Mixed haplogroups R1a, R1b, I, in collective burials of early Medieval Bavarians


New paper (behind paywall) Family graves? The genetics of collective burials in early medieval southern Germany on trial, by Rott. Päffgen, Haas-Gebhard, Peters, & Harbecka, J Arch Sci (2018) 92: 103–115.


Simultaneous collective burials appear quite regularly in early medieval linear cemeteries. Despite their relatively regular occurrence, they are seen as extraordinary as the interred individuals’ right to be buried in a single grave was ignored for certain reasons. Here, we present a study examining the possible familial relationship of early medieval individuals buried in this way by using aDNA analysis of mitochondrial HVR-I, Y-STRs, and autosomal miniSTRs. We can show that biological relatedness may have been an additional reason for breaking the usual burial custom besides a common cause of death, such as the Plague, which is a precondition for a simultaneous burial. Finally, with our sample set, we also see that signs of interaction between individuals such as holding hands which are often interpreted by archeologists as signs of biological or social relatedness, do not always reflect true genetic kin relationships.

Most of the burials studied are from the mid-6th and early 7th century, and all are from collective burials:

Of the simultaneous burials nine graves are proven or potential (due to contemporaneity) Plague burials (Feldman et al., 2016; Harbeck et al., 2013) and one grave is attributed to interpersonal violence against the background of the early medieval feud system (Schneider, 2008). The remaining simultaneous and the two successive burials did not reveal hints on their individuals’ cause of death.

The distribution of lineages includes R1b, R1a, and I (one family each) in Altenerding-Klettham, and T, R1b, and R1a (two families) in Aschheim-Bajuwarenring.

Map of Upper Bavaria showing the location of the sites investigated. Both Aschheim and Altenerding are located north-east of the Bavarian capital Munich (black star). The two sites are approximately 20 km apart from each other. The map is based on maps taken from here and here (Wikimedia Commons).

There were, for example:

A father and son R1a in a “warrior grave”:

Showing traces of perimortal sharp traumata (AE 888), both men seem to have died in succession of a physical conflict (Sage, 1984). It must remain open, whether this conflict was executed as a blood vengeance in connection with the medieval feud system (Schneider, 2008; Steuer, 2008) or any other kind of interpersonal violence. Attacks and interpersonal violence are also often believed to be a precondition for individuals being buried together.

It has been assumed that burials of several men with weaponry, so-called “warrior graves”, are burials which reflect the early medieval feud system (Schneider, 2008; Steuer, 2008) in the very sophisticated but implausible assumption, that women and children might have been spared in those conflicts. While feuds were actually struggles between familiae, friends and servants of a particular family could be also involved, which would explain the deposition of nonrelated individuals in such burials.

Two children, half-siblings, one of haplogroup R1b, in a shared coffin.

A non-genetic family of an elderly man of haplogroup I and a child being protected:

The early medieval concept of familia not only comprised the (biological) nuclear family and individuals certainly entered a family clan by marriage. This leaves room for any possible social (i.e. non-genetic) relation that may have allowed these two individuals to be buried in a common grave.

It is tempting for me to hail the mixed genetic pool among late Germanic tribes found in recent genetic studies, as I have done for Proto-Balto-Slavic territory and Iberia.

It is indeed possible that the mostly R1b-L11 and I1 subclades seen in late medieval West Germanic-speaking populations (and in modern West Germanic speakers) are in fact the result of later internal migratory flows and founder effects.

However, Bavarians – like the recently studied Lombards (with a predominance of R1b and I lineages), and especially Goths (apparently showing ‘eastern’ ancestry) – occupied territories of mixed ‘Barbarian’ populations after the invasion of the Huns and their allies, and settled near Slavs and Avars.

EDIT (18 MAR 2018). We should add here for this southern Germanic territory the Merovingian burials (ca. 7th c.) from Ergolding, with 3 samples of haplogroup R1b, and 2 samples of G2a, published by Vanek, Saskova, & Koch (2009).

Earlier, expanding Proto-Germanic tribes may not show this variable admixture and haplogroups we are seeing right now, though.


David Reich on the influence of ancient DNA on Archaeology and Linguistics

An interesting interview has appeared on The Atlantic, Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human (and Neanderthal) History, on the occasion of the publication of David Reich’s book Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past.

Some interesting excerpts (I have emphasized some of Reich’s words):

On the efficiency of the Reich Lab

Zhang: How much does it cost to process an ancient DNA sample right now?

Reich: In our hands, a successful sample costs less than $200. That’s only two or three times more than processing them on a present-day person. And maybe about one-third to one half of the samples we screen are successful at this point.

This is probably the most controversial assessment for the Twitterverse, since it puts the Reich Lab at the top of the publishing chain, but I don’t find this fact controversial; at all.

Anyone interested in doing genetic studies has free datasets, papers, and bioinformatic tools at hand – thanks to his lab, mostly – to develop new methods and publish papers. Such secondary works won’t probably be published in journals with the highest impact factor, but what can you do, welcome to the scientific world…

Also, by the looks of it, every single researcher involved in recovering an archaeological sample is included as co-author of the papers, so there is a clear benefit for ‘local’ researchers collaborating with the Lab. Therefore, these researchers and their institutions are responsible for whatever unfair situation might be created by their exchange.

On Archaeology’s reaction to Kossinna and Nazi ideas:

Zhang: You actually had German collaborators drop out of a study because of these exact concerns, right? One of them wrote, “We must(!) avoid … being compared with the so-called ‘siedlungsarchäologie Method’ from Gustaf Kossinna!”

Reich: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things the ancient DNA is showing is actually the Corded Ware culture does correspond coherently to a group of people. I think that was a very sensitive issue to some of our coauthors, and one of the coauthors resigned because he felt we were returning to that idea of migration in archaeology that pots are the same as people. There have been a fair number of other coauthors from different parts of continental Europe who shared this anxiety.

