Migrations in the Levant region during the Chalcolithic, also marked by distinct Y-DNA


Open access Ancient DNA from Chalcolithic Israel reveals the role of population mixture in cultural transformation, by Harney et al. Nature Communications (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, reference numbers deleted for clarity):


The material culture of the Late Chalcolithic period in the southern Levant contrasts qualitatively with that of earlier and later periods in the same region. The Late Chalcolithic in the Levant is characterized by increases in the density of settlements, introduction of sanctuaries, utilization of ossuaries in secondary burials, and expansion of public ritual practices as well as an efflorescence of symbolic motifs sculpted and painted on artifacts made of pottery, basalt, copper, and ivory. The period’s impressive metal artifacts, which reflect the first known use of the “lost wax” technique for casting of copper, attest to the extraordinary technical skill of the people of this period.

The distinctive cultural characteristics of the Late Chalcolithic period in the Levant (often related to the Ghassulian culture, although this term is not in practice applied to the Galilee region where this study is based) have few stylistic links to the earlier or later material cultures of the region, which has led to extensive debate about the origins of the people who made this material culture. One hypothesis is that the Chalcolithic culture in the region was spread in part by immigrants from the north (i.e., northern Mesopotamia), based on similarities in artistic designs. Others have suggested that the local populations of the Levant were entirely responsible for developing this culture, and that any similarities to material cultures to the north are due to borrowing of ideas and not to movements of people.

Previous genome-wide ancient DNA studies from the Near East have revealed that at the time when agriculture developed, populations from Anatolia, Iran, and the Levant were approximately as genetically differentiated from each other as present-day Europeans and East Asians are today. By the Bronze Age, however, expansion of different Near Eastern agriculturalist populations — Anatolian, Iranian, and Levantine — in all directions and admixture with each other substantially homogenized populations across the region, thereby contributing to the relatively low genetic differentiation that prevails today. Showed that the Levant Bronze Age population from the site of ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan (2490–2300 BCE) could be fit statistically as a mixture of around 56% ancestry from a group related to Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic agriculturalists (represented by ancient DNA from Motza, Israel and ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan; 8300–6700 BCE) and 44% related to populations of the Iranian Chalcolithic (Seh Gabi, Iran; 4680–3662 calBCE). Suggested that the Canaanite Levant Bronze Age population from the site of Sidon, Lebanon (~1700 BCE) could be modeled as a mixture of the same two groups albeit in different proportions (48% Levant Neolithic-related and 52% Iran Chalcolithic-related). However, the Neolithic and Bronze Age sites analyzed so far in the Levant are separated in time by more than three thousand years, making the study of samples that fill in this gap, such as those from Peqi’in, of critical importance.

This procedure produced genome-wide data from 22 ancient individuals from Peqi’in Cave (4500–3900 calBCE) (…)


We find that the individuals buried in Peqi’in Cave represent a relatively genetically homogenous population. This homogeneity is evident not only in the genome-wide analyses but also in the fact that most of the male individuals (nine out of ten) belong to the Y-chromosome haplogroup T, a lineage thought to have diversified in the Near East. This finding contrasts with both earlier (Neolithic and Epipaleolithic) Levantine populations, which were dominated by haplogroup E, and later Bronze Age individuals, all of whom belonged to haplogroup J.

Detailed sample background data for each of the 22 samples from which we successfully obtained ancient DNA. Additionally, background information for all samples from Peqi’in that were screened is included in Supplementary Data 1. *Indicates that Y-chromosome haplogroup call should be interpreted with caution, due to low coverage data.

Our finding that the Levant_ChL population can be well-modeled as a three-way admixture between Levant_N (57%), Anatolia_N (26%), and Iran_ChL (17%), while the Levant_BA_South can be modeled as a mixture of Levant_N (58%) and Iran_ChL (42%), but has little if any additional Anatolia_N-related ancestry, can only be explained by multiple episodes of population movement. The presence of Iran_ChL-related ancestry in both populations – but not in the earlier Levant_N – suggests a history of spread into the Levant of peoples related to Iranian agriculturalists, which must have occurred at least by the time of the Chalcolithic. The Anatolian_N component present in the Levant_ChL but not in the Levant_BA_South sample suggests that there was also a separate spread of Anatolian-related people into the region. The Levant_BA_South population may thus represent a remnant of a population that formed after an initial spread of Iran_ChL-related ancestry into the Levant that was not affected by the spread of an Anatolia_N-related population, or perhaps a reintroduction of a population without Anatolia_N-related ancestry to the region. We additionally find that the Levant_ChL population does not serve as a likely source of the Levantine-related ancestry in present-day East African populations.

These genetic results have striking correlates to material culture changes in the archaeological record. The archaeological finds at Peqi’in Cave share distinctive characteristics with other Chalcolithic sites, both to the north and south, including secondary burial in ossuaries with iconographic and geometric designs. It has been suggested that some Late Chalcolithic burial customs, artifacts and motifs may have had their origin in earlier Neolithic traditions in Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia. Some of the artistic expressions have been related to finds and ideas and to later religious concepts such as the gods Inanna and Dumuzi from these more northern regions. The knowledge and resources required to produce metallurgical artifacts in the Levant have also been hypothesized to come from the north.

Our finding of genetic discontinuity between the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods also resonates with aspects of the archeological record marked by dramatic changes in settlement patterns, large-scale abandonment of sites, many fewer items with symbolic meaning, and shifts in burial practices, including the disappearance of secondary burial in ossuaries. This supports the view that profound cultural upheaval, leading to the extinction of populations, was associated with the collapse of the Chalcolithic culture in this region.

Genetic structure of analyzed individuals. a Principal component analysis of 984 present-day West Eurasians (shown in gray) with 306 ancient samples projected onto the first two principal component axes and labeled by culture. b ADMIXTURE analysis of 984 and 306 ancient samples with K = 11
ancestral components. Only ancient samples are shown


I think the most interesting aspect of this paper is – as usual – the expansion of peoples associated with a single Y-DNA haplogroup. Given that the expansion of Semitic languages in the Middle East – like that of Anatolian languages from the north – must have happened after ca. 3100 BC, coinciding with the collapse of the Uruk period, these Chalcolithic north Levant peoples are probably not related to the posterior Semitic expansion in the region. This can be said to be supported by their lack of relationship with posterior Levantine migrations into Africa. The replacement of haplogroup E before the arrival of haplogroup J suggests still more clearly that Natufians and their main haplogroup were not related to the Afroasiatic expansions.

Distribution of Semitic languages. From Wikipedia.

On the other hand, while their ancestry points to neighbouring regional origins, their haplogroup T1a1a (probably T1a1a1b2) may be closely related to that of other Semitic peoples to the south, as found in east Africa and Arabia. This may be due either to a northern migration of these Chalcolithic Levantine peoples from southern regions in the 5th millennium BC, or maybe to a posterior migration of Semitic peoples from the Levant to the south, coupled with the expansion of this haplogroup, but associated with a distinct population. As we know, ancestry can change within certain generations of intense admixture, while Y-DNA haplogroups are not commonly admixed in prehistoric population expansions.

Without more data from ancient DNA, it is difficult to say. Haplogroup T1a1 is found in Morocco (ca. 3780-3650 calBC), which could point to a recent expansion of a Berbero-Semitic branch; but also in a sample from Balkans Neolithic ca. 5800-5400 calBCE, which could suggest an Anatolian origin of the specific subclades encountered here. In any case, a potential origin of Proto-Semitic anywhere near this wide Near Eastern region ca. 4500-3500 BC cannot be discarded.

Distribution of haplogroup T of Y-chromosome. From Wikipedia.

Interesting from this paper, therefore, is that we are yet to find a single prehistoric population expansion not associated with a reduction of variability and expansion of Y-DNA haplogroups. It seems that the supposedly mixed Yamna community remains the only (hypothetical) example in history where expanding patrilineal clans will not share Y-DNA haplogroup…


Common pitfalls in human genomics and bioinformatics: ADMIXTURE, PCA, and the ‘Yamnaya’ ancestral component


Good timing for the publication of two interesting papers, that a lot of people should read very carefully:


Open access A tutorial on how not to over-interpret STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE bar plots, by Daniel J. Lawson, Lucy van Dorp & Daniel Falush, Nature Communications (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Experienced researchers, particularly those interested in population structure and historical inference, typically present STRUCTURE results alongside other methods that make different modelling assumptions. These include TreeMix, ADMIXTUREGRAPH, fineSTRUCTURE, GLOBETROTTER, f3 and D statistics, amongst many others. These models can be used both to probe whether assumptions of the model are likely to hold and to validate specific features of the results. Each also comes with its own pitfalls and difficulties of interpretation. It is not obvious that any single approach represents a direct replacement as a data summary tool. Here we build more directly on the results of STRUCTURE/ADMIXTURE by developing a new approach, badMIXTURE, to examine which features of the data are poorly fit by the model. Rather than intending to replace more specific or sophisticated analyses, we hope to encourage their use by making the limitations of the initial analysis clearer.

The default interpretation protocol

Most researchers are cautious but literal in their interpretation of STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE results, as caricatured in Fig. 1, as it is difficult to interpret the results at all without making several of these assumptions. Here we use simulated and real data to illustrate how following this protocol can lead to inference of false histories, and how badMIXTURE can be used to examine model fit and avoid common pitfalls.

A protocol for interpreting admixture estimates, based on the assumption that the model underlying the inference is correct. If these assumptions are not validated, there is substantial danger of over-interpretation. The “Core protocol” describes the assumptions that are made by the admixture model itself (Protocol 1, 3, 4), and inference for estimating K (Protocol 2). The “Algorithm input” protocol describes choices that can further bias results, while the “Interpretation” protocol describes assumptions that can be made in interpreting the output that are not directly supported by model inference


STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE are popular because they give the user a broad-brush view of variation in genetic data, while allowing the possibility of zooming down on details about specific individuals or labelled groups. Unfortunately it is rarely the case that sampled data follows a simple history comprising a differentiation phase followed by a mixture phase, as assumed in an ADMIXTURE model and highlighted by case study 1. Naïve inferences based on this model (the Protocol of Fig. 1) can be misleading if sampling strategy or the inferred value of the number of populations K is inappropriate, or if recent bottlenecks or unobserved ancient structure appear in the data. It is therefore useful when interpreting the results obtained from real data to think of STRUCTURE and ADMIXTURE as algorithms that parsimoniously explain variation between individuals rather than as parametric models of divergence and admixture.

For example, if admixture events or genetic drift affect all members of the sample equally, then there is no variation between individuals for the model to explain. Non-African humans have a few percent Neanderthal ancestry, but this is invisible to STRUCTURE or ADMIXTURE since it does not result in differences in ancestry profiles between individuals. The same reasoning helps to explain why for most data sets—even in species such as humans where mixing is commonplace—each of the K populations is inferred by STRUCTURE/ADMIXTURE to have non-admixed representatives in the sample. If every individual in a group is in fact admixed, then (with some exceptions) the model simply shifts the allele frequencies of the inferred ancestral population to reflect the fraction of admixture that is shared by all individuals.

Several methods have been developed to estimate K, but for real data, the assumption that there is a true value is always incorrect; the question rather being whether the model is a good enough approximation to be practically useful. First, there may be close relatives in the sample which violates model assumptions. Second, there might be “isolation by distance”, meaning that there are no discrete populations at all. Third, population structure may be hierarchical, with subtle subdivisions nested within diverged groups. This kind of structure can be hard for the algorithms to detect and can lead to underestimation of K. Fourth, population structure may be fluid between historical epochs, with multiple events and structures leaving signals in the data. Many users examine the results of multiple K simultaneously but this makes interpretation more complex, especially because it makes it easier for users to find support for preconceptions about the data somewhere in the results.

In practice, the best that can be expected is that the algorithms choose the smallest number of ancestral populations that can explain the most salient variation in the data. Unless the demographic history of the sample is particularly simple, the value of K inferred according to any statistically sensible criterion is likely to be smaller than the number of distinct drift events that have practically impacted the sample. The algorithm uses variation in admixture proportions between individuals to approximately mimic the effect of more than K distinct drift events without estimating ancestral populations corresponding to each one. In other words, an admixture model is almost always “wrong” (Assumption 2 of the Core protocol, Fig. 1) and should not be interpreted without examining whether this lack of fit matters for a given question.

Three scenarios that give indistinguishable ADMIXTURE results. a Simplified schematic of each simulation scenario. b Inferred ADMIXTURE plots at K= 11. c CHROMOPAINTER inferred painting palettes.

Because STRUCTURE/ADMIXTURE accounts for the most salient variation, results are greatly affected by sample size in common with other methods. Specifically, groups that contain fewer samples or have undergone little population-specific drift of their own are likely to be fit as mixes of multiple drifted groups, rather than assigned to their own ancestral population. Indeed, if an ancient sample is put into a data set of modern individuals, the ancient sample is typically represented as an admixture of the modern populations (e.g., ref. 28,29), which can happen even if the individual sample is older than the split date of the modern populations and thus cannot be admixed.

This paper was already available as a preprint in bioRxiv (first published in 2016) and it is incredible that it needed to wait all this time to be published. I found it weird how reviewers focused on the “tone” of the paper. I think it is great to see files from the peer review process published, but we need to know who these reviewers were, to understand their whiny remarks… A lot of geneticists out there need to develop a thick skin, or else we are going to see more and more delays based on a perceived incorrect tone towards the field, which seems a rather subjective reason to force researchers to correct a paper.

PCA of SNP data

Open access Effective principal components analysis of SNP data, by Gauch, Qian, Piepho, Zhou, & Chen, bioRxiv (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

A potential hindrance to our advice to upgrade from PCA graphs to PCA biplots is that the SNPs are often so numerous that they would obscure the Items if both were graphed together. One way to reduce clutter, which is used in several figures in this article, is to present a biplot in two side-by-side panels, one for Items and one for SNPs. Another stratagem is to focus on a manageable subset of SNPs of particular interest and show only them in a biplot in order to avoid obscuring the Items. A later section on causal exploration by current methods mentions several procedures for identifying particularly relevant SNPs.

One of several data transformations is ordinarily applied to SNP data prior to PCA computations, such as centering by SNPs. These transformations make a huge difference in the appearance of PCA graphs or biplots. A SNPs-by-Items data matrix constitutes a two-way factorial design, so analysis of variance (ANOVA) recognizes three sources of variation: SNP main effects, Item main effects, and SNP-by-Item (S×I) interaction effects. Double-Centered PCA (DC-PCA) removes both main effects in order to focus on the remaining S×I interaction effects. The resulting PCs are called interaction principal components (IPCs), and are denoted by IPC1, IPC2, and so on. By way of preview, a later section on PCA variants argues that DC-PCA is best for SNP data. Surprisingly, our literature survey did not encounter even a single analysis identified as DC-PCA.

