Why we shouldn’t care about the fixation of Neo-Nazis with the Middle Ages

People are obsessed with what racists, white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, etc. use to cover their ignorance, to hide their lack of political or social arguments, and to boost their pathologically low self-confidence. Now it seems to be the Middle Ages.

Some time ago I already read about this new trend, but I didn’t care. For me, as a supporter of a revival of Indo-European as a modern language, it was a relief that their fixation was somewhere different than Indo-Europeans.

The usual false syllogism for Indo-European questions goes Right populists support the supremacy of Aryans, ergo supporting the existence of expansions/language/social customs/etc. of Indo-Europeans means supporting Aryan supremacy. You can see the immediate association by the general population of Indo-European matters with Aryan supremacy by looking for information on Indo-European + white supremacy/Aryans/nazism, etc. on the Internet.

If you do that search, you might read a lot of right populist crap using Indo-European matters to support their ideas. You might even begin to associate one with the other, because it seems as if research on Indo-European questions somehow boosted those extremist ideals, right? If you think that, you are obviously part of the problem.

Apart from Aryans, Nazis have had fixations with ancient symbols (like the Swastika or Celtic symbolism), neo-paganism, the Roman Empire, the western European ‘heir empires of Rome’ that ensued, Catholicism, Germanic peoples, Romans, Greeks, Slavs, whiteness, blondness, Neanderthals…

And all of this has come at a cost for anyone involved or interested in any of those themes. It is only natural that Nazis evolve; just like shit decays, they move on. However,their interest about medieval times is not new (as is clear from the featured image of this post, and other propaganda from the time); it is just stronger now.

Now I see some medieval scholars complaining, in Twitter and in the news, calling for all to do something to protect the field of Medieval Studies.

But why? Why should we care about those who will regard medieval historians as tainted with Nazism? About you being called a Nazi, about people tacitly suggesting that you support their ideas? What have you done to protect Indo-Europeanists from the accusations, from the name-calling, from the shame?

Perhaps more importantly: now that you have become aware of this problem for the study of the western Middle Ages… What have you planned to do to help Indo-European studies once you are free from that yoke, that presumption of guilt? Probably nothing, you just care about yourselves. We all do.

I think it might be actually beneficial for Academia if more scholars suffer the same discrimination, if Nazis keep widening their areas of interest, so that we can all just ignore a simplistic and overused Nazi-shaming by stupid critics.

I don’t recall anyone defending Indo-Europeanists from those playing the Nazi card. The most recent example I know is the discussion around Lazaridis et al. (2017) paper, on Minoans and Mycenaeans. Some outrage from those involved in Human Evolutionary Biology (read the comments), but not too much from the rest of the world; too much concern this year about poor medievalists to care, I suppose.

You might not remember the infinite other times when you didn’t care about us being called Nazis because of our interest in (or writings about) our beloved academic field. But we do. And if you are complaining now, you certainly knew what was happening (what is happening), because how else could you know what this new love of right populists means for Medieval History, the shit it will bring?

Now your turn has come to enjoy the populace’s unending ad Nazium arguments. Publish anything about the social life in the Mediaevum, about medieval wars, religion, peoples, languages, symbols, etc., and just about anything that does not follow perfect political correctness will get you publicly shamed. Publish anything remotely interesting, and populist sites will publicise and manipulate your words, and critics and journalists will destroy your work by using populists’ words to describe it, not yours.

But, really, you shouldn’t care about the automatic association of your field with Nazis, about the unending insults, about the tacit (and oftentimes also explicit) link they will make of your work with Nazi ideas.

Just take a look at Indo-European studies. Not many Nazis have felt inclined to study (this or any other subject) because of their historical fixation with Aryans, so fear not, they will not take over your scholarships. However, their fixation has been a great filter for our field, to get rid of the weak of the heart, of those who care too much about what other people think, of those who are not convinced that this is what they want to do.

It seems to me that Indo-European studies have fewer scholars than it should, compared to other (in my humble opinion less promising or interesting) subjects, but the community is strong. Not much fuck is given about political correctness when publishing theories and models on the spread of Indo-Europeans, on their myths and customs, on their language. ‘Patrilocality’, ‘violent conquest’, ‘migration of peoples’, ‘women exchange’, ‘slavery’, are common (otherwise unpopular) words to describe their history and evolution, their ancestry, and they are becoming popular to describe anthropological evolution in general. We are in a privileged position to observe reality, and also the stupid political correctness of many.

Also, you might find comfort when passing this moment of truth professionally and personally knowing that, in the future, another field – whose scholars don’t give a fuck now about your popular shaming – will be their love object, and you will be able to tell them what I am telling you now.

Welcome to the dark side!