We responded to this by adding a lot of content to our papers to discuss these issues and contextualize them. Our results are actually almost diametrically opposite from what Kossina thought because these Corded Ware people come from the East, a place that Kossina would have despised as a source for them. But nevertheless it is true that there’s big population movements, and so I think what the DNA is doing is it’s forcing the hand of this discussion in archaeology, showing that in fact, major movements of people do occur. They are sometimes sharp and dramatic, and they involve large-scale population replacements over a relatively short period of time. We now can see that for the first time.

What the genetics is finding is often outside the range of what the archaeologists are discussing these days.

This is mostly true: Genomics offers a whole new dimension to assess exchanges among groups, and help thus select anthropological models of cultural diffusion. They offer another way of interpreting prehistoric cultural evolution and change, including the investigation of potential languages of these cultures, ways of change and replacement, etc.

Also, he acknowledges that there is a lot of content added to the papers in search for context – and thus avoid simplistic assumptions and conclusions – , so this is a reasonable way to look at the (often erroneous) cultural and linguistic context which accompany most genetic papers, and even the new methods being developed to assess samples.

On the other hand, the fact that many in Archaeology didn’t want to discuss migrations does not mean that it was not discussed at all, as he seems to suggest.

On how Genomics fits with traditional disciplines

Zhang: I think at one point in your book you actually describe ancient DNA researchers as the “barbarians” at the gates of the study of history.

Reich: Yeah.

Zhang: Does it feel that way? Have you gotten into arguments with archaeologists over your findings?

Reich: I think archaeologists and linguists find it frustrating that we’re not trained in the language of archaeology and all these sensitivities like about Kossinna. Yet we have this really powerful tool which is this way of looking at things nobody has been able to look at before.

The point I was trying to make there was that even if we’re not always able to articulate the context of our findings very well, this is very new information, and a serious scholar really needs to take this on board. It’s dangerous. Barbarians may not talk in an educated and learned way but they have access to weapons and ways of looking at things that other people haven’t looked to. And time and again we’ve learned in the past that ignoring barbarians is a dangerous thing to do.

I think this is also mostly true: many academics find it frustrating to read these papers, most of which lack a minimal understanding of the topics being discussed.

For example, you can’t pretend to derive meaningful conclusions about Proto-Indo-Europeans knowing nothing about their language and the potential cultures associated with them (and why they were associated with them in the first place)…

I also agree with him in that the study of ancient DNA is a very powerful tool. Everyone involved in Anthropology and Archaeology should be trained these days in Genomics – or, at least, they should have the opportunity to do so.

On the dangers of Genomics

Reich: (…) I know there are extremists who are interested in genealogy and genetics. But I think those are very marginal people, and there’s, of course, a concern they may impinge on the mainstream.

But if you actually take any serious look at this data, it just confounds every stereotype. It’s revealing that the differences among populations we see today are actually only a few thousand years old at most and that everybody is mixed. I think that if you pay any attention to this world, and have any degree of seriousness, then you can’t come out feeling affirmed in the racist view of the world. You have to be more open to immigration. You have to be more open to the mixing of different peoples. That’s your own history.

I guess David Reich does not frequent forums on human genetics linked to ethnolinguistic identification, or he would not think of ‘extremists’ as marginal people. Or else we have a different view of what defines an ‘extremist’…


I did not have the best of opinions about David Reich – or any other geneticist involved in publishing anthropological theories, for that matter. I have always had great respect for their scientific work, though.

If anything, this article shows that he knows his own (and his fellow geneticists’) limitations, and the dangers and limitations of Genomics as a whole, so I have more respect for him – and anyone involved with his Lab’s work – after reading this piece.

I would sum up his interview with his humbling sentence:

We should think we really don’t know what we’re talking about.

NOTE. Also on the occasion of the publication of his book, Nature has published the piece Sex, power and ancient DNA – Turi King hails David Reich’s thrilling account of mapping humans through time and place.

After buying Lalueza-Fox’s recent book ‘La forja genètica d’Europa’, I don’t really feel like buying another book on Genomics and migrations from a geneticist. If you have read Reich’s book, please share your impressions.

Pleistocene North African genomes link Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African human populations


Pleistocene North African genomes link Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African human populations, by van de Loosdrecht et al. Science (2018).


North Africa is a key region for understanding human history, but the genetic history of its people is largely unknown. We present genomic data from seven 15,000-year-old modern humans from Morocco, attributed to the Iberomaurusian culture. We find a genetic affinity with early Holocene Near Easterners, best represented by Levantine Natufians, suggesting a pre-agricultural connection between Africa and the Near East. We do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans into Late Pleistocene North Africans. The Taforalt individuals derive one third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West and East Africans. Thus, we provide direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia in the Pleistocene.


We analyzed the genetic affinities of the Taforalt individ-uals by performing principal component analysis (PCA) and model-based clustering of worldwide data (Fig. 2). When pro-jected onto the top PCs of African and West Eurasian popu-lations, the Taforalt individuals form a distinct cluster in an intermediate position between present-day North Africans (e.g., Amazighes (Berbers), Mozabite and Saharawi) and East Africans (e.g., Afar, Oromo and Somali) (Fig. 2A). Consist-ently, we find that all males with sufficient nuclear DNA preservation carry Y haplogroup E1b1b1a1 (M-78; table S16). This haplogroup occurs most frequently in present-day North and East African populations (18). The closely related E1b1b1b (M-123) haplogroup has been reported for Epipaleolithic Natufians and Pre-Pottery Neolithic Levantines (“Levant_N”) (16). Unsupervised genetic clustering also suggests a connection of Taforalt to the Near East. The three major components that comprise the Taforalt genomes are maximized in early Holocene Levantines, East African hunter-gatherer Hadza from north-central Tanzania, and West Africans (K = 10; Fig. 2B). In contrast, present-day North Africans have smaller sub-Saharan African components with minimal Hadza-related contribution (Fig. 2B).

