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.


On the origin of haplogroup R1b-L51 in late Repin / early Yamna settlers


A recent comment on the hypothetical Central European origin of PIE helped me remember that, when news appeared that R1b-L51 had been found in Khvalynsk ca. 4250-4000 BC, I began to think about alternative scenarios for the expansion of this haplogroup, with one of them including Central Europe.

Because, if YFull‘s (and Iain McDonald‘s) estimation of the split of R1b-L23 in L51 and Z2103 (ca. 4100 BC, TMRCA ca. 3700 BC) was wrong, by as much as the R1a-Z645 estimates proved wrong, and both subclades were older than expected, then maybe R1b-L51 was not part of the Yamna expansion, but rather part of an earlier expansion with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka into central Europe.

That is, R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 would have expanded wih Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrants, and they would have either disappeared among local populations, or settled and expanded with successful lineages in certain regions. I think this may give rise to two potential models.

A hidden group in the European east-central steppes?

Here is what Heyd (2011), for example, has to say about the effect of the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion in the 4th millennium BC, with the first Kurgan wave that shuttered the social, economic, and cultural foundations of south-eastern Europe (before the expansion of west Yamna migrants in the region):

Proto-Anatolian migrations with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion, including ADMIXTURE data from Wang et al. (2018).

As the Boleraz and Baden tumuli cases in Serbia and Hungary demonstrate, there are earlier, 4th millennium cal. B.C. round tumuli in the Carpathian basin. There are also earlier north-Pontic steppe populations who infiltrated similar environments west of the Black Sea prior to the rise of the Yamnaya culture. This situation can be traced back to the 2nd half of the 5th millennium cal. B.C. to a group of distinct burials, zoomorphic maceheads, long flint blades, triangular flint points, etc., summarized under the term Suvurovo-Novodanilovka (Govedarica 2004; Rassamakin 2004; Anthony 2007; Heyd forthcoming 2011). They also erected round personalized tumuli, though smaller in size and height, above inhumations of single individuals. Suvorovo and Casimcea are the key examples in the lower Danube region of Romania. In northeast Bulgaria, the primary grave of Polska Kosovo (ochre-stained supine extended body position: information communicated by S. Alexandrov) can also be seen as such, as should the Targovishte-“Gonova mogila” primary grave 1 in the Thracian plain with a burial arranged in a supine position with flexed legs, southeast-northwest orientated, and strewed with ochre (Kanchev 1991 , p. 56- 57; Ivanova Gaydarska 2007). In addition to the many copper and shell beads, the 17.4cm long obsidian blade is exceptional, which links this grave to the Csongrád-“Kettoshalom” grave in the south Hungarian plain (Ecsedy 1979). It also yielded an obsidian blade ( 13.2cm long) and copper, shell and limestone beads.

The Southeast European distribution of graves of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka group and such unequipped ones mentioned in the text which can be attributed by burial custom and stratigraphic position in the barrow, plus zoomorphic and abstract animal head sceptres as well as specific maceheads with knobs as from Decea Maresului (mid-5th millennium until around 4000 BC). Heyd (2016).

However, no traces of a tumulus have been recorded above the Kettoshalom tomb. Conventionally, it is dated to the Bodrogkeresztur-period in east Hungary, shortly after 4000 cal. B.C., which would correspond very well with the suggested Cernavodă I (or its less known cultural equivalent in the Thracian plain) attribution for the “Gonova mogila” grave, a cultural background to which the Csongrád grave should have also belonged. Bodrogkeresztur and Cernavodă I periods are not the only examples of 4th millennium cal. B.C. tumuli and burials displaying this steppe connection. Indeed we can find this early steppe impact throughout the 4th millennium cal. B.C. These include adscriptions to the Horodiștea II (Corlateni-Dealul Stadole, grave I: Burtanescu l 998, p. 37; Holbocai, grave 34: Coma 1998, p. 16); to Gordinești-Cernavodă 11 (Liești-Movila Arbănașu, grave 22: Brudiu 2000); to Gorodsk-Usatovo (Corlăteni Dealul Cetăţii, grave I: Comșa 1998, p. 17- 18, in Romania; Durankulak, grave 982: Vajsov 2002, in Bulgaria); and to Cernavodă III(Golyama Detelina, tum. 4: Leshtakov, Borisov 1995), and early (end of 4th millennium cal. B.C.) Ezero in Ovchartsi, primary grave (Kalchev 1994, p. 134-138) and Golyama Detelina, tum. 2 (Kanchev 1991) in Bulgaria. Also the Boleráz and Baden tumuli of Banjevac-Tolisavac and Mokrin in the south Carpathian basin account for this, since one should perhaps take into account primary grave 12 of the Sárrédtudavari-Orhalom tumulus in the Hungarian Alfold: a left-sided crouched juvenile ( 15- 17 y) individual in an oval, NW-SE orientated grave pit 14C dated to 3350-3100 cal. B.C. at 2 sigma (Dani, Ncpper 2006). Neither the burial custom (no ochre strewing or depositing a lump of ochre has been recorded), nor date account for its ascription to the Yamnaya!

All of these tumuli and burials demonstrate, though, that there is already a constant but perhaps low-level 4th millennium cal. B.C. steppe interaction, linking the regions of the north of the Black Sea with those of the west, and reaching deep into the Carpathian basin. This has to be acknowledged. even if these populations remain small, bounded to their steppe habitat with an economy adapted to this special environment, and are not always visible in the record. Indirect hints may help in seeing them, such as the frequent occurrence of horse bones, regarded as deriving from domesticated horses, in Hungarian Baden settlements (Bokonyi 1978; Benecke 1998), and in those of the south German Cham Culture (Matuschik 1999, p. 80-82) and the east German Bernburg Culture (Becker 1999; Benecke 1999). These occur, however, always in low numbers, perhaps not enough to maintain and regenerate a herd. Does this point us towards otherwise archaeologically hidden horsebreeders in the Carpathian basin, before the Yamnaya? In any case, I hope to make one case clear: these are by no means Yamnaya burials in the strict definition! Attribution to the Yamnaya in its strict definition applies.