The axes in PCA graphs or biplots are often scaled to obtain a convenient shape, but actually the axes should have the same scale for many reasons emphasized recently by Malik and Piepho [3]. However, our literature survey found a correct ratio of 1 in only 10% of the articles, a slightly faulty ratio of the larger scale over the shorter scale within 1.1 in 12%, and a substantially faulty ratio above 2 in 16% with the worst cases being ratios of 31 and 44. Especially when the scale along one PCA axis is stretched by a factor of 2 or more relative to the other axis, the relationships among various points or clusters of points are distorted and easily misinterpreted. Also, 7% of the articles failed to show the scale on one or both PCA axes, which leaves readers with an impressionistic graph that cannot be reproduced without effort. The contemporary literature on PCA of SNP data mostly violates the prohibition against stretching axes.

DC-PCA biplot for oat data. The gradient in the CA-arranged matrix in Fig 13 is shown here for both lines and SNPs by the color scheme red, pink, black, light green, dark green.

The percentage of variation captured by each PC is often included in the axis labels of PCA graphs or biplots. In general this information is worth including, but there are two qualifications. First, these percentages need to be interpreted relative to the size of the data matrix because large datasets can capture a small percentage and yet still be effective. For example, for a large dataset with over 107,000 SNPs for over 6,000 persons, the first two components capture only 0.3693% and 0.117% of the variation, and yet the PCA graph shows clear structure (Fig 1A in [4]). Contrariwise, a PCA graph could capture a large percentage of the total variation, even 50% or more, but that would not guarantee that it will show evident structure in the data. Second, the interpretation of these percentages depends on exactly how the PCA analysis was conducted, as explained in a later section on PCA variants. Readers cannot meaningfully interpret the percentages of variation captured by PCA axes when authors fail to communicate which variant of PCA was used.


Five simple recommendations for effective PCA analysis of SNP data emerge from this investigation.

  1. Use the SNP coding 1 for the rare or minor allele and 0 for the common or major allele.
  2. Use DC-PCA; for any other PCA variant, examine its augmented ANOVA table.
  3. Report which SNP coding and PCA variant were selected, as required by contemporary standards in science for transparency and reproducibility, so that readers can interpret PCA results properly and reproduce PCA analyses reliably.
  4. Produce PCA biplots of both Items and SNPs, rather than merely PCA graphs of only Items, in order to display the joint structure of Items and SNPs and thereby to facilitate causal explanations. Be aware of the arch distortion when interpreting PCA graphs or biplots.
  5. Produce PCA biplots and graphs that have the same scale on every axis.

I read the referenced paper Biplots: Do Not Stretch Them!, by Malik and Piepho (2018), and even though it is not directly applicable to the most commonly available PCA graphs out there, it is a good reminder of the distorting effects of stretching. So for example quite recently in Krause-Kyora et al. (2018), where you can see Corded Ware and BBC samples from Central Europe clustering with samples from Yamna:

NOTE. This is related to a vertical distorsion (i.e. horizontal stretching), but possibly also to the addition of some distant outlier sample/s.

Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of the human Karsdorf and Sorsum samples together with previously published ancient populations projected on 27 modern day West Eurasian populations (not shown) based on a set of 1.23 million SNPs (Mathieson et al., 2015). https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.36666.006

The so-called ‘Yamnaya’ ancestry

Every time I read papers like these, I remember commenters who kept swearing that genetics was the ultimate science that would solve anthropological problems, where unscientific archaeology and linguistics could not. Well, it seems that, like radiocarbon analysis, these promising developing methods need still a lot of refinement to achieve something meaningful, and that they mean nothing without traditional linguistics and archaeology… But we already knew that.

Also, if this is happening in most peer-reviewed publications, made by professional geneticists, in journals of high impact factor, you can only wonder how many more errors and misinterpretations can be found in the obscure market of so many amateur geneticists out there. Because amateur geneticist is a commonly used misnomer for people who are not geneticists (since they don’t have the most basic education in genetics), and some of them are not even ‘amateurs’ (because they are selling the outputs of bioinformatic tools)… It’s like calling healers ‘amateur doctors’.

NOTE. While everyone involved in population genetics is interested in knowing the truth, and we all have our confirmation (and other kinds of) biases, for those who get paid to tell people what they want to hear, and who have sold lots of wrong interpretations already, the incentives of ‘being right’ – and thus getting involved in crooked and paranoid behaviour regarding different interpretations – are as strong as the money they can win or loose by promoting themselves and selling more ‘product’.

As a reminder of how badly these wrong interpretations of genetic results – and the influence of the so-called ‘amateurs’ – can reflect on research groups, yet another turn of the screw by the Copenhagen group, in the oral presentations at Languages and migrations in pre-historic Europe (7-12 Aug 2018), organized by the Copenhagen University. The common theme seems to be that Bell Beaker and thus R1b-L23 subclades do represent a direct expansion from Yamna now, as opposed to being derived from Corded Ware migrants, as they supported before.

NOTE. Yes, the “Yamna → Corded Ware → Únětice / Bell Beaker” migration model is still commonplace in the Copenhagen workgroup. Yes, in 2018. Guus Kroonen had already admitted they were wrong, and it was already changed in the graphic representation accompanying a recent interview to Willerslev. However, since there is still no official retraction by anyone, it seems that each member has to reject the previous model in their own way, and at their own pace. I don’t think we can expect anyone at this point to accept responsibility for their wrong statements.

So their lead archaeologist, Kristian Kristiansen, in The Indo-Europeanization of Europé (sic):

Kristiansen’s (2018) map of Indo-European migrations

I love the newly invented arrows of migration from Yamna to the north to distinguish among dialects attributed by them to CWC groups, and the intensive use of materials from Heyd’s publications in the presentation, which means they understand he was right – except for the fact that they are used to support a completely different theory, radically opposed to those defended in Heyd’s model

Now added to the Copenhagen’s unending proposals of language expansions, some pearls from the oral presentation:

  • Corded Ware north of the Carpathians of R1a lineages developed Germanic;
  • R1b borugh [?] Italo-Celtic;
  • the increase in steppe ancestry on north European Bell Beakers mean that they “were a continuation of the Yamnaya/Corded Ware expansion”;
  • Corded Ware groups [] stopped their expansion and took over the Bell Beaker package before migrating to England” [yep, it literally says that];
  • Italo-Celtic expanded to the UK and Iberia with Bell Beakers [I guess that included Lusitanian in Iberia, but not Messapian in Italy; or the opposite; or nothing like that, who knows];
  • 2nd millennium BC Bronze Age Atlantic trade systems expanded Proto-Celtic [yep, trade systems expanded the language]
  • 1st millennium BC expanded Gaulish with La Tène, including a “Gaulish version of Celtic to Ireland/UK” [hmmm, dat British Gaulish indeed].

You know, because, why the hell not? A logical, stable, consequential, no-nonsense approach to Indo-European migrations, as always.

Also, compare still more invented arrows of migrations, from Mikkel Nørtoft’s Introducing the Homeland Timeline Map, going against Kristiansen’s multiple arrows, and even against the own recent fantasy map series in showing Bell Beakers stem from Yamna instead of CWC (or not, you never truly know what arrows actually mean):

Nørtoft’s (2018) maps of Indo-European migrations.

I really, really loved that perennial arrow of migration from Volosovo, ca. 4000-800 BC (3000+ years, no less!), representing Uralic?, like that, without specifics – which is like saying, “somebody from the eastern forest zone, somehow, at some time, expanded something that was not Indo-European to Finland, and we couldn’t care less, except for the fact that they were certainly not R1a“.

This and Kristiansen’s arrows are the most comical invented migration routes of 2018; and that is saying something, given the dozens of similar maps that people publish in forums and blogs each week.

NOTE. You can read a more reasonable account of how haplogroup R1b-L51 and how R1-Z645 subclades expanded, and which dialects most likely expanded with them.

We don’t know where these scholars of the Danish workgroup stand at this moment, or if they ever had (or intended to have) a common position – beyond their persistent ideas of Yamnaya™ ancestral component = Indo-European and R1a must be Indo-European – , because each new publication changes some essential aspects without expressly stating so, and makes thus everything still messier.

It’s hard to accept that this is a series of presentations made by professional linguists, archaeologists, and geneticists, as stated by the official website, and still harder to imagine that they collaborate within the same professional workgroup, which includes experienced geneticists and academics.

I propose the following video to close future presentations introducing innovative ideas like those above, to help the audience find the appropriate mood:


On the origin and spread of haplogroup R1a-Z645 from eastern Europe


In my recent post about the origin and expansion of haplogroup R1b-L51, Chetan made an interesting comment on the origin and expansion of R1a-Z645. Since this haplogroup is also relevant for European history and dialectal North-West Indo-European and Indo-Iranian expansion, I feel compelled to do a similar post, although the picture right now is more blurry than that of R1b-L51.

I find it interesting that many geneticists would question the simplistic approach to the Out of Africa model as it is often enunciated, but they would at the same time consider the current simplistic model of Yamna expansion essentially right; a model – if anyone is lost here – based on proportions of the so-called Yamnaya™ ancestral component, as found in a small number of samples, from four or five Eneolithic–Chalcolithic cultures spanning more than a thousand years.

The “75% Yamnaya ancestry of Corded Ware”, which has been given so much publicity since 2015, made geneticists propose a “Yamna → Corded Ware → Únětice / Bell Beaker” migration model, in order of decreasing Yamnaya proportions. Y-DNA and solid archaeological models suggested that this model was wrong, and recent findings have proven it was. In fact, the CWC sample closest to Yamna was a late outlier of Esperstedt in Central Europe, whose ancestry is most likely directly related to Yamna settlers from Hungary.

These wrong interpretations have been now substituted by data from two new early samples from the Baltic, which cluster closely to Yamna, and which – based on the Y-DNA and PCA cluster formed by all Corded Ware samples – are likely the product of female exogamy with Yamna peoples from the neighbouring North Pontic region (as we are seeing, e.g. in the recent Nikitin et al. 2018).

NOTE. There is also another paper from Nikitin et al. (2017), with more ancient mtDNA, “Subdivisions of haplogroups U and C encompass mitochondrial DNA lineages of Eneolithic-Early Bronze Age Kurgan populations of western North Pontic steppe”. Link to paper (behind paywall). Most interesting data is summarized in the following table:


Even after the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) and Wang et al. (2018) – where expanding Yamna settlers and Bell Beakers are clearly seen highly admixed within a few generations, and are found spread across a wide Eurasian cline (sharing one common invariable trait, the paternally inherited haplogroup, as supported by David Reich) – fine-scale studies of population structure and social dynamics is still not a thing for many, even though it receives more and more advocates among geneticists (e.g. Lazaridis, or Veeramah).

NOTE. I have tried to explain, more than once, that the nature and origin of the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (then “steppe ancestry”, and now subdivided further as Steppe_EMBA and Steppe_MLBA) is not known with precision before Yamna samples of ca. 3000 BC, and especially that it is not necessarily a marker of Indo-European speakers. Why some people are adamant that steppe ancestry and thus R1a must be Indo-European is mostly related to a combination of grandaddy’s haplogroup, the own modern ethnolinguistic attribution, and an aversion to sharing grandpa with other peoples and cultures.

In the meantime, we are seeing the “Yamnaya proportion” question often reversed: “how do we make Corded Ware stem from Yamna, now that we believed it?”. This is a funny circular reasoning, akin to the one used by proponents of the Franco-Cantabrian origin of R1b, when they look now at EEF proportions in Iberian R1b-L23 samples. It seems too comic to be true.

R1a and steppe ancestry

The most likely origin of haplogroup R1a-Z645 is to be found in eastern Europe. Samples published in the last year support this region as a sort of cradle of R1a expansions:

  • I1819, Y-DNA R1a1-M459, mtDNA U5b2, Ukraine Mesolithic ca. 8825-8561 calBCE, from Vasilievka.
  • I5876, Y-DNA R1a, mtDNA U5a2a, Ukraine Mesolithic 7040-6703 calBCE, from Dereivka.
  • I0061, hg R1a1-M459 (xR1a1a-M17), mtDNA C1, ca. 6773-6000 calBCE (with variable dates), from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov in Karelia.
  • Samples LOK_1980.006 and LOK_1981.024.01, of hg MR1a1a-M17, mtDNA F, Baikalic cultures, dated ca. 5500-5000 BC.
  • Sample I0433, hg R1a1-M459(xM198), mtDNA U5a1i, from Samara Eneolithic, ca. 5200-4000 BCE
  • Samples A3, A8, A9, of hg R1a1-M459, mtDNA H, from sub-Neolithic cultures (Comb Ware and Zhizhitskaya) at Serteyea, although dates (ca. 5th-3rd millennium BC) need possibly a revision (from Chekunova 2014).

NOTE. The fact that Europe is better sampled than North Asia, coupled with the finding of R1a-M17 in Baikalic cultures, poses some problems as to the precise origin of this haplogroup and its subclades. While the first (Palaeolithic or Mesolithic) expansion was almost certainly from Northern Eurasia to the west – due to the Mal’ta sample – , it is still unknown if the different subclades of R1a in Europe are the result of local developments, or rather different east—west migrations through North Eurasia.

Y-Full average estimates pointed to R1a-M417 formation ca. 6500 BC, TMRCA ca. 3500 BC, and R1a-Z645 formation ca. 3300 BC, TMRCA ca. 2900 BC, so the most likely explanation was that R1a-Z645 and its subclades – similar to R1b-L23 subclades, but slightly later) expanded quickly with the expansion of Corded Ware groups.

The presence of steppe ancestry in Ukraine Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-M417, from Alexandria, dated ca. 4045-3974 calBCE, pointed to the forest steppe area and late Sredni Stog as the most likely territory from where the haplogroup related to the Corded Ware culture expanded.

However, the more recent Y-SNP call showing R1a-Z93 (L657) subclade rendered Y-Full’s (at least formation) estimates too young, so we have to rethink the actual origin of both subclades, R1a-Z93 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca 2700 BC), and R1a-Z283 (formation ca. 2900 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC).

Contrary to what we thought before this, then, it is possible that the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains through the steppes, around the mid-5th millennium BC, had something to do with the expansion of R1a-Z645 to the north, in the forest steppe.