(EDIT 9/SEP/2017) I just realized that most (tacit or explicit) Nazi-shaming come from people within the field, who are obviously the ones interested in what you write. It is without a doubt the easiest way to criticise the work of your peers, who won’t need to do their research and answer formally with careful investigation. So good luck with that too!

C.C. Uhlenbeck on the Proto-Indo-European homeland in the 19th century


Michiel de Vaan, from the University of Lausanne, has recently uploaded three of his papers published in recent years in the JIES on the works of Dutch linguist C.C. Uhlenbeck:

1. The Early C. C. Uhlenbeck on Indo-European, JIES 44/1-2, 2016, p. 73-80

Christianus Cornelius Uhlenbeck (1866–1951) was one of the leading Dutch linguists between the 1880s and the 1940s. He made his mark on a number of disciplines in descriptive and comparative linguistics, such as Basque, the indigenous languages of North America, Old Germanic and Sanskrit. In 2008, a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies (Genee & Hinrichs 2008) was devoted to his memory, the contents of which can be read online.

Uhlenbeck’s work and thinking on the Indo-European language family, and, in particular, on the original habitat of its speakers, have been discussed by Kortlandt 2010, who concluded that Uhlenbeck had remarkably advanced views for his time. The first two journal articles in which Uhlenbeck (1895, 1897) sets forth his views were published in Dutch. During the academic year 2013/14, I had the opportunity to read a number of articles on the question of the Indo-European homeland problem with my students at Leiden University. I provided Uhlenbeck’s Dutch articles from 1895 and 1897 with an English translation which I hereby submit to all colleagues

On Anthony and Haarman:

Anthony focuses on the socioeconomic changes that took place in the fifth and fourth millennium BC, when the Indo-European steppe peoples entered into contact with the sedentary, agricultural population of Southeast-Europe, also termed Old European or Palaeo-European. Importantly, Anthony dismantles the monolithic view of a single “steppe pastoralism”, and instead stresses that the steppe economy itself went through various developmental phases, which might be linked to different periods of expansion of Indo-European into Europe. Haarmann zooms in on the sociocultural effects of the Indo-European expansion(s). Since language contact will often heavily influence the languages which are in contact, he sets out to look for traces of the language of the Old Europeans in the surviving Indo-European languages, first of all, in Ancient Greek. As many scholars before him have also realized, there is a thick layer of non-Indo-European words in Greek in fields such as agriculture, wine production, weaving, metallurgy, religion and mythology, building techniques, and local flora and fauna. Even the Greeks themselves acknowledged the presence of a “Pelasgian” substratum in their own language. Haarmann concludes (2012: 119): “Despite the fact that Indo-Europeans exercised political power and promoted their language as the common vehicle, they were nevertheless impressed by the achievements of the Old Europeans to the extent that the dominant language of the élite absorbed manifold influences from the local language(s).”

2. Where was the Indo-European proto-language spoken?, by C.C. Uhlenbeck (1895), translation by Michiel de Vaan, JIES 44/1-2, 2016, p. 181-185.

It cannot be objected that the eastern and the western Iranians differed much in their dialects, for the PIE language itself must have been split in a number of fairly different dialects. There has never been in the world a language without dialect differences, larger or smaller, depending on the geographic distance. That is why, in the beginning of this piece, I spoke not of one original language, but of a group of closely cognate dialects. Since the linguistic area of PIE was probably very large, it is certainly possible that part of it lay in the steppes, another part in the mountains, and yet another part in the fertile plains. If so, the fauna and the flora of the homeland cannot have been the same in different areas. And this is an argument, which the linguistic prehistorician must not lose sight of!

On the necessary natural (geographic and stage) division of PIE, he made apparently a dialectal division into a European group (including Greek?), a Balkan-Balto-Slavic group, and Indo-Iranian.

3. The prehistory of the Indo-European peoples, by C.C. Uhlenbeck (1897), translation by Michiel de Vaan, JIES 44/1-2, 2016, 186-212.

The following excerpt is probably not the most interesting one (check out the different aspect of prehistoric life described through linguistics), but it is fun to be able to support the same arguments today:

Does linguistics provide us with the means to indicate a smaller region as the center of expansion of the Indo-European languages and peoples? Hardly. After all, it is far from certain that the people who speak Indo-European languages are also ethnologically more closely related to each other than to peoples with languages very different from ours. If the homeland of the Indo-European languages does not coincide with that of the Indo-European peoples, it becomes impossible to determine either one. In reality, if the Indo-European speaking peoples do not form an ethnological unity, we have not the slightest reason to suppose that they all hail from a single region. The use of a common language can just as well be explained by a powerful, prehistoric cultural influence, as by common ancestry. The unknown, unknowable origin of that cultural force is then, in a certain sense, the homeland of our language family. Searching a homeland of the Indo-Europeans or of the Indo-European dialects is like taking a wild stab, something which all who understand history must abhor. If Schrader regards as the homeland the Pontic steppes, if Hirt regards the coasts of Lithuania as such, this is based on insufficient and partially judged data. Still, the large agreement in vocabulary between Indo-European and Egypto-Semitic remains a remarkable fact, which Friedrich Delitzsch first illustrated in a truly scientific way.