Distribution of Pit-Grave burials west of the Black Sea likely dating to the 2nd half of the 4th millennium BC (triangles: side-crouched burials; filled circles: supine extended burials; open circles: suspected). In Alin Frînculeasa, Bianca Preda, Volker Heyd, Pit-Graves, Yamnaya and Kurgans along the Lower Danube.

Also, about the expansion of Yamna settlers along the steppes:

However, it should have been made clear by the distribution map of the Western Yamnaya that they were confining themselves solely to their own, well-known, steppe habitat and therefore not occupying, or pushing away and expelling, the locally settled farming societies. Also, living solely in the steppes requires another lifestyle, and quite different economic and social bases, most likely very different to the established farming societies. Although surely regarded as incoming strangers, they may therefore not have been seen as direct competitors. This argument can be further enforced when remembering that the lowlands and the steppes in the southeast of Europe had already been populated throughout the 4th millennium cal. B.C., as demonstrated above, by societies with a similar north-Pontic steppe origin and tradition, albeit in lower numbers. It is only for these groups that the Yamnaya may have become a threat, but their common origin and perhaps a similar economic/ social background with comparable lifestyles would surely have assisted to allow rapid assimilation. More important, though, is that farming societies in this region may therefore have been accustomed to dealing and interacting with different people and ethnic strangers for a long time. (…)

When assessing farming and steppe societies’ interaction from a general point of view, attitudes can diverge in three main directions:

  1. the violent one; with raids, fights, struggles, warfare, suppression and finally the superiority and exploitation of the one over the other;
  2. the peaceful one; with a continuous exchange of gifts, goods, work, information and genes in a balanced reciprocal system, leading eventually to the merging of the two societies and creation of a new identity;
  3. the neutral one; with the two societies ignoring each other for a long time.

What we see from trying to understand the record of the Yamnaya, based on their tumuli and burials, and the local and neighbouring contemporary societies, based on their settlements, hoards, and graves, is likely a mixture of all three scenarios, with the balance perhaps more towards exchange in a highly dynamic system with alterations over time. However, violence and raids cannot be ruled out; they would be difficult to see in the archaeological record; or only indirectly, such as the building of hill forts, particularly the defence-like chain of Vucedol hillforts along the south shore of the Danube on the Serbian/Croatian border zone (Tasic 1995a), and the retreat of people into them (Falkenstein 1998, p. 261-262), with other interpretations also possible. And finally, we are dealing here with very different local and neighbouring societies, as well as with more distant contemporary ones, looking, in reality, rather like a chequer board of societies and archaeological cultures (see Parzinger 1993 for the overview). These display different regional backgrounds and traditions leading to different social and settlement organizations, different economic bases and material cultures in the wide areas between Prut and Maritza rivers, and Black Sea and Tisza river. They surely found their individual way of responding to the incoming and settling Yamnaya people.

Yamnaya tumuli signalling the expansion of West Yamna from ca. 3100 BC (especially after ca. 2950 BC). Heyd (2011).

The best data we have about this potential non-Yamna origin of R1b-L51 – and thus in favour of its admixture in the Carpathian basin – lies in:

  1. The majority of R1a-Z2103 subclades found to date among Yamna samples.
  2. The presence of R1b-Z2103 in the Catacomb culture – in the Northern Caucasus and in Ukraine.
  3. The limited presence of (ancient and modern) R1b-L51 in eastern Europe and India, whose isolated finds are commonly (and simplistically) attributed to ‘late migrations’.
  4. The presence of R1b-L51 (xZ2103) in cultures related to the ‘Yamna package’, but supposedly not to Yamna settlers. So for example I7043, of haplogroup R1b-L151(xU106,xP312), ca. 2500-2200 BC from Szigetszentmiklós-Üdülősor, probably from the Bell Beaker (Csepel group), but maybe from the early Nagýrev culture.
  5. The expansion of its subclades apparently only from a single region, around the Carpathian basin, in contrast to R1b-Z2103.
  6. The already ‘diluted’ steppe admixture found in the earliest samples with respect to Yamna, which points to the appearance after the Yamna admixture with the local population.
  7. Ukrainian archaeologists (in contrast to their Russian colleagues) point to the relevance of North Pontic cultures like Kvitjana and Lower Mikhailovka in the development of Early Yamna in the west, and some eastern European researchers also believe in this similarity.
  8. If R1b-Z2103 and R1b-L51 had expanded with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka migrants to the west, and had admixed later as Hungary_LCA-LBA-like peoples with Yamna migrants during the long-term contacts with other ‘kurganized cultures’ ca. 2900-2500 BC in the Great Hungarian Plains, it could explain some peculiar linguistic traits of North-West Indo-European, and also why R1b-Z2103 appears in cultures associated with this earlier ‘steppe influence’ (i.e. not directly related to Yamna) such as Vučedol (with a R1b-Z2103 sample, see below). That could also explain the presence of R1b-L151(xP312, xU106) in similar Balkan cultures, possibly not directly related to Yamna.
Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). PCA of ancient and modern samples. Red circle in dashed line around Varna, Greece Neolithic, and (approximate position of) Smyadovo outliers, part of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka settlers.

A hidden group among north or west Pontic Eneolithic steppe cultures?