We could think that the finding of Z93 in Alexandria after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chiefs would make it more likely that R1a-Z645 will be found in the North Pontic area. However, given that Lower Mikhailovka and Kvitjana seem to follow a steppe-related cultural tradition, different to forest steppe cultures (like Dereivka and Alexandria), and that forest steppe cultures show connections to neighbouring northern and western forest regions, the rest of the expanding R1a-Z645 community may not be related directly to the steppe at all.

Adding a hypothetical split and expansion of Z645 subclades to the mid-/late-5th millennium could place the expansion of this haplogroup to the north and west, pushed by expanding Middle PIE-speaking steppe peoples from the east:

Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic, representing expanding Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains. See a full version with notes here.

The Złota culture

I have already written about the Podolia-Volhynia region: about the North Pontic steppe cultures in contact with this area, and about the chaotic period of migrations when Corded Ware seem to have first emerged there among multi-directional and multi-ethnic migrants.

This is what Włodarczak (2017) says about the emergence of Corded Ware with ‘steppe features’ after the previous expansion of such features in Central Europe with Globular Amphorae peoples. He refers here to the Złota culture (appearing ca. 2900-2800 BC) in Lesser Poland, believed to be the (or a) transitional stage between GAC and Corded Ware, before the emergence of the full-fledged “Corded Ware package”.

So far, to the north of the Carpathian Mountains, including Polish lands, no graves indicating their relationship with communities of the steppe zone have been found. On the contrary, the funeral rites always display a local, central European nature. However, individual elements typical of steppe communities do appear, such as the “frog-like” arrangement of the body (Fig. 20), or items associated with Pit Grave milieux (cf. Klochko, Kośko 2009; Włodarczak 2014). A spectacular example of the latter is the pointed-base vessel of Pit Grave culture found at the cemetery in Święte, site 11 near Jarosław (Kośko et al. 2012). These finds constitute a confirmation of the importance of the relationships between communities of Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture. They are chronologically diverse, although most of them are dated to 2600-2400 BC – that is, to the “classic” period of Corded Ware culture.

Map of territorial ranges of Funnel Beaker Culture (and its settlement concentrations in Lesser Poland), local Trypillian groups and early Corded Ware Culture settlements (◼) at the turn of the 4th/3rd millennia BC.

However, when discussing the relationships with the steppe communities, Polish lands deserve particular attention since part of the groups inhabiting it belonged to the eastern province of Corded Ware culture (cf. Häusler 2014), which neighboured Pit Grave culture both from the east and south. In addition, there was a tradition of varied relationships with the north Pontic zone, which began to intensify from the second half of the 4th millennium BC (Kośko, Szmyt, 2009; Kośko, Klochko, 2009). These connections are especially readable in Małopolska and Kujawy (Kośko 2014; Włodarczak 2014). The emergence of the community of Globular Amphora culture in the north Pontic zone at the end of the 4th and the beginnings of the 3rd millennium BC (Szmyt 1999) became a harbinger of a cultural closening between the worlds of central Europe and the steppe.

The second important factor taking place at that time was the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture in a westerly direction, along the Danube thoroughfare. As a result of this, also to the south of the Carpathian Mountains, e.g., along the upper Tisza River, a new “kurgan” cultural system was formed. As one outcome, the areas of central Europe, above all Małopolska, found themselves in the vicinity of areas inhabited by communities characterized by new principles of social organization and a new funeral rite. Around 2800 BC these changes became evident in different regions of Poland, with the most numerous examples being documented in south-eastern Poland and Kujawy. The nature of the funeral rite and the features of the material culture perceptible at that time do not have straight forward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities. In this respect, the “A-horizon” is a phenomenon of local, central European origin. The events preceding the emergence of the said horizon (that is, the expansion of the people of Pit Grave culture into the area north of the arc of the Carpathians) are nowadays completely unidentifiable and remain merely an interesting theoretical matter (cf. e.g., Kośko 2000). Therefore, analysis of the archaeological sources cannot confirm the first archaeogenetic analysis suggesting a bond between the communities of the Pit Grave culture and Corded Ware culture (e.g., Haak et al. 2015).

Artefacts of the “A-horizon”, i.e., shaft-hole axes, amphorae (Fig. 21), beakers, and pots with a plastic wavy strip (Fig. 7) are found in different funerary and settlement contexts, sometimes jointly with finds having characteristics of various cultures (e.g., in graves of Złota culture, or at settlements of Rzucewo culture). Hence, they primarily represent a chronological phase (c. 2800-2600 BC), one obviously related to the expansion of a new ideology.

Eastern CWC expansion

Before continuing tracing the Corded Ware culture’s main features, it is worth it to trace first their movement forward in time, as Corded Ware settlers, from Poland to the east.

Circum-Baltic CWC

According to Klochko and Kośko (1998):

The colonizing Neolithic waves are continued by the Circum-Baltic Corded Ware culture, closely related to the traditions of the Single Grave culture and traditions of the Northern European Lowlands. After ca. 2900 BC, certain cultural systems with ‘corded’ traits –genetically related to the catchment area of the south-western Baltic – appear in the drainages of the Nemen, Dvina, Upper Dnieper, and even the Volga. These communities are considered the vector of Neolithisation in the Forest Zone.

East European movement directions (arrows) of the representatives of the Central European Corded Ware Culture. Modified from I.I. Artemenko.

The picture in the Baltic (Pamariu / Rzucewo) and Finland (Battle Axe) is thus more or less clearly connected with early dates ca. 2900-2800 BC:

There is a clear interaction sphere between the eastern Gulf of Finland area – reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia –, evidenced e.g. by the sharp-butted axes, derived from the Estonian Karlova axe.

Interesting in this regard is the expansion of the Corded Ware culture in Finland, into a far greater territory than previously thought, that is poorly represented in most maps depicting the extent of the culture in Europe. Here is summary of CWC findings in Finland, using images from Nordqvist and Häkäla (2014):

Corded Ware culture remains in Finland, excluding the so-called ‘imitations’. [Notice in the top left image the often depicted border of the culture]. Combination of maps from Nordqvist & Häkälä (2014)

Middle Dnieper and Fatyanovo

The earliest Middle Dnieper remains are related to CWC graves between the Upper Vistula and the Bug, containing pottery with Middle Dnieper traits, dated probably ca. 2700 BC, which links it with the expansion of the A-horizon. In fact, during the period ca. 2800-2400 BC, the area of Lesser Poland (with its numerous kurgans and catacomb burials) is considered the western fringe of an area spreading to the east, to the middle Dniester and middle Dnieper river basins, i.e. regions bordering the steppe oecumene. This ‘eastern connection’ of funeral ritual, raw materials, and stylistic traits of artefacts is also identified in some graves of the Polish Lowlands (Włodarczak 2017).

Cultural situation in Eastern Europe in approximately the middle of the III mill. BC. Key: 1 – areas settled by Globular Amphora culture populations; 2 – areas penetrated by Globular Amphora culture populations; 3 – border between central and eastern group; 4 – Pamariu/Rzucewo culture area; 5 – zone of Pamariu/Rzucewo culture influences; 6 – directions of Comb Pottery culture influence; 7 – Zhizhitskaya culture; 8 – eastern border of “pure” Corded Ware site; 9 – North Belarussian culture; 10 – Middle Dnieper culture; 11 – Fatyanovo culture; 12 – Yamnaya culture; 13 – eastern border of Dniester group; 14 – Kemi-Oba culture and influences; 15 – Foltesti culture; 16 – syncretic sites with evidence of Globular Amphora culture traits (1 – Nida; 2 – Butinge; 3 – Palanga; 4 – Juodkrante; 5 – Azyarnoye; 6 – Mali Rogi; 7 – Prorva; 8 – Strumen/Losha; 9 – Syabrovichi; 10 – Luchin-Zavale; 11 – Lunevo (?); 12 – Belynets; 13 – Losiatyn; 14 – Corpaci; 15 – Ocnita; 16-17 – Camenca; 18 – Marculesti; 19 – Orhei; 20 – Efimovka; 21 – Tatarbunary; 22 – Novoselitsa; 23 – Primorskoye; 24 – Sanzhiyka; 25 – Akkermen; 26 – Maydanetskoye; 27 – Grigorevka; 28 – Kholmskoye; 29 – Purcari; 30 – Roscani; 31 – Semenovka; 32 – Grishevka; 33 – Durna Skela; 34 – Iskovshchina; 35 – Primorskoye); 17 – borders of ecological zones. From Szmyt (2010)

The Fatyanovo (or Fatyanovo-Balanovo) culture was the easternmost group of the Corded Ware culture, and occupied the centre of the Russian Plain, from Lake Ilmen and the Upper Dnieper drainage to the Wiatka River and the middle course of the Volga. From the few available dates, the oldest ones from the plains of the Moskva river, and from the late Volosovo culture containing also Fatyanovo materials, and in combination they show a date of ca. 2700 BC for its appearance in the region. The Volosovo culture of foragers eventually disappeared when the Fatyanovo culture expanded into the Upper and Middle Volga basin.

The origin of the culture is complicated, because it involves at its earliest stage different Corded Ware influences in neighbouring sites, at least on the Moskva river plains (Krenke et al. 2013): some materials (possibly earlier) show Circum-Baltic and Polish features; other sites show a connection to western materials, in turn a bridge to the Middle Dnieper culture. This suggests that groups belonging to different groups of the corded ware tradition penetrated the Moscow region.

The split of subclades Z93 – Z283

If we take into account that the split between R1-Z93 and R1a-Z283 must have happened during the 5th millennium BC, we have R1a-Z93 likely around the middle Dnieper area (as supported by the Alexandria sample), and R1a-Z283 possibly to the north(-west), so that it could have expanded easily into Central Europe, and – through the northern, Baltic region – to the east.

Where exactly lies the division is unclear, but for the moment all reported Circum-Baltic samples with Z645 subclades seem to belong to Z282, while R1a samples from Sintashta/Potapovka (including the Poltavka outlier) point to Abashevo being dominated by R1a-Z93 subclades.

We have to assume, then, that an original east-west split betwen R1a-Z283 and R1a-Z93 turned, in the eastern migrations, into a north-south split between Z282 and Z93, where Finland and Battle Axe in general is going to show Z282, and Middle Dnieper – Abashevo Z93 subclades.

Early Copper Age migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC.

I can think of two reasons why this is important:

  1. Depending on how Proto-Corded Ware peoples expanded, we may be talking about one community overcoming the other and imposing its language. Because either
    • clans of both Z93 and Z283 were quite close and kept intense cultural contacts around Dnieper-Dniester area; or
    • if the split is as early as the 5th millennium BC, and both communities separated then without contact, we are probably going to see a difference in the language spoken by both of them.
  2. In any case, the main north-south division of eastern Corded Ware groups is pointing to an important linguistic division within the Uralic-speaking communities, specifically between a Pre-Finno-Ugric and a Pre-Samoyedic one, and potentially between Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric.

These may seem irrelevant questions – especially for people interested only in Indo-European migrations. However, for those interested in the history of Eurasian peoples and languages as a whole, they are relevant: even those who support an ‘eastern’ origin of Proto-Uralic, like Häkkinen, or Parpola (who are, by the way, in the minority, because most Uralicists would point to eastern Europe well before the Yamna expansion), place the Finno-Ugric expansion with the Netted Ware culture as the latest possible Finno-Ugric immigrants in Fennoscandia.

The Netted Ware culture

The image below shows the approximate expansion of Corded Ware peoples of Battle Axe traditions in Finland, as well as neighbouring Fennoscandian territories, from ca. 2800 BC until the end of the 3rd millennium. A controversial 2nd (late) wave of the so-called Estonian Corded Ware is popular in texts about this region, but has not been substantiated, and it seems to be a regional development, rather than the product of migrations.

Left: Corded Ware remains in Finland from ca. 2800 BC, according to Nordqvist & Häkälä (2014), combined in a single image. Right: Distribution of the Corded Ware culture within Finland. Mapped (black dots) are finds of typical stone battle axes, used as a proxy (data from [8]). The red isolines indicate average permanent snow cover period from 1981 to 2010 (data from [9]). A recent study estimates the snow cover period ca 4500 years ago would have been 40–50 days less than today [10]. Overlying coloration refers to the lactose persistance (LP) allele gradient in modern northeastern Europe (see the electronic supplementary material, appendix B: Material and methods and table 1, for details); lozenge dots specify the dataset mean points for the triangulation. From Cramp et al. (2014).

As we have seen, Fatyanovo represents the most likely cultural border zone between Circum-Baltic peoples reaching from the Russian Battle Axe to the south, and Middle Dnieper peoples reaching from Abashevo to the north. In that sense, it also represents the most likely border culture between north-western (mainly R1a-Z282) and south-eastern (R1a-Z93) subclades.

With worsening climatic conditions (cooler seasons) at the end of the 3rd millennium, less settlements are apparent in the archaeological record in Finland. After ca. 2000 BC, two CWC-related cultures remain: in the coast, the Kiukainen culture, derived from the original Circum-Baltic Corded Ware settlers, reverts to a subsistence economy which includes hunting and fishing, and keeps mainly settlements (from the best territories) along the coast. In the inland, Netted Ware immigrants eventually appear from the south.

Image modified from Cramp et al. (2014) “The timeline shows the archaeological cultures
discussed here alongside actual sherds sampled and typical vessel forms (after [26–28]) (latter not shown to scale). Distribution maps show the geographical range of (f) Typical Comb Ware, (g) Corded Ware, (h) Kiukainen Ware and (i) Bronze Age cultures in the region (after [10,20,29]).”

The Netted Ware culture emerged in the Upper Volga–Oka region, derived from the Abashevo culture and its interaction with the Seima-Turbino network, and spread ca. 1900-1800 BC to the north into Finland, spreading into eastern regions previously occupied by cultures producing asbestos and organic-tempered wares (Parpola 2018).

NOTE. Those ‘contaminated’ by the Copenhagen fantasy map series may think that Volosovo hunter-gatherers somehow survived the expansion of Fatyanovo-Balanovo and Abashevo, hidden for hundreds of years in the forest, and then reappeared and expanded the Netted Ware culture. Well, they didn’t. At least not in archaeological terms, and certainly not with the genetic data we have.

