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.


A history of male migration in and out of the Green Sahara

Open access research highlight A history of male migration in and out of the Green Sahara, by Yali Xue, Genome Biology (2018) 19:30, on the recent paper by D’Atanasio et al.

Insights from the Green Saharan Y-chromosomal findings (emphasis mine):

It is widely accepted that sub-Saharan Y chromosomes are dominated by E-M2 lineages carried by Bantu-speaking farmers as they expanded from West Africa starting < 5 kya, reaching South Africa within recent centuries [4]. The E-M2-Bantu lineages lie phylogenetically within the E-M2-Green Sahara lineage and show at least three explosive lineage expansions beginning 4.9–5.3 kya [5] (Fig. 1a). These events of E-M2-Bantu expansion are slightly later than the R-V88 expansion, and highlight the range of male demographic changes in the mid-Holocene. North of the Sahara, in addition to the four trans-Saharan haplogroups, haplogroup E-M81 (which diverged from E-M78 ~ 13 kya) became very common in present-day populations as a result of another massive expansion ~ 2 kya [6] (Fig. 1a).

Simplified Y-chromosomal phylogeny and inferred past or observed present-day distribution of relevant Y-chromosomal lineages. a Calibrated phylogenetic tree of Y-chromosomal lineages discussed in the text. Green shading represents the period when the present-day Sahara Desert was green and fertile. Lineages represented by filled pentagons have undergone very rapid expansions. b [featured image] The Green Sahara period 5–12 kya. Green shading indicates that the present-day Sahara Desert was green and fertile. The colors within the large oval represent the four Y-chromosomal haplogroups deduced to be present in the region at this time; specific locations are not implied. The arrows indicate the inferred origins of these haplogroups to the north or south, but specific origins and routes are not implied. c The present-day distributions of the four Green Saharan Y-chromosomal haplogroups. Yellow shading indicates the Sahara Desert. Each circle represents a sampled population, with the presence or absence of the four Green Saharan haplogroups shown by the colored sectors; other haplogroups may also be present in these populations, but are not shown. The small arrows indicate the inferred northwards and southwards movements of these haplogroups when the Sahara became uninhabitable.

Although Y chromosomes exist within populations and so share and reflect the general history of those populations, they can sometimes show some departures from other parts of the genome that result from differences in male and female behaviors. D’Atanasio et al. [1] highlight one such contrast in their study. Present-day North African populations show substantial sub-Saharan autosomal and mtDNA genetic components ascribed to the Roman and Arab slave trades 1–2 kya [7], but carry few sub-Saharan Y lineages from this source, probably reflecting the smaller numbers of male slaves and their reduced reproductive opportunities when compared to those of female slaves. The sub-Saharan Y chromosomes in these North African populations thus originate predominantly from the earlier Green Sahara period.

In this part of Africa, the indigenous languages that are spoken belong to three of the four African linguistic families (Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo). Interestingly, these languages show non-random associations with Y lineages. For example, Chadic languages within the Afro-Asiatic family are associated with haplogroup R-V88, whereas Nilo-Saharan languages are associated with specific sublineages within A3-M13 and E-M78, further illustrating the complex human history of the region.

The main question after D’Atanasio et al. (2018) is thus:

(…) what are the reasons for the very rapid R-V88 expansion 5–6 kya [1] and E-M81 expansion ~ 2 kya [6], and how do these expansions fit within general worldwide patterns of male-specific expansions, which in other cases have been linked to cultural and technological changes [5]?

I think that the only known haplogroup expansion that might fit today the spread and dialectalization of Afroasiatic, a proto-language probably contemporaneous or slighly older than Middle Proto-Indo-European, is that of R1b-V88 lineages. However, without ancient DNA samples to corroborate this, we cannot be sure.

See also:

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.

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.