The expansion of Khvalynsk as Novodanilovka into the North Pontic area happened through the south across the steppe, near the coast, with the forest-steppe region working as a clear natural border for this culture of likely horse-riding chieftains, whose economy was probably based on some rudimentary form of mobile pastoralism.

Although archaeologists are divided as to the origin of each individual Middle Eneolithic group near the Black Sea after the end of the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka period, it seems more or less clear that steppe cultures like Cernavodă, Lower Mikhailovka, or Kvitjana are closer (or “more archaic”) in their steppe features, which connects them to Volga–Ural and Northern Caucasus cultures, like Northern Caucasus, Repin or Khvalynsk.

On the other hand, forest-steppe cultures like Dereivka (including Alexandria) show innovative traits and contacts with para- or sub-Neolithic cultures to the north, like Comb-Pit Ware groups, apart from corded decoration influenced by Trypillian groups to the west, especially in their later (‘Proto-Corded Ware‘) stage after ca. 3500 BC.

If Ukrainian researchers like Rassamakin are right, Early Yamna expanded not only from Repin settlers, but also from local steppe cultures adopting Repin traits to develop an Early Yamna culture, similar to how eastern (Volga–Ural groups) seem to have synchronously adopted Early Yamna without massive affluence of Repin settlements.

Furthermore, local traits develop in southern groups, like anthropomorphic stelae (shared with Kemi-Oba, direct heir of Lower Mikhailovka), and rich burials featuring wagons. These traits are seen in west Yamna settlers.

Modified from Rassamakin (1999), adding red color to Repin expansion. The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug.

Problems of this model include:

  1. On the North Pontic area – in contrast to the Volga–Ural region – , there was a clear “colonization” wave of Repin settlers, also supported by Ukrainian researchers, based on the number of new settlements and burials, and on the progressive retreat of Dereivka, Kvitjana, as well as (more recent) Maykop- and Trypillia-related groups from the North Pontic area ca. 3350/3300 BC. It seems unlikely that these expansionist, semi-nomadic, cattle-breeding, patrilineally-related steppe clans that were driving all native populations out of their territories suddenly decided, at some point during their spread into the North Pontic area ca. 3300-3100 BC, to join forces with some foreign male lineages from the area, and then continue their expansion to the west…
  2. Similar to the fate of R1b-P297 subclades in the Baltic after the expansion of Corded Ware migrants, previous haplogropus of the North Pontic region – such as R1a, R1b-V88, and I2 subclades basically disappeared from the ancient DNA record after the expansion of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka, and then after the expansion of Yamna, as is clear from Yamna, Afanasevo, and Bell Beaker samples obtained to date. This, in combination with what we know about Y-chromosome bottlenecks in post-Neolithic expansions, leaves little space to think that a big enough territorial group with a majority of “native” haplogroups could survive later expansions (be it R1b-L51 or R1a-Z645).
  3. Supporting an expansion of the same male (and partly female) population, the Yamna admixture from east to west is quite homogeneous, with the only difference found in (non-significant) EEF-like proportion which becomes elevated in distant areas [apart from significant ‘southern’ contribution to certain outlier samples]. Based on the also homogeneous Y-DNA picture, the heterogeneity must come, in general, from the female exogamy practiced by expanding groups.
  4. There is a short period, spanning some centuries (approximately 3300-2700 BC), in which the North Pontic area – especially the forest-steppe territories to the west of the Dnieper, i.e. the Upper Dniester, Boh, and Prut-Siret areas – are a chaos of incoming and emigrating, expanding and shrinking groups of different cultures, such as late Trypillian groups, Maykop-related traits, TRB, GAC, (Proto-)Corded Ware, and Early Yamna settlements. No natural geographic frontier can be delimited between these groups, which probably interacted in different ways. Nevertheless, based on their cultural traits, admixture, and especially on their Y-DNA, it seems that they never incorporated foreign male lineages, beyond those they probably had during their initial expansion trends.
  5. The further expansionist waves of Early Yamna seen ca. 3100 BC, from the Danube Delta to the west, give an overall image of continuously expanding patrilineal clans of R1b-M269 subclades since the Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migration, in different periodic steps, mostly from eastern Pontic-Caspian nuclei, usually overriding all encountered cultures and (especially male) populations, rather than showing long-term collaboration and interaction. Such interaction is seen only in exceptional cases, e.g. the long-term admixture between Abashevo and Poltavka, as seen in Proto-Indo-Iranian peoples and their language.
Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). PCA of ancient and modern samples. Arrows depicting Khvalynsk -> Yamna drift (blue), and hypothetic approximate Ukraine Eneolithic -> Yamna drift accompanying R1b-L51 (red).


We are living right now an exemplary ego-, (ethno-)nationalism-, and/or supremacy-deflating moment, for some individuals of eastern and northern European descent who believed that R1a or ‘steppe ancestry proportions’ meant something special. The same can be said about those who had interiorized some social or ethnolinguistic meaning for the origin of R1b in western Europe, N1c in north-eastern Europe, as well as Greeks, Iranians, Armenians, or Mediterranean peoples in general of ‘Near Eastern’ ancestry or haplogroups, or peoples of Near Eastern origin and/or language.

These people had linked their haplogroups or ancestry with some fantasy continuity of ‘their’ ancestral populations to ‘their’ territories or languages (or both), and all are being proven wrong.

Apart from teaching such people a lesson about what simplistic views are useful for – whether it is based on ABO or RH group, white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence, or on the own ancestry or Y-DNA haplogroup -, it teaches the rest of us what can happen in the near future among western Europeans. Because, until recently, most western Europeans were comfortably settled thinking that our ancestors were some remnant population from an older, Palaeolithic or Mesolithic population, who acquired Indo-European languages by way of cultural diffusion in different periods, including only minor migrations.

