Corded Ware—Uralic (II): Finno-Permic and the expansion of N-L392/Siberian ancestry


This is the second of three posts on the Corded Ware—Uralic identification. See Corded Ware—Uralic(I): Differences and similarities with Yamna.

I read from time to time that “we have not sampled Uralic speakers yet”, and “we are waiting to see when Uralic-speaking peoples are sampled”. Are we, though?

Proto-language homelands are based on linguistic data, such as guesstimates for dialectal evolution, loanwords and phonetic changes for language contacts, toponymy for ancient territories, etc. depending on the available information. The trace is then followed back, using available archaeological data, from the known historic speakers and territory to the appropriate potential prehistoric cultures. Only then can genetic analyses help us clarify the precise prehistoric population movements that better fit the models.

The traditional family tree of the Uralic branches. Kallio (2014)

The linguistic homeland

We thought – using linguistic guesstimates and fitting prehistoric cultures and their expansion – that Yamna was the Late Proto-Indo-European culture, so when Yamna was sampled, we had Late Proto-Indo-Europeans sampled. Simple deduction.

We thought that north-eastern Europe was a Uralic-speaking area during the Neolithic:

  • For those supporting a western continuity (and assuming CWC was Indo-European), the language was present at least since the Comb Ware culture, potentially since the Mesolithic.
  • For those supporting a late introduction into Finland, Uralic expanded the latest with Abashevo-related movements after its incorporation of Volosovo and related hunter-gatherers.

The expansion to the east must have happened through progressive infiltrations with Seima-Turbino / Andronovo-related expansions.

Some datings for the traditional proto-stages from Uralic to Finnic. Kallio (2014).

Finding the linguistic homeland going backwards can be described today as follows:

I. Proto-Fennic homeland

Based on the number of Baltic loanwords, not attested in the more eastern Uralic branches (and reaching only partially Mordvinic), the following can be said about western Finno-Permic languages (Junttila 2014):

The Volga-Kama Basin lies still too far east to be included in a list of possible contact locations. Instead, we could look for the contact area somewhere between Estonia in the west and the surroundings of Moscow in the east, a zone with evidence of Uralic settlement in the north and Baltic on the south side.

The only linguistically well-grounded version of the Stone Age continuation theory was presented by Mikko Korhonen in 1976. Its validity, however, became heavily threatened when Koivulehto 1983a-b proved the existence of a Late Proto-Indo-European or Pre-Baltic loanword layer in Saami, Finnic, and Mordvinic. Since this layer must precede the Baltic one and it was presumably acquired in the Baltic Sea region, Koivulehto posited it on the horizon of the Battle Axe period. This forces a later dating for the Baltic–Finnic contacts.

Today the Battle Axe culture is dated at 3200 to 3000 BC, a period far too remote to correspond linguistically with Proto-Baltic (Kallio 1998a).

Since the Baltic contacts began at a very initial phase of Proto-Finnic, the language must have been relatively uniform at that time. Hence, if we consider that the layer of Baltic loanwords may have spread over the Gulf of Finland at that time, we could also insist that the whole of the Proto-Finnic language did so.

Prehistoric Balts as the southern neighbours of Proto-Finnic speakers. 1 = The approximated area of Proto-Uralic. 2 = The approximated area of Finnic during the Iron Age. 3 = The area of ancient Baltic hydronyms. 4 = The area of Baltic languages in about 1200 AD. 5 = The problem: When did Uralic expand westwards and when did it meet Baltic? Junntila (2012).

II. Proto-Finno-Saamic homeland

The evidence of continued Palaeo-Germanic loanwords (from Pre- to Proto-Germanic stages) is certainly the most important data to locate the Finno-Saamic homeland, and from there backwards into the true Uralic homeland. Following Kallio (2017):

(…) the loanword evidence furthermore suggests that the ancestors of Finnic and Saamic had at least phonologically remained very close to Proto-Uralic as late as the Bronze Age (ca. 1700–500 BC). In particular, certain loanwords, whose Baltic and Germanic sources point to the first millennium BC, after all go back to the Finno-Saamic proto-stage, which is phonologically almost identical to the Uralic proto-stage (see especially the table in Sammallahti 1998: 198–202). This being the case, Dahl’s wave model could perhaps have some use in Uralic linguistics, too.

The presence of Pre-Germanic loanwords points rather to the centuries around the turn of the 2nd – 1st millennium BC or earlier. Proto-Germanic words must have been borrowed before the end of Germanic influence in the eastern Baltic at the beginning of the Iron Age, which sets a clear terminus ante quem ca. 800 BC.

The arrival of Bell Beaker peoples in Scandinavia ca. 2350 BC, heralding the formation of the Dagger Period, as well as the development of Pre-Germanic in common with Finnic-like populations point to the late 3rd / early 2nd millennium BC as the first time of close interaction through the Baltic region.

III. Proto-Uralic homeland

(…) the earliest Indo-European loanwords in the Uralic languages (…) show that Proto-Uralic cannot have been spoken much earlier than Proto-Indo-European dated about 3500 BC (Koivulehto 2001: 235, 257). As the same loanword evidence naturally also shows that the Uralic and Indo-European homelands were not located far from one another, the Uralic homeland can most likely be located in the Middle and Upper Volga region, right north of the Indo-European homeland*. From the beginning of the Subneolithic period about 5900 BC onwards, this region was an important innovation centre, from where several cultural waves spread to the Finnish Gulf area, such as the Sperrings Ware wave about 4900 BC, the Combed Ware wave about 3900 BC, and the Netted Ware wave about 1900 BC (Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 78–90).

The mainstream position is nowadays trying to hold together the traditional views of Corded Ware as Indo-European, and a Uralic Fennoscandia during the Bronze Age.