Genetic ancestry of Hadza and Sandawe peoples reveals ancient population structure in Africa

Open access paper Genetic Ancestry of Hadza and Sandawe Peoples Reveals Ancient Population Structure in Africa, by Shriner, Tekola-Ayele, Adeyemo, & Rotimi, GBE (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Hadza and Sandawe populations in present-day Tanzania speak languages containing click sounds and therefore thought to be distantly related to southern African Khoisan languages. We analyzed genome-wide genotype data for individuals sampled from the Hadza and Sandawe populations in the context of a global data set of 3,528 individuals from 163 ethno-linguistic groups. We found that Hadza and Sandawe individuals share ancestry distinct from and most closely related to Omotic ancestry; share Khoisan ancestry with populations such as ≠Khomani, Karretjie, and Ju/’hoansi in southern Africa; share Niger-Congo ancestry with populations such as Yoruba from Nigeria and Luhya from Kenya, consistent with migration associated with the Bantu Expansion; and share Cushitic ancestry with Somali, multiple Ethiopian populations, the Maasai population in Kenya, and the Nama population in Namibia. We detected evidence for low levels of Arabian, Nilo-Saharan, and Pygmy ancestries in a minority of individuals. Our results indicate that west Eurasian ancestry in eastern Africa is more precisely the Arabian parent of Cushitic ancestry. Relative to the Out-of-Africa migrations, Hadza ancestry emerged early whereas Sandawe ancestry emerged late.


In the Hadza population, the distribution of Y chromosomes includes mostly B2 haplogroups, with a smaller number of E1b1a haplogroups, which are common in Niger-Congo-speaking populations, and E1b1b haplogroups, which are common in Cushitic populations (Tishkoff, et al. 2007). In the Sandawe population, E1b1a and E1b1b haplogroups are more common, with lower frequencies of B2 and A3b2 haplogroups (Tishkoff, et al. 2007).

We found that Hadza ancestry diverged early, rather than late. We found evidence for contributions of Cushitic and Niger-Congo ancestries in Tanzania, consistent with the movements of herding and cultivating Cushitic speakers ~4,000 years ago and agricultural Niger-Congo speakers ~2,500 years ago (Newman 1995). However, we did not find evidence of a substantial contribution of Nilo-Saharan ancestry that might have resulted from movement of pastoralist Nilo-Saharan speakers (Newman 1995). We also identified west Eurasian ancestry in eastern and southern African populations more precisely as the Arabian parent of Cushitic ancestry. Finally, our ancestry analyses support the hypothesis that Omotic, Hadza, and Sandawe languages group together, rather than Omotic languages belonging to the Afroasiatic family and Hadza and Sandawe languages belonging to the Khoisan family.

I don’t like linguistic assumptions from admixture analysis; especially from scarce modern samples, as in this case.

Nevertheless, these papers may help clarify the different nature of Omotic and Cushitic among Afroasiatic languages, and thus leave the origin of Afroasiatic either:

a) To the east, with the traditionalist Afroasiatic – Semitic/Hamitic homeland association.

Expansion of Afroasiatic

b) To the west, near modern Chadic languages (associated with the expansion of R1b-V88 subclades through a Green Sahara), as I suggested.


First Iberian R1b-DF27 sample, probably from incoming East Bell Beakers


I had some more time to read the paper by Valdiosera et al. (2018) and its supplementary material.

One of the main issues since the publication of Olalde et al. (2018) (and its hundreds of Bell Beaker samples) was the lack of a clear Y-DNA R1b-DF27 subclades among East Bell Beaker migrants, which left us wondering when the subclade entered the Iberian Peninsula, since it could have (theoretically) happened from the Chalcolithic to the Iron Age.

My prediction was that this lineage found today widespread among the Iberian population crossed the Pyrenees quite early, during the Chalcolithic, with migrating East Bell Beakers expanding North-West Indo-European dialects, and that it spread slowly afterwards.

The first ancient sample clearly identified as of R1b-DF27 subclade is found in this paper, at the Late Bronze Age site Cueva de los Lagos. Although it is unidentified and has no radiocarbon date, the site as a whole is associated with the Cogotas culture and its Bouquique ceramic decoration.

Y-DNA and mtDNA haplogroups, from the paper. Sequencing statistics and contamination rates for newly generated sequence data.

