Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion

Now that it has become evident that Late Repin (i.e. Yamnaya/Afanasevo) ancestry was associated with the migration of R1b-L23-rich Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from the steppe in the second half of the the 4th millennium BC, there’s still the question of how R1a-rich Uralic speakers of Corded Ware ancestry expanded , and how they spread their languages throughout North Eurasia.

Modern North Eurasians

I have been collecting information from the supplementary data of the latest papers on modern and ancient North Eurasian peoples, including Jeong et al. (2019), Saag et al. (2019), Sikora et al. (2018), or Flegontov et al. (2019), and I have tried to add up their information on ancestral components and their modern and historical distributions.

Fortunately, the current obsession with simplifying ancestry components into three or four general, atemporal groups, and the common use of the same ones across labs, make it very simple to merge data and map them.

Corded Ware ancestry

There is no doubt about the prevalent ancestry among Uralic-speaking peoples. A map isn’t needed to realize that, because ancient and modern data – like those recently summarized in Jeong et al. (2019) – prove it. But maps sure help visualize their intricate relationship better:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among modern populations. See full map

Interestingly, the regions with higher Corded Ware-related ancestry are in great part coincident with (pre)historical Finno-Ugric-speaking territories:

Modern distribution of Uralic languages, with ancient territory (in the Common Era) labelled and delimited by a red line. For more information on the ancient territory see here.

Edit (29/7/2019): Here is the full Steppe_MLBA ancestry map, including Steppe_MLBA (vs. Indus Periphery vs. Onge) in modern South Asian populations from Narasimhan et al. (2018), apart from the ‘Srubnaya component’ in North Eurasian populations. ‘Dummy’ variables (with 0% ancestry) have been included to the south and east of the map to avoid weird interpolations of Steppe_MLBA into Africa and East Asia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Steppe MLBA-like ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Anatolia Neolithic ancestry

Also interesting are the patterns of non-CWC-related ancestry, in particular the apparent wedge created by expanding East Slavs, which seems to reflect the intrusion of central(-eastern) European ancestry into Finno-Permic territory.

NOTE. Read more on Balto-Slavic hydrotoponymy, on the cradle of Russians as a Finno-Permic hotspot, and about Pre-Slavic languages in North-West Russia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of LBK EN ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of LBK EN ancestry among modern populations. See full map

WHG ancestry

The cline(s) between WHG, EHG, ANE, Nganasan, and Baikal HG are also simplified when some of them excluded, in this case EHG, represented thus in part by WHG, and in part by more eastern ancestries (see below).

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Arctic, Tundra or Forest-steppe?

Data on Nganasan-related vs. ANE vs. Baikal HG/Ulchi-related ancestry is difficult to map properly, because both ancestry components are usually reported as mutually exclusive, when they are in fact clearly related in an ancestral cline formed by different ancient North Eurasian populations from Siberia.

When it comes to ascertaining the origin of the multiple CWC-related clines among Uralic-speaking peoples, the question is thus how to properly distinguish the proportions of WHG-, EHG-, Nganasan-, ANE or BaikalHG-related ancestral components in North Eurasia, i.e. how did each dialectal group admix with regional groups which formed part of these clines east and west of the Urals.

The truth is, one ought to test specific ancient samples for each “Siberian” ancestry found in the different Uralic dialectal groups, but the simplistic “Siberian” label somehow gets a pass in many papers (see a recent example).

Below qpAdm results with best fits for Ulchi ancestry, Afontova Gora 3 ancestry, and Nganasan ancestry, but some populations show good fits for both and with similar proportions, so selecting one necessarily simplifies the distribution of both.