If we combine all this information, and we think about these peoples in terms of Pre-Finno-Permic and Pre-Ugric languages developing side by side, we get a really interesting picture (see here for Proto-Fennic estimates):

  • The Battle Axe around the Baltic Sea – including the Gulf of Finland and Scandinavia – would be the area of expansion of Pre-Finno-Permic peoples, of R1a-Z283 subclades, which became later concentrated mainly on coastal regions;
  • the southern areas may correspond to Pre-Ugric peoples, which expanded later to the north with Netted Ware (see image below) – their precise subclades may be dependent on what will be found in Fatyanovo;
  • and Pre-Samoyedic peoples (of R1a-Z93 subclades) would have become isolated somewhere in the Cis- or (more likely) Trans-Urals region after 2000 BC, possibly from the interaction of the latest Balanovo stages and the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.
Distribution of the Netted Ware according to Carpelan (2002: 198). A: Emergence of the Netted Ware on the Upper Volga c. 1900 calBC. B: Spread of Netted Ware by c. 1800 calBC. C: Early Iron Age spread of Netted Ware. (After Carpelan 2002: 198 > Parpola 2012a: 151.)

These communities in contact would have allowed for:

  • the known Indo-Iranian loanwords in Finno-Ugric to spread through a continuum of early dialects formed by Abashevo – Fatyanovo – Battle Axe groups;
  • the Finno-Saamic substrate of Germanic to be associated with Battle Axe groups in Scandinavia;
  • the important Palaeo-Germanic loanwords in Finno-Saamic spreading with long-term contacts (from Pre-Germanic to the Proto-Germanic, and later North Germanic period) through the Baltic Sea, between Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland;
  • and Tocharian contacts with Samoyedic (although limited, and in part controversial), which point to its early expansion to the east of the Ural Mountains.

On the other hand, if one is inclined to believe that R1a and steppe ancestry do represent Indo-European speakers… which language was spoken from the Gulf of Finland well into the north, the inland, and Karelia, and in Northern Russia, by Corded Ware peoples and their cultural heirs (like Kiukainen or Netted Ware) for almost three thousand years?

Because we know that no other peoples of different haplogroups dominated over eastern Fennoscandia until the Iron Age, and N1c and Siberian ancestry expanded separately, and probably due to late bottlenecks, especially with Fennic peoples expanding recently to the north at the expense of the Saami population.

After the expansion of Bell Beaker peoples, the geographic distribution of late Corded Ware groups in the second half of the 3rd millennium, just before their demise – and before the expansion of Netted Ware to the north – , can be depicted thus as follows:

Early Bronze Age Europe.

Territories in cyan must then represent, for some people who believe in an archaic Indo-Slavonic of sorts, the famous Fennoscandian Balto-Slavic to the north (before they were displaced by incoming Finno-Saamic peoples of hg N1c during the Iron Age and up to the Middle Ages); and the also famous Tundra-Forest Indo-Iranian in the Upper Volga area, a great environment for the development of the two-wheeled chariot…

But let’s leave the discussion on imaginary IE dialects for another post, and continue with the real question at hand.

A steppe funerary connection?

Back to Złota as a transitional culture, we have already seen how the corded ware vessels characteristic of the Classic CWC are related to Globular Amphora tradition, and show no break with this culture. It is usually believed that the funerary rites were adopted from steppe influence, too. That is probably right; but it does not mean that it came from Yamna or other coeval (or previous) steppe culture; at least not directly.

NOTE. A similar problem is seen when we read that Mierzanowice or Trzciniec show “Corded Ware” traits from a neighbouring CWC group, when CWC groups disappeared long before these cultures emerged. For cultural groups that are separated centuries from each other, an assertion as to their relationship needs specifics in terms of dates and material connection, or it is plainly wrong.

These are the funerary ritual features from Złota (later specialized in Corded Ware), as described by Włodarczak (2017):

  • Single burial graves; along with the habit of interring the deceased in multiple burial graves, but emphasizing their individual character by careful deposition of the body and personal nature of the grave goods.
  • Grave goods with materials and stylistiscs belonging to an older system (e.g. amber products); and others correlated to the ‘new world’ of the CWC, such as flint products made of the raw materials tipical of Lesser Poland’s CWC, copper ornaments, stone shaft-hole axes, bone and shell ornaments, and characteristic forms of vessels like beakers and amphoras.
  • Military goods, which would become prevalent in later periods, are present in a moderate number, compatible with their lesser importance.
  • There are also cases of the characteristic catacomb (“niche”) graves – with an entrance pit, a more extensive niche, and a narrow corridor leading to a vault – , as well as some individual cases of application of ochre and deformation of skulls.
Catacomb grave no. 2a/06 from Książnice, Złota culture (acc. to Wilk 2013). Image from Włodarczak (2017)

It seems that the Złota funerary tradition was also “transitional”, like corded ware vessels, into the classical Corded Ware ideology. But “transitional” from what exactly? Yamna? Probably not.

The Lublin-Volhynia culture

One needs not look for a too distant culture to find similarities. Włodarczak (2017) points to CWC in south-eastern Poland and Kuyavia showing, by the time of the Yamna expansion, a funeral rite and features of the material culture without straightforward analogies in the world of north Pontic communities, and thus suggests that the “A-horizon” is a local phenomenon of central European origin.

This assertion is interesting, in so far as most Corded Ware samples investigated to date seem to come precisely from an East-Central territory near the Ukraine forest steppe, with a cluster already established by the end of the 5th millennium:

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

The following text is from Stanisław Wilk (2018), about the Lublin-Volhynian (and related) cemeteries at Wyciąże and Książnice:

A reach of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and Lublin-Volhynian culture in the south-eastern Poland and western Ukraine: 1. Area of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; 2. Area of the Lublin-Volhynian culture. A. Cemetery of the Lublin-Volhynian culture at site 2 in Książnice; B. Cemetery of the Wyciąże-Złotniki group at site 5 in Kraków Nowa Huta-Wyciąże (drawing by S. Wilk based on Zakościelna 2006 and Nowak 2014, on a background downloaded from https://maps-for-free.com/).

Regardless of the differences between the two necropolises (such as the number of burials, the area which has been explored, the orientation and layout of burials), it seems that they have several key elements in common:

  • concentration of graves in separate cemeteries;
  • differentiation of burials with regard to sex (the principle of the ‘left ̶ right’ side, different burial goods for males and females);
  • stratification of graves with regard to the richness of their inventories (this mainly applied to copper artefacts);
  • occurrence of indicators of the richest male burials (a copper dagger in Wyciąże, a copper battle axe, a small axe and a chisel in Książnice);
  • allocation of a separate area for elite burials (the eastern burial area in Książnice, and the southeastern and north-central part of the necropolis in Wyciąże), as well as one for egalitarian burials (the western area in Książnice, and the south-central and western part of the cemetery in Wyciąże).
Plan of the Lublin-Volhynian culture cemetery at site 2 in Książnice: 1. female graves; 2. man graves; 3. copper traces; 4. cenothap; 5. cremation grave; 6. partial grave; 7. estimated area of the L-VC cemetery; 8. estimated area of an elite and poor burial fields; 9. area of burials containing copper artefacts (drawing by S. Wilk).

The above-mentioned characteristics prove that the patterns of social and religious behaviours from areas lying beyond the Carpathian Mountains exerted a strong influence on the two societies living in Lesser Poland.

Anna Zakościelna, while describing the similarities between the burial ritual of the late Polgár groups and cultures from areas on the Tisza river and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, claimed that:

a characteristic feature of the burial ritual of both cultures was practicing various group norms, which required different treatment of the deceased depending on their sex, age and social rank. As in the Lublin-Volhynia culture, the opposition ‘male – female’ can the most clearly be observed ̶ particularly, in the consistent positioning of males on the right, and females, on the left side. And, there is much indication that this ritual norm divided the deceased from early childhood (Sofaer Derevensky 1997: 877, Tab. 1; Lichter 2001: 276- 280, 322-323) (Zakościelna 2010: 227-228).

It seems that these observations can also be extended to the Wyciąże-Złotniki group.

Another question is whether the evidence of the influences of the copper civilization observed in both cemeteries emerged as a result of the literal copying of patterns from the south, or whether the latter were only a source of inspiration for local solutions.

Looking at this problem form the perspective of the details of burial ritual, between the Carpathian Basin and Lesser Poland, we can observe clear differences, among others, in the size of cemeteries and orientation of burials. While, in the Carpathian Basin there were large necropolises, consisting of several dozen burials located in rows, with the dominant orientation along the SE-NW and E-W axis (Lichter 2001: Abb. 123, 143; Kadrow 2008: 87); in Lesser Poland there were small cemeteries of several to a dozen or so burials, mostly oriented along the S-N axis (in the Lublin-Volhynia culture; Zakościelna 2010: 66), as well as S-E and NE-SW (in the Wyciąże-Złotniki group; Kaczanowska 2009: 77). Similarly, there are differences in the details of the burial goods. North of the Carpathians, there is a much smaller frequency of copper artefacts, particularly in the group of prestigious, heavy items (battle axes, axes and daggers), as well as a complete lack of objects made of gold. Want is more, the pottery found in the graves has a distinct local character, only supplemented by imitating or imports from areas beyond the Carpathians (Zakościelna 2006: 85; Nowak 2014: 273; a different opinion Kozłowski 2006: 57). Therefore, the suggestion made by Nowak seems right ̶ namely, that these influences were not caused by migrations of groups of the population living on the Tisza river to Lesser Poland, but were rather due to processes of selective cultural transmission (Nowak 2014: 273).

Therefore, the sharing of a similar funerary rite (as happened later between Lublin-Volhynia and Złota), although it shows a strong cultural connection with autochthonous cultures, is obviously not the same as sharing ancestors; and even if it were so, they would not need to be paternal ancestors. But it shows that important Corded Ware cultural traits are local developments, and it disconnects thus still more supposed CWC ‘steppe traits’ from steppe cultures, and connects them with the first steppe-related cultural wave that reached central Europe in the 5th millennium BC.

Prehistoric Pontic—Caspian links

How would a Lublin-Volhynia culture be related to the North Pontic area ca. 4500-3000 BC? We can enjoy the map series of Baltic—Pontic migrations by Viktor Klochko (2009), and make a wild guess:

Pontic—Baltic routes of migrations during the Eneolithic. Top left: Linear Pottery expansion. Top right: Funnel Beaker expansion. Bottom left: late Trypillia expansion. Bottom right: GAC expansion.

And then read the account of Sławomir Kadrow (2016), in Exchange of People, Ideas and Things between Cucuteni-Trypillian Complex and Areas of South-Eastern Poland (2016):

In the second half of the 5th millennium BC (horizon 1), communities of the Tripolye culture, phases BI-BII, had contacts with the population of the late (IIa) phase of the Malice culture. The areas settled by both cultural complexes were located at a great distance from each other. The communities of the Tripolye culture adopted selected features of Malice ceramic production (fig 2). This seems to have resulted from marital exchange: on a moderate scale, Tripolye men sought out their wives in the area of the Malice culture and, according to patrilocal marriage customs, the women then moved to the Tripolye settlements, sporadically transferring ready-made ceramic products, so-called imports, to the Tripolye culture. Thus, the wives were responsible for the considerably more numerous imitations of the Malice ceramics and the long-lasting, though selective, traditions of Malice pottery passed down in their new environment. The patrilocal marriage customs involving the Malice women and the Tripolye men (never the other way round), and the fact that pottery was women’s domain, led to the unidirectional transfer of vessels, technology and norms of ceramic production from the Malice culture to the Tripolye culture.

The turn of the 5th and the 4th millennia and the early 4th millennium BC (horizon 2) witnessed the deepening interaction between the populations of the youngest (IIb) phase of the Malice culture and the classic (II) phase of the Lublin-Volhynia culture on the one hand and the communities of phase BII of the Tripolye culture on the other. The Danube and the Tripolye settlement complexes came into contact on the upper Dniester and between the Styr and the Horyn rivers in Volhynia. This helped to continue the previous forms of marital exchange, which resulted in further popularisation of the ceramics and the traditions of ceramic production typical of the Danube cultures, i.e. the Malice and the Lublin-Volhynia cultures, and also the Polgár culture, in the areas settled by the Tripolye cultural complex.

As the civilizational norms of the Eneolithic (Copper) Age became widespread in that period, the forms of interaction described above acquired new elements. The deepening internal diversification of the early Eneolithic communities of the Lublin-Volhynia culture led to a growing demand for prestige objects, which was met with import or imitation of copper artefacts, mainly those from the Carpathian Basin, and with flint tools produced from long blades. That type of flint production depended largely on new technologies derived from the Tripolye culture, as proven by such borrowings as troughlike retouch or the very idea and technology for the production of long flint blades in the Lublin-Volhynia culture. It seems that the influx of Tripolye settlers into flintbearing areas in Volhynia and on the upper Dniester, adjacent to the settlement centres of the late phase of the Malice culture and the Lublin-Volhynia culture, created sufficient conditions for the expanding influence of the Tripolye flint working on the communities of the Eneolithic Lublin-Volhynia culture.

In the mid-4th millennium BC (horizon 3), those forms of interaction between the Danube communities (the late phase of the Lublin-Volhynian culture) and the Tripolye communities (phase CI)were continued. Elements of the Danube pottery still grew in popularity in the Tripolye population, while selected features of the Tripolye flint working were adopted by the Lublin-Volhynia culture.

In that period, the population of the Funnel Beaker culture of the pre-classic and early classic phases (the beginnings of Gródek 1 and Bronocice III), until then absent from those areas, quite quickly drove out and replaced the Danube population in western Volhynia and the upper Dniester basin. This caused significant changes in the forms and intensity of the intercultural interaction, which became fully apparent already in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC.

In the following period (horizon 4), the population of the classic phase of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 1, Bronocice III) settled more and more intensively the upper Dniester basin, up to the Hnyla Lypa river, and western Volhynia, up to the Styr river. East of those rivers, the Funnel Beaker settlers created considerable areas where they mixed with settlers from early phase CII of the Tripolye culture. Their coexistence, lasting there for many generations, resulted in deepening the interactions between members of both cultural complexes and in developing entirely new forms of relationships.


The intensifying interaction between the communities of the Funnel Beaker culture and the Tripolye culture, early phase CII, in the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (horizon 4) was an introduction to, and perhaps a condition for, even more frequent contacts in the next period, the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BC (horizon 5). In that case, the interaction was mainly triggered by multidirectional migrations of larger human groups, involving a significant part of the population of all cultures from the areas discussed here. The Tripolye communities of younger phase CII settled Volhynia, its eastern areas in particular, from the south and the south-east, while groups representing the younger phases of the Funnel Beaker culture (Gródek 2), often with Baden features (Bronocice IV and V), moved increasingly into the western part of that region. The Yamna communities expanded along the lower and central Danube to the west, whereas the populations of the late phase of the Baden culture took the opposite direction, reaching as far as Kiev in the northeast, and contributed to the cultural character of the Sofievka group.