It was found in the northern part of the Cogotas culture territory (which lies mainly between Castille and Aragon, in North-Central Spain), shows evident steppe admixture, and it has become obvious with the latest papers (including this one) that R1b-M269 lineages intruded south of the Pyrenees associated with East Bell Beaker migrations.

The Proto-Cogotas culture is associated with a Bell Beaker substrate influenced by either El Argar or Atlantic Bronze, and the specific type of ceramics found at this Cogotas culture site are probably from the mid-2nd millennium, which is too early for the Celtic expansion.

Supervised ADMIXTURE results.

Nevertheless, due to the quite likely late date of the sample (in the centuries around 1500 BC), there is still a possibility that incoming R1b-DF27 lineages were not among the early R1b-M269 lineages found in the Iberian Chalcolithic, and were associated with later migrations from Central Europe, potentially linked to the expansion of the Urnfield culture, and thus nearer to an Italo-Celtic community.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 1250-750 BC.

In any of these scenarios, a Pre-Celtic expansion of North-West Indo-European in Iberia (possibly associated with Lusitanian) is still the best explanation for the origin and expansion of (at least some) modern Iberian R1b-DF27 lineages, including those found among the Basque-speaking population.

This implies that the ‘indigenous’ Neolithic lineages of Iberia (like I2 and G2a2) were replaced with subsequent internal gene flows and founder effects, such as those that evidently happened (probably quite recently) among Basques, even though indigenous languages show an obvious continuity.

I would say this is the last nail in the coffin for autochthonous Y-DNA continuity theories for Spain and France (i.e. for the traditional Vasconic-Uralic hypothesis), but we know that data is never enough for any die hard continuist…so let’s just say another nail in the coffin for endless autochthonous continuity theories.

EDIT (18/3/2018): Genetiker has published Y-SNP calls for both R1b samples, showing this one is R1b1a1a2a1a2a-BY15964 (see modern members of this subclade in ytree), and that the other one is R1b1a1a2a~L23.


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.


The origin and expansion of Pama–Nyungan languages across Australia

Yet another questionable paper by Nature, The origin and expansion of Pama–Nyungan languages across Australia, by Bouckaert, Bowern & Atkinson, Nat Ecol Evol (2018).


It remains a mystery how Pama–Nyungan, the world’s largest hunter-gatherer language family, came to dominate the Australian continent. Some argue that social or technological advantages allowed rapid language replacement from the Gulf Plains region during the mid-Holocene. Others have proposed expansions from refugia linked to climatic changes after the last ice age or, more controversially, during the initial colonization of Australia. Here, we combine basic vocabulary data from 306 Pama–Nyungan languages with Bayesian phylogeographic methods to explicitly model the expansion of the family across Australia and test between these origin scenarios. We find strong and robust support for a Pama–Nyungan origin in the Gulf Plains region during the mid-Holocene, implying rapid replacement of non-Pama–Nyungan languages. Concomitant changes in the archaeological record, together with a lack of strong genetic evidence for Holocene population expansion, suggests that Pama–Nyungan languages were carried as part of an expanding package of cultural innovations that probably facilitated the absorption and assimilation of existing hunter-gatherer groups.

“Diversification of the Pama–Nyungan language family. Maximum clade credibility tree showing the inferred timing and emergence of the major branches and their subsequent diversification.”

Even with my absolute lack of knowledge on Australian languages, I am not conviced. Not at all.

I have already expressed more than once my opinion on Glottochronology – and the improved method of this paper seems like the final twist of the screw for its strongest proponents.

Interestingly, this paper includes the same journal, author, and (mostly) method of the famous Language-tree divergence times support the Anatolian theory of Indo-European origin (2003).

And we have also seen how most suggested prehistorical cultural diffusion events were actually migrations, so it seems rather odd to dare publish this right now.

At a time of groundbreaking genomic papers being published on South-East Asian migrations, and probably expecting more on the region – including Australia – , this paper seems to me quite unnecessary.

It will especially not help Nature make forget its latest fiasco on Indo-European migrations.

See also:

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.