The following is an example of how this “Volosovo/Forest Zone hunter-gatherer theory” of Uralic origins looks like, as a ‘mixture’ of cultures and languages that benefits from the lack of genetic data for certain regions and periods (taken from Parpola 2018):

The extent of Typical Comb Ware (TCW), Asbestos- and Organic-tempered Wares (AOW) and Volosovo and Garino-Bor cultures; areas with deposits of native copper in Karelia and copperbearing sandstone in Volga-Kama-area are marked dark gray (after Zhuravlev 1977; Krajnov 1987; Nagovitsyn 1987; Chernykh 1992; Carpelan 1999; Zhul´nikov 1999). From Nordqvist et al. (2012).

The Corded Ware (or Battle Axe) culture intruded into the Eastern Baltic and coastal Finland already around 3100 BCE. The continuity hypothesis maintains that the early Proto-Finnic speakers of the coastal regions, who had come to Finland in the 4th millennium BCE with the Comb-Pitted Ware, coexisted with the Corded Ware newcomers, gradually adopting their pastoral culture and with it a number of NW-IE loanwords, but assimilating the immigrants linguistically.

The fusion of the Corded Ware and the local Comb-Pitted Ware culture resulted into the formation of the Kiukais culture (c. 2300–1500) of southwestern Finland, which around 2300 received some cultural impulses from Estonia, manifested in the appearance of the Western Textile Ceramic (which is different from the more easterly Textile Ceramic or Netted Ware, and which is first attested in Estonia c. 2700 BCE, cf. Kriiska & Tvauri 2007: 88), and supposed to have been accompanied by an influx of loanwords coming from Proto-Baltic. At the same time, the Kiukais culture is supposed to have spread the custom of burying chiefs in stone cairns to Estonia.

The coming of the Corded Ware people and their assimilation created a cultural and supposedly also a linguistic split in Finland, which the continuity hypothesis has interpreted to mean dividing Proto-Saami-Finnic unity into its two branches. Baltic Finnic, or simply Finnic, would have emerged in the coastal regions of Finland and in the northern East Baltic, while preforms of Saami would have been spoken in the inland parts of Finland.

The Nordic Bronze Age culture, correlated above with early Proto-Germanic, exerted a strong influence upon coastal Finland and Estonia 1600–700 BCE. Due to this, the Kiukais culture was transformed into the culture of Paimio ceramics (c. 1600–700 BCE), later continued by Morby ceramics (c. 700 BCE – 200 CE). The assumption is that clear cultural continuity was accompanied by linguistic continuity. Having assimilated the language of the Germanic traders and relatively few settlers of the Bronze Age, the language of coastal Finland is assumed to have reached the stage of Proto-Finnish at the beginning of the Christian era. In Estonia, the Paimio ceramics have a close counterpart in the contemporaneous Asva ceramics.

Eastern homelands?

I will not comment on Siberian or Central Asian homeland proposals, because they are obviously not mainstream, still less today when we know that Uralic was certainly in contact with Proto-Indo-European, and then with Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian, as supported even by the Copenhagen group in Damgaard et al. (2018).

This is what Kallio (2017) has to say about the agendas behind such proposals:

Interestingly, the only Uralicists who generally reject the Central Russian homeland are the Russian ones who prefer the Siberian homeland instead. Some Russians even advocate that the Central Russian homeland is only due to Finnish nationalism or, as one of them put it a bit more tactfully, “the political and ideological situation in Finland in the first decades of the 20th century” (Napolskikh 1995: 4).

Still, some Finns (and especially those who also belong to the “school who wants it large and wants it early”) simultaneously advocate that exactly the same Central Russian homeland is due to Finnlandisierung (Wiik 2001: 466).

Hence, for those of you willing to learn about fringe theories not related to North-Eastern Europe, you also have then the large and early version of the Uralic homeland, with Wiik’s Palaeolithic continuity of Uralic peoples spread over all of eastern and central Europe (hence EHG and R1a included):

Palaeolithic boat peoples and Finno-Ugric. Source

These fringe Finnish theories look a lot like the Corded Ware expansion… Better not go the Russian or Finnish nationalist ways? Agreed then, let’s discuss only rational proposals based on current data.

The archaeological homeland

For a detailed account of the Corded Ware expansion with Battle Axe, Fatyanovo-Balanovo, and Abashevo groups into the area, you can read my recent post on the origin of R1a-Z645.

1. Textile ceramics

During the 2nd millennium BC, textile impressions appear in pottery as a feature across a wide region, from the Baltic area through the Volga to the Urals, in communities that evolve from late Corded Ware groups without much external influence.

While it has been held that this style represents a north-west expansion from the Volga region (with the “Netted Ware” expansion), there are actually at least two original textile styles, one (earlier) in the Gulf of Finland, common in the Kiukainen pottery, which evolves into the Textile ware culture proper, and another which seems to have an origin in the Middle Volga region to the south-east.

The Netted ware culture is the one that apparently expands into inner Finland – a region not densely occupied by Corded Ware groups until then. There are, however, no clear boundaries between groups of both styles; textile impressions can be easily copied without much interaction or population movement; and the oldest textile ornamentation appeared on the Gulf of Finland. Hence the tradition of naming all as groups of Textile ceramics.

Maximum distribution of Textile ceramics during the Bronze Age (ca. 2000-800 BC). Asbestos-tempered ware lies to the north (and is also continued in western Fennoscandia).

The fact that different adjacent groups from the Gulf of Finland and Forest Zone share similar patterns making it very difficult to differentiate between ‘Netted Ware’ or ‘Textile Ware’ groups points to:

  • close cultural connections that are maintained through the Gulf of Finland and the Forest Zone after the evolution of late Corded Ware groups; and
  • no gross population movements in the original Battle Axe / Fatyanovo regions, except for the expansion of Netted Ware to inner Finland, Karelia, and the east, where the scattered Battle Axe finds and worsening climatic conditions suggest most CWC settlements disappeared at the end of the 3rd millennium BC and recovered only later.

NOTE. This lack of population movement – or at least significant replacement by external, non-CWC groups – is confirmed in genetic investigation by continuity of CWC-related lineages (see below).