Judging by what we can see now among some individuals of Northern and Eastern European descent, the only thing that can worsen the air of superiority among western Europeans is when they realize (within a few years, when all these stupid battles to control the narrative fade) that not only are they the cultural ‘heirs’ of the Graeco-Roman tradition that began with the Roman Empire, but that most of them are the direct patrilineal descendants of Khvalynsk, Yamna, Bell Beaker, and European Bronze Age peoples, and thus direct descendants of Middle PIE, Late PIE, and NWIE speakers.

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

The finding of R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 among expanding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chieftains, with pockets of R1b-L51 remaining in steppe-like societies of the Balkans and the Carpathian Basin, would have beautifully complemented what we know about the East Yamna admixture with R1a-Z93 subclades (Uralic speakers) ca. 2600-2100 BC to form Proto-Indo-Iranian, and about the regional admixtures seen in the Balkans, e.g. in Proto-Greeks, with the prevalent J subclades of the region.

It would have meant an end to any modern culture or nation identifying themselves with the ‘true’ Late PIE and Yamna heirs, because these would be exclusively associated with the expansion of R1b-Z2103 subclades with late Repin, and later as the full-fledged Late PIE with Yamna settlers to south-east and central Europe, and to the southern Urals. The language would have had then obviously undergone different language changes in all these territories through long-lasting admixture with other populations. In that sense, it would have ended with the ideas of supremacy in western Europe before they even begin.

The most likely future

However limited the evidence, it seems that R1b-L51 expanded with Yamna, though, based on the estimates for the haplogroups involved, and on marginal hints at the variability of L23 subclades within Yamna and neighbouring populations. If R1b-L51 expanded with West Repin / Early Yamna settlers, this is why they have not yet been found among Yamna samples:

Simplified map of Repin expansions from ca. 3500/3400 BC.
  • The subclade division of Yamna settlers needs not be 50:50 for L51:Z2103, either in time or in space. I think this is the simplistic view underlying many thoughts on this matter. Many different expanding patrilineal clans of L23 subclades may have been more or less successful in different areas, and non-Z2103 may have been on the minority, or more isolated relative to Z2103-clans among expanding peoples on the steppe, especially on the east. In fact, we usually talk in terms of “Z2103 vs. L51” as if
    1. these two were the only L23 subclades; and
    2. both had split and succeeded (expanding) synchronously;

    that is, as if there had not been multiple subclades of both haplogroups, and as if there had not been different expansion waves for hundreds of years stemming from different evolving nuclei, involving each time only limited (successful) clans. Many different subclades of haplogroups L23 (xZ2103, xL51), Z2103, and L51 must have been unsuccessful during the ca. 1,500 years of late Khvalynsk and late Repin-Early Yamna expansions in which they must have participated (for approximately 60-75 generations, based on a mean 20-25 years).

  • If we want to imagine a pocket of ‘hidden’ L51 for some region of the North Pontic or Carpathian region, the same can be imagined – and much more likely – for any unsampled territory of expanding late Repin/Early Yamna settlers from the Lower Don – Lower Volga region (probably already a mixed society of L51 and Z2103 subclades since their beginning, as the early Repin culture, ca. 3800 BC), with L51 clans being probably successful to the west.
  • The Repin culture expanded only in small, mobile settlements from the Lower Don – Lower Volga to the north, east, and south, starting ca. 3500/3400 BC, in the waves that eventually gave a rather early distant offshoot in the Altai region, i.e. Afanasevo. Starting ca. 3300 BC in the archaeological record, the majority of R1b-Z2103 subclades found to date in Afanasevo also supports either
    • a mixed Repin society, with Z2103-clans predominating among eastern settlers; or
    • a Repin society marked by haplogroup L51, and thus a cultural diffusion of late Repin/Early Yamna traits among neighbouring (Khvalynsk, Samara, etc.) groups of essentially the same (early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka) genetic stock in the Volga–Ural region.

    Both options could justify a majority of Z2103 in the Lower Volga–Ural region, with the latter being supported by the scattered archaeological remains of late Repin in the region before the synchronous emergence of Early Yamna findings in the whole Pontic-Caspian steppe.