Taforalt harboring an ancestry that contains additional affinity with South, East and Central African outgroups. None of the present-day or ancient Holocene African groups serve as a good proxy for this unknown ancestry, because adding them as the third source is still insufficient to match the model to the Taforalt gene pool.

Mitochondrial consensus sequences of the Taforalt indi-viduals belong to the U6a (n = 6) and M1b (n = 1) haplogroups (15), which are mostly confined to present-day populations in North and East Africa (7). U6 and M1 have been proposed as markers for autochthonous Maghreb ancestry, which might have been originally introduced into this region by a back-to-Africa migration from West Asia (6, 7). The occurrence of both haplogroups in the Taforalt individuals proves their pre-Holocene presence in the Maghreb.
(…) the diversification of haplogroup U6a and M1 found for Taforalt is dated to ~24,000 yBP (fig. S23), which is close in time to the earliest known appearance of the Iberomaurusian in Northwest Africa (25,845-25,270 cal. yBP at Tamar Hat (26)).

A summary of the genetic profile of the Taforalt individuals. (A) The top two PCs calculated from present-day African, Near Eastern and South European individuals from 72 populations. The Taforalt individuals are projected thereon (red-colored circles). Selected present-day populations are marked by colored symbols. Labels for other populations (marked by small grey circles) are provided in fig. S8. (B) ADMIXTURE results of chosen African and Middle Eastern populations (K = 10). Ancient individuals are labeled in red color. Major ancestry components in Taforalt are maximized in early Holocene Levantines (green), West Africans (purple) and East African Hadza (brown). The ancestry component prevalent in pre-Neolithic Europeans (beige) is absent in Taforalt.

The relationships of the Iberomaurusian culture with the preceding MSA, including the local backed bladelet technologies in Northeast Africa, and the Epigravettian in southern Europe have been questioned (13). The genetic profile of Taforalt suggests substantial Natufian-related and sub-Saharan African-related ancestries (63.5% and 36.5%, respec-tively), but not additional ancestry from Epigravettian or other Upper Paleolithic European populations. Therefore, we provide genomic evidence for a Late Pleistocene connection between North Africa and the Near East, predating the Neolithic transition by at least four millennia, while rejecting a potential Epigravettian gene flow from southern Europe into northern Africa within the resolution of our data.

It seems that the Taforalt gene pool (ca. 13000-12000 BC) cannot be explained by a connection with Upper Palaeolithic Europeans, but a more archaic admixture, so the authors cannot prove a migration through the Strait of Gibraltar or Sicily.

Nevertheless, these results apparently suggest:

  • That there is no contact before ca. 12000 BC through the Strait of Gibraltar; therefore the Sicilian route I support for the migration of R1b-V88 lineages is still the most likely one.
  • That the North African connection with Natufians is quite old – for which we already had modern Y-DNA investigation – , and therefore unlikely to be related to the Afroasiatic expansion.

I am glad I had some more time this week to read at least some interesting parts of the published papers, because the information to process is becoming insanely huge…


Model for the spread of Transeurasian (Macro-Altaic) communities with farming


Austronesian influence and Transeurasian ancestry in Japanese: A case of farming/language dispersal, by Martine Robbeets, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.


In this paper, I propose a hypothesis reconciling Austronesian influence and Transeurasian ancestry in the Japanese language, explaining the spread of the Japanic languages through farming dispersal. To this end, I identify the original speech community of the Transeurasian language family as the Neolithic Xinglongwa culture situated in the West Liao River Basin in the sixth millennium bc. I argue that the separation of the Japanic branch from the other Transeurasian languages and its spread to the Japanese Islands can be understood as occurring in connection with the dispersal of millet agriculture and its subsequent integration with rice agriculture. I further suggest that a prehistorical layer of borrowings related to rice agriculture entered Japanic from a sister language of proto-Austronesian, at a time when both language families were still situated in the Shandong-Liaodong interaction sphere.

Classification of the Transeurasian languages according to Robbeets ( forthcoming)

Another interesting anthropological model to validate with future genomic analyses, although I was never convinced about a grouping (let alone reconstructible proto-language) beyond Micro-Altaic languages.

NOTE. The Max Planck Institute may be a great source of scientific advancement, but in Linguistics you can see from the projects Indo-European languages originate in Anatolia (2012) and A massive migration from the steppe brought Indo-European languages to Europe (2015) (the last one referring to the Corded Ware culture, associated with the study by Haak et al. 2015) that they have not got it quite right with Proto-Indo-European… I like the traditional approach of this paper, though, including a thorough assessment of archaeological and linguistic details.

Featured images: Left. The eastward spread of millet agriculture in association with ancestral speech communities. Right: The spread of agriculture and language to Japan.

See also:

Uralic as a Corded Ware substrate of Indo-Iranian, and loanwords in Finno-Ugric

Asko Parpola has recently published a new paper, Finnish vatsa ~ Sanskrit vatsá and the formation of Indo-Iranian and Uralic languages.