Ulchi ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Ulchi ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Ulchi ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

ANE ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of ANE ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of ANE ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Nganasan ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Iran Chalcolithic

A simplistic Iran Chalcolithic-related ancestry is also seen in the Altaic cline(s) which (like Corded Ware ancestry) expanded from Central Asia into Europe – apart from its historical distribution south of the Caucasus:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Neolithic ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Iran Chalcolithic ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Other models

The first question I imagine some would like to know is: what about other models? Do they show the same results? Here is the simplistic combination of ancestry components published in Damgaard et al. (2018) for the same or similar populations:

NOTE. As you can see, their selection of EHG vs. WHG vs. Nganasan vs. Natufian vs. Clovis of is of little use, but corroborate the results from other papers, and show some interesting patterns in combination with those above.


Natural neighbor interpolation of EHG ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of EHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Natufian ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Natufian ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Natufian ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

WHG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Baikal HG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal hunter-gatherer ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Baikal HG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Ancient North Eurasians

Once the modern situation is clear, relevant questions are, for example, whether EHG-, WHG-, ANE, Nganasan-, and/or Baikal HG-related meta-populations expanded or became integrated into Uralic-speaking territories.

When did these admixture/migration events happen?

How did the ancient distribution or expansion of Palaeo-Arctic, Baikalic, and/or Altaic peoples affect the current distribution of the so-called “Siberian” ancestry, and of hg. N1a, in each specific population?

NOTE. A little excursus is necessary, because the calculated repetition of a hypothetic opposition “N1a vs. R1a” doesn’t make this dichotomy real:

  1. There was not a single ethnolinguistic community represented by hg. R1a after the initial expansion of Eastern Corded Ware groups, or by hg. N1a-L392 after its initial expansion in Siberia:
  2. Different subclades became incorporated in different ways into Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, most of which without an ethnolinguistic change. For example, N1a subclades became incorporated into North Eurasian populations of different languages, reaching Uralic- and Indo-European-speaking territories of north-eastern Europe during the late Iron Age, at a time when their ancestral origin or language in Siberia was impossible to ascertain. Just like the mix found among Proto-Germanic peoples (R1b, R1a, and I1)* or among Slavic peoples (I2a, E1b, R1a)*, the mix of many Uralic groups showing specific percentages of R1a, N1a, or Q subclades* reflect more or less recent admixture or acculturation events with little impact on their languages.

*other typically northern and eastern European haplogroups are also represented in early Germanic (N1a, I2, E1b, J, G2), Slavic (I1, G2, J) and Finno-Permic (I1, R1b, J) peoples.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

The problem with mapping the ancestry of the available sampling of ancient populations is that we lack proper temporal and regional transects. The maps that follow include cultures roughly divided into either “Bronze Age” or “Iron Age” groups, although the difference between samples may span up to 2,000 years.

NOTE. Rough estimates for more external groups (viz. Sweden Battle Axe/Gotland_A for the NW, Srubna from the North Pontic area for the SW, Arctic/Nganasan for the NE, and Baikal EBA/”Ulchi-like” for the SE) have been included to offer a wider interpolated area using data already known.

Bronze Age

Similar to modern populations, the selection of best fit “Siberian” ancestry between Baikal HG vs. Nganasan, both potentially ± ANE (AG3), is an oversimplification that needs to be addressed in future papers.

Corded Ware ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Nganasan-like ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan-like ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Baikal HG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal Hunter-Gatherer ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Afontova Gora 3 ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Afontova Gora 3 ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Iron Age

Corded Ware ancestry

Interestingly, the moderate expansion of Corded Ware-related ancestry from the south during the Iron Age may be related to the expansion of hg. N1a-VL29 into the chiefdom-based system of north-eastern Europe, including Ananyino/Akozino and later expanding Akozino warrior-traders around the Baltic Sea.

NOTE. The samples from Levänluhta are centuries older than those from Estonia (and Ingria), and those from Chalmny Varre are modern ones, so this region has to be read as a south-west to north-east distribution from the Iron Age to modern times.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

Baikal HG-like ancestry

The fact that this Baltic N1a-VL29 branch belongs in a group together with typically Avar N1a-B197 supports the Altaic origin of the parent group, which is possibly related to the expansion of Baikalic ancestry and Iron Age nomads:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal HG ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

Nganasan-like ancestry

The dilution of Nganasan-like ancestry in an Arctic region featuring “Siberian” ancestry and hg. N1a-L392 at least since the Bronze Age supports the integration of hg. N1a-Z1934, sister clade of Ugric N1a-Z1936, into populations west and east of the Urals with the expansion of Uralic languages to the north into the Tundra region (see here).