  • Most Z2103 from Yamna samples to date are from around 3100 BC (in average) onward, and from the right bank of the Lower Don to the east, particularly from the Lower Volga–Ural area (especially the Samara region), which – based on the center of expansion of late Repin settlers – may be depicting an artificially high Z2103-distribution of the whole Yamna community.
Repin expansion into the Volga–Ural region from ca. 3500/3400 BC. Map made by me based on maps and data from Morgunova (2014, 2016). Lopatino is marked with number 64.
  • Yamna sample I0443, R1b-L23 (Y410+, L51-), ca. 3300-2700 BCE from Lopatino II, points to an intermediate subclade between L23 and L51, near one of the supposed late Repin sites (based on kurgan burials with late Repin cultural traits) in the Samara region.
  • Other Balkan cultures potentially unrelated to the Yamna expansion also show Z2103 (and not only L51) subclades, like I3499 (ca. 2884-2666 calBC), of the Vučedol culture, from Beli Manastir-Popova zemlja, which points to the infiltration of Yamna peoples in other cultures. In any case, the appearance of R1b-L23 subclades in the region happens only after the Yamna expansion ca. 3100 BC, probably through intrusions into different neighbouring regions, if these Balkan cultures are not directly derived from Yamna settlements (which is probably the case of the Csepel Bell Beaker or early Nagýrev sample, see above).
  • The diversity of haplogroups found in or around the Carpathian Basin in Late Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age samples, including L151(xP312, xU106), P312, U106, Z2103, makes it the most likely sink of Yamna settlers, who spread thus with expanding family clans of different R1b-L23 subclades.
  • Even though some Yamna vanguard groups are known to have expanded up to Saxony-Anhalt before ca. 2700 BC, haplogroup Z2103 seems to be restricted to more eastern regions, which suggests that R1b-L51 was already successful among expanding West Yamna clans in Hungary, which gave rise only later to expanding East Bell Beakers (overwhelmingly of L151 subclades). The source of R1b-L51 and L151 expansion over Z2103 must lie therefore in the West Yamna period, and not in the Bell Beaker expansion.
Yamna migrants ca. 3300-2600. Most likely site of admixture with GAC circled in red.
  • The R1b-Z2103 found in Poltavka, Catacomb, and to the south point to a late migration displacing the western R1b-L51, only after the late Repin expansion. This is also seen in the steppe ancestry and R1b-Z2103 south of the Caucasus, in Hajji Firuz, which points to this route as a potential source of the supposed “Earliest Proto-Indo-Iranian” (the mariannu term) of the Near East. A similar replacement event happened some centuries later with expanding R1a-Z93 subclades from the east wiping out haplogroup R1b-Z2103 from the Pontic-Caspian steppe.
  • Many ancient samples from Khvalynsk, Northern Caucasus, Yamna, or later ones are reported simply as R1b-M269 or L23, without a clear subclade, so the simplistic ‘Yamna–Z2103’ picture is not real: if one takes into account that Z2103 might have been successful quite early in the eastern region, it is more likely to obtain a successful Y-SNP call of a Z2103 subclade in the Volga–Ural region than a xZ2103 one.
  • There are some modern samples of R1b-L51 in eastern Europe and Asia, whose common simplistic attribution to “late expansions” is usually not substantiated; and also ancient R1b-L51 samples might be confirmed soon for Asia.
  • ‘Western’ features described by archaeologists for West Yamna settlers, associated with Kemi Oba and southern Yamna groups in the North Pontic area – like rich burials with anthropomorphic stelae and wagons – are actually absent in burials from settlers beyond Bulgaria, which does not support their affiliation with these local steppe groups of the Black Sea. Also, a mix with local traditions is seen accross all Early Yamna groups of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and still genetics and common cultural traits point to their homogeneization under the same patrilineal clans expanding continuously for centuries. The maintenance of local traditions (as evidenced by East Bell Beakers in Iberia related to Iberian Proto-Beakers) is often not a useful argument in genetics, especially when the female population is not replaced.
Yamna settlers in the Great Pannonian Plain, showing only kurgans of Hungary ca. 2950-2500 BC. Yamna Hungary was one of the biggest West Yamna provinces. From Hórvath et al. (2013).


This is what we know, using linguistics, archaeology, and genetics:

  • Middle Proto-Indo-European expanded with Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka after ca. 4800 BC, with the first Suvorovo settlements dated ca. 4600 BC.
  • Archaic Late Proto-Indo-European expanded with late Repin (or Volga–Ural settlers related to Khvalynsk, influenced by the Repin expansion) into Afanasevo ca. 3500/3400 BC.
  • Late Proto-Indo-European expanded with Early Yamna settlers to the west into central Europe and the Balkans ca. 3100 BC; and also to the east (as Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian) into the southern Urals ca. 2600 BC.
  • North-West Indo-European expanded with Yamna Hungary -> East Bell Beakers, from ca. 2500 BC.
  • Proto-Indo-Iranian expanded with Sintashta, Potapovka, and later Andronovo and Srubna from ca. 2100 BC.

It seems that the subclades from Khvalynsk ca. 4250-4000 BC were wrongly reported – like those of Narasimhan et al. (2018). However, even if they are real and YFull estimates have to be revised, and even if the split had happened before the expansion of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka, the most likely origin of R1b-L51 among Bell Beakers will still be the expansion of late Repin / Early Yamna settlers, and that is what ancient DNA samples will most likely show, whatever the social or political consequences.

The only relevance of the finding of R1b-L51 in one place or another – especially if it is found to be a remnant of a Middle PIE expansion coupled with centuries of admixture and interaction in the Carpathian Basin – is the potential influence of an archaic PIE (or non-IE) layer on the development of North-West Indo-European in Yamna Hungary -> East Bell Beaker. That is, more or less like the Uralic influence related to the appearance of R1a-Z93 among Proto-Indo-Iranians, of R1a-Z284 among Pre-Germanic peoples, and of R1a-Z282 among Balto-Slavic peoples.

I think there is little that ancient DNA samples from West Yamna could add to what we know in general terms of archaeology or linguistics at this point regarding Late PIE migrations, beyond many interesting details. I am sure that those who have not attributed some random 6,000-year-old paternal ancestor any magical (ethnic or nationalist) meaning are just having fun, enjoying more and more the precise data we have now on European prehistoric populations.

As for those who believe in magical consequences of genetic studies, I don’t think there is anything for them to this quest beyond the artificially created grand-daddy issues. And, funnily enough, those who played (and play) the ‘neutrality’ card to feel superior in front of others – the “I only care about the truth”-type of lie, while secretly longing for grandpa’s ethnolinguistic continuity – are suffering the hardest fall.


Y-chromosome mixture in the modern Corsican population shows different migration layers


Open access Prehistoric migrations through the Mediterranean basin shaped Corsican Y-chromosome diversity, by Di Cristofaro et al. PLOS One (2018).

Interesting excerpts:

This study included 321 samples from men throughout Corsica; samples from Provence and Tuscany were added to the cohort. All samples were typed for 92 Y-SNPs, and Y-STRs were also analyzed.

