts. Yet, Lusitanians spoke an IE language that is considered Pre Celt or Italic. c. Having Celts (Celtiberians) speaking the labiovelar *Kw and the Lusitanians further… Read more »

Carlos Quiles

Yes, the picture is quite complicated, and there is no truth. We try to simplify it the best way we can, with our preconceptions, and with our limited data and biases. It is like that whether we are the most renown archaeologists, linguists, or geneticists, or just amateurs in any of these fields. As Don (now gone apparently) says, “it’s a mistake to assume BB folk must have been speaking IE languages because of their predominant y haplotype”. I agree, so we are basically saying the same: it is a mistake to assume any language for any predominant y haplotype,… Read more »

Devon SeaMoor
Devon SeaMoor

It might be interesting to look into the work of MrRyanmcmahon, about the root of language and how its programming of our perception in understanding words, shapes our sense of reality, our interpretation of it. For without language, there’s no development of consciousness. No self-reflection, no thinking in words, see? No oral tradition either.
His YouTube channel with the same name is highly recommended.

Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons

Guys, Everyone has a narrative. Don’t fool yourselves. There is no such thing as oprah “your truth”. for eg, – Carlos in that, steppe, eastern Bell beakers, R1b, IE , genetics papers, archeology ,story… a. does not go very well with the fact: the 3 Bronze Age Portuguese, R1b1a2a1a2 from Martiniano had not steppe ancestry at all. Does it not? b. Or that all ancient historians, since 6 century BC, clearly separated Lusitanians from celts. Yet, Lusitanians spoke an IE language that is considered Pre Celt or Italic. c. Having Celts (Celtiberians) speaking the labiovelar *Kw and the Lusitanians further… Read more »

Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons

Carlos, It just has been published the R1b-M343 (xP312xU106) Y-DNA tree by Sergey Malyshev. (https://kumbarov.com/ht35/R1b_xP312xU106_V.38.1.pdf) I don’t really know them, don’t know how credible this things are. However two things are remarkable. a. They, like Genetiker, put ATP3 as M269 and, b. most amazingly, add MC337A, Monte Canelas (Portugal), Late Neolithic/Chalcolithic also as R1b-M269. c. Atp3 in north Spain 3400-3100 bc and MC337 is 3200-2900bc in the most remote southwestern point of all Europe. Remember that Martiniano et al published several Portugal Late Neolithic/Chalcolithic individuals as I2a1b giving the impression they dominate this Period in Portugal and MC337A as nothing… Read more »

Olympus Mons
Olympus Mons

Carlos, It just has been published the R1b-M343 (xP312xU106) Y-DNA tree by Sergey Malyshev. (https://kumbarov.com/ht35/R1b_xP312xU106_V.38.1.pdf) I don’t really know them, don’t know how credible this things are. However two things are remarkable. a. They, like Genetiker, put ATP3 as M269 and, b. most amazingly, add MC337A, Monte Canelas (Portugal), Late Neolithic/Chalcolithic also as R1b-M269. c. Atp3 in north Spain 3400-3100 bc and MC337 is 3200-2900bc in the most remote southwestern point of all Europe. Remember that Martiniano et al published several Portugal Late Neolithic/Chalcolithic individuals as I2a1b giving the impression they dominate this Period in Portugal and MC337A as nothing… Read more »

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dnjake
dnjake

A possibly more plausible explanation sees the roots of both the Yamnaya people and the settlers of Western Europe as parallel developments rooted in the emergence of the bronze age at Maykop. The Yamnaya people were land based cattle breeders for food and prospectors for metal over a region that stretched from the Carpathian Mountains to the Altai Mountains. The roots of Western Europe were on the sea side of the Caucasus Mountains. The distance from Maykop to the Black Sea is modest. The bronze metal came from somewhere in between. Archaeological evidence shows the presence of the bronze culture… Read more »