Finnish vatsa ‘stomach’ < PFU *vaćća < Proto-Indo-Aryan *vatsá- ‘calf’ < PIE *vet-(e)s-ó- ‘yearling’ contrasts with Finnish vasa- ‘calf’ < Proto-Iranian *vasa- ‘calf’. Indo-Aryan -ts- versus Iranian -s- refl ects the divergent development of PIE *-tst- in the Iranian branch (> *-st-, with Greek and Balto-Slavic) and in the Indo-Aryan branch ( > *-tt-, probably due to Uralic substratum). The split of Indo-Iranian can be traced in the archaeological record to the differentiation of the Yamnaya culture in the North Pontic and Volga steppes respectively during the third millennium BCE, due to the use of separate sources of metal: the Iranian branch was dependent on the North Caucasus, while the Indo-Aryan branch was oriented towards the Urals. It is argued that the Abashevo culture of the Mid-Volga-Kama-Belaya basins and the Sejma-Turbino trade network (2200–1900 BCE) were bilingual in Proto-Indo-Aryan and PFU, and introduced the PFU as the basis of West Uralic (Volga-Finnic) into the Netted Ware Culture of the Upper Volga-Oka (1900–200 BCE).

He updates thus his quite recent model from On the emergence, contacts and dispersal of Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Uralic and Proto-Aryan in an archaeological perspective (2017).

In it he supported a North-West Indo-European expansion with Corded Ware, and a Neolithic Proto-Uralic community in East Europe (associated with the Comb Ware culture), as I did before the famous 2015 papers.

In fact, he supports that the satemization trend of Proto-Indo-Iranian is due to a Proto-Finno-Ugric substratum in its population in the Volga-Ural region, similar to the model I propose (with the Corded Ware substratum hypothesis).

NOTE. While for Parpola the ‘satemizing’ substratum of Balto-Slavic (a NWIE dialect) may not come exactly from the same Finno-Ugric population as for Indo-Iranian, but from a different Uralic dialect (as I explain in my hypothesis), for the few extant supporters of an Indo-Slavonic group there should not be any problem identifying the same ancient substrate as for the Proto-Indo-Iranian population…

Now that North-West Indo-European is clearly associated with the Yamna -> Bell Beaker expansion, I understand that his previous model is obsolete and needs a revision.

I find it especially difficult to understand (in light of his previous theory) why he compares Indo-Aryan *vatsa– and Iranian *vasa– to assert that the former is the origin of the loanword in Finno-Ugric, when the Proto-Indo-Iranian form is essentially the same as the Indo-Aryan one, with respect to the *w– evolution into *v– in both PII and late FU dialects…

NOTE: I wrote him yesterday asking for this issue, I will post here his answer.

Potential spread of Finnic. “Distribution of the Netted Ware according to Carpelan (2002: 198). A: Emergence of the Netted Ware on the Upper Volga c. 1900 calBC. B: Spread of Netted Ware by c. 1800 calBC. C: Early Iron Age spread of Netted Ware. (After Carpelan 2002: 198 > Parpola 2012a: 151.)

His effort to link the actual expansion of Finno-Ugric to Corded Ware territory, linking it also partially to population movements from the Seima-Turbino phenomenon – probably associated with the initial expansion of N1c lineages – is another good example of convergence of the different anthropological theories thanks to recent Genomic studies.


Iberian prehistoric migrations in Genomics from Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age


New open access paper Four millennia of Iberian biomolecular prehistory illustrate the impact of prehistoric migrations at the far end of Eurasia, by Valdiosera, Günther, Vera-Rodríguez, et al. PNAS (2018) published ahead of print.

Abstract (emphasis mine)

Population genomic studies of ancient human remains have shown how modern-day European population structure has been shaped by a number of prehistoric migrations. The Neolithization of Europe has been associated with large-scale migrations from Anatolia, which was followed by migrations of herders from the Pontic steppe at the onset of the Bronze Age. Southwestern Europe was one of the last parts of the continent reached by these migrations, and modern-day populations from this region show intriguing similarities to the initial Neolithic migrants. Partly due to climatic conditions that are unfavorable for DNA preservation, regional studies on the Mediterranean remain challenging. Here, we present genome-wide sequence data from 13 individuals combined with stable isotope analysis from the north and south of Iberia covering a four-millennial temporal transect (7,500–3,500 BP). Early Iberian farmers and Early Central European farmers exhibit significant genetic differences, suggesting two independent fronts of the Neolithic expansion. The first Neolithic migrants that arrived in Iberia had low levels of genetic diversity, potentially reflecting a small number of individuals; this diversity gradually increased over time from mixing with local hunter-gatherers and potential population expansion. The impact of post-Neolithic migrations on Iberia was much smaller than for the rest of the continent, showing little external influence from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Paleodietary reconstruction shows that these populations have a remarkable degree of dietary homogeneity across space and time, suggesting a strong reliance on terrestrial food resources despite changing culture and genetic make-up.

(A) f4 statistics testing affinities of prehistoric European farmers to either early Neolithic Iberians or central Europeans, restricting these reference populations to SNP-captured individuals to avoid technical artifacts driving the affinities. The boxplots in A show the distributions of all individual f4 statistics belonging to the respective groups. The signal is not sensitive to the choice of reference populations and is not driven by hunter-gatherer–related admixture (Datasets S4 and S5). (B) Estimates of ancestry proportions in different prehistoric Europeans as well as modern southwestern Europeans. Individuals from regions of Iberia were grouped together for the analysis in A and B to increase sample sizes per group and reduce noise