If we stick to the facts, and refrain from bottomless speculations, we will find no other homeland than the area indicated above, which encompasses half of Europe and a part of Asia.

Analysis of R1b-DF27 haplogroups in modern populations adds new information that contrasts with ‘steppe admixture’ results


New open access article published in Scientific Reports, Analysis of the R1b-DF27 haplogroup shows that a large fraction of Iberian Y-chromosome lineages originated recently in situ, by Solé-Morata et al. (2017).


Haplogroup R1b-M269 comprises most Western European Y chromosomes; of its main branches, R1b-DF27 is by far the least known, and it appears to be highly prevalent only in Iberia. We have genotyped 1072 R1b-DF27 chromosomes for six additional SNPs and 17 Y-STRs in population samples from Spain, Portugal and France in order to further characterize this lineage and, in particular, to ascertain the time and place where it originated, as well as its subsequent dynamics. We found that R1b-DF27 is present in frequencies ~40% in Iberian populations and up to 70% in Basques, but it drops quickly to 6–20% in France. Overall, the age of R1b-DF27 is estimated at ~4,200 years ago, at the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, when the Y chromosome landscape of W Europe was thoroughly remodeled. In spite of its high frequency in Basques, Y-STR internal diversity of R1b-DF27 is lower there, and results in more recent age estimates; NE Iberia is the most likely place of origin of DF27. Subhaplogroup frequencies within R1b-DF27 are geographically structured, and show domains that are reminiscent of the pre-Roman Celtic/Iberian division, or of the medieval Christian kingdoms.

Some people like to say that Y-DNA haplogroup analysis, or phylogeography in general, is of no use anymore (especially modern phylogeography), and they are content to see how ‘steppe admixture’ was (or even is) distributed in Europe to draw conclusions about ancient languages and their expansion. With each new paper, we are seeing the advantages of analysing ancient and modern haplogroups in ascertaining population movements.

Quite recently there was a suggestion based on steppe admixture that Basque-speaking Iberians resisted the invasion from the steppe. Observing the results of this article (dates of expansion and demographic data) we see a clear expansion of Y-DNA haplogroups precisely by the time of Bell Beaker expansion from the east. Y-DNA haplogroups of ancient samples from Portugal point exactly to the same conclusion.

The situation of R1b-DF27 in Basques, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is probably then similar to the genetic drift of Finns, mainly of N1c lineages, speaking today a Uralic language that expaned with Corded Ware and R1a subclades.

The recent article on Mycenaean and Minoan genetics also showed that, when it comes to Europe, most of the demographic patterns we see in admixture are reminiscent of the previous situation, only rarely can we see a clear change in admixture (which would mean an important, sudden replacement of the previous population).

Equating the so-called steppe admixture with Indo-European languages is wrong. Period.

The following are excerpts from the article (emphasis is mine):

Dates and expansions

The average STR variance of DF27 and each subhaplogroup is presented in Suppl. Table 2. As expected, internal diversity was higher in the deeper, older branches of the phylogeny. If the same diversity was divided by population, the most salient finding is that native Basques (Table 2) have a lower diversity than other populations, which contrasts with the fact that DF27 is notably more frequent in Basques than elsewhere in Iberia (Suppl. Table 1). Diversity can also be measured as pairwise differences distributions (Fig. 5). The distribution of mean pairwise differences within Z195 sits practically on top of that of DF27; L176.2 and Z220 have similar distributions, as M167 and Z278 have as well; finally, M153 shows the lowest pairwise distribution values. This pattern is likely to reflect the respective ages of the haplogroups, which we have estimated by a modified, weighted version of the ρ statistic (see Methods).

Z195 seems to have appeared almost simultaneously within DF27, since its estimated age is actually older (4570 ± 140 ya). Of the two branches stemming from Z195, L176.2 seems to be slightly younger than Z220 (2960 ± 230 ya vs. 3320 ± 200 ya), although the confidence intervals slightly overlap. M167 is clearly younger, at 2600 ± 250 ya, a similar age to that of Z278 (2740 ± 270 ya). Finally, M153 is estimated to have appeared just 1930 ± 470 ya.