The integration of N1a-Z1934 lineages into Finnic-speaking peoples after their migration to the north and east, and the displacement or acculturation of Saami from their ancestral homeland, coinciding with known genetic bottlenecks among Finns, is yet another proof of this evolution:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

WHG ancestry

Similarly, WHG ancestry doesn’t seem to be related to important population movements throughout the Bronze Age, which excludes the multiple North Eurasian populations that will be found along the clines formed by WHG, EHG, ANE, Nganasan, Baikal HG ancestry as forming part of the Uralic ethnogenesis, although they may be relevant to follow later regional movements of specific populations.

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.


It seems natural that people used to look at maps of haplogroup distribution from the 2000s, coupled with modern language distributions, and would try to interpret them in a certain way, reaching thus the wrong conclusions whose consequences are especially visible today when ancient DNA keeps contradicting them.

In hindsight, though, assuming that Balto-Slavs expanded with Corded Ware and hg. R1a, or that Uralians expanded with “Siberian” ancestry and hg. N1a, was as absurd as looking at maps of ancestry and haplogroup distribution of ancient and modern Native Americans, trying to divide them into “Germanic” or “Iberian”…

The evolution of each specific region and cultural group of North Eurasia is far from being clear. However, the general trend speaks clearly in favour of an ancient, Bronze Age distribution of North Eurasian ancestry and haplogroups that have decreased, diluted, or become incorporated into expanding Uralians of Corded Ware ancestry, occasionally spreading with inter-regional expansions of local groups.

Given the relatively recent push of Altaic and Indo-European languages into ancestral Uralic-speaking territories, only the ancient Corded Ware expansion remains compatible with the spread of Uralic languages into their historical distribution.


22 thoughts on “Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion

  1. Boring. The only interesting thing is natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry. Well corresponds to East Lithuanian Barrows Culture (taken together with Sudow Culture, from Czarna Hańcza till Daugava river). But the hiatus … WHG and people from the third century AD? On an almost uninhabited territory by most of the time?? These Western Hunter-Gatherers look like pretty nice anachronism.

  2. I’ve included in the post a full map of steppe ancestry (=Srubnaya / Steppe_MLBA ancestry), adding info from Narasimhan et al. (2018) and some more West European data (French, English, Scottish) apart from some 0% in the borders to avoid wrong interpolations. Without actual data from those borders it is thus just a simplistic visualization around the Mediterranean, Africa, East Asia and South-East Asia, and the real ancestry data is found in North Eurasia and Central and South Asia.

    I’ve also corrected some locations, and added colors for quick identification of the ethnolinguistic group.

    Other additions are Kriging interpolations of data from Damgaard et al. (2018), below the previous ones.

  3. Hey don’t back down the map Timeline_of_the_Golden_Horde! Looking for a Corded Ware-related ancestry you found Svitjod hinn mikla – all Scandinavian-Finnish enterprises east of the Baltic. Politically, it is later Kievan Rus (a very confusing name) plus Volga Bulgaria. The Finno-Ugric substratum evenly distributed from its early medieval centres inside a Scandinavian (and finally Slavic) political system. The role of the state can not be overestimated.