We present a comprehensive biomolecular dataset spanning four millennia of prehistory across the whole Iberian Peninsula. Our results highlight the power of archaeogenomic studies focusing on specific regions and covering a temporal transect. The 4,000 y of prehistory in Iberia were shaped by major chronological changes but with little geographic substructure within the Peninsula. The subtle but clear genetic differences between early Neolithic Iberian farmers and early Neolithic central European farmers point toward two independent migrations, potentially originating from two slightly different source populations. These populations followed different routes, one along the Mediterranean coast, giving rise to early Neolithic Iberian farmers, and one via mainland Europe forming early Neolithic central European farmers. This directly links all Neolithic Iberians with the first migrants that arrived with the initial Mediterranean Neolithic wave of expansion. These Iberians mixed with local hunter-gatherers (but maintained farming/pastoral subsistence strategies, i.e., diet), leading to a recovery from the loss of genetic diversity emerging from the initial migration founder bottleneck. Only after the spread of Bell Beaker pottery did steppe-related ancestry arrive in Iberia, where it had smaller contributions to the population compared with the impact that it had in central Europe. This implies that the two prehistoric migrations causing major population turnovers in central Europe had differential effects at the southwestern edge of their distribution: The Neolithic migrations caused substantial changes in the Iberian gene pool (the introduction of agriculture by farmers) (6, 9, 11, 13, 24), whereas the impact of Bronze Age migrations (Yamnaya) was significantly smaller in Iberia than in north-central Europe (24). The post-Neolithic prehistory of Iberia is generally characterized by interactions between residents rather than by migrations from other parts of Europe, resulting in relative genetic continuity, while most other regions were subject to major genetic turnovers after the Neolithic (4, 6, 7, 9, 25, 48). Although Iberian populations represent the furthest wave of Neolithic expansion in the westernmost Mediterranean, the subsequent populations maintain a surprisingly high genetic legacy of the original pioneer farming migrants from the east compared with their central European counterparts. This counterintuitive result emphasizes the importance of in-depth diachronic studies in all parts of the continent.


On the potential origin of Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry in Eneolithic steppe cultures

An interesting open genomic question is the origin and spread of Caucasus hunter-gatherer (CHG) ancestry in steppe populations during the Eneolithic.

My broad theory regarding the appearance of this ancestral component is based on:

Two recently published papers ivestigating the Don Region may shed some light on this issue:

Plant food subsistence in the human diet of the Bronze Age Caspian and Low Don steppe pastoralists: archaeobotanical, isotope and 14C data, by Shishlina, Bobrov, Simakova, et al. Veget Hist Archaeobot (2018).

EDIT (16/3/2018): You can now read or download the paper at Academia.edu.


The paper presents the result of analysis of charred food on the interior part of the vessels from the graves of the East Manych and West Manych Catacomb archaeological cultures (2500–2350 cal bc). The phytolith and pollen analyses identified pollen of wild steppe plants and phytoliths of domesticated gramineous plants determined as barley phytoliths. Direct 14С dating of one of the samples demonstrates that barley spikelets and stems were used in funeral rites by local steppe communities. However, there are no data suggesting that steppe inhabitants of the Lower Don Region were engaged in agriculture in the mid-3000 bc. Supposedly, barley could have reached the steppes through seasonal migrations of mobile pastoralists to the south, use of North Caucasus grasslands in the economic system of seasonal moves and exchange with local people. Nevertheless, presence of carbonized barley seeds in the occupation layers at North Caucasus settlements of 4000–3000 bc requires confirmation by direct 14С dating of such samples.

Location of sites. 1: Ulan IV; 2: Peschany IV and V; 3: Shakhaevskaya 1; 4: Zunda-Tolga 2; 5: Lesnoye; 6: Chidgom; 7: Meshoko; 8: Chishkho; 9: Svobodnoye

Dynamics of Chemical and Microbiological Soil Properties in the Desert–Steppe Zone of the Southeast Russian Plain during the Second Part of the Holocene (4000 BC–XIII century AC), Kashirskaya, Khomutova, Kuznetsova, et al. Arid Ecosyst (2018) 8(1):38-46.


The results of studies of the chemical and microbiological properties of the soils buried under the barrows of the Eneolithic, Bronze, and Middle Ages periods of the southeast of the Russian Plain are presented. It was shown that the climate of the region in the Eneolithic period (4200–4100 BC) and in the Middle Ages (700 years ago) was more humid in comparison to the present time. The third millennium BC was characterized by a gradual increase of the climate aridity. Its peak was at the end of the III millennium BC. The number and biomass of microbial cells was maximal in soils buried in periods of high atmospheric humidity (4200–4100 and 3000–2800 BC) and sharply decreased during the aridization period in the second half of the III millennium BC. In general, the variability of indicators of microbocenosis conditions of desert–steppe buried soils of all ages from the burial mounds correlated with the centuries-old dynamics of the climate.

Number of microbial cells in buried soils of different ages and modern background soil.

It is well known that access to more food – as in favorable crops and cattle feeding – may cause demographic explosions, and the second article – together with recent genomic data – may be yet another proof of that.

Until now, pastoralism seemed to be the main subsistence economy for most steppe groups. It seems that earlier Eneolithic contacts of certain steppe groups with settlements of the Northern Caucasus might have been not just to obtain prestige goods though, but – if proper radiocarbon dating confirms it – also implied essential goods, and maybe more stable seasonal exchange systems.

Such stable economic exchanges might have therefore included bidirectional exogamy practices, justifying the sizeable genomic contribution from the Caucasus.

At this point this is just another good theory to take into account.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (II): The unsolved nature of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs, and the route of Proto-Anatolian expansion


This is part of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

I already expressed my predictions for 2018. One of the most interesting questions among them is the identification of the early Anatolian offshoot, and this is – I believe – where Genomics has the most to say in Indo-European migrations.

Linguistics and Archaeology had already a mainstream account from Late PIE/Yamna onwards, and it has been proven right in Genomic investigation. There is, however, no consensus on Indo-Hittite.


Apart from the Anatolian homeland hypothesis and its westward migration (as referenced e.g. by Lazaridis et al. 2017), the other possibility including the most likely steppe homeland is that Proto-Anatolian spread through the Balkans, and must have separated from Khvalynsk and travelled first westward through the North Pontic region, and then southward to Ezero.

EDIT (10 MAR 2018): The Anatolian westward route within the steppe homeland model refers to the possibility that Proto-Anatolian spread south through the Caucasus, and then westward through Anatolia, as suggested e.g. originally by Marija Gimbutas for Maykop, as a link in the Caucasus.