The technology present in Textile ceramics is in clear contrast to local traditions of sub-Neolithic Lovozero and Pasvik cultures of asbestos-tempered pottery to the north and east, which point to a different tradition of knowledge and learning network – showing partial continuity with previous asbestos ware, since these territories host the main sources of asbestos. We have to assume that these cultures of northern and eastern Fennoscandia represent Palaeo-European (eventually also Palaeo-Siberian) groups clearly differentiated from the south.

The Chirkovo culture (ca. 1800-700 BC) forms on the middle Volga – at roughly the same time as Netted Ware formed to the west – from the fusion of Abashevo and Balanovo elites on Volosovo territory, and is also related (like Abashevo) to materials of the Seima-Turbino phenomenon.

Bronze Age ethnolinguistic groups

In the Gulf of Finland, Kiukainen evolves into the Paimio ceramics (in Finland) — Asva Ware (in Estonia) culture, which lasts from ca. 1600 to ca. 700 BC, probably representing an evolving Finno-Saamic community, while the Netted Ware from inner Finland (the Sarsa and Tomitsa groups) and the groups from the Forest Zone possibly represent a Volga-Finnic community.

NOTE. Nevertheless, the boundaries between Textile ceramic groups are far from clear, and inner Finland Netted Ware groups seem to follow a history different from Netted Ware groups from the Middle and Upper Volga, hence they could possibly be identified as an evolving Pre-Saamic community.

Based on language contacts, with Early Baltic – Early Finnic contacts starting during the Iron Age (ca. 500 BC onwards), this is a potential picture of the situation at the end of this period, when Germanic influence on the coast starts to fade, and Lusatian culture influence is stronger:

The linguistic situation in Lapland and the northern Baltic Sea Area in the Early Iron Age prior to the expansion of Saami languages; the locations of the language groups are schematic. The black line indicates the distribution of Saami languages in the 19th century, and the gray line their approximate maximal distribution before the expansion of Finnic. Aikio (2012)

The whole Finno-Permic community remains thus in close contact, allowing for the complicated picture that Kallio mentions as potentially showing Dahl’s wave model for Uralic languages.

Genetic data shows a uniform picture of these communities, with exclusively CWC-derived ancestry and haplogroups. So in Mittnik et al. (2018) all Baltic samples show R1a-Z645 subclades, while the recent session on Estonian populations in ISBA 8 (see programme in PDF) clearly states that:

[Of the 24 Bronze Age samples from stone-cist graves] all 18 Bronze Age males belong to R1a.

Regarding non-Uralic substrates found in Saami, supposedly absorbed during the expansion to the north (and thus representing languages spoken in northern Fennoscandia during the Bronze Age) this is what Aikio (2012) has to say:

The Saami substrate in the Finnish dialects thus reveals that also Lakeland Saami languages had a large number of vocabulary items of obscure origin. Most likely many of these words were substrate in Lakeland Saami, too, and ultimately derive from languages spoken in the region before Saami. In some cases the loan origin of these words is obvious due to their secondary Proto-Saami vowel combinations such as *ā–ë in *kāvë ‘bend; small bay’ and *šāpšë ‘whitefish’. This substrate can be called ‘Palaeo-Lakelandic’, in contrast to the ‘Palaeo-Laplandic’ substrate that is prominent in the lexicon of Lapland Saami. As the Lakeland Saami languages became extinct and only fragments of their lexicon can be reconstructed via elements preserved in Finnish place-names and dialectal vocabulary, we are not in a position to actually study the features of this Palaeo-Lakelandic substrate. Its existence, however, appears evident from the material above.

If we wanted to speculate further, based on the data we have now, it is very likely that two opposing groups will be found in the region:

A) The central Finnish group, in this hypothesis the Palaeo-Lakelandic group, made up of the descendants of the Mesolithic pioneers of the Komsa and Suomusjärvi cultures, and thus mainly Baltic HG / Scandinavian HG ancestry and haplogroups I / R1b(xM269) (see more on Scandinavian HG).

Frequency map of the so-called ‘Siberian’ component. From Tambets et al. (2018).

B) Lapland and Kola were probably also inhabited by similar Mesolithic populations, until it was eventually assimilated by expanding Siberian groups (of Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages) from the east – entering the region likely through the Kola peninsula – , forming the Palaeo-Laplandic group, which was in turn later replaced by expanding Proto-Saamic groups.

Siberian ancestry appears first in Fennoscandia at Bolshoy Oleni Ostrov ca. 1520 BC, with haplogroup N1c-L392 (2 samples, BOO002 and BOO004), and with Siberian ancestry. This is their likely movement in north-eastern Europe, from Lamnidis et al (2018):

The large Siberian component in the Bolshoy individuals from the Kola Peninsula provides the earliest direct genetic evidence for an eastern migration into this region. Such contact is well documented in archaeology, with the introduction of asbestos-mixed Lovozero ceramics during the second millenium BC, and the spread of even-based arrowheads in Lapland from 1,900 BCE. Additionally, the nearest counterparts of Vardøy ceramics, appearing in the area around 1,600-1,300 BCE, can be found on the Taymyr peninsula, much further to the east. Finally, the Imiyakhtakhskaya culture from Yakutia spread to the Kola Peninsula during the same period.

PCA plot of 113 Modern Eurasian populations, with individuals from this study projected on the principal components. Uralic speakers are highlighted in light purple. Image modified from Lamnidis et al. (2018)

Obviously, these groups of asbestos-tempered ware are not connected to the Uralic expansion. From the same paper:

The fact that the Siberian genetic component is consistently shared among Uralic-speaking populations, with the exceptions of Hungarians and the non-Uralic speaking Russians, would make it tempting to equate this component with the spread of Uralic languages in the area. However, such a model may be overly simplistic. First, the presence of the Siberian component on the Kola Peninsula at ca. 4000 yBP predates most linguistic estimates of the spread of Uralic languages to the area. Second, as shown in our analyses, the admixture patterns found in historic and modern Uralic speakers are complex and in fact inconsistent with a single admixture event. Therefore, even if the Siberian genetic component partly spread alongside Uralic languages, it likely presented only an addition to populations carrying this component from earlier.