Haplogroup R represented approximately half of the lineages in both Corsican and Tuscan samples (respectively 51.8% and 45.3%) whereas it reached 90% in Provence. Sub-clade R1b1a1a2a1a2b-U152 predominated in North Corsica whereas R1b1a1a2a1a1-U106 was present in South Corsica. Both SNPs display clinal distributions of frequency variation in Europe, the U152 branch being most frequent in Switzerland, Italy, France and Western Poland. Calibrated branch lengths from whole Y chromosome sequencing [44,45] and ancient DNA studies [46] both indicated that R1a and R1b diversification began relatively recently, about 5 Kya, consistent with Bronze Age and Copper Age demographic expansion. TMRCA estimations are concordant with such expansion in Corsica.

Spatial frequency maps for haplogroups with frequencies above 3%, their Y-STR based phylogenetic networks in Corsican populations (Blue: North, Green: West, Orange: South, Black: Center and Purple: East) and their TMRCA (in years, +/- SE).

Haplogroup G reached 21.7% in Corsica and 13.3% in Tuscany. Sub-clade G2a2a1a2-L91 accounted for 11.3% of all haplogroups in Corsica yet was not present in Provence or in Tuscany. Thirty-four out of the 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 displayed a unique Y-STR profile, illustrated by the star-like profile of STR networks (Fig 1). G2a2a1a2-L91 and G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) show their highest frequency in present day Sardinia and southern Corsica compared to low levels from Caucasus to Southern Europe, encompassing the Near and Middle East [21,47–50]. Ancient DNA results from Early and Middle Neolithic samples reported the presence of haplogroup G2a-P15 [51–53], consistent with gene flow from the Mediterranean region during the Neolithic transition. Td expansion time estimated by STR for P15-affiliated chromosomes was estimated to be 15,082+/-2217 years ago [49]. Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old Alpine mummy, was derived for the L91 SNP [21]. A genetic relationship between G haplogroups from Corsica and Sardinia is further supported by DYS19 duplication, reported in North Sardinia [14], and observed in the southern part of the Corsica in 9 out of 37 G2a2a1a2-L91 chromosomes and in 4 out of 5 G2a2a-PF3147(xL91xM286) chromosomes, 3 of which displayed an identical STR profile (S4 Table).

This lineage has a reported coalescent age estimated by whole sequencing in Sardinian samples of about 9,000 years ago. This could reflect common ancestors coming from the Caucasus and moving westward during the Neolithic period [48], whereas their continental counterparts would have been replaced by rapidly expanding populations associated with the Bronze Age [46,54,55]. Estimated TMRCA for L91 lineage in Corsica is 4529 +/- 853 years. G-L497 showed high frequencies in Corsica compared to Provence and Tuscany, and this haplogroup was common in Europe, but rare in Greece, Anatolia and the Middle East. Fifteen out of the 17 Corsican G2a2b2a1a1b-L497 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table) with an estimated TMRCA of 6867 +/- 1294 years. Haplogroup G2a2b1-M406, associated with Impressed Ware Neolithic markers, along with J2a1-DYS445 = 6 and J2a1b1-M92 [22,49], had very low levels in Corsica. Conversely, G2a2b2a-P303was highly represented and seemed to be independent of the G2a2b1-M406 marker. The 7 G2a2b2a-P303(xL497xM527) Corsican chromosomes displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table).

First and second axes of the PCA based on 12 Y-chromosome haplogroup frequencies in 83 west Mediterranean populations.

Haplogroup J, mainly represented by J2a1b-M67(xM92), displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. J2a1b-M67(xM92) derived STR network analysis displayed a quite homogeneous profile across the island with an estimated TMRCA of 2381 +/- 449 years (Fig 1) and individuals displaying M67 were peripheral compared to Northwestern Italians (S2 Fig). The haplogroup J2a1-Page55(xM67xM530), characteristic of non-Greek Anatolia [22], was found in the north-west of Corsica. Haplogroup J2a1-DYS445 = 6 was found in the north-west with DYS391 = 10 repeats, and in the far south with DYS391 = 9 repeats, the former was associated with Anatolian Greek samples, whereas the second was found in central Anatolia [22]. The 7 J2b2a-M241 displayed a unique Y-STR profile (S4 Table), they were only detected in the Cap Corse region, this sub-haplogroup shows frequency peaks in both the southern Balkans and northern-central Italy [56] and is associated with expansion from the Near East to the Balkans during Neolithic period [57].

Haplogroup E, mainly represented by E1b1b1a1b1a-V13, displayed intermediate frequencies in Corsica compared to Tuscany and Provence. E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 was thought to have initiated a pan-Mediterranean expansion 7,000 years ago starting from the Balkans [52] and its dispersal to the northern shore of the Mediterranean basin is consistent with the Greek Anatolian expansion to the western Mediterranean [22], characteristic of the region surrounding Alaria, and consistent with the TMRCA estimated in Corsica for this haplogroup. A few E1b1a-V38 chromosomes are also observed in the same regions as V13.


Mitogenomes show likely origin of elevated steppe ancestry in neighbouring Corded Ware groups


Open Access Mitochondrial genomes reveal an east to west cline of steppe ancestry in Corded Ware populations, by Juras et al., Scientific Reports (2018) 8:11603.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, references have been deleted for clarity):

Ancient DNA was extracted from the Corded Ware culture individuals excavated in southeastern Poland (N = 12) and Moravia (N = 3). Late Eneolithic (N = 5) and Bronze Age human remains (N = 25) originated from western Ukraine and came from the Yampil barrow cemetery complex located in the north–western region of the Black Sea. Bronze Age individuals were associated with different archaeological cultures, including Yamnaya (N = 14), Catacomb (N = 2), Babyno (N = 4) and Noua (N = 5).