We all know that this Khvalynsk -> Novodanilovka-Suvorovo -> Cernavoda -> Ezero -> Troy migration model proposed by Anthony shows no conspicuous chain in Archaeology, but obvious contacts (including Genomics) are seen among some of these neighbouring cultures in different times.

We know that remains of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka culture of chiefs emerged around 4400-4200 BC among ordinary local Sredni Stog settlements:

  • the Novodanilovka rich burials in the steppes, near the Dnieper,
  • and the Suvorovo group in the Danube delta, roughly coinciding with the massive abandonment of old tell settlements in the area.

One of the strongest cultural connections between Khvalynsk and Suvorovo Novodanilovka chiefs is the similar polished stone mace-heads shaped like horse heads found in both cultures, a typical steppe prestige object going back to the east Pontic-Caspian steppe beginning ca. 5000-4800 BC.

Its finding in the Danube valley may have signalled the expansion of horse riding, which is compatible with the finding of ancient domesticated horses in the region. Horses were not important in Old European cultures, and it seems that they weren’t in Sredni Stog or Kvitjana either.

Steppe and Danubian sites at the time: of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, about 4200-3900 BC. David W. Anthony (2007).

NOTE. Telegin, the main source of knowledge in Ukraine prehistoric cultures for Anthony, was eventually convinced that Surovovo-Novodanilovka was a separate culture. However, for Anthony (using Telegin’s first impressions), it may have been a wealthy elite among Sredni Stog peoples. Anthony considers Sredni Stog to have been also influenced by Khvalynsk, and thus potentially related to the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

Nevertheless, he obviously cannot link North Pontic Eneolithic cultures to Khvalynsk nor to horse riding – whilst he clearly assumes horse riding for Novodanilovka-Suvorovo chiefs – , and he does not link North Pontic cultures to later expansions of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from late Khvalynsk and Yamna, either.

The question here for Anthony (as with further Proto-Anatolian expansions described in his 2007 book), in my opinion, was to offer a plausible string of connections between Khvalynsk and Anatolia, and the simplest connection one can make among steppe cultures is a general, broad community between North Pontic and North Caspian cultures. That way, the knot tying Khvalynsk to the Danube seems stronger, whatever the origin of Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.

If, however, a direct genetic connection is made between Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs and Khvalynsk – as in its association with R1b-M269 and R1b-L23 lineages – , there will be little need to include Sredni Stog or any other intermediate culture in the equation.

We have already seen a movement of steppe ancestry into mainland Greece, and I would not be surprised if a parallel movement could be seen from Ezero to Troy (or a neighbouring North-West Anatolian region), so that the final migration of Common Anatolian had in fact been triggered by the massive steppe migrations during the Chalcolithic.

NOTE. Whereas we are certain to find R1b-L23 subclades in the direct Balkan migrations from Yamna, the link of steppe->Anatolia migrations may be a little trickier: even if we find out that the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion was associated with an expansion and reduction of haplogroup variability (to haplogroups R1b-M269 and R1b-L23), we don’t know yet if the ca. 1,500 years passed (and the different cultural and population changes occurred) between Proto-Anatolian and Common Anatolian migrations may have impacted the main haplogroup composition of both communities.

O&M 2018

A probably unsurprising – because of its previously known admixture and PCA – , but nevertheless disappointing finding came from the Y-SNP call of the haplogroup R1 found in Varna (R1b-V88, given first by Genetiker), leaving us with no new haplogroup data standing out for this period.

This sample’s lack of obvious genetic links with the steppe and early date didn’t deter me from believing it could show subclade M269, and thus a sign of incoming Suvorovo chiefs in the region. After all, R1b-P297 subclades seemed to have almost disappeared from the Balkans by that time, and we know that assessments based only on ancestral components and PCA clusters are not infallible – we are seeing that in many, many samples already.

1—39 — sceptre bearers of the type Giurgiuleşti and Suvorovo; 40—60 — Gumelniţa-Varna-Bolgrad-Aldeni cultural sphere; 61 — Fălciu; 62 — Cainari; 63 — Giurgiuleşti; 64 — Suvorovo; 65 — Casimcea; 66 — Kjulevča; 67 — Reka Devnja; 68 — Drama; 69 — Gonova Mogila; 70 — Reževo. Țerna S., Govedarica B. (2016)

NOTE. In fact, the first time I checked Mathieson et al. (2018) supplementary tables I thought that the ‘Ukraine_Eneolithic’ sample of R1b-L23 subclade was ‘it’: the first clear proof in ancient samples of incoming Suvorovo chiefs from Khvalynsk I was looking for…Until I realized its date, and that it was more likely a Late Yamna (or Catacomb) sample.

Steppe ancestry is found in the Varna and Smyadovo outliers, though, and these samples cluster closely to Ukraine Eneolithic samples (which are among Khvalynsk, Ukraine Neolithic, and Anatolia Neolithic clusters), so some population movement must have happened around or before that time in the region, and it is obvious that it happened from east to west.

It remains to be seen, therefore:

a) If the incoming Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs (most likely originally from Khvalynsk) dominating over North Pontic and Danube regions show – as I bet – R1b-M269, and possibly also early R1b-L23* subclades,

b) Or else they still show mixed lineages, reflecting an older admixed population of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – as the early Khvalynsk and Ukraine Eneolithic samples we have now.

NOTE. Even though my preferred model of migration is through the Balkans – due to the many east-west migrations seen from the steppe into Europe – , there is no general consensus here because of the lack of solid anthropological models, and there are cultural links found also between the steppe and Anatolia through the Caucasus, so the question remains open.


The preferred northwest passage to Scandinavia

Pontus Skoglund writes (and shares publicly) his perspective on early postglacial migrations of hunter-gatherers into Scandinavia, in Northwest Passage to Scandinavia (Nat. Ecol. Evol.): an initial migration from the south and a second coastal migration north of the Scandinavian ice sheet.