2. The Early Iron Age

The Ananino culture appears in the Vyatka-Kama area, famed for its metallurgy, with traditions similar to the North Pontic area, by this time developing Pre-Sauromatian traditions. It expanded to the north in the first half of the first millennium BC, remaining in contact with the steppes, as shown by the ‘Scythian’ nature of its material culture.

NOTE. The Ananino culture can be later followed through its zoomorphic styles into Iron Age Pjanoborskoi and Gljadenovskoi cultures, later to Ural-Siberian Middle Age cultures – Itkuska, Ust’-Poluiska, Kulaiska cultures –, which in turn can be related as prototypes of medieval Permian styles.

Territory of (early and maximum) Ananino material culture. Vasilyev (2002).

At the same time as the Ananino culture begins to expand ca. 1000 BC, the Netted Ware tradition from the middle Oka expanded eastwards into the Oka-Vyatka interfluve of the middle Volga region, until then occupied by the Chirkovo culture. Eventually the Akozino or Akhmylovo group (ca. 800-300 BC) emerged from the area, showing a strong cultural influence from the Ananino culture, by that time already expanding into the Cis-Urals region.

The Akozino culture remains nevertheless linked to the western Forest Zone traditions, with long-ranging influences from as far as the Lusatian culture in Poland (in metallurgical techniques), which at this point is also closely related with cultures from Scandinavia (read more on genetics of the Tollense Valley).

Mälar celts and molds for casting (a) and the main distribution area (в) of Mälar-type celts of the Mälar type in the Volga-Kama region (according to Kuzminykh 1983: figure 92) and Scandinavia (according to Baudou 1960: Karte 10); Ananino celts and molds for casting (б) and the main distribution area (г) of the distribution of the celts of the Ananino type in the Volga-Kama area (according to Kuzminykh 1983: figure 9); dagger of Ananino type (д).Map from (Yushkova 2010)

Different materials from Akozino reach Fennoscandia late, at the end of the Bronze Age and beginning of the Early Iron Age, precisely when the influence of the Nordic Bronze Age culture on the Gulf of Finland was declining.

This is a period when Textile ceramic cultures in north-eastern Europe evolve into well-armed chiefdom-based groups, with each chiefdom including thousands or tens of thousands, with the main settlements being hill forts, and those in Fennoscandia starting ca. 1000-400 BC.

Mälar-type celts and Ananino-type celts appear simultaneously in Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone, with higher concentrations in south-eastern Sweden (Mälaren) and the Volga-Kama region, supporting the existence of a revived international trade network.

Distribution of the Akozino-Mälar axes according to Sergej V. Kuz’minykh (1996: 8, Abb. 2).

The Paimio—Asva Ware culture evolves (ca. 700-200 BC) into the Morby (in Finland) — Ilmandu syle (in Estonia, Latvia, and Mälaren) culture. The old Paimio—Asva tradition continues side by side with the new one, showing a clear technical continuity with it, but with ornamentation compared to the Early Iron Age cultures of the Upper Volga area. This new south-eastern influence is seen especially in:

  • Akozino-Mälar axes (ca. 800-500 BC): introduced into the Baltic area in so great numbers – especially south-western Finland, the Åland islands, and the Mälaren area of eastern Sweden – that it is believed to be accompanied by a movement of warrior-traders of the Akozino-Akhmylovo culture, following the waterways that Vikings used more than a thousand years later. Rather than imports, they represent a copy made with local iron sources.
  • Tarand graves (ca. 500 BC – AD 400): these ‘mortuary houses’ appear in the coastal areas of northern and western Estonia and the islands, at the same time as similar graves in south-western Finland, eastern Sweden, northern Latvia and Courland. Similar burials are found in Akozino-Akhmylovo, with grave goods also from the upper and middle Volga region, while grave goods show continuity with Textile ware.

The use of asbestos increases in mainland Finnish wares with Kjelmøy Ware (ca. 700 BC – AD 300), which replaced the Lovozero Ware; and in the east in inner Finland and Karelia with the Luukonsaari and Sirnihta wares (ca. 700-500 BC – AD 200), where they replaced the previous Sarsa-Tomitsa ceramics.

The Gorodets culture appears during the Scythian period in the forest-steppe zone north and west of the Volga, shows fortified settlements, and there are documented incursions of Gorodets iron makers into the Samara valley, evidenced by deposits of their typical pottery and a bloom or iron in the region.

Iron Age ethnolinguistic groups

According to (Koryakova and Epimakhov 2007):

It is commonly accepted by archaeology, ethnography, and linguistics that the ancestors of the Permian peoples (the Udmurts, Komi-Permians, and Komi-Zyryans) left the sites of Ananyino cultural intercommunity.

NOTE. For more information on the Late Metal Ages and Early Medieval situation of Finno-Ugric languages, see e.g. South-eastern contact area of Finnic languages in the light of onomastics (Rahkonen 2013).

Yakhr-, -khra, yedr-, -dra and yer-/yar, -er(o), -or(o) names of lakes in Central and North Russia and the possible boundary of the proto-language words *jäkra/ä and *järka/ä. Rahkonen (2011)

Certain innovations shared between Proto-Fennic (identified with the Gulf of Finland) and Proto-Mordvinic (from the Gorodets culture) point to their close contact before the Proto-Fennic expansion, and thus to the identification of Gorodets as Proto-Mordvinic, hence Akozino as Volgaic (Parpola 2018):

  • the noun paradigms and the form and function of individual cases,
  • the geminate *mm (foreign to Proto-Uralic before the development of Fennic under Germanic influence) and other non-Uralic consonant clusters.
  • the change of numeral *luka ‘ten’ with *kümmen.
  • The presence of loanwords of non-Uralic origin, related to farming and trees, potentially Palaeo-European in nature (hence possibly from Siberian influence in north-eastern Europe).
Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Purple area show likely zones of predominant Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages. Blue areas likely zones of predominant CWC ancestry and R1a-Z645 lineages. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of haplogroup N1c-L392 for centuries (Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia), found eventually in tarand graves. Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Fennic and (partially displaced) Saamic. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

The introduction of a strongly hierarchical chiefdom system can quickly change the pre-existing social order and lead to a major genetic shift within generations, without a radical change in languages, as shown in Sintashta-Potapovka compared to the preceding Poltavka society (read more about Sintashta).