Haplogroup ages can also be estimated within each population, although they should be interpreted with caution (see Discussion). For the whole of DF27, (Table 3), the highest estimate was in Aragon (4530 ± 700 ya), and the lowest in France (3430 ± 520 ya); it was 3930 ± 310 ya in Basques. Z195 was apparently oldest in Catalonia (4580 ± 240 ya), and with France (3450 ± 269 ya) and the Basques (3260 ± 198 ya) having lower estimates. On the contrary, in the Z220 branch, the oldest estimates appear in North-Central Spain (3720 ± 313 ya for Z220, 3420 ± 349 ya for Z278). The Basques always produce lower estimates, even for M153, which is almost absent elsewhere.

Simplified phylogenetic tree of the R1b-M269 haplogroup. SNPs in italics were not analyzed in this manuscript.


The median value for Tstart has been estimated at 103 generations (Table 4), with a 95% highest probability density (HPD) range of 50–287 generations; effective population size increased from 131 (95% HPD: 100–370) to 72,811 (95% HPD: 52,522–95,334). Considering patrilineal generation times of 30–35 years, our results indicate that R1b-DF27 started its expansion ~3,000–3,500 ya, shortly after its TMRCA.

As a reference, we applied the same analysis to the whole of R1b-S116, as well as to other common haplogroups such as G2a, I2, and J2a. Interestingly, all four haplogroups showed clear evidence of an expansion (p > 0.99 in all cases), all of them starting at the same time, ~50 generations ago (Table 4), and with similar estimated initial and final populations. Thus, these four haplogroups point to a common population expansion, even though I2 (TMRCA, weighted ρ, 7,800 ya) and J2a (TMRCA, 5,500 ya) are older than R1b-DF27. It is worth noting that the expansion of these haplogroups happened after the TMRCA of R1b-DF27.

Principal component analysis of STR haplotypes. (a) Colored by subhaplogroup, (b) colored by population. Larger squares represent subhaplogroup or population centroids.

Sum up and discussion

We have characterized the geographical distribution and phylogenetic structure of haplogroup R1b-DF27 in W. Europe, particularly in Iberia, where it reaches its highest frequencies (40–70%). The age of this haplogroup appears clear: with independent samples (our samples vs. the 1000 genome project dataset) and independent methods (variation in 15 STRs vs. whole Y-chromosome sequences), the age of R1b-DF27 is firmly grounded around 4000–4500 ya, which coincides with the population upheaval in W. Europe at the transition between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. Before this period, R1b-M269 was rare in the ancient DNA record, and during it the current frequencies were rapidly reached. It is also one of the haplogroups (along with its daughter clades, R1b-U106 and R1b-S116) with a sequence structure that shows signs of a population explosion or burst. STR diversity in our dataset is much more compatible with population growth than with stationarity, as shown by the ABC results, but, contrary to other haplogroups such as the whole of R1b-S116, G2a, I2 or J2a, the start of this growth is closer to the TMRCA of the haplogroup. Although the median time for the start of the expansion is older in R1b-DF27 than in other haplogroups, and could suggest the action of a different demographic process, all HPD intervals broadly overlap, and thus, a common demographic history may have affected the whole of the Y chromosome diversity in Iberia. The HPD intervals encompass a broad timeframe, and could reflect the post-Neolithic population expansions from the Bronze Age to the Roman Empire.

While when R1b-DF27 appeared seems clear, where it originated may be more difficult to pinpoint. If we extrapolated directly from haplogroup frequencies, then R1b-DF27 would have originated in the Basque Country; however, for R1b-DF27 and most of its subhaplogroups, internal diversity measures and age estimates are lower in Basques than in any other population. Then, the high frequencies of R1b-DF27 among Basques could be better explained by drift rather than by a local origin (except for the case of M153; see below), which could also have decreased the internal diversity of R1b-DF27 among Basques. An origin of R1b-DF27 outside the Iberian Peninsula could also be contemplated, and could mirror the external origin of R1b-M269, even if it reaches there its highest frequencies. However, the search for an external origin would be limited to France and Great Britain; R1b-DF27 seems to be rare or absent elsewhere: Y-STR data are available only for France, and point to a lower diversity and more recent ages than in Iberia (Table 3). Unlike in Basques, drift in a traditionally closed population seems an unlikely explanation for this pattern, and therefore, it does not seem probable that R1b-DF27 originated in France. Then, a local origin in Iberia seems the most plausible hypothesis. Within Iberia, Aragon shows the highest diversity and age estimates for R1b-DF27, Z195, and the L176.2 branch, although, given the small sample size, any conclusion should be taken cautiously. On the contrary, Z220 and Z278 are estimated to be older in North Central Spain (N Castile, Cantabria and Asturias). Finally, M153 is almost restricted to the Basque Country: it is rarely present at frequencies >1% elsewhere in Spain (although see the cases of Alacant, Andalusia and Madrid, Suppl. Table 1), and it was found at higher frequencies (10–17%) in several Basque regions; a local origin seems plausible, but, given the scarcity of M153 chromosomes outside of the Basque Country, the diversity and age values cannot be compared.