He sums up the recently published Open Access paper Population genomics of Mesolithic Scandinavia: Investigating early postglacial migration routes and high-latitude adaptation, by Günther, Malmström , Svensson, Omrak, et al. PLoS Biol (2018) 16(1): e2003703, based on preprint at BioRxiv Genomics of Mesolithic Scandinavia reveal colonization routes and high-latitude adaptation (2017).


Scandinavia was one of the last geographic areas in Europe to become habitable for humans after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). However, the routes and genetic composition of these postglacial migrants remain unclear. We sequenced the genomes, up to 57× coverage, of seven hunter-gatherers excavated across Scandinavia and dated from 9,500–6,000 years before present (BP). Surprisingly, among the Scandinavian Mesolithic individuals, the genetic data display an east–west genetic gradient that opposes the pattern seen in other parts of Mesolithic Europe. Our results suggest two different early postglacial migrations into Scandinavia: initially from the south, and later, from the northeast. The latter followed the ice-free Norwegian north Atlantic coast, along which novel and advanced pressure-blade stone-tool techniques may have spread. These two groups met and mixed in Scandinavia, creating a genetically diverse population, which shows patterns of genetic adaptation to high latitude environments. These potential adaptations include high frequencies of low pigmentation variants and a gene region associated with physical performance, which shows strong continuity into modern-day northern Europeans.

The ice sheet distribution – which did not improve nuch for thousands of years – was clearly the greatest barrier for potential migrations in the region.

Baltischer Süßwassersee Vorläufer der Ostsee vor 12.000 Jahren, by Juschki and Koyos at Wikipedia

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Consequences of O&M 2018 (I): The latest West Yamna “outlier”


This is the first of a series of posts analyzing the findings of the recent Nature papers Olalde et al.(2018) and Mathieson et al.(2018) (abbreviated O&M 2018).

As expected, the first Y-DNA haplogroup of a sample from the North Pontic region (apart from an indigenous European I2 subclade) during its domination by the Yamna culture is of haplogroup R1b-L23, and it is dated ca. 2890-2696 BC. More specifically, it is of Z2103 subclade, the main lineage found to date in Yamna samples. The site in question is Dereivka, “in the southern part of the middle Dnieper, at the boundary between the forest-steppe and the steppe zones”.

NOTE: A bit of history for those lost here, which appear to be many: the classical Yamna culture – from previous late Khvalynsk, and (probably) Repin groupsspread west of the Don ca. 3300 BC creating a cultural-historical community – and also an early offshoot into Asia – , with mass migrations following some centuries later along the Danube to the Carpathian Basin, but also south into the Balkans, and north along the Prut. There is thus a very short time frame to find Yamna peoples shaping these massive migrations – the most likely speakers of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects – in Ukraine, compared to their most stable historical settlements east of the Don River.

There is no data on this individual in the supplementary material – since Eneolithic Dereivka samples come from stored dental remains – , but the radiocarbon date (if correct) is unequivocal: the Yamna cultural-historical community dominated over that region at that precise time. Why would the authors name it just “Ukraine_Eneolithic”? They surely took the assessment of archaeologists, and there is no data on it, so I agree this is the safest name to use for a serious paper. This would not be the first sample apparently too early for a certain culture (e.g. Catacomb in this case) which ends up being nevertheless classified as such. And it is also not impossible that it represents another close Ukraine Eneolithic culture, since ancestral cultural groups did not have borders…

NOTE. Why, on the other hand, was the sample from Zvejnieki – classified as of Latvia_LN – assumed to correspond to “Corded Ware” (like the recent samples from Plinkaigalis242 or Gyvakarai1), when we don’t have data on their cultures either? No conspiracy here, just taking assessments from different archaeologists in charge of these samples: those attributed to “Corded Ware” have been equally judged solely by radiocarbon date, but, combining the known archaeological signs of herding in the region arriving around this time with the old belief (similar to the “Iberia is the origin of Bell Beaker peoples” meme) that “only the Corded Ware culture signals the arrival of herding in the Baltic”. This assumption has been contested recently by Furholt, in an anthropological model that is now mainstream, upheld also by Anthony.

We already know that, out of three previous West Yamna samples, one shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, the so-called “Yamna outlier”. We also know that one sample from Yamna in Bulgaria also shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, with a distinct ‘southern’ drift, clustering closely to East Bell Beaker samples, as we can still see in Mathieson et al. (2018), see below. So, two “outliers” (relative to East Yamna samples) out of four samples… Now a new, fifth sample from Ukraine is another “outlier”, coinciding with (and possibly somehow late to be a part of) the massive migration waves into Central Europe and the Balkans predicted long ago by academics and now confirmed with Genomics.

I think there are two good explanations right now for its ancestral components and position in PCA:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018), including also approximate location of groups from Mittnik et al. (2018), and group (transparent shape outlined by dots) formed by new Bell Beaker samples from Olalde et al. (2018). “Principal components analysis of ancient individuals. Points for 486 ancient individuals are projected onto principal components defined by 777 present-day west Eurasian individuals (grey points). Present-day individuals are shown.”

a) The most obvious one, that the Dnieper-Dniester territory must have been a melting pot, as I suggested, a region which historically connected steppe, forest steppe, and forest zone with the Baltic, as we have seen with early Baltic Neolithic samples (showing likely earlier admixture in the opposite direction). The Yamna population, a rapidly expanding “elite group of patrilineally-related families” (words from the famous 2015 genetic papers, not mine), whose only common genetic trait is therefore Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L23, must have necessarily acquired other ancestral components of Eneolithic Ukraine during the migrations and settlements west of the Don River.