Fortified settlements in the region represented in part visiting warrior-traders settled through matrimonial relationships with local chiefs, eager to get access to coveted goods and become members of a distribution network that could guarantee them even military assistance. Such a system is also seen synchronously in other cultures of the region, like the Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian cultures (Parpola 2013).

The most likely situation is that N1c subclades were incorporated from the Circum-Artic region during the Anonino (Permic) expansion to the north, later emerged during the formation of the Akozino group (Volgaic, under Anonino influence), and these subclades in turn infiltrated among the warrior traders that spread all over Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic (mainly among Fennic, Saamic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic peoples), during the age of hill forts, creating alliances partially based on exogamy strategies (Parpola 2013).

Over the course of these events, no language change is necessary in any of the cultures involved, since the centre of gravity is on the expanding culture incorporating new lineages:

  • first on the Middle Volga, when Ananino expands to the north, incorporatinig N1c lineages from the Circum-Artic region.
  • then with the expansion of the Akozino-Akhmylovo culture into Ananino territory, admixing with part of its population;
  • then on the Baltic region, when materials are imported from Akozino into Fennoscandia and the eastern Baltic (and vice versa), with local cultures being infiltrated by foreign (Akozino) warrior-traders and their materials;
  • and later with the different population movements that led eventually to a greater or lesser relevance of N1c in modern Finno-Permic populations.

To argue that this infiltration and later expansion of lineages changed the language in one culture in one of these events seems unlikely. To use this argument of “opposite movement of ethnic and language change” for different successive events, and only on selected regions and cultures (and not those where the greatest genetic and cultural impact is seen, like e.g. Sweden for Akozino materials) is illogical.

NOTE. Notice how I write here about “infiltration” and “lineages”, not “migration” or “populations”. To understand that, see below the next section on autosomal studies to compare Bronze Age, Iron Age, Medieval and Modern Estonians, and see how little the population of Estonia (homeland of Proto-Fennic and partially of Proto-Finno-Saamic) has changed since the Corded Ware migrations, suggesting genetic continuity and thus mostly close inter-regional and intra-regional contacts in the Forest Zone, hence a very limited impact of the absorbed N1c lineages (originally at some point incorporated from the Circum-Artic region). You can also check on the most recent assessment of R1a vs. N1c in modern Uralic populations.

Iron Age and later populations

From the session on Estonian samples on ISBA 8, by Tambets et al.:

[Of the 13 samples from the Iron Age tarand-graves] We found that the Iron Age individuals do in fact carry chrY hg N3 (…) Furthermore, based on their autosomal data, all of the studied individuals appear closer to hunter-gatherers and modern Estonians than Estonian CWC individuals do.

EDIT (16 OCT) A recent abstract with Saag as main author (Tambets second) cites 3 out of 5 sampled Iron Age individuals as having haplogroup N3.

PCA of Estonian samples from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Medieval times. Tambets et al. (2018, upcoming).

Looking at the plot, the genetic inflow marking the change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age looks like an obvious expansion of nearby peoples with CWC-related ancestry, i.e. likely from the south-east, near the Middle Volga, where influence of steppe peoples is greater (hence likely Akozino) into a Proto-Fennic population already admixed (since the arrival of Corded Ware groups) with Comb Ware-like populations.

All of these groups were probably R1a-Z645 (likely R1a-Z283) since the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, with an introduction of some N1c lineages precisely during this Iron Age period. This infiltration of N1c-L392 with Akozino is obviously not directly related to Siberian cultures, given what we know about the autosomal description of Estonian samples.

Rather, N1c-L392 lineages were likely part of the incoming (Volgaic) Akozino warrior-traders, who settled among developing chiefdoms based on hill fort settlements of cultures all over the Baltic area, and began to appear thus in some of the new tarand graves associated with the Iron Age in north-eastern Europe.f

A good way to look at this is to realize that no new cluster appears compared to the data we already have from Baltic LN and BA samples from Mittnik et al. (2018), so the Estonian BA and IA clusters must be located (in a proper PCA) in the cline from Pit-Comb Ware culture through Baltic BA to Corded Ware groups:

PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis reflecting three time periods in Northern European prehistory. a Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). Population labels of modern West Eurasians are given in Supplementary Fig. 7 and a zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples is provided in Supplementary Fig. 8. b Ancestral components in ancient individuals estimated by ADMIXTURE (k = 11)

This genetic continuity from Corded Ware (the most likely Proto-Uralic homeland) to the Proto-Fennic and Proto-Saamic communities in the Gulf of Finland correlates very well with the known conservatism of Finno-Saamic phonology, quite similar to Finno-Ugric, and both to Proto-Uralic (Kallio 2017): The most isolated region after the expansion of Corded Ware peoples, the Gulf of Finland, shielded against migrations for almost 1,500 years, is then the most conservative – until the arrival of Akozino influence.

NOTE. This has its parallel in the phonetic conservatism of Celtic or Italic compared to Finno-Ugric-influenced Germanic, Balto-Slavic, or Indo-Iranian.

Only later would certain regions (like Finland or Lappland) suffer Y-DNA bottlenecks and further admixture events associated with population displacements and expansions, such as the spread of Fennic peoples from their Estonian homeland (evidenced by the earlier separation of South Estonian) to the north and east:

The Finnic family tree. Kallio (2014).

The initial Proto-Fennic expansion was probably coupled with the expansion of Proto-Saami to the north, with the Kjelmøy Ware absorbing the Siberian population of Lovozero Ware, and potentially in inner Finland and Karelia with the Luukonsaari and Sirnihta wares (Carpelan and Parpola 2017).