Within its range, R1b-DF27 shows same geographical differentiation: Western Iberia (particularly, Asturias and Portugal), with low frequencies of R1b-Z195 derived chromosomes and relatively high values of R1b-DF27* (xZ195); North Central Spain is characterized by relatively high frequencies of the Z220 branch compared to the L176.2 branch; the latter is more abundant in Eastern Iberia. Taken together, these observations seem to match the East-West patterning that has occurred at least twice in the history of Iberia: i) in pre-Roman times, with Celtic-speaking peoples occupying the center and west of the Iberian Peninsula, while the non-Indoeuropean eponymous Iberians settled the Mediterranean coast and hinterland; and ii) in the Middle Ages, when Christian kingdoms in the North expanded gradually southwards and occupied territories held by Muslim fiefs.

Contour maps of the derived allele frequencies of the SNPs analyzed in this manuscript. Population abbreviations as in Table 1. Maps were drawn with SURFER v. 12 (Golden Software, Golden CO, USA).

I wouldn’t trust the absence of R1b-DF27 outside France as a proof that its origin must be in Western Europe – especially since we have ancient DNA, and that assertion might prove quite wrong – but aside from that the article seems solid in its analysis of modern populations.


Text and figures from the article, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

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


Russian archaeologist Leo Klejn has published an article Discussion: Are the Origins of Indo-European Languages Explained by the Migration of the Yamnaya Culture to the West?, which includes the criticism received from Wolfgang Haak, Iosif Lazaridis, Nick Patterson, and David Reich (mainly on the genetic aspect), and from Kristian Kristiansen, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Morten Allentoft, Martin Sikora, and Eske Willerslev (mainly on the archaeological aspect).

I will not post details of Klejn’s model of North-South Proto-Indo-European expansion – which is explained in the article, and relies on the north-south cline of ‘steppe admixture’ in the modern European population -, since it is based on marginal anthropological methods and theories, including glottochronological dates, and archaeological theories from the Russian school (mainly Zalyzniak), which are obviously not mainstream in the field of Indo-European Studies, and (paradoxically) on the modern distribution of ‘steppe admixture’…

The most interesting aspects of the article are the reactions to the criticism, some of which can be used from the point of view of the Indo-European demic diffusion model, too. It is sad, however, that they didn’t choose to answer earlier to Heyd’s criticism (or to Heyd’s model, which is essentially also that of Mallory and Anthony), instead of just waiting for proponents of the least interesting models to react…

The answer by Haak et al.:

Klejn mischaracterizes our paper as claiming that practitioners of the Corded Ware culture spoke a language ancestral to all European Indo-European languages, including Greek and Celtic. This is incorrect: we never claim that the ancestor of Greek is the language spoken by people of the Corded Ware culture. In fact, we explicitly state that the expansion of steppe ancestry might account for only a subset of Indo-European languages in Europe. Klejn asserts that ‘a source in the north’ is a better candidate for the new ancestry manifested in the Corded Ware than the Yamnaya. While it is indeed the case that the present-day people with the greatest affinity to the Corded Ware are distributed in north-eastern Europe, a major part of the new ancestry of the Corded Ware derives from a population most closely related to Armenians (Haak et al., 2015) and hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus (Jones et al., 2015). This ancestry has not been detected in any European huntergatherers analysed to date (Lazaridis et al., 2014; Skoglund et al., 2014; Haak et al., 2015; Fu et al., 2016), but made up some fifty per cent of the ancestry of the Yamnaya. The fact that the Corded Ware traced some of its ancestry to the southern Caucasus makes a source in the north less parsimonious.

In our study, we did not speculate about the date of Proto-Indo-European and the locations of its speakers, as these questions are unresolved by our data, although we do think the genetic data impose constraints on what occurred. We are enthusiastic about the potential of genetics to contribute to a resolution of this longstanding issue, but this is likely to require DNA from multiple, as yet unsampled, ancient populations.

Klejn response to that:

Allegedly, I had accused the authors of tracing all Indo-European languages back to Yamnaya, whereas they did not trace all of them but only a portion! Well, I shall not reproach the authors for their ambiguous language: it remains the case that (beginning with the title of the first article) their qualifications are lost and their readers have understood them as presenting the solution to the whole question of the origins of Indo-European languages.