The communities of the Globular Amphora culture migrated from the north-west, from eastern Poland, towards the Danube Delta and as far as the Dnieper in the east, while the multicultural population from the areas around the mouth of the Danube moved in the opposite direction, carrying with them cultural elements from Thrace, or even from Anatolia. Some of them returned to the starting point (to south-eastern Poland), bringing with them a new form of pottery, so-called Thuringian amphora, borrowed from the late Trypillian Usatovo group. This resulted in origins of the Złota culture, a cultural phenomenon that gave beginnings to the oldest Corded Ware culture. Inventories of both cultures contained the already mentioned Thuringian amphorae.

Graves and cemeteries with gender differentiated burial rites in Europe; A — Hamangia and Varna cultures; B — Tiszapolgar and Bodrogkeresztur cultures; C — Lublin-Volhynia culture; D — Brześć Kujawski culture. Added star symbol with approximate location of the Alexandria site. Modified image from Sławomir Kadrow (2016)

Here is a more recent assessment (2017) of the latest radiocarbon analyses of the available settlements of cultures in the area, published by Marek Novak (announced in a previous post), which gives the following data on Wyciąże-Złotniki, Lublin-Volhynia, and Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź:

This scheme unambiguously suggests both the overlapping and contiguous nature of cultural development in western Lesser Poland within the Middle Neolithic. The basic elements of this development are: 1) the Wyciąże-Złotniki group and the Lublin-Volhynian culture, until c. 3650–3550 cal BC; 2) the Funnel Beaker culture proper, which appeared c. 3750–3700c al BC, and existed until c. 3300–3250 cal BC, perhaps accompanied by the Wyciąże/Niedźwiedź materials from c. 3650–3550 cal BC; and 3) the Baden culture and the Funnel Beaker/Baden assemblages from 3100 and 3300–3100 cal BC, respectively, until 2850–2750 and 2850 cal BC, with – possibly – later Funnel Beaker culture and Wyciąże/ Niedźwiedź materials, existing until c. 3100 cal BC.

The final scheme shows that the Lublin-Volhynian culture could have coincided with the Wyciąże-Złotniki group. In view of the territorial relationship between them, relations from the point of view of material culture, primarily in the field of pottery, become particularly interesting. It is relatively easy to see clear similarities between these units. However, the most evident similarities apply only to some categories of ceramics, including, for example, vessels with Scheibenhenkel handles. What is more, in the period between the late 38th and early 36th centuries BC, the early Funnel Beaker and possibly early Baden influences are superimposed on this Lublin-Volhynian/Wyciąże-Złotniki ‘mix’.

[About Corded Ware: The] development of this unit in central Europe, including western Lesser Poland, [] usually point to c. 2800 cal BC (Włodarczak 2006a). (…) the calibration curve makes it possible to alternatively refer several dates earlier than c. 3100 to c. 2850–2800 cal BC.


There is no direct archaeological link of Lublin-Volhynia-related groups with Corded Ware, beyond the fact that they shared homeland and Central European (‘steppe-related’) traits, as found in the Złota culture. But there is no direct link of Yamna with Corded Ware, either, whether in terms of culture or population.

So, given the evident link of R1a-Z93 and steppe ancestry with the forest steppe ca. 4000 BC, the surrounding North Pontic areas in contact along the Dniester, Dnieper, Bug, and Prut are the best candidates for the appearance of R1a-Z283: steppe cultures to the south and south-west; sub-Neolithic (Comb Ware) groups to the north in the forest zone; and Eneolithic groups to the west and north-west.

Seeing how ‘ancestral components’ and PCA cluster can change within a few generations, the question of the spread of R1a-Z645 subclades is still not settled by a single sample in Alexandria. However, based on the explosive expansions we are seeing from small territories, it would not be surprising to find R1a-Z93 and R1a-Z283 side by side in the same small area within the forest steppe.

NOTE. An archaeological link may not mean anything relevant in genetics, especially – as in this case – when no clear migration event has been traced to date. We have seen exactly that with Kristiansen’s proposal of a long-term genetic admixture of Yamna with Trypillia and GAC to form Corded Ware, which didn’t happen. The cultural and ideological connection of CWC peoples with Lublin-Volhynian tradition may be similar to the already known connection with GAC, and not mean anything in genetic finds; at least in terms of Y-DNA haplogroup.

We believed in the 2000s that Corded Ware represented the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European, because the modern map of haplogroup R1a showed a distribution similar to how we thought the European and Indo-Iranian languages could have expanded. This has been proven wrong, and that’s what ancient DNA is for; not to confirm the own ideas or models, or to support modern ideologies.

It is impossible to know if R1a-Z645 comes from the steppe, forest steppe, or forest zone, until more samples are published. I don’t think there will be any big surprise, no matter where it is eventually found. By now, adding linguistic reconstruction to archaeological traits, and to the genetic data from Yamna and Corded Ware settlers, the only clear pattern is that patrilineal clans expanded, during the Final Eneolithic / Chalcolithic:

  • Late Proto-Indo-European with Yamna and R1b-L23 subclades, given the known genomic data from Khvalynsk, Yamna, Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, Catacomb, and Poltavka—Sintashta/Potapovka.
  • Uralic with Corded Ware and R1a-Z645 subclades, given the known genomic data from Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone.

Everything else is just wishful thinking at this moment.


Y-DNA haplogroups of Tuvinian tribes show little effect of the Mongol expansion


Open access Estimating the impact of the Mongol expansion upon the gene pool of Tuvans, by Balanovskaya et al., Vavilov Journal of genetics and breeding (2018), 22(5):611-619.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

With a view to trace the Mongol expansion in Tuvinian gene pool we studied two largest Tuvinian clans – those in which, according to data of humanities, one could expect the highest Central Asian ancestry, connected with the Mongol expansion. Thus, the results of Central Asian ancestry in these two clans component may be used as upper limit of the Mongol influence upon the Tuvinian gene pool in a whole. According to the data of 59 Y-chromosomal SNP markers, the haplogroup spectra in these Tuvinian tribal groups (Mongush, N = 64, and Oorzhak, N = 27) were similar. On average, two-thirds of their gene pools (63 %) are composed by North Eurasian haplogroups (N*, N1a2, N3a, Q) connected with autochtonous populations of modern area of Tuvans. The Central Asian haplogroups (C2, O2) composed less then fifth part (17 %) of gene pools of the clans studied. The opposite ratio was revealed in Mongols: there were 10 % North Eurasian haplogroups and 75 % Central Asian haplogroups in their gene pool. All the results derived – “genetic portraits”, the matrix of genetic distances, the dendrogram and the multidimensional scaling plot, which mirror the genetic connections between Tuvinian clans and populations of South Siberia and East Asia, demonstrated the prominent similarity of the Tuvinian gene pools with populations from and Khakassia and Altai. It could be therefore assumed that Tuvinian clans Mongush and Oorzhak originated from autochtonous people (supposedly, from the local Samoyed and Kets substrata). The minor component of Central Asian haplogroups in the gene pool of these clans allowed to suppose that Mongol expansion did not have a significant influence upon the Tuvinan gene pool at a whole.


Interesting excerpts:

Haplogroup C2 peaks in Central Asia (Wells et al., 2001; Zerial et al., 2003), though its variants are abundant in other peoples of Siberia and Far East. For instance, in one of Buryat clans, namely Ekhirids, hg C2 frequency is 88 % (Y-base); in Kazakhs from different regions of Kazakhstan, total occurrence of hg C2 variants averages between 17 and 81 % (Abilev et al., 2012; Zhabagin et al., 2013, 2014, 2017), in populations of the Amur River (such as Nanais, Negidals, Nivkhs, Ulchs) – between 40 and 65 %, in Evenks – up to 68 % (Y-base), in Kyrgyz people of Pamir-Alay – up to 22 %, correspondingly; of all Turkic peoples of Altai, relatively high hg C2 frequency (16 %) is detected only in Telengits (Balanovskaya et al., 2014; Balaganskaya et al., 2011a, 2016). In Tuvinian clans under the study, hg C2 frequency is rather low – 19 % in Mongush and 11 % in Oorzhak, while in Mongols it makes up almost two thirds of the entire gene pool an comprises different genetic lines (subhaplogroups).

Y-chromosomal haplogroup spectra in gene pools of Tuvinian Oorzhak and Mongush clans and of the neighboring populations of South Siberia and Central Asia.

Haplogroup N is abundant all over North Eurasia from Scandinavia to Far East (Rootsi et al., 2007). The study on whole Y-chromosome sequencing conducted with participation of our group (Ilumäe et al., 2016) subdivided this haplogroup into several branches with their regional distribution. In gene pools of the Tuvans involved, hg N was represented by two sub-clades, namely N1a2 and N3a.

Sub-clade N1a2 peaks in populations of West Siberia (in Nganasans, frequency is 92 %) and South Siberia (in Khakas 34 %, in Tofalars 25 %) (Y-base). In Tuvans, N1a2 occurrence is nearly 16 % in Mongush and 15 % in Oorzhak clans, respectively, while in Mongols, the frequency is three times less (5 %). Hg N1a2 is supposed to display the impact of the Samoyedic component to the gene pool of Tuvinian clans (Kharkov et al., 2013).

Sub-clade N3a is major in the Oorzhak clan comprising almost half of the gene pool (45 %); it is represented by two sub-clades, namely N3a* and N3a5. The same sub-branches are specific to the Mongush clan as well, though with lower frequencies: N3a* – 9 % and N3a5 – 14 % (see Table). In Khori-Buryats from the Transbaikal region, a high frequency is observed – 82 % (Kharkov et al., 2014), while in Mongols, N3a5 occurs rather rarely (6 %). Hg N3a* was detected in populations of South Siberia only, and was widely spread in Khakas-Sagays and Shors (up to 40 %) (Ilumäe et al., 2016) (Y-base).

Map of distribution of Samoyedic languages (red) in the XVII century (approximate; hatching) and in the end of XX century (continuous background). Modified from Wikipedia, with the Tuva region labelled.

Within the pan-Eurasian haplogroup R1a1a, two large genetic lines (sub-haplogroups) are identified: “European” (marker M458) and “Asian” (marker Z93) the latter almost never occurring in Europe (Balanovsky, 2015) but abundant in South Siberia and northern Hindustan. In the Altai-Sayan region, high frequencies of the “Asian” branch are spread in many peoples – Shors, Tubalars, Altai-Kizhi people, Telengits, Sagays, Kyzyl Khakas, Koibals, Teleuts (Y-base) (Kharkov et al., 2009). Hg R1a1a comprises perceptible parts of gene pools of Tuvinian clans (19 % in Mongush, and 15 % in Oorzhak), though its occurrence in Mongols is much lower (6 %). Those results also count in favor of the hypothesis of autochtonous component dominance even in the gene pools of clans potentially most influenced by Mongolian ancestry. If we add R1a1a variants to the “North Eurasian” haplogroups, the “not-Central Asian” component will compose average four fifth of the entire gene pools for Tuvinian clans (in Mongush 77 %, and in Oorzhak 81 %), being only 16 % in Mongols. Such data are definitely contrary to the hypothesis of a crucial influence of the Mongol expansion upon the development of Tuvinian gene pool.

I found interesting the high proportion of R1a-Z93 subclades among Sagays in Khakhasia, which stem from a local Samoyed substratum, as described by the paper…

Featured Image: Map of Uralic and Altaic languages, from Wikipedia.


Modelling of prehistoric dispersal of rice varieties in India point to a north-western origin


New paper (behind paywall), A tale of two rice varieties: Modelling the prehistoric dispersals of japonica and proto-indica rices, by Silva et al., The Holocene (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Our empirical evidence comes from the Rice Archaeological Database (RAD). The first version of this database was used for a synthesis of rice dispersal by Fuller et al. (2010), a slightly expanded dataset (version 1.1) was used to model the dispersal of rice, land area under wet rice cultivation and associated methane emissions from 5000–1000 BP (Fuller et al., 2011). The present dataset (version 2) was used in a previous analysis of the origins of rice domestication (Silva et al., 2015). The database records sites and chronological phases within sites where rice has been reported, including whether rice was identified from plant macroremains, phytoliths or impressions in ceramics. Ages are recorded as the start and end date of each phase, and a median age of the phase is then used for analysis. Dating is based on radiocarbon evidence (…)

Modelling framework

Our approach expands on previous efforts to model the geographical origins, and subsequent spread, of japonica rice (Silva et al., 2015). The methodology is based on the explicit modelling of dispersal hypotheses using the Fast Marching algorithm, which computes the cost-distance of an expanding front at each point of a discrete lattice or raster from the source(s) of diffusion (Sethian, 1996; Silva and Steele, 2012, 2014). Sites in the RAD database are then queried for their cost-distance, the distance from the source(s) of dispersal along the cost-surface that represents the hypothesis being modelled (see Connolly and Lake, 2006; Douglas, 1994; Silva et al., 2015; Silva and Steele, 2014 for more on this approach) and, together with the site’s dating, used for regression analysis. (…)

Predicted arrival times of the non-shattering rice variety (japonica or the hybrid indica) across southern Asia based on best-fitting model H2. Included are also sites with known presence of non-shattering spikelet bases (see text).

Model and results

The ‘Inner Asia Mountain Corridor’ hypothesis (H2) therefore predicts japonica rice to arrive first in northwest India via a route that starts in the Yellow river valley, travels west via the well-known Hexi corridor, then just south of the Inner Asian Mountains and thence to India.

The results also show that the addition of the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor significantly improves the model’s fit to the data, particularly model H2 where rice is introduced to the Indian subcontinent exclusively via a trade route that circumvents the Tibetan plateau. This agrees with independent archaeological evidence that sees millets spread westwards along this corridor perhaps as early as 3000 BC (e.g. Boivin et al., 2012; Kohler-Schneider and Canepelle, 2009; Rassamakin, 1999) and certainly by 2500–2000 BC (Frachetti et al., 2010; Spengler 2015; Stevens et al., 2016), that is, in the same time frame as that predicted for rice in model H2. The arrival of western livestock (sheep, cattle) into central China, 2500–2000 BC (Fuller et al., 2011; Yuan and Campbell, 2009), and wheat, ca. 2000 BC (Betts et al., 2014; Flad et al., 2010; Stevens et al., 2016; Zhao, 2015), add evidence for the role of the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor for domesticated species dispersal in this period.