The PCA results described 50.62% of the variability and were combined with the k-means clustering (with the k value of 5 as the best representation of the data, at the average silhouette of 0.2608). Based on these results individuals associated with the western and eastern Yamnaya horizon (YAE and YAW in Fig. 2) were grouped within a cluster consisting of populations from central Eurasia and Europe (blue cluster) including people associated with eastern Corded Ware culture (CWPlM) and Baltic Corded Ware culture (CWBal). This cluster did not contain any populations linked with early Neolithic farmers (red), or hunter-gatherers (green and yellow). On the other hand, k-means clustering linked the western Corded Ware culture-associated population (CWW) with Near East and Neolithic farmer ancestry groups from western and central Europe.

Modified image, from the paper. PCA based on mitochondrial DNA haplogroup frequencies with k-means clustering. The two principal components explained 50.62% of the total variance. Loading vectors, representing mitochondrial haplogroup contributions, are highlighted as grey arrows. Populations are grouped into four clusters according to k-means. Population abbreviations are as follows: BABA – Bronze Age Balkans; CAT – Catacomb Culture; CWPlM – Corded Ware Culture from Poland and Moravia; CWBal – Baltic Corded Ware Culture; IAK – Iron Age Kazakchstan; IASI – Iron Age Syberia – Aldy Bel Culture; SCA – Scytho-Siberian Pazyryk (Altai); SCR – Rostov-Scythians, Samara; SCU – Scythians from Moldova and Ukraine; TAG – Tagar Culture; GAC – Globular Amphora Culture; YAW – western Yamnaya horizon population from Ukraine and Bulgaria; YAE – eastern Yamnaya horizon population; BAC – Baalberge Culture; BANE – Bronze Age Near East; BEC – Bernburg Culture; CHAHu – Chalcolithic Hungary; CWW – Corded Ware Culture west; CHABA – Chalcolitic Balkans; EBAG – Early Bronze Age Germany; FBC – Funnel Beaker Culture; IAG – Iron Age Germany; MNG – Middle Neolithic Germany; LBK – Linear Pottery Culture; LDN – Late Danubian Neolithic; MIC – Minoans; NEBA – Neolithic Balkans; PPNE – Pre-Pottery Near East; SCG – Schöningen group; SMC – Salzmünde Culture; AND – Andronovo Culture; BASI – Bronze Age Siberia; PWC – Pitted Ware Culture; HGE – eastern hunter-gatherers; NEUk- Neolithic Ukraine; HGS – southern hunter-gatherers; HGBal – Baltic hunter-gatheres; HGC – central huther-gatherers.

Pairwise mtDNA-based FST values, visualized on MDS using the raw non-linearized FST (stress value = 0.099) (Fig. 4), also supported the PCA results and indicated that western and eastern Yamnaya horizon groups (YAW and YAE) were closer to people associated with the eastern Corded Ware culture (CWPlM) (FST = 0.00; FST = 0.01, respectively; both p > 0.05) and Baltic Corded Ware culture (CWBal) (FST = 0.00; FST = 0.00, respectively; both p > 0.05), than to populations associated with the western Corded Ware culture (CWW) (FST = 0.047 and FST = 0.059, respectively; both statistically significant p < 0.05). Western and eastern Yamnaya horizon groups also showed close genetic affinity to the Iron Age western Scythians (SCU) (FST = 0.0022 and FST = 0.006, respectively, both p > 0.05). The most distant populations to the Yamnaya horizon groups were western hunter-gatherers (HGW) (FST = 0.23 and FST = 0.15, p < 0.001). The FST-based MDS reflected the general European population history in the post-LGM period as the three highest FST scores were detected between western hunter-gatherers (HGW) and people associated with Linear Pottery culture (LBK) (FST = 0.33, p < 0.001), between eastern hunter-gatherers (HGE) and Baltic hunter-gatherers (HGBal) (FST = 0.35, p < 0.05), and between western (HGW) and eastern hunter-gatherers (HGE) (FST = 0.36, p < 0.05). The Yamnaya horizon groups (YAE and YAW) were placed centrally between northern hunter-gatherers (HGN) and Neolithic farmers (LDN), in direct proximity to the Bronze and Iron Age populations from Eastern Europe (SCU, BARu, SRU) and close to individuals associated with eastern and Baltic Corded Ware culture.

Modified image, from the paper. In circles, relevant European groups for the question of ‘steppe ancestry’. MDS plot based on FST values calculated from mitochondrial genomes. Population abbreviations: BBC – Bell Beaker Culture; BAHu – Bronze Age Hungary; BARu – Bronze Age Russia; CWPlM – Corded Ware Culture from Poland and Moravia; CWW – western Corded Ware Culture; CWBal – Baltic Corded Ware Culture; EBAG – Early Bronze Age Germany; GAC – Globular Amphora Culture; HGE – eastern hunter-gatherers; HGN – northern hunter-gatherers; HGW – western hunter-gatherers; HGBal – Baltic hunter-gatherers; LBK – Linear Pottery Culture; LDN – Late Danubian Neolithic; MNE – Middle Neolithic; NENE – Near Eastern Neolithic; SCU – Scythians from Moldova and Ukraine; SRU – Rostov-Scythians, Samara.

Among the analyzed samples, we identified two Catacomb culture-associated individuals (poz220 and poz221) belonging to hg X4. They are the first ancient individuals assigned to this particular lineage. Haplogroup X4 is rare among present day populations and has been found only in one individual each from Central Europe, Balkans, Anatolia and Armenia.