This Proto-Saami population expansion from the mainland to the north, admixing with Lovozero-related peoples, is clearly reflected in the late Iron Age Saamic samples from Levänluhta (ca. 400-800 AD), as a shift (of 2 out of 3 samples) to Siberian-like ancestry from their original CWC_Baltic-like situation (see PCA from Lamnidis et al. 2018 above).

Also, Volgaic and Permic populations from inner Finland and the Forest Zone to the Cis-Urals and Circum-Artic regions probably incorporate Siberian ancestry and N1c-L392 lineages during these and later population movements, while the westernmost populations – Estonian, Mordvinic – remain less admixed (see PCA from Tambets et al. 2018 below).

We also have data of N1c-L392 in Nordic territory in the Middle Ages, proving its likely strong presence in the Mälaren area since the Iron Age, with the arrival of Akozino warrior traders. Similarly, it is found among Balto-Slavic groups along the eastern Baltic area. Obviously, no language change is seen in Nordic Bronze Age and Lusatian territory, and none is expected in Estonian or Finnish territory, either.

Therefore, no “N1c-L392 + Siberian ancestry” can be seen expanding Finno-Ugric dialects, but rather different infiltrations and population movements with limited effects on ancestry and Y-DNA composition, depending on the specific period and region.

Selection of the PCA, with the group of Estonians, Mordovians, and Hungarians selected. See Tambets et al. (2018) for more information.

An issue never resolved

Because N1c-L392 subclades & Siberian ancestry, which appear in different proportions and with different origins among some modern Uralic peoples, do not appear in cultures supposed to host Uralic-speaking populations until the Iron Age, people keep looking into any direction to find the ‘true’ homeland of those ‘Uralic N1c peoples’? Kind of a full circular reasoning, anyone? The same is valid for R1a & steppe ancestry being followed for ‘Indo-Europeans’, or R1b-P312 & Neolithic farmer ancestry being traced for ‘Basques’, because of their distribution in modern populations.

I understand the caution of many pointing to the need to wait and see how samples after 2000 BC are like, in every single period, from the middle and upper Volga, Kama, southern Finland, and the Forest Zone between Fennoscandia and the steppe. It’s like waiting to see how people from Western Yamna and the Carpathian Basin after 3000 BC look like, to fill in what is lacking between East Yamna and Bell Beakers, and then between them and every single Late PIE dialect.

But the answer for Yamna-Bell Beaker-Poltavka peoples during the Late PIE expansion is always going to be “R1b-L23, but with R1a-Z645 nearby” (we already have a pretty good idea about that); and the answer for the Forest Zone and northern Cis- and Trans-Urals area – during the time when Uralic languages are known to have already been spoken there – is always going to be “R1a-Z645, but with haplogroup N nearby”, as is already clear from the data on the eastern Baltic region.

So, without a previously proposed model as to where those amateurs expressing concern about ‘not having enough data’ expect to find those ‘Uralic peoples’, all this waiting for the right data looks more like a waiting for N1c and Siberian ancestry to pop up somewhere in the historic Uralic-speaking area, to be able to say “There! A Uralic-speaking male!”. Not a very reasonable framework to deal with prehistoric peoples and their languages, I should think.

But, for those who want to do that, let me break the news to you already:

First N1c – Finno-Ugric person arrives in Estonia to teach Finno-Saamic to Balto-Slavic peoples.

And here it is, an appropriate fantasy description of the ethnolinguistic groups from the region. You are welcome:

  • During the Bronze Age, late Corded Ware groups evolve as the western Textile ware Fennic Balto-Slavic group in the Gulf of Finland; the Netted Ware Saamic Balto-Slavic group of inner Finland; the south Netted Ware / Akozino Volgaic Balto-Slavic groups of the Middle Volga; and the Anonino Permic Balto-Slavic group in the north-eastern Forest Zone; all developing still in close contact with each other, allowing for common traits to permeate dialects.
  • These Balto-Slavic groups would then incorporate west of the Urals during and after the Iron Age (ca. 800-500 BC first, and also later during their expansion to the north) limited ancestry and lineages from eastern European hunter-gatherer groups of Palaeo-European Fennic and Palaeo-Siberian Volgaic and Permic languages from the Circum-Artic region, but they adopted nevertheless the language of the newcomers in every single infiltration of N1c lineages and/or admixture with Siberian ancestry. Oh and don’t forget the Saamic peoples from central Sweden, of course, the famous N1c-L392 ‘Rurikid’ lineages expanding Saamic to the north and replacing Proto-Germanic…

The current model for those obsessed with modern Y-DNA is, therefore, that expanding Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures from north-eastern Europe adopted the languages of certain lineages originally from sub-Neolithic (Scandinavian and Siberian) hunter-gatherer populations of the Circum-Artic region; lineages that these cultures incorporated unevenly during their expansions. Hmmmm… Sounds like an inverse Western movie, where expanding Americans end up speaking Apache, and the eastern coast speaks Spanish until Italian migrants arrive and make everyone speak English… or something. A logic, no-nonsense approach to ethnolinguistic identification.

I kid you not, this is the kind of models we are going to see very soon. In 2018 and 2019, with ancient DNA able to confirm or reject archaeological hypotheses based on linguistic data, people will keep instead creating new pet theories to support preconceived ideas based on the Y-DNA prevalent among modern populations. That is, information available in the 2000s.

So what’s (so much published) ancient DNA useful for, exactly?

[Next post on the subject: Corded Ware—Uralic (III): Seima-Turbino and the Ugric and Samoyedic expansion]


The fast spread of Neolithic farmers in the western Mediterranean

Recent open access Symbols in motion: Flexible cultural boundaries and the fast spread of the Neolithic in the western Mediterranean, by Rigaud, Manen, García-Martínez de Lagrán, PLOS One (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The rapid diffusion of farming technologies in the western Mediterranean raises questions about the mechanisms that drove the development of intensive contact networks and circulation routes between incoming Neolithic communities. Using a statistical method to analyze a brand-new set of cultural and chronological data, we document the large-scale processes that led to variations between Mediterranean archaeological cultures, and micro-scale processes responsible for the transmission of cultural practices within farming communities. The analysis of two symbolic productions, pottery decorations and personal ornaments, shed light on the complex interactions developed by Early Neolithic farmers in the western Mediterranean area. Pottery decoration diversity correlates with local processes of circulation and exchange, resulting in the emergence and the persistence of stylistic and symbolic boundaries between groups, while personal ornaments reflect extensive networks and the high level of mobility of Early Neolithic farmers. The two symbolic productions express different degrees of cultural interaction that may have facilitated the successful and rapid expansion of early farming societies in the western Mediterranean.