Through a combination of explicit spatial modelling and simulation, we have demonstrated the high likelihood that dispersal of rice via traders in Central Asia introduced japonica rice into South Asia. Only slightly less likely is a combination of introduction via two routes including a Central Asia to Pakistan/northwestern India route as well as introduction to northeastern India directly from China/Myanmar. However, there is a very low probability that current archaeological evidence for rice fits with a single introduction of japonica into India via the northeast. We have also simulated the minimum amount of archaeobotanical sampling from the Neolithic (to Bronze Age) period in the regions of northeastern India and Myanmar that will be necessary to strengthen support for the combined introduction (model H3) or a single Central Asian introduction (model H2).


“Steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia”


Open access structured abstract for The first horse herders and the impact of early Bronze Age steppe expansions into Asia from Damgaard et al. Science (2018) 360(6396):eaar7711.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Eurasian steppes reach from the Ukraine in Europe to Mongolia and China. Over the past 5000 years, these flat grasslands were thought to be the route for the ebb and flow of migrant humans, their horses, and their languages. de Barros Damgaard et al. probed whole-genome sequences from the remains of 74 individuals found across this region. Although there is evidence for migration into Europe from the steppes, the details of human movements are complex and involve independent acquisitions of horse cultures. Furthermore, it appears that the Indo-European Hittite language derived from Anatolia, not the steppes. The steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia. Genetic evidence indicates an independent history involving western Eurasian admixture into ancient South Asian peoples.

According to the commonly accepted “steppe hypothesis,” the initial spread of Indo-European (IE) languages into both Europe and Asia took place with migrations of Early Bronze Age Yamnaya pastoralists from the Pontic-Caspian steppe. This is believed to have been enabled by horse domestication, which revolutionized transport and warfare. Although in Europe there is much support for the steppe hypothesis, the impact of Early Bronze Age Western steppe pastoralists in Asia, including Anatolia and South Asia, remains less well understood, with limited archaeological evidence for their presence. Furthermore, the earliest secure evidence of horse husbandry comes from the Botai culture of Central Asia, whereas direct evidence for Yamnaya equestrianism remains elusive.

We investigated the genetic impact of Early Bronze Age migrations into Asia and interpret our findings in relation to the steppe hypothesis and early spread of IE languages. We generated whole-genome shotgun sequence data (~1 to 25 X average coverage) for 74 ancient individuals from Inner Asia and Anatolia, as well as 41 high-coverage present-day genomes from 17 Central Asian ethnicities.

Model-based admixture proportions for selected ancient and present-day individuals, assuming K = 6, shown with their corresponding geographical locations. Ancient groups are represented by larger admixture plots, with those sequenced in the present work surrounded by black borders and others used for providing context with blue borders. Present-day South Asian groups are represented by smaller admixture plots with dark red borders.

We show that the population at Botai associated with the earliest evidence for horse husbandry derived from an ancient hunter-gatherer ancestry previously seen in the Upper Paleolithic Mal’ta (MA1) and was deeply diverged from the Western steppe pastoralists. They form part of a previously undescribed west-to-east cline of Holocene prehistoric steppe genetic ancestry in which Botai, Central Asians, and Baikal groups can be modeled with different amounts of Eastern hunter-gatherer (EHG) and Ancient East Asian genetic ancestry represented by Baikal_EN.

In Anatolia, Bronze Age samples, including from Hittite speaking settlements associated with the first written evidence of IE languages, show genetic continuity with preceding Anatolian Copper Age (CA) samples and have substantial Caucasian hunter-gatherer (CHG)–related ancestry but no evidence of direct steppe admixture.

In South Asia, we identified at least two distinct waves of admixture from the west, the first occurring from a source related to the Copper Age Namazga farming culture from the southern edge of the steppe, who exhibit both the Iranian and the EHG components found in many contemporary Pakistani and Indian groups from across the subcontinent. The second came from Late Bronze Age steppe sources, with a genetic impact that is more localized in the north and west.

Our findings reveal that the early spread of Yamnaya Bronze Age pastoralists had limited genetic impact in Anatolia as well as Central and South Asia. As such, the Asian story of Early Bronze Age expansions differs from that of Europe. Intriguingly, we find that direct descendants of Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers of Central Asia, now extinct as a separate lineage, survived well into the Bronze Age. These groups likely engaged in early horse domestication as a prey-route transition from hunting to herding, as otherwise seen for reindeer. Our findings further suggest that West Eurasian ancestry entered South Asia before and after, rather than during, the initial expansion of western steppe pastoralists, with the later event consistent with a Late Bronze Age entry of IE languages into South Asia. Finally, the lack of steppe ancestry in samples from Anatolia indicates that the spread of the earliest branch of IE languages into that region was not associated with a major population migration from the steppe.

I think the wording of the abstract is weird, but consequent with their samples and results, so probably just clickbait / citebait for Indian journalists and social networks, or maybe a new attempt to ‘show respect for the sensibilities of Indians’ related to the artificially magnified “AIT vs. OIT” controversy, that is only present in India.

However, everything is possible, since it is brought to you by the same Danish group who proposed the Yamnaya ancestral component™, the CHG = Indo-European (and simultaneously EHG in Maykop = Anatolian??), and now also the CWC/R1a = Indo-European & Volosovo = Uralic

Here is the reaction of Narasimhan: Narasimhan has deleted the Tweet, it basically questioned the sentence that steppe people did not penetrate South Asia.


Cystic fibrosis probably spread with expanding Bell Beakers


New paper (behind paywall) Estimating the age of p.(Phe508del) with family studies of geographically distinct European populations and the early spread of cystic fibrosis, by Farrell et al., European Journal of Human Genetics (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Our results revealed tMRCA average values ranging from 4725 to 1175 years ago and support the estimates of Serre et al. (3000–6000 years ago) [11], rather than Morral et al. (52,000 years ago) [6], but the latter figure was challenged by Kaplan et al. [26] because of disagreement with assumptions used in their calculations. In addition, the tMRCA values from western European regions reported herein refine the results of Fichou et al. [7] from a study of Breton CF patients in which the Estiage analysis suggested that the most common recent ancestor lived 115 generations ago. That tMRCA value, however, may have underestimated the age of p.(Phe508del) in Brittany due to consideration of all the haplotypes, even those that were reconstructed with ambiguities, as well as a potential bias associated with consanguinity due to including both haplotypes in homozygous families. In the more stringent Estiage analyses reported herein, those potential biases were avoided for all populations, leading to estimates of the oldest tMCRA values corresponding to the Early Bronze Age in western Europe, which is generally agreed to begin around 3000 BCE. This finding extends our results from a direct investigation of aDNA in teeth from Iron Age burials near Vienna around 350 BCE and allow us to conclude that p.(Phe508del) was present in that region long before then. More specifically, in the Austrian families studied, the Estiage data revealed a mean tMCRA value of 3575 years ago, which converts to 1558 BCE (Middle Bronze Age) [22].

Perhaps most remarkably, the estimated ages of p.(Phe508del) in the three western European regions (France, Ireland, and Denmark) were similar with closely overlapping 95% CI values. This observation is also in line with previously documented spatial autocorrelograms expressing genetic and geographical distance for these populations [24]. Such data provide more insight about the ancient origin of CF in our judgment—both when and where—and lead us to propose that CFTR p.(Phe508del) is derived from ancestors who lived in western Europe during the Bronze Age, as early as 2700 BCE, and that its relatively rapid dissemination occurred because of human migrations around the northwestern Atlantic trading routes [21] and then towards central and eastern Europe [22]. Diffusion from northwestern to central Europe in approximately 1000 years is consistent with the prominent Bronze Age migrations evident in the archeological record [21, 22] and from genomic studies of aDNA [27]. On the other hand, we are assuming a discrete origin of the principal CF-causing variant, but it is possible that p.(Phe508del) arose more than once or earlier, and then reached western Europe subsequently through Neolithic migrations.


[About Bell Beakers] (…) More specifically, their distinctive Bell Beaker pottery appeared and spread across western and central Europe beginning around 3000–2750 BCE and then disappeared between 2200 and 1800 BCE [22, 29]. Their migrations are linked to the advent of western and central European metallurgy, as they manufactured and traded metal goods, especially weapons, while traveling over long distances [30]. Most relevant to our study is the evidence that they migrated in a direction and over a time period that fits well with the pattern of tMRCA data we found for the p.(Phe508del) variant. Olalde et al. [29] have shown that both migration and cultural transmission played a major role in diffusion of the “Beaker Complex” and led to a “profound demographic transformation” of Britain after 2400 BCE. Moreover, the cultural elements that unite the widely distributed Beaker folk are so obvious that some have considered them a distinct ethnicity of Bronze Age people [33].

From our results, we propose the novel concept that large scale, long term west-to-east migrations of the Bell Beaker Europeans [22, 28–30] during the Bronze Age, could explain the dissemination of p.(Phe508del) in Europe and its documented northwest-to-southeast gradient [4].In fact, our tMRCA data show a temporal gradient also.

As you can see from the references, they consulted with Barry Cunliffe (or people accepting his theory), who is obsessed with Bell Beakers expanding Celtic languages from the British Isles. He is like the British equivalent of Danish scholar Kristian Kristiansen, and his obsession with Corded Ware = Indo-European (and Germanic = CWC Denmark), immutable no matter what genetic results might show.

The funny thing is, the interpretation of the paper is probably right. From what we can see in the data, it is quite possible that the disease spread with expanding Bell Beakers…only it spread from the East group in Hungary, i.e. from east to west. The regional difference in TMRCA and apparent west—east cline would point to the different expansions of affected lineages in the corresponding regions, and not to an origin in the British Isles.


The origin of social complexity in the development of the Sintashta culture


Very interesting PhD thesis by Igor Chechushov, Bronze Age human communities in the Southern Urals steppe: Sintashta-Petrovka social and subsistence organization (2018).


Why and how exactly social complexity develops through time from small-scale groups to the level of large and complex institutions is an essential social science question. Through studying the Late Bronze Age Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms of the southern Urals (cal. 2050–1750 BC), this research aims to contribute to an understanding of variation in the organization of local communities in chiefdoms. It set out to document a segment of the Sintashta-Petrovka population not previously recognized in the archaeological record and learn about how this segment of the population related to the rest of the society. The Sintashta-Petrovka development provides a comparative case study of a pastoral society divided into sedentary and mobile segments.

Subsurface testing on the peripheries of three Sintashta-Petrovka communities suggests that a group of mobile herders lived outside the walls of the nucleated villages on a seasonal basis. During the summer, this group moved away from the village to pasture livestock farther off in the valley, and during the winter returned to shelter adjacent to the settlement. This finding illuminates the functioning of the year-round settlements as centers of production during the summer so as to provide for herd maintenance and breeding and winter shelter against harsh environmental conditions.

The question of why individuals chose in this context to form mutually dependent relationships with other families and thus give up some of their independence can be answered with a combination of two necessities: to remain a community in a newly settled ecological niche and to protect animals from environmental risk and theft. Those who were skillful at managing communal construction of walled villages and protecting people from military threats became the most prominent members of the society. These people formed the core of the chiefdoms but were not able to accumulate much wealth and other possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children. However, this set of relationships did not last longer than 300 years. Once occupation of the region was well established the need for functions served by elites disappeared, and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into smaller unfortified villages.

Research area: map of the Sintashta-Petrovka archaeological sites. Settlements: 101 – Stepnoye; 102 – Shibaeyvo 1; 103 – Chernorechye 3; 104 – Bakhta; 105 – Paris; 106 – Isiney; 107 – Kuisak; 108 – Ust’ye; 109 – Rodniki; 110 – Konoplyanka; 111 – Zhurumbay; 112 – Arkaim; 113 – Sintashta; 114 – Sintashta 2; 115 – Kamennyi Ambar; 116 – Alandskoye; 117 – Chekatay; 118 – Selek; 119 – Sarym- Sakly; 120 – Kamysty; 121 – Kizilskoye; 122 – Bersuat; 123 – Andreyevskoe; 124 – Ulak; 125 – Streletskoye; 126 – Zarechnoye 4; 127 – Kamennyi Brod. Cemeteries: 201 – Ozernoye 1; 202 – Krivoe Ozero; 203 – Stepnoye M; 204 – Kamennyi Ambar-5; 205 – Stepnoye 1; 206 – Tsarev Kurgan; 207 – Ubagan 2; 208 – Solntse 2; 209 – Bolshekaraganskyi; 210 – Aleksandrovsky 4; 211 – Sintashta; 212 – Solonchanka 1a; 213 – Knyazhenskyi; 214 – Bestamak; 215 – Ishkinovka 1; 216 – Ishkinovka 2; 217 – Novo–Kumakskyi; 218 – Zhaman–Kargala 1; 219 – Tanabergen 2; 220 – Novo-Petrovka; 221 – Semiozernoye 2; 222 – Khalvayi 3

Some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

The quintessential archaeological evidence of Sintashta-Petrovka communities takes the form of highly nucleated and fortified settlements paired with easily-recognized kurgan (burial mound) cemeteries. This pattern spread across Northern Central Eurasia in a relatively short period of about 300 years (cal. 2050–1750 BC), and the period consists of two chronological phases (Hanks et al. 2007). The earlier Sintashta phase (cal. 2050–1850 BC) is distinguished from the later Petrovka phase (cal. 1850–1750 BC) by some differences in ceramic styles and some techniques of bronze metallurgy (Degtyareva et al. 2001; Vinogradov 2013). Bronze Age subsistence patterns apparently relied on a wide variety of resources, among which meat and milk production played a major role (…). The most outstanding graves are individual male burials accompanied by weaponry (projectile weapons and chariots), the insignia of power (stone mace heads), craft tools, and a specific set of sacrificed animals (horses, cows, and dogs). (…) there were at least two adults buried with chariots and one with sacrificed horses (Epimakhov 1996b). Chariots – the most famous and spectacular material component of Sintashta-Petrovka society – are known exclusively from burial contexts. Two-wheeled vehicles represent complex technology, incorporating some crucial innovations and the investment of substantial resources. Highly developed craft and military skills were required for their production and use. Burials with chariots probably represent military elites who used them (Anthony 2009; Chechushkov 2011; Frachetti 2012:17) and played especially important social roles in Sintashta-Petrovka societies. This pattern strongly suggests that military leadership extended into the realm of ideology and general social prestige (Earle 2011:32–33).

The following sequence of archaeological cultures – based on the sample of radiocarbon dates (Epimakhov 2007a; 2010a), – is adopted: (1) the Sintashta-Petrovka phase 1 dated to cal. 2050–1750 BC and (2) the Srubnaya-Alakul’ phase 2 dated to cal. 1750–1350 BC.