  4. Having only recently come across this “Uralic = Corded Ware” theory of yours, I find certain things about it which do not hold up: 1) It is not supported by most recent papers showing that Siberian Nganasan-like ancestry arrived in the eastern Baltic region around the same time that the Finnic languages did, around 2500 years ago in the Iron Age (especially one you cite here, Saag et al, 2019 2) It fails to explain how Uralic languages, including Finnic, are most similar to other circumpolar languages, especially Yukaghir, and even Eskimo-Aleut. In terms of sentence structure, word formation, phonology and pronunciation, and lexicon, these circumpolar languages share numerous traits not seen in any other languages of northern or central Eurasia. Compare for example the extremely long word constructions of Uralic, Yukaghir and Eskimo-Aleut where a single word can convey what would take multiple words in IE, Caucasian or Turkic languages.

    It is obvious that a large amount of modern Baltic Finnic, Sami and Volga Finnic genetic ancestry derives from Corded Ware, but the northern Siberian-like form of Uralic languages so distinct from any languages in Europe or the Caucasus, is very strong evidence that the bringers of Uralic language were certainly from much further east and after the CWC period. It is not “miraculous” either (as you claimed in one post) that CWC people would adopt Uralic languages from the east, as clearly one group (the Sami) did switch from an agricultural or agro-pastoralist lifestyle to the full-time pastoralist lifestyle of reindeer herding, which they still practice today. Groups of Finns, Karelians and Ingrians are also known to have had similar practices in ancient time. Climatic changes in the Baltic and Fennoscandian regions may have made agriculture even less productive than it always has been in this high latitude, subarctic climate. It is understandable then that the full-time pastoralist lifestyles of reindeer-herding Uralic peoples would be a culture worth adopting to for agriculturalist or agro-pastoralist CWC people at the higher latitudes, including their Uralic speech. Such shifts from agriculture to full-time pastoralism are know to have occurred in many societies throughout the world.

  5. The study of Saag, et al clearly states that Uralic languages only arrived in the eastern Baltic from Siberia in the Iron Age, long after CWC, in tandem with the arrival of Siberian, Nganasan-like ancestry at the same time:

    “This ancestry reached the coasts of the Baltic Sea no later than the mid-first millennium BC; i.e., in the same time window as the diversification of west Uralic (Finnic) languages.”

    Evidence for Iron Age arrival and separation of Baltic Finnic languages in the eastern Baltic:

    “Our timing results paralleled the previous linguistic studies but suggested a later divergence of Finno-Ugric, Finnic and Saami languages. Some of the divergences co-occurred with climatic fluctuation and some with cultural interaction and migrations of populations.

    Again, the adoption of a full-time pastoralist lifestyle of reindeer herding of Uralic speakers by CWC people, in the face of climatic changes making agriculture unsustainable, would explain the adoption by CWC farmers or agro-pastoralists of Uralic speech from Siberian herders. The Uralic reindeer-herding culture was thus more adapted to the changing climatic conditions.

    It is likely that the climate was much warmer during the earlier Bronze Age period of CWC, and thus a steppe culture like CWC would have been more suitable in some of these areas.The agriculturalist and horse cultures of the steppe were not as suitable, however, as reindeer-herding pastoralism to the subarctic forests and tundra of the areas north and east of the Gulf of Finland, especially in the face of a cooling climate or desired expansion into these areas for resources. CWC-descendants in such areas clearly would have adopted Uralic culture and language of Siberian or circumpolar origin, while further south they increasingly blended with the descendants of the similar steppe culture of Yamnaya.

    I do not know what language CWC spoke, but I do know that it almost certainly was NOT Uralic. Uralic’s closest putative external relation demonstrated so far is Yukaghir, in Siberia, and has so many linguistic features close to Paleo-Siberian or Eskimo-Aleut languages which make it incredibly different from Indo-European, Caucasian languages or even Turkic. If CWC was Uralic, this fact would be extremely difficult to reconcile, given that CWC was immediately adjacent to Indo-European Yamnaya.

  6. Evans, the 80% of the uralic speakers have no any native word for reindeer. ( Mari, Erzya, Moksha, Magyar .)
    The other 20 % of uralic speakers use different names for reindeer i(Sámi , Finnish, Nenets , Khanty, Komi,) with no common origin: botsav, poro, tü, sal’y, kär…

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