Mean Inverse Distance Weighting (IDW) interpolation of the first two axes of the Principal Coordinates Analysis (Figure D in S1 File). Diversity of the pottery attributes (A) and bead-type associations (B) express two different cultural geographies. Maps were made by S. R. using the software QGIS 2.6.1 and Etopo1 Digital Elevation Model [110].
The maps of interpolated pottery decorative techniques and bead-type diversities throughout the western Mediterranean show the highest interpolated values in southern Italy (Fig B). Hotspots restricted to the east of the Rhône Valley in southern France and eastern Iberia are also visible on the map of bead-type association diversity. Conversely, southern France and eastern Iberia are characterized by lower interpolated values on the map of pottery decorative techniques diversity (Fig A).


Our results shed light on the cultural mechanisms responsible for the complex cultural geography of the western Mediterranean during the transition to farming. Pottery decorations participated in restrained networks in which geographical proximity and local processes of transmission played an influential role. Bead-type associations were used to tell multiple stories about social identities, were especially resistant to change and are characterized by a greater stability through time and space. The high level of cultural connection between the early farming communities favored movement, interaction and exploration and likely represented a successful strategy for their rapid expansion in the western Mediterranean. Cultural boundaries persisted despite a flow of individuals and symbolic transfer across them.

Genetic studies indicate that the last foragers and the first farmers developed social and cultural relationships more closely tied than previously indicated through components of the material culture [139]. Biological data and chronological models support a pattern of diffusion implying geographically discontinuous contacts between local foragers and incoming farmers, but repeated in time [9,140,141]. This process of diffusion conjointly occurred with changes in material culture, including pottery decorations and personal ornaments. Pottery production represents a technological innovation mostly associated with the Neolithic way of life in the western Mediterranean. Pottery decorations were likely particularly sensitive to interactions, leading to their high variability in time and space in order to reinforce group membership. Conversely, personal ornaments were less inclined to change in space and time. Their production by both local foragers and incoming farmers implies different cultural readjustments that led to a completely different pattern of variation in time and space. The preservation of the foragers’ personal ornament styles (and likely also meanings) within emerging farming communities [20,58] has probably contributed to the maintenance of their stability through time and space.

The two symbolic productions appear as a polythetic set of cultural behaviors dedicated to mediating early farmer identities in many ways, and personal ornaments likely reflected the most entrenched and lasting facets of farmers’ ethnicity.

This research is similar to the recent one by Kılınç et al. (2018) studying the same processes initially in Anatolia and the Aegean. With this one it may also be concluded that Archaeology is necessary to assess meaningful cultural (and thus potential ethnolinguistic) change, beyond gross genetic inflows, even in the case of the Near Eastern farmer expansion waves.


Lazaridis’ evolutionary history of human populations in Europe

Preprint of a review by Iosif Lazaridis, The evolutionary history of human populations in Europe.

Interesting excerpts:

Steppe populations during the Eneolithic to Bronze Age were a mix of at least two elements[28], the EHG who lived in eastern Europe ~8kya and a southern population element related to present-day Armenians[28], and ancient Caucasus hunter-gatherers[22], and farmers from Iran[24]. Steppe migrants made a massive impact in Central and Northern Europe post- 5kya[28,43]. Some of them expanded eastward, founding the Afanasievo culture[43] and also eventually reached India[24]. These expansions are probable vectors for the spread of Late Proto-Indo-European[44] languages from eastern Europe into both mainland Europe and parts of Asia, but the lack of steppe ancestry in the few known samples from Bronze Age Anatolia[45] raises the possibility that the steppe was not the ultimate origin of Proto-Indo-European (PIE), the common ancestral language of Anatolian speakers, Tocharians, and Late Proto-Indo Europeans. In the next few years this lingering mystery will be solved: either Anatolian speakers will be shown to possess steppe-related ancestry absent in earlier Anatolians (largely proving the steppe PIE hypothesis), or they will not (largely falsifying it, and pointing to a Near Eastern PIE homeland).

Our understanding of the spread of steppe ancestry into mainland Europe is becoming increasingly crisp. Samples from the Bell Beaker complex[46] are heterogeneous, with those from Iberia lacking steppe ancestry that was omnipresent in those from Central Europe, casting new light on the “pots vs. people” debate in archaeology, which argues that it is dangerous to propose a tight link between material culture and genetic origins. Nonetheless, it is also dangerous to dismiss it completely. Recent studies have shown that people associated with the Corded Ware culture in the Baltics[23,33] were genetically similar to those from Central Europe and to steppe pastoralists[28,43], and the people associated with the Bell Beaker culture in Britain traced ~90% of their ancestry to the continent, being highly similar to Bell Beaker populations there. Bell Beaker-associated individuals were bearers of steppe ancestry into the British Isles that was also present in Bronze Age Ireland[47], and Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon England[48]. The high genetic similarity between people from the British Isles and those of the continent makes it more difficult to trace migrations into the Isles. This high similarity masks a very detailed fine-scale population structure that has been revealed by study of present-day individuals[49]; a similar type of analysis applied to ancient DNA has the potential to reveal fine-grained population structure in ancient European populations as well.