(…) control of craft might have provided a source of power for elites in the fortified settlements (Steponaitis 1991). Some bronze tools, such as chisels, adzes, and handsaws seem more abundantly represented at some fortified settlements than at others, raising the possibility of a stronger focus on different craft products and some degree of exchange and interdependence between fortified settlements. (…) Zdanovich (1995:35) estimates 2500 people within the walls at Arkaim. He bases his conclusion an average house size of 140 m2 and the idea that Arkaim households consisted of an extended family of several generations, similar to Iroquois longhouse inhabitants. He also suggests that the entire population did not live in the “town” all the time, but moved around. The fully permanent residents were shamans, warriors, and craftsmen, i.e., elites and attached specialists.

Summarizing, excavated households represent very strongly similar architectural patterns, similar levels of wealth and prestige, little productive differentiation, and no evidence of elites amassing wealth through control of craft or subsistence production or any other mechanism (Earle 1987). These observations sharply contradict the burial record, where strong social differentiation is visible. The description above recalls the Regional Classic period elites of the Alto Magdalena whose standard of living differed little if at all from anyone else’s. Their elaborate tombs and sculptures suggest supernatural powers and ritual roles were much more important bases of their social prominence than economic control or accumulation of wealth (Drennan 1995:96–97). On the other hand, craft activities (especially metal production) are highly obvious in the Sintashta-Petrovka settlements. Defensive functions could also have played some role for the entire population. This benefit might attract people in an unstable or wild environment to spend much of their time in or near such settlements (Earle 2011:32–33). Since the construction of ditches and outer walls, as well as dwellings with shared walls, requires planning and organization, purposeful collective effort must have been a key feature of Sintashta-Petrovka communities (Vinogradov 2013; Zdanovich 1995). Sintashta-Petrovka communities thus evidence substantial investment of effort in non-subsistence activities, potentially resulting in a subsistence deficit in an economy with a heavy emphasis on herding. Altogether, this makes it plausible to think of the known Sintashta-Petrovka communities as special places where elites for whom military activities were important resided, and where metal production and possibly other crafts were carried out. It remains unclear just how a subsistence economy relying heavily on herding was managed from these substantial sedentary communities. Moving herds around the landscape seasonally is generally thought to be a part of subsistence strategy in Inner Eurasia (Frachetti 2008; Bachura 2013). In this area migration to exploit seasonal pastures is the best strategy for maintaining a regular supply of food for livestock due to shortages of capital or of labor pool to produce, harvest, and store fodder (Dyson-Hudson and Dyson-Hudson 1980:17). The recent stable isotope studies support this notion showing high likelihood that during the Bronze Age livestock was raised locally (Kiseleva et al. 2017).

The above raises the possibility that the residential remains that have been excavated within the fortifications of Sintashta-Petrovka communities represent only a portion of the population (Hanks and Doonan 2009, Johnson and Hanks 2012). It could be (along with the general lines suggested by D. Zdanovich [1997]) that the archaeological remains of the ordinary people who made up the majority of the population, built the impressive fortifications and stoked the subsistence economy have gone largely undetected. In global comparative perspective, many societies with the features known for Sintashta-Petrovka organization consisted of elite central-place settlements and hinterland populations. In such a scenario, the “missing” portion of the Sintashta population would reside in smaller unfortified settlements scattered around in the vicinity of the fortified ones.


In terms of wealth and productive differentiation, the inside assemblage of Kamennyi Ambar demonstrates a higher degree of richness and diversity in its material assemblage, leading to the conclusion that the outside materials may represent a semi-mobile group of people who used significantly less durable materials and accumulated less possessions. As for the diversity within the inside artifact assemblage, some households at Kamennyi Ambar demonstrate more diverse artifact assemblages than others, as well as bigger sizes, that could be related to differences in productive activities and/or wealth differentiation between families. A focus on specific objects of ceramic production in House 1 suggests some degree of productive specialization, while the elite goods in House 5 clearly point out the presence of elite members of the society.

There are two possible social scenarios that explain the settlement situation during the Sintashta-Petrovka phase. The first scenario considers all three communities as simultaneous and the second scenario suggests seeing the three sites as the same community that moved around the landscape during the Late Bronze Age in order to keep the pasture grounds from degradation.

Since no remains of permanent structures were found and any people living outside the walls must have stayed in temporary shelters. If this was the case, then the outside part of the population consisted of a semi-mobile group of people who moved to live near the fortified settlement during the winter. The pattern of animal slaughtering supports this conclusion. Animal teeth found near Kamennyi Ambar and Konoplyanka demonstrate a tendency for animal butchering during the fall, throughout the winter and spring, with less evidence of summer meat consumption. Moreover, since the Bronze Age subsistence strategy relied heavily on pastoralism, herds had to be grazed during the summer and kept safe during the winter. This strongly suggests that the part of the population responsible for management of animals spent their time in the summer pastures with the livestock. During the winter the animals had to be kept in the warm and safe environment of the walled settlements (as suggested by the highest level of phosphorus on the house floors) while the herders stayed in portable shelters in close to the walls.

(…) the outsiders used a less diverse set of tools, as well as less durable materials (for example, wooden instead of metal) in their everyday life and did not accumulate much in the way of archaeologically visible possessions. On the other hand, a few stone and lithic artifacts demonstrate that craft activities were carried out using cheap and abundant raw materials. The artefact assemblages also point out that the people inside accumulated wealth in the form of material belongings and luxury goods, especially, things like metal artifacts and symbolic or military-related stone artifacts, while people outside did not do that. However, the presence of semi-precious stones could signify some kind of wealth accumulation by the segment of population outside the walls. Since there are limits to our ability to assess social relationships from material remains, it is difficult to say if the people who lived outside the walls were oppressed or less respected. Their possible concentration on herding-related activities and livestock keeping might suggest less prestigious social status. The most prominent members of the society were, nonetheless, buried with the attributes of warriors or craft specialists, not those of shepherds, suggesting that those involved in livestock management had less social prestige.

Furthermore, Kuzmina (1994:72) cites linguistic studies demonstrating that the Sanskrit word for a permanent village earlier meant a circle of mobile wagon homes, situated together for defensive purposes for an overnight camp (Kuzmina 1994:72).

The likely population of semi-mobile herders represented some 30%–60% of the entire local community, while the other of 40%–70% were inhabitants of the walled settlement. The almost completely excavated kurgan cemetery of Kamennyi Ambar-5 (only two kurgans remain unstudied) yielded about 100 individuals, or about 2%–5% of the total of 4,896±1,960 individuals in four generations who lived at the nearby settlement for 100 years. In other words, no more than 10% of the population was entitled to be buried under the kurgan mound and this proportion can be taken as an estimate of those with elevated social status. Perhaps, these elites were kin, since analysis of the burial patterns suggests sex/age rather than wealth/prestige differentiation between buried individuals within this elite group (Epimakhov and Berseneva 2011; Ventresca Miller 2013). The remaining non-elite members of the permanently resident community, then, represented some 30%–60% of the complete local community, but did not show evidence of standards of living particularly lower than the elites eventually interred in the kurgan.

(…) The buried population in the Sintashta Cemetery is about 80 individuals or only about 2%–3% of the total estimated population. However, these few individuals were buried with extremely rich offerings, like complete chariots, decorations made of precious metals or sacrifices of six horses (equal to about 900 kg of meat), etc. With such a low proportion of the population assigned such high prestige, the Sintashta local community can easily be labeled a local chiefdom. In Pitman and Doonan’s view (2018) the social structure of the chifedom consisted of a chief and his kin at the highest level; warriors, religious specialists, and craftsmen in the middle; and the pastoral community at the bottom level.


In the Bronze Age, the people who comprised the majority of the permanent population were involved in craft activities, including extraction of copper ores, metallurgy, bone, leather, and woodwork. The most important and labor-intensive part of the economy, however, was haymaking. The evidence of hay found in the cultural layer near Kamennyi Ambar supports the idea that animals were fed during the winter. Nowadays, hay cutting is typically done in July-August, the period of most intensive grazing for animals. Thus, the part of the collective that remained in the settlement had to provide the labor force for haymaking.

In the wintertime, the herders returned to the settlements with the herds, and animals were kept inside the walls––a practice which is known archaeologically (Zakh 1995) and ethnographically (Shahack-Gross et al. 2004)––while herders stayed outside in their tents.

In sum, the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms demonstrate a three-part social order. In Kuzmina’s (1994) view, this is similar to the Varna system of ancient India, that consisted of priests (Sansk. Brahmanis), rulers and warriors (Sansk. Kshatriyas), free producers (Sansk. Vaishyas) and laborers and service providers (Sansk. Shudras). In the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom, the elite 2%–5% of the population would have consisted of priests and warriors; 48%–55% would have been dependent producers; and 50%–60% would have been herders of lower social rank.

The map of the Bronze Age sites in the Karagaily-Ayat Valley Sites of Phase 1: 101 – Konoplyanka; 102 – Zhurumbay; 103 – Kamennyi Ambar; 104 – Kamennyi Ambar-5 Sites of Phase 2: 201 – Konoplyanka 1; 202 – Varshavskoye-1; 203 – Zhurumbay-1; 204 – Varshavskoye-3; 205 – Varshavskoye-5; 206 – Varshavskoye-9; 207 – Kamennyi Ambar-8; 208 – Kamennyi Ambar; 209 – Elizavetpolskoye-3; 210 – Elizavetpolskoye-2; 211 – Karagayli-26; 212 – Elizavetpolskoye-7; 213 – Elizavetpolskoye- 9; 214 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (1); 215 – Yuzhno-Stepnoyi (2)


In the case of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdoms, the questions of why and how exactly social complexity developed through time and why individuals choose to integrate and give up their independence can be answered as some combination of two necessities: to persist as a larger community in the ecological niche of the newly settled region, and to protect herds from theft.

There is general agreement among researchers that the Sintashta phenomenon had no local roots and originated with a large-scale migration of pastoral communities from Eastern Europe to the marginal area of the Southern Urals. This process forced families to stay together and fueled the necessity in the walled villages for ensuring the reproduction of herds in the extreme climatic conditions of the southern Urals that are colder and dryer than the eastern Black Sea region from which the Sintashta populations are thought to have migrated (Kuzmina 1994, 2007; Anthony 2007; Vinogradov 2011, etc.). At the same time, the herds needed protection from animal and human predators. Probably, the risk of losing animals was a threat to survival that created tensions between neighboring communities, and the Neolithic hunter-gatherers who had populated the Urals before the arrival of Sintashta people could have hunted the domestic animals. Apparently, those who were talented in managing the construction of closely-packed villages surrounded by ditches and walls to protect people and livestock from threats from neighbors, and who otherwise served the community in the newly colonized zone became the most prominent members of society. Theses people formed the core of the Sintashta-Petrovka chiefdom but were not able to accumulate much personal wealth in the form of material possessions. Instead, they acquired high social prestige that could even be transferred to their children (since up to 65% of the buried elite population consists of infants [Razhev and Epimakhov 2005). In this sense, the Sintashta-Petrovka elites were simmilar to their counterparts in the Alto Magdalena of Colombia (Drennan 1995; Gonzalez Fernandez 2007; Drennan and Peterson 2008).

However, this situation did not last longer than 300 years, since after the initial phase of colonization of the Southern Urals was over, the need for social services provided by an elite disappeared and centralized chiefly communities disintegrated into the smaller unfortified villages of the Srubnaya-Alakul’ period.

As I have said many times already (see e.g. here) the outsider pastoralists, forming originally the vast majority of the population, were most likely Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers of haplogroup R1b-Z2103, and their elite groups (whose inheritance system was based on kinship) probably incorporated gradually Uralic-speaking families of haplogroup R1a-Z93, whose relative importance increased gradually, and then eventually expanded massively with the migrations of Andronovo and Srubna, creating a second Y-chromosome bottleneck that favoured again Z93 subclades. The adaptation of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian to the Uralic pronunciation, and the adoption of PII vocabulary in neighbouring Proto-Finno-Ugric bear witness to this process.


The Yampil Barrow complex and the Yamna connection with forest-steppe cultures


Researchers involved in the investigation of the Yampil Barrow Complex are taking the opportunity of their latest genetic paper to publish and upload more papers in Academia.edu.

NOTE. These are from the free volume 22 of Baltic-Pontic Studies, Podolia “Barrow Culture” Communities: 4th/3rd-2nd Mill. BC. The Yampil Barrow Complex: Interdisciplinary Studies, whose website gives a warning depending on your browser (because of the lack of secure connection). Here is a link to the whole PDF.

Here are some of them, with interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

1. Kurgan rites in the Eneolithic and Early Bronze age Podolia in light of materials from the funerary ceremonial centre at Yampil, by Piotr Włodarczak (2017).

The particular interest in this group stemmed from its specific location within the “Yamnaya cultural-historical entity”: its exposure to Central European Corded ware culture (further as CWC) on the one hand, and discernible contact with communities representing the Globular Amphorae culture (GAC), expanding to the south-east, on the other [e.g. Szmyt 1999; 2000]. The location on the fringes of the north-western variant of the Yamnaya culture (YC) [acc. to Merpert 1974; cf Rassamakin 2013a; 2013b; Rassamakin, Nikolova 2008] opened up an interesting perspective for tracing the transfer of Central European cultural patterns to the North Pontic area, and for determining the specificity of the cultural model of steppe communities, which due to their geographic location seemed somehow predestined for westward expansion.

locations of Eneolithic and Early bronze age kurgan cemeteries in Podolia 1-7 – yampil cluster (1 – dobrianka, 2 – Klembivka, 3 – Pidlisivka, 4 – Porohy, 5 – Pysarivka, 6 – Prydnistryanske, 7 – Severynivka), 8-11 – Kamienka cluster (8 – hrustovaia, 9 – Kuzmin, 10 – Ocniţa, 11 – Podoima), 12 – mocra, 13 – Tymkove

Podolia kurgans originate from various stages of the Eneolithic and Early bronze ages, and this chronological diversity is reflected in differences in construction of mounds and central graves for which kurgans were originally built (being burials of the “kurgans’ founders”). These oldest burials link with various Eneolithic and YC communities, and the taxonomic attribution of some of the phenomena discussed here poses difficulties. This stems from the nature of the finds, which are sometimes only slightly distinctive and often retrieved from contexts difficult to interpret (e.g. from kurgans damaged to a significant degree). Another reason for the high discordance and ambiguity of opinions lies in the nature of the problem itself, since taxonomic definitions can be no more than proxies for cultural processes which are both fluid and multi-directional. This is particularly evident for phenomena associated with the Eneolithic and the very beginnings of the Bronze Age in steppe and forest-steppe areas [e.g. Rassamakin 2013; Manzura 2016], while later stages (the classic and late YC) are marked by much more regularity in terms of funeral rituals. Funerary behaviours displayed by Eneolithic steppe groups were the outcome of intercultural relationships and often combined elements borrowed from different milieus [e.g. Rassamakin 2008: 215, 216]. One consequence of this is the multitude of approaches to the description of Eneolithic phenomena proposed in the literature, with the controversies the situation creates. This is also true for the Podolia kurgans discussed here, where chronology is relatively easy to interpret while taxonomical attributions are much more difficult. A good example in this context is a recently published complex at Prydnistryanske, which has been linked either with the late Trypilia group of Gordinești [Klochko et al 2015d] or with the Eneolithic steppe formation known as Zhivotilovka-Volchansk [Manzura 2016], or recently with the Bursuceni group [Demcenko 2016].