(…) they had in view not the Proto-Indo-European before the separation of the Hittites, but the language that was left after the separation. Yet, this was still the language ancestral to all the remaining Indo-European languages, and the followers of Sturtevan and Kluckhorst call only this language Proto-Indo-European (while they call the initial one Indo-Hittite). The majority of linguists (specialists in Indo-European languages) is now inclined to this view. True, the breakup of this younger language is several hundred years more recent (nearly a thousand years later according to some glottochronologies) than the separation of Anatolian languages, but it is still around a thousand years earlier than the birth of cultures derived from Yamnaya.
More than that, I analysed in my criticism both possibilities — the case for all Indo-European languages spreading from Yamnaya and the case for only some of them spreading from Yamnaya. In the latter case, it is argued that only the languages of the steppes, the Aryan (Indo- Iranian) are descended from Yamnaya, not the languages of northern Europe. Together with many scholars, I am in agreement with the last possibility. But, then, what sense can the proposed migration of the Yamnaya culture to the Baltic region have? It would bring the Indo-Iranian proto-language to that region! Yet, there are no traces of this language on the coasts of the Baltic!

My main concern is that, to my mind, one should not directly apply conclusions from genetics to events in the development of language because there is no direct and inevitable dependence between events in the life of languages, culture, and physical structure (both anthropological and genetic). They can coincide, but often they all follow divergent paths. In each case the supposed coincidence should be proved separately.

The authors’ third objection concerns the increase of the genetic similarity of European population with that of the Yamnaya culture. This increases in the north of Europe and is weak in the south, in the places adjacent to the Yamnaya area, i.e. in Hungary. This gradient is clearly expressed in the modern population, but was present already in the Bronze Age, and hence cannot be explained by shifts that occurred in the Early Iron Age and in medieval times. However, the supposed migration of the Yamnaya culture to the west and north should imply a gradient in just the opposite direction!

Regarding the arguments of Kristiansen and colleagues:

[They argue that] in two early burials of the Corded Ware culture (one in Germany, the other in Poland) some single attributes of Yamnaya origin have been found.

(…) if this is the full extent of Yamnaya infiltration into central Europe—two burials (one for each country) from several thousands (and from several hundreds of early burials)—then it hardly amounts to large-scale migration.

Quite recently we have witnessed the success of a group of geneticists from Stanford University and elsewhere (Poznik et al., 2016). They succeeded in revealing varieties of Y-chromosome connected with demographic expansions in the Bronze Age. Such expansion can give rise to migration. Among the variants connected with this expansion is R1b, and this haplogroup is typical for the Yamnaya culture. But what bad luck! This haplogroup connected with expansion is indicated by the clade L11, while the Yamnaya burials are associated with a different clade, Z2103, that is not marked by expansion. It is now time to think about how else the remarkable results reached by both teams of experienced and bright geneticists may be interpreted.

Regarding the work of Heyd,

(…) with regard to the barrow burials of the third millennium BC in the basin of the Danube, although they have been assigned to the Yamnaya culture, I would consider them as also belonging to
another, separate culture, perhaps a mixed culture: its burial custom is typical of the Yamnaya, but its pottery is absolutely not Yamnaya, but local Balkan with imports of distinctive corded beakers (Schnurbecher). I would not be surprised if
Y-chromosome haplogroups of this population were somewhat similar to those of the Yamnaya, while mitochondrial groups were indigenous. As yet, geneticists deal with great blocks of populations and prefer to match them to very large and generalized cultural blocks, while archaeology now analyses more concrete and smaller cultures, each of which had its own fate.

Iosif Lazaridis shares more thoughts on the discussion in his Twitter account:

As we mentioned in Haak, Lazaridis et al. (2015), the Yamnaya are the best proximate source for the new ancestry that first appears with the Corded Ware in central Europe, as it has the right mix of both ANE (related to Native Americans, MA1, and EHG), but also Armenian/Caucasus/Iran-like southern component of ancestry. The Yamnaya is a westward expansive culture that bears exactly the two new ancestral components (EHG + Caucasus/Iran/Armenian-like).
As for the Y-chromosome, it was already noted in Haak, Lazaridis et al. (2015) that the Yamnaya from Samara had Y-chromosomes which belonged to R-M269 but did not belong to the clade common in Western Europe (p. 46 of supplement). Also, not a single R1a in Yamnaya unlike Corded Ware (R1a-dominated). But Yamnaya samples = elite burials from eastern part of the Yamnaya range. Both R1a/R1b found in Eneolithic Samara and EHG, so in conclusion Yamnaya expansion still the best proximate source for the post-3,000 BCE population change in central Europe. And since 2015 steppe expansion detected elsewhere (Cassidy et al. 16, Martiniano et al. 17, Mittnik et al. 17, Mathieson et al. 17, Lazaridis et al. 2016 (South Asia) and …?…

I love the smell of new wording in the morning… viz. Yamnaya best proximate source for Corded Ware, Corded Ware might account for only a subset of Indo-European languages, Corded Ware representing Aryan languages (probably Klejn misinterprets what the authors mean, i.e. some kind of Indo-Slavonic or Germano-Balto-Slavic group)…

We shall expect more and more ambiguous rewording and more adjustments of previous conclusions as new papers and new criticisms appear.