Moreover, we have reported mtDNA haplotypes that might be associated with the migration from the steppe and point to genetic continuity in the north Pontic region from Bronze Age until the Iron Age. These haplotypes were assigned to hgs U5, U4, U2 and W3. MtDNA hgs U5a and U4, identified in this study among Yamnaya, Late Eneolithic and Corded Ware culture-associated individuals, have previously been found in high frequencies among northern and eastern hunter-gatherers. Moreover, they appeared in the north Pontic region in populations associated with Mesolithic (hg U5a), Eneolithic (Post-Stog) (hg U4), Yamnaya (hgs U5, U5a), Catacomb (hgs U5 and U5a) and Iron Age Scythians (hg U5a), suggesting genetic continuity of these particular mtDNA lineages in the Pontic region from, at least, the Bronze Age. Hgs U5a and U4-carrying populations were also present in the eastern steppe, along with individuals from the Yamnaya culture from Samara region, the Srubnaya and the Andronovo from Russia. Interestingly, hg U4c1 found in the Yamnaya individual (poz224) has so-far been found only in two Bell Beaker- associated individuals and one Late Bronze Age individual from Armenia, which might suggest a steppe origin for hg U4c1. A steppe origin can possibly also be assigned to hg U4a2f, found in one individual (poz282) but not reported in any other ancient populations to date, and to U5a1- the ancestral lineage of U5a1b, reported for individual poz232, which was identified not only in Corded Ware culture-associated population from central and eastern Europe, but also in representatives of Catacomb culture from the north Pontic region, Yamnaya from Bulgaria and Russia, Srubnaya and Andronovo-associated groups. Hg U2e, reported for Late Eneolithic individual (poz090), was also identified in western Corded Ware culture-associated individual and in succeeding Sintashta, Potapovka and Andronovo groups, suggesting possible genetic continuity of U2e1 in the western part of the north Pontic region.

Hgs W3a1 and W3a1a, found in two Yamnaya individuals from this study (poz208 and poz222), were also identified in Yamnaya-associated individuals from the Russia Samara region and later in Únětice and Bell Beaker groups from Germany, supporting the idea of an eastern European steppe origin of these haplotypes and their contribution to the Yamnaya migration toward the central Europe. The W3a1 lineage was not identified in Neolithic times and, thus, we assume that it appeared in the steppe region for the first time during the Bronze Age. Notably, hgs W1 and W5, which predate the Bronze Age in Europe, were found only in individuals associated with the early Neolithic farmers from Starčevo in Hungary (hg W5), early Neolithic farmers from Anatolia (hg W1-T119C), and from the Schöningen group (hg W1c) and Globular Amphora culture from Poland (hg W5).


Some comments

The most recent radiocarbon dates show that Early Yamna expanded to the west with Repin settlers of the Lower Don ca. 3350/3300 BC. At the end of the 4th millennium, then, these settlers dominated over groups whose population had in turn also elevated ‘steppe ancestry’ (at least from ca. 4000 BC, as shown by Ukraine Eneolithic samples from the forest-zone), and probably replaced the male population completely, as evidenced by other Yamna and Poltavka, and later Bell Beaker, Catacomb, and Sintashta samples.

The ‘second wave’ of expansion of Yamna settlers to the west, into east-central European steppes, began probably ca. 3100/3000 BC, and – based on material culture – stemmed mainly from the North Pontic area. The Yampil Barrow Complex on the Dnieper (which I recently wrote about) seems to be part of one of the groups of western Yamna migrants: those who migrated westward from the left bank of the Dniester to the west into the Prut-Siret region, and north along the Prut.

This region is the key for population movements that gave rise to the Corded Ware culture (see another recent post on Corded Ware origins). It is quite likely that we will see a dance of late Trypillia / Usatovo, GAC, (Proto-)Corded Ware, and Yamna samples in this area. Judging by the clear-cut Y-DNA bottlenecks we are seeing in Neolithic populations, especially among steppe pastoralists, the difference between groups in recovered ancient samples will not only be clear from their culture, but also from their male lineages.

Based on the number of burials studied from the different settlement regions for West Yamna migrants, the Prut-Siret group was one of the smallest new Yamna ‘provinces’ in south-eastern Europe, and was probably overrun early, although – since kurgan findings continued into the Catacomb culture in the Yampil complex – the Dnieper region was well-enough connected to the core North Pontic area to be kept into its retreating territory by 2500 BC, as was the Danube delta, in contrast with other east-central European areas.

Steppe-related migrations ca. 3100-2600 BC with tentative linguistic identification.

Taking into account that the earliest Corded Ware burials are from ca. 2900 BC (in the Single Grave culture), and that the earliest A-horizon pottery expanded from Lesser Poland (a syncretic pottery based on the previous GAC-type) a century later, it is likely that what this paper shows for Corded Ware in eastern Europe and the Baltic is what I have suggested many times (see here, or here) as the most likely reason for elevated steppe ancestry (and close PCA cluster) of the Baltic LN ‘outliers’: the exogamy of Corded Ware groups with females from Yamna or a North Pontic steppe culture with similar ancestry.

If Proto-Corded Ware populations of the North Pontic region did not have an identical “steppe ancestry” to these eastern CW groups already during the Eneolithic (which is the other possibility), I might be right in their more recent exogamy, and this could be seen in this study by the close cluster of east Corded Ware (especially Baltic) mtDNA to GAC and Yamna West groups, and distant from previous hunter-gatherer populations of the area, which suggests that expanding males from the Volhynia/Podolia region practiced exogamy mainly with southern groups.

I think this is probably related to demographic pressure imposed on other populations by the explosive expansion of pastoralists with their new subsistence economy (part of the “Secondary Products Revolution”), which the hunter-gatherer and farmer population of Europe could not keep up with (as seen later in the admixture of expanding East Bell Beakers), although studies on European prehistoric demography are scarce and too general to tell us anything relevant for this precise period and region.