A distinct feature of Podolia kurgans having YC burials is the multi-phase nature of their mounds, a feature recorded throughout the North Pontic area. It is particularly evident in the cases of sequences of burials (typically two burials) placed in the central parts of kurgans and connected with separate stages of the mound’s construction. In this context, the temporal and cultural relationship between the older and younger burial becomes a very interesting issue. Younger burials typically revealed traits characteristic of the YC complex, while older ones were often different and distinguished by a different shape of the grave pit and sometimes a different arrangement and orientation of the body as well. In the most evident cases, older pits held a body in the extended position, reminiscent of the Postmariupol/ Kvityana tradition (…). In such cases, the older grave often stands out with a funerary tradition diverging from model YC behaviours, in terms of orientation, body position, and constructional features.

Location of Yampil and Kamienka ceremonial centres, and barrows of the Yamnaya culture, Corded Ware culture, and Late Eneolithic groups of the Podolia Plateau and adjacent areas. Legend. 1 – barrows and barrow groups of the Yamnaya culture; 2 – barrows and barrow groups of the Corded Ware culture; 3 – Eneolithic barrows; 4 – barrows of undetermined cultural attribution, dated to the 3rd millennium BC [after Włodarczak 2014b, revised]

Kvitjana and Trypillia

The Pre-Yamnaya (Eneolithic) phase came to be distinguished in kurgan cemeteries from the Podolie region after the discovery of burials in extended position (i.e. of the Kvityana/Postmariupol type) at Ocniţa (Fig 10: 2, 3) [kurgans 6 and 7; Manzura et al 1992] and Tymkove (Fig 10: 1) [Subbotin et al 2000, 84, ris 3: 4]. In all these three cases the burials marked the oldest phase of mound construction, and later YC burials were dug into the central part of the kurgan, which entailed the remodelling and considerable enlargement of the mound. Both the chronological and taxonomic positions of extended burials in the North Pontic area are subjects of debate [e.g. Manzura 2010; Rassamakin 2013; Ivanova 2015, 280-282] (…)

The chronological position of graves with burials in extended position can be narrowed down thanks to stratigraphic observations made in kurgans at Bursuceni, between the Dniester and Prut rivers [Yarovoy 1978]. Graves from this site were younger than the burials representing the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk tradition and older than those linked with the early phase of YC based on a relatively compact series of radiocarbon dates obtained for graves of the Zhivotilovka-Volchansk group, the chronology of burials in extended position can be determined as the very close of the 4th – beginning of the 3rd millennia BC (most likely around 3100-2800 BC).

Early and late Yamna

A model ceremonial-funerary complex created by a YC community is a group of kurgans in Pysarivka village [harat et al 2014: 104-165]. Nine mounds have been explored there, of which eight (1, 3-9) yielded central burials of YC sharing a number of similar features (Fig 13). The deceased were placed in regular, rectangular pits having vertical walls Vykids (mounds of soil extracted while digging grave pits) formed regular narrow walls surrounding each grave, and seem to have been integral elements of sepulchral architecture. Chambers were covered with 5-7 timbers/planks arranged parallel to the grave’s longer axis. Another characteristic element was that of wooden stakes driven symmetrically into the bottom along grave chamber edges, recorded in four cases. The deceased were laid on their backs, in a contracted position with the knees up. The head was as a rule turned to W, with possible deflections towards NW or SW Skeletons bore traces of painting with ochre.

Prydnistryanske, Yampil region reconstruction of stages of grave IV/4 construction by M. Podsiadło

The role of south-eastern connections at the early stage of YC development can also be seen in grave IV/4 at Prydnistryanske. This is indicated by a combined (wood and stone) roof construction involving stela-like slabs, and by the skull of the deceased characteristically painted with red pigment. The absolute date obtained for grave IV/4 (ca 3100-3000 bC) suggests its early provenance [Goslar et al 2015]. The grave was most likely connected with the oldest stage of enlargement of the Eneolithic barrow [Klochko et al 2015].

The middle phase of YC is quite clearly evident in Podolia kurgans, it is marked by burials dug into the existing mounds. These are either single burials inserted into different parts of the mounds, or groups of graves forming arches around a central part. Graves with steps leading to the burial chamber are typical of that stage, and they were wider than those in the centres of kurgans. Chambers were typically roofed with planks or timbers placed perpendicularly to the grave’s longer axis burials on one side and burials on the back but leaning to either side become more numerous, and upper limbs were most often placed in A, G, H, or I arrangements ceramic vessels become more common in graves, including forms indicative of contacts with GAC and CWC milieus.

2. The previously announced paper on a specific burial showing postmortem marks: Ritual position and “tattooing” techniques in the funeral practices of the “Barrow cultures” of the Pontic-Caspian steppe/forest-steppe area Porohy 3A, Yampil region, Vinnytsia Oblast: Specialist analysis research perspectives, by Żurkiewicz et al. (2018):

Based on the anatomical properties of the structure of a human body, the histological structure of the skin and location of the dye used for tattooing, having conducted an analysis of postmortem changes occurring within the skin after death, and having taken into consideration the continuous and regular nature of the pattern on the ulnae of the individual from grave no. 10, an interdisciplinary team of researchers has concluded that there is no possibility of a transfer of tattoo dye from the skin onto the surface of an individual’s bone.

The analysis of two ulnae documented in this article indicates that the patterns were made using tree tar, postmortem and directly onto the skeletonised human remains. The placement of the individual’s ulnae in grave no. 10 (Fig. 10), and the location of patterns on the upper skin surface, that is, on surfaces accessible without changing the arrangement of the body, may suggest that the patterns were created on the skeletonised remains without the need to change their placement in the pit (= in situ).

The present conclusions ought to see the beginning of a wider research programme focused on the analysis of the techniques used to create decorations on bones in “kurgan cultures” communities in the context of the Pontic-Caspian Region.

Porohy, Yampil Region, barrow 3A, feature 10. Macro- and microscopic examination results: 1 – right ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration; 2 – left ulna with visible decorations and close-up of the decoration. Photo by D. Lorkiewicz-Muszyńska

3. Builders and users of ritual centres, Yampil barrow complex: studies of diett based on stable carbon nitrogen isotope composition, by Goslar et al. (2017).

Foxtail millet caryopses are used to make primarily flour, groats and pancakes [lityńska-zając, wasylikowa 2005: 109]. Grains and flour are easily digestible and as such, they are recommended to infants and the elderly. Grains are also fed to fowl and poultry in Asia, foxtail millet is used to make beer and wine, while in China it is also used for medicinal purposes [Hanelt 2001 (Ed )]. Various dishes and beverages made from broomcorn and foxtail millet caryopses in Eurasia are listed by Sakamoto [1987a]. Detailed ethnobotanical studies of the cultivation, crop processing and food preparation in the Iberian Peninsula were presented by Moreno-Larrazabal et al.[2015] .

The geographical area under discussion can be related to historical and ethnographic data indicating the use of grits and groats in the diet. They had been known in the menus of European societies since the ‘pre-agrarian’ times. The isotope finding of millet domination in the diet of middle Dniester Yampil Barrow Complex, complemented by bioarchaeological data from the upper steppe Dniester area (from the similarly ‘early-barrow’ Usatovo group/culture with strongly marked ‘eastern’ civilization influences), makes it reasonable to consider the possibility that already in the prologue of late Eneolithic-Early bronze barrow culture (3300- 2800 BC) development there was a clear dividing line of millet groats use – or millet presence – that is, so-called yagla groats (yagla, yagly = millet in Old Slavic languages).

Composition of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in bone collagen from the Yampil Barrow Complex against the ranges of isotopic composition expected for various diet components [after Gerling 2015: Fig 6 16] The meaning of colours and symbols concerning the Yampil Barrow Complex is the same as in Fig 3 For the sake of comparison, the isotopic composition in human >bones from two sites on the dnieper (ca 5200-5000 bC) is given, in which the share of freshwater fish in the diet was confirmed by the measurements of the reservoir effect [lillie et al. 2009]


The importance of fine-scale studies for integrating palaeogenomics and archaeology


Short review (behind paywall) The importance of fine-scale studies for integrating paleogenomics and archaeology, by Krishna R. Veeramah, Current Opinion in Genetics & Development (2018) 53:83-89.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

There has been an undercurrent of intellectual tension between geneticists studying human population history and archaeologists for almost 40 years. The rapid development of paleogenomics, with geneticists working on the very material discovered by archaeologists, appears to have recently heightened this tension. The relationship between these two fields thus far has largely been of a multidisciplinary nature, with archaeologists providing the raw materials for sequencing, as well as a scaffold of hypotheses based on interpretation of archaeological cultures from which the geneticists can ground their inferences from the genomic data. Much of this work has taken place in the context of western Eurasia, which is acting as testing ground for the interaction between the disciplines. Perhaps the major finding has not been any particular historical episode, but rather the apparent pervasiveness of migration events, some apparently of substantial scale, over the past ∼5000 years, challenging the prevailing view of archaeology that largely dismissed migration as a driving force of cultural change in the 1960s. However, while the genetic evidence for ‘migration’ is generally statistically sound, the description of these events as structured behaviours is lacking, which, coupled with often over simplistic archaeological definitions, prevents the use of this information by archaeologists for studying the social processes they are interested in. In order to integrate paleogenomics and archaeology in a truly interdisciplinary manner, it will be necessary to focus less on grand narratives over space and time, and instead integrate genomic data with other form of archaeological information at the level of individual communities to understand the internal social dynamics, which can then be connected amongst communities to model migration at a regional level. A smattering of recent studies have begun to follow this approach, resulting in inferences that are not only helping ask questions that are currently relevant to archaeologists, but also potentially opening up new avenues of research.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, reference numbers removed for clarity):

There are two major, somewhat intertwined, problems that currently exist.

First, archaeologists are not critiquing whether the migrations identified by paleogenomics using sophisticated population genetic machinery are actually occurring. Instead, the technical criticism arrives in terms of how these migrations are being ascribed to specific cultures. In many paleogenomic papers, there is a tendency (and often an analytical and technical need) to associate samples with particular archaeological cultures, for which all samples are then treated as possessing some kind homogenous and pervasive social identity that is bound in space and time. The major critiques of this thus far have been directed to those studies examining Corded-Ware and Bell-Beaker-related individuals and their potential relationship to the Yamnaya [Vander Linden (2016), Heyd (2017), Furholt (2017)], but are applicable to many other ‘migration’ scenarios described in the recent literature. This is compounded by the use of sometimes small numbers of samples to represent certain cultures from a particular geographic area as representatives of the entire culture at a supra-regional level. Yet often these archaeological cultures such as Corded-Ware and Bell-Beaker themselves show considerable variability in space and time, and even within cemeteries, which is not factored into the genetic analysis.

From a population geneticists point of view, this kind of simplification is somewhat understandable and will often likely have very little impact on the final analysis, given that the primary goal is usually to use ancient samples to better understand modern genetic variation. Though there may be a specific historical interest in some of these past events, I would argue that the aim for most population geneticists at a higher level is to try and fit modern patterns of genetic variation using the simplest models possible that take into account past demographic events (for example fitting f-statistics using the ADMIXTUREGRAPH approach), as this is how we are trained. Although sharing an archaeological culture may not mean that a set of individuals are part of the same homogeneous social group in reality, this approach may be a good enough heuristic to find broad genetic connections compared to another group represented by a different culture, which can then ultimately help understand and model modern human population structure. However, for an archaeologists interested in the ancient individuals themselves and their social identity, this lumping is unsatisfactory, where sophisticated narratives of the individual migrants and their ancient communities are the intended goal.

From the paper. Barplot showing cumulative number of ancient Eurasian genomes published on a yearly basis up to 8th July 2018. Includes samples undergoing both whole genome shotgun and SNP capture sequencing.

The second related problem is that ‘migration’ in the sense used currently in the paleogenomics literature lacks sufficient detail to be of much use for an archaeologists attempting to disentangle the complex social dynamics within and between communities. To truly understand the role of migration as a social process and its contribution towards cultural changes, it is necessary to describe it as a structured behaviour, rather than treating it as an explanatory ‘black box’. Are the migrations occurring as a result of short range waves-of-advance movements, or as long-distance movements via leapfrogging models or stream migrations along established routes dependent on key kinship networks. Are there return migrants, and are some subset of individuals more predisposed to migration driving the signals? Although such models were implemented in past studies (even with classical markers [1]) and are part of the population genetics literature, they are lacking in the current paleogenomics literature when discussing migration. The finding that there is an increase of 12.3% of ancestry type X in population A compared to the preceding population B that is suggestive of a migration, is not particularly useful for examining these kind of models. It is also unclear to what degree standard population genetic parameters estimated from genomic data such as effective population size, Ne, and gene flow are relevant to models studied in archaeology, given they reflect (somewhat undefined) long-term population sizes and average rates of movements over time, rather than reflecting any kind of reality of census size and mobility in the ancient communities the archaeologists are actually attempting to study.

The text goes on to talk about ways of studying fine-grained social dynamics of local cultures, such as:

define levels of genetic relatedness, but also in terms of material culture, age, sex, stress and activity indicators, stable isotopes for diet reconstruction (nitrogen, d13C and d15N, carbon, 13C/12C) and strontium and oxygen isotopes for mobility (87Sr/86Sr, d18O). Where possible, sites should be examined over multiple generations. In addition it will be incredibly useful to characterize the impact of disease in these communities, which is also proving to be a highly fruitful realm for paleogenomics.

I would say that the main problem is not the obvious limitations of palaeogenomics in terms of identifying prehistoric ethnolinguistic communities and their evolution, which is why it is just another tool to complement archaeology and linguistics. The main problem is the narrow understanding that some people have of the inherent limitations of palaeogenomics – especially when it interests them – , when publicizing simplistic conclusions based on these tools and their results. And I am not referring only to amateurs.