Featured image from the article: Distribution of the ‘Yamnaya’ genetic component in the populations of Europe (data taken from Haak et al., 2015). The intensity of the colour corresponds to the contribution of this component in various modern populations

Neolithic and Bronze Age Basque-speaking Iberians resisted invaders from the steppe


Good clickbait, right? I have received reports about this new paper in Google Now the whole weekend, and their descriptions are getting worse each day.

The original title of the article published in PLOS Genetics (already known by its preprint in BioRxiv) was The population genomics of archaeological transition in west Iberia: Investigation of ancient substructure using imputation and haplotype-based methods, by Martiniano et al. (2017).

Maybe the title was not attractive enough, so they sent the following summary, entitled “Bronze Age Iberia received fewer Steppe invaders than the rest of Europe” (also in Phys.org. From their article, the only short reference to the linguistic situation of Iberia (as a trial to sum up potential consequences of the genetic data obtained):

Iberia is unusual in harbouring a surviving pre-Indo-European language, Euskera, and inscription evidence at the dawn of history suggests that pre-Indo-European speech prevailed over a majority of its eastern territory with Celtic-related language emerging in the west. Our results showing that predominantly Anatolian-derived ancestry in the Neolithic extended to the Atlantic edge strengthen the suggestion that Euskara is unlikely to be a Mesolithic remnant. Also our observed definite, but limited, Bronze Age influx resonates with the incomplete Indo-European linguistic conversion on the peninsula, although there are subsequent genetic changes in Iberia and defining a horizon for language shift is not yet possible. This contrasts with northern Europe which both lacks evidence for earlier language strata and experienced a more profound Bronze Age migration.

Judging from the article, more precise summaries of potential consequences would have been “Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian peoples derived from Neolithic farmers, not Mesolithic or Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers”, or “incomplete Indo-European linguistic conversion of the Iberian Peninsula” – both aspects, by the way, are already known. That would have been quite unromantic, though.

Their carefully selected title has been unsurprisingly distorted at least as “Ancient DNA Reveals Why the Iberian Peninsula Is So Unique“, and “Ancient Iberians resisted Steppe invasions better than the rest of Europe 6,000 years ago“.

So I thought, what the hell, let’s go with the tide. Using the published dataset, I have also helped reconstruct the original phenotype of Bronze Age Iberians, and this is how our Iberian ancestors probably looked like:

Typical Iberian village during the Steppe invasion, according to my phenotype study of Martiniano et al. (2017). Notice typical invaders to the right.

And, by the way, they spoke Basque, the oldest language. Period.

Now, for those new to the article, we already knew that there is less “steppe admixture” in Iberian samples from southern Portugal after the time of east Bell Beaker expansion.

(A) PCA estimated from the CHROMOPAINTER coancestry matrix of 67 ancient samples ranging from the Paleolithic to the Anglo-Saxon period. The samples belonging to each one of the 19 populations identified with fineSTRUCTURE are connected by a dashed line. Samples are placed geographically in 3 panels (with random jitter for visual purposes): (B) Hunter-gatherers; (C) Neolithic Farmers (including Ötzi) and (D) Copper Age to Anglo-Saxon samples. The Portuguese Bronze Age samples (D, labelled in red) formed a distinct population (Portuguese_BronzeAge), while the Middle and Late Neolithic samples from Portugal clustered with Spanish, Irish and Scandinavian Neolithic farmers, which are termed “Atlantic_Neolithic” (C, in green).

However, there is also a clear a discontinuity in Neolithic Y-DNA haplogroups (to R1b-P312 haplogroups). That means obviously a male-driven invasion, from the North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beaker culture – which in turn did not have much “steppe admixture” compared to other north-eastern cultures, like the Corded Ware culture, probably unrelated to Indo-European languages.

Summary of the samples sequenced in the present study.

As always, trying to equate steppe or Yamna admixture with invasion or language is plainly wrong. Doing it with few samples, and with the wrong assumptions of what “steppe admixture” means, well…

Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian no doubt survived the Indo-European Bell Beaker migrations, but if Y-DNA lineages were replaced already by the Bronze Age in southern Portugal, there is little reason to support an increased “resistance” of Iberians to Bell Beaker invaders compared to other marginal regions of Europe (relative to the core Yamna expansion in eastern and central Europe).

As you know, Aquitanian (the likely ancestor of Basque) and Iberian were just two of the many non-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe at the dawn of historical records, so to speak about Iberia as radically different than Italy, Greece, Northern Britain, Scandinavia, or Eastern Europe, is reminiscent of the racism (or, more exactly, xenophobia) that is hidden behind romantic views certain people have of their genetic ancestry.