How many generations are needed for ancestral components and PCA clusters to change to that extent, in regions where only some patrilocal chiefs but indigenous populations remain, and the population probably admixed due to exogamy, back-migrations, and “resurge” events? Not many, obviously, as we see from the differences among the many Bell Beaker samples of R1b-L23 subclades from Olalde et al. (2018)

b) That this sample shows the first genetic sign of the precise population that contributed to the formation of the Catacomb culture. Since it is a hotly debated topic where and how this culture actually formed to gradually replace the Yamna culture in the central region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, this sample would be a good hint of how its population came to be.

See e.g. for free articles on the Catacomb culture its article on the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes, or The Warfare of the Northern Pontic Steppe – Forest-Steppe Pastoral Societies: 2750 – 2000 B.C. There are also many freely available Russian and Ukrainian papers on anthropometry (a discipline I don’t especially like) which clearly show early radiocarbon dates for different remains.

This could then be not ‘just another West Yamna outlier’, but would actually show meaningful ‘resurge’ of Neolithic Ukraine ancestry in the Catacomb culture.

It could be meaningul to derive hypotheses, in the same way that the late Central European CWC sample from Esperstedt (of R1a-M417 subclade) shows recent exogamy directly from the (now more probably eastern part of the) steppe or steppe-forest, and thus implies great mobility among distant CWC groups. Although, given the BB samples with elevated steppe ancestry and close PCA cluster from Olalde et al. (2018), it could also just mean exogamy from a near-by region, around the Carpathian Basin where Yamna migrants settled…

If this was the case, it would then potentially mean a “continuity” break in the steppe, in the region that some looked for as a Balto-Slavic homeland, and which would have been only later replaced by Srubna peoples with steppe ancestry (and probably R1a-Z93 subclades). We would then be more obviously left with only two options: a hypothetic ‘Indo-Slavonic’ North Caspian group to the east (supported by Kortlandt), or a Central-East European homeland near Únětice, as one of the offshoots from the North-West Indo-European group (supported by mainstream Indo-Europeanists).

How to know which is the case? We have to wait for more samples in the region. For the moment, the date seems too early for the known radiocarbon dating of most archaeological remains of the Catacomb Culture.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including steppe groups ca. 2600-2250 BC

An important consequence of the addition of these “Yamna outliers” for the future of research on Indo-European migrations is that, especially if confirmed as just another West Yamna sample – with more, similar samples – , early Palaeo-Balkan peoples migrating south of the Danube and later through Anatolia may need to be judged not only in terms of ancestral components or PCA (as in the paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans), but also and more decisively using phylogeography, especially with the earliest samples potentially connected with such migrations.

NOTE. Regarding the controversy (that some R1b European autochthonous continuists want to create) over the origin of the R1b-L151 lineages, we cannot state its presence for sure in Yamna territory right now, but we already have R1b-M269 in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition, then R1b-L23 and subclades (mainly R1b-Z2013, but also one xZ2103, xL51 which suggests its expansion) in the region before and during the Yamna expansion, and now we have L51 subclades with elevated steppe ancestry in early East Bell Beakers, which most likely descended from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (yet to be sampled).

Even without express confirmation of its presence in the steppe, the alternative model of a Balkan origin seems unlikely, given the almost certain continuity of expanding Yamna clans as East Bell Beaker ones, in this clearly massive and relatively quick expansion that did not leave much time for founder effects. But, of course, it is not impossible to think about a previously hidden R1b-L151 community in the Carpathian Basin yet to be discovered, adopting North-West Indo-European (by some sort of founder effect) brought there by Yamna peoples of exclusively R1b-Z2103 lineages. As it is not impossible to think about a hidden and ‘magically’ isolated community of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Yamna waiting to be discovered…Just not very likely, either option.

As to why this sample or the other Bell Beaker samples “solve” the question of R1a-Z645 subclades (typical of Corded Ware migrants) not expanding with Yamna, it’s very simple: it doesn’t. What should have settled that question – in previous papers, at least since 2015 – is the absence of this subclade in elite chiefs of clans expanded from Khvalynsk, Yamna, or their only known offshoots Afanasevo and Bell Beaker. Now we only have still more proof, and no single ‘outlier’ in that respect.

No haplogroup R1a among hundreds of samples from a regionally extensive sampling of the only cultures mainstream archaeologists had thoroughly described as potentially representing Indo-European-speakers should mean, for any reasonable person (i.e. without a personal or professional involvement in an alternative hypothesis), that Corded Ware migrants (as expected) did not stem from Yamna, and thus did not spread Late Indo-European dialects.

This haplogroup’s hegemonic presence in North-Eastern Europe – and the lack of N1c lineages until after the Bronze Age – coinciding with dates when Uralicists have guesstimated Uralic dialectal expansion accross this wide region makes the question of the language spread with CWC still clearer. The only surprise would have been to find a hidden and isolated community of R1a-Z645 lineages clearly associated with the Yamna culture.

NOTE. A funny (however predictable) consequence for R1a autochthonous continuists of Northern or Eastern European ancestry: forum commentators are judging if this sample was of the Yamna culture or spoke Indo-European based on steppe component and PCA cluster of the few eastern Yamna samples which define now (you know, with the infallible ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’) the “steppe people” who spoke the “steppe language”™ – including, of course, North-Eastern European Late Neolithic

Not that radiocarbon dates or the actual origin of this sample cannot be wrong, mind you, it just strikes me how twisted such biased reasonings may be, depending on the specific sample at hand… Denial, anger, and bargaining, including shameless circular reasoning – we know the drill: we have seen it a hundred times already, with all kinds of supremacists autochthonous continuists who still today manage to place an oudated mythical symbolism on expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans, or on regional ethnolinguistic continuity…

More detailed posts on the new samples from O&M 2018 and their consequences for the Indo-European demic diffusion to come, indeed…

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