Some groups formed by a majority of R1b-DF27 lineages, now prevalent in Iberia, spoke probably Iberian languages during the Iron Age in north and eastern Iberia, before their acculturation during the expansion of Celtic-speaking peoples, and later during the expansion of Rome, when most of them eventually spoke Latin. In Mediaeval times, these lineages probably expanded Romance languages southward during the Reconquista.

Before speaking Iberian languages, R1b-DF27 lineages (or older R1b-P312) were probably Indo-European speakers who expanded with the Bell Beaker culture from the lower Danube – in turn created by the interaction of Yamna with Proto-Bell Beaker cultures, and adopted probably the native Proto-Basque and Proto-Iberian languages (or possibly the ancestor of both) near the Pyrenees, either by acculturation, or because some elite invaders expanded successfully (their Y-DNA haplogroup) over the general population, for generations.

Maybe some kind of genetic bottleneck happened, that expanded previously not widespread lineages, as with N1c subclades in Finland.

There is nothing wrong with hypothetic models of ancient genetic prehistory: there are still too many potential scenarios for the expansion of haplogroup R1b-DF27 in Iberia. But, please, stop supporting romantic pictures of ethnolinguistic continuity for modern populations. It’s embarrassing.

Featured image from Wikipedia, and Pinterest, with copyright from Albert Uderzo and publisher company Hachette.

Images from the article, licensed CC-by-sa, as all articles from PLOS.

How to do modern phylogeography: Relationships between clans and genetic kin explain cultural similarities over vast distances


A preprint paper has been published in BioRxiv, Relationships between clans and genetic kin explain cultural similarities over vast distances: the case of Yakutia, by Zvenigorosky et al (2017).


Archaeological studies sample ancient human populations one site at a time, often limited to a fraction of the regions and periods occupied by a given group. While this bias is known and discussed in the literature, few model populations span areas as large and unforgiving as the Yakuts of Eastern Siberia. We systematically surveyed 31,000 square kilometres in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) and completed the archaeological study of 174 frozen graves, assembled between the 15th and the 19th century. We analysed genetic data (autosomal genotypes, Y-chromosome haplotypes and mitochondrial haplotypes) for all ancient subjects and confronted it to the study of 190 modern subjects from the same area and the same population. Ancient familial links and paternal clan were identified between graves up to 1500 km apart and we provide new data concerning the origins of the contemporary Yakut population and demonstrate that cultural similarities in the past were linked to (i) the expansion of specific paternal clans, (ii) preferential marriage among the elites and (iii) funeral choices that could constitute a bias in any ancient population study.

Even if you are not interested in the cultural and anthropological evolution of this Turkic-speaking people of the Russian Far Eastern region, the method used is an excellent example of how to use archaeology and genetics (especially Y-DNA and mtDNA data) to obtain meaningful results when investigating ancient populations.

For quite some time, probably since the first renown admixture analyses of ancient DNA samples were published, we have been living under the impression that phylogeography, or simply archaeogenetics as it was called back in the day, is not needed.

Cavalli-Sforza’s assertion that the study of modern populations could offer a clear picture of past population movements is now considered wrong, and the study of Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups is today mostly disregarded as of secondary importance, even among geneticists. Whole genomic investigation (and especially admixture analyses) have been leading the new wave of overconfidence in genetic results, tightly joint with the ignorance of its shortcomings (and commercial interests based on desires of ethnic identification), and haplogroups are usually just reported with other, not entirely meaningful aspects of ancient DNA analyses.

While it is undeniable that admixture analyses are offering quite interesting results, they must be carefully balanced against known archaeological and linguistic knowledge. Phylogeography – and especially Y-DNA haplogroup assessment – is quite interesting in investigating kinship and clans in patrilocal communities – i.e. most communities in prehistoric and historic periods, unless proven otherwise.

Luckily enough, there are those researchers who still strive to obtain meaningful information from haplotypes. The article referenced in this post is quite interesting due to its phylogeographic method’s applicability to ancient cultures and peoples.

When some geneticists look at simplistic prehistoric maps, like those depicting Yamna, Afanasevo, Corded Ware, and Bell Beaker cultures together, they forget that 1) cultural regions are selected more or less arbitrarily (we only have certain scattered sites for each of these cultures); 2) economic or population contacts are difficult to ascertain and to represent graphically; and 3) time periods for archaeological sites are important – in fact, they are probably THE most important aspect in assessing how accurate a map (and its “arrows” of migration or exchange) represents reality.

A careful, detailed study like this one, if applied to the Pontic-Caspian steppe, would probably reveal how R1b subclades dominated steppe clans, beginning at least during the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion to the west, and certainly representing the vast majority of lineages during the internal expansion in the Early Yamna period and its later expansion east and west of the steppe…

Featured image from the article, summing up Geography, Archaeology, and Genetics of Yakutia – including Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups from ancient populations.