Steppe ancestry did arrive into Iberia during the Bronze Age[50], but to a much lesser degree. A limited effect of steppe ancestry in Iberia is also shown by the study of mtDNA[51], which shows no detectible change during the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age[51], in contrast to central Europe[52]. Sex-biased gene flow has been implicated in the spread of steppe ancestry into Europe[33,53], although the presence and extent of such bias has been debated[54,55]. One aspect of the demographies of males and females was clearly different, as paternally-inherited Y-chromosome lineages experienced a bottleneck <10 kya which is not evident in maternally-inherited mtDNA[56], suggesting that many men living today trace their patrilineal ancestry to a relatively small number of men of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

Modified image, from the preprint. “A sketch of European evolutionary history based on ancient DNA. Bronze Age Europeans (~4.5-3kya) were a mixture of mainly two proximate sources of ancestry: (i) the Neolithic farmers of ~8-5kya who were themselves variable mixtures of farmers from Anatolia and hunter-gatherers of mainland Europe (WHG), and (ii) Bronze Age steppe migrants of ~5kya who were themselves a mixture of hunter-gatherers of eastern Europe (EHG) and southern populations from the Near East (…)”

Firstly, Tocharian (mentioned side by side with Anatolian and LPIE) has been discussed by linguists for quite some time now to be a more archaizing language than the rest, hence the linguistic proposal that it separated first – found to correspond beautifully with the expansion of Khvalynsk/Repin into Afanasevo – ; but it separated first from the common Late PIE trunk. Anatolian clearly separated earlier, from a Middle PIE stage.

Secondly, while Genomics could no doubt falsify the Balkan route for Anatolian, and make us come back to a Maykop route from the steppe (or even a Near Eastern PIE homeland, who knows), I doubt such falsification could come simply from sampled “Anatolian speakers”:

If there is no steppe ancestry in Anatolian speakers (of the 2nd millennium BC), a dismissal of the mainstream migration model could happen only when both potential routes of expansion, the selected cultures from the Balkans and the Caucasus, are sampled in the appropriate time period since the estimated separation (i.e. from the 5th millennium BC), until one of both routes shows the right migration picture.

On the other hand, if some samples from either Romania/Bulgaria or the Caucasus (and/or Anatolian speakers) show steppe ancestry and/or R1b-M269 lineages, as is expected, then the matter won’t need much more explanation.

In fact, the text goes on to define how male lineages experienced a bottleneck after ca. 8000 BC, i.e. accompanying Neolithisation – probably including the formation of Sredni Stog and early Khvalynsk, as it is becoming now clear – , when explaining how it is possible to demonstrate that East Bell Beaker migrants (of R1b-L23 lineages, it is to be understood) with few steppe ancestry reached Iberia.

This was already pointed out not long ago by David Reich, and I am glad to see more scholars showing the importance of taking phylogeography into account over statistical methods when assessing migrations, even if it is only used in those cases in which it does not disrupt too much previous interpretations, like that of the 2015 papers and the proposal of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’.

I found it refreshing that for the first time Corded Ware migrants – or, rather, their shared genetic relationship with Eneolithic steppe groups – were accepted (if only indirectly) as a confounding factor in assessing migrations of Bell Beakers. It is a step in the right direction, and it is a relief to read this from someone working with the Reich Lab.

Not just a few (and not only amateurs) are still scratching their heads trying to explain with the most imaginative (and unnecessary) novel migration routes the elevated steppe ancestry and closer relation (PCA cluster, FST, F3, etc.) to CWC and Yamna (due evidently to the absorbed CWC population) in some of the recently published Bell Beaker samples from Central Europe, the Netherlands, and later in Great Britain, compared to samples of South-East Europe near the Middle to Upper Danube region, the obvious homeland of East Bell Beakers, formed from Yamna settlers.

I found it also interesting that Lazaridis mentioned a southern population element related to CHG and Iran farmers. This should help dissipate the hype that some have artificially created as of late over a potential Northern Iranian homeland based on a single paragraph from David Reich’s book.

EDIT (9 MAY 2018). Lazaridis posted an answer to my questioning of potential Proto-Anatolian origins divided in tweets (I post a link to the first tweet, then the text in full):

The steppe hypothesis predicts some genetic input from eastern Europe (EHG) to Anatolia.

– Bronze Age Anatolians (Lazaridis et al. 2017) from historically IE-speaking Pisidia lack EHG; more samples obviously needed


  1. Additional Anatolian samples will have EHG: consistent with steppe PIE
  2. Additional Anatolian samples will not have EHG, then either:
    1. Steppe not PIE homeland
    2. Steppe PIE homeland but linguistic impact in Anatolia vastly greater than genetic impact

Tentative steppe->Anatolia movements reach Balkans early (Mathieson et al. 2018) and Armenia (some EHG in Lazaridis et al. 2016).

But not the last leg to Anatolia_ChL (Lazaridis et al. 2016) or Anatolia_BA (Lazaridis et al. 2017).

  • If Anatolians consistently don’t have EHG, steppe PIE is very difficult to affirm; Near Eastern alternative likely (contributing CHG/Iran_N-related ancestry to both western Anatolia/steppe)
  • If Anatolians have EHG, one could further investigate by what route they got it.

One way or another PIE homeland problem is almost solved IMHO, which is what my review tries to get at in that short section


North-Eastern Europe in the Stone Age – bridging the gap between the East and the West


Interesting PhD thesis The Stone Age of north-eastern Europe 5500–1800 calBC : bridging the gap between the East and the West by Kerkko Nordqvist (2018).

Some interesting excerpts:

On the Corded Ware and related cultures

The arrival of Corded Ware is without a doubt the clearest example of migration recognized in Finnish Stone Age archaeology. Its appearance has been understood to result from the movement of a new population from the southern or southeastern Baltic Sea area to the southern and western coasts of Finland (Europaeus 1922: 137; Luho 1948: 57; Edgren 1970: 62; Matiskainen 1994: 14) (Fig. 36). Native inhabitants of the coastal region — presented as representatives of Comb Ware population — have rarely been given any larger role in this development (Luoto 1986: 19; Asplund 1995: 74; see also Article III), and their fate has usually been described as displacement, assimilation or some kind of co-existence (Äyräpää 1952a: 24–25; Edgren 1997: 169–171; Carpelan 1999: 263–264; Núñez 2004: 362).

Another important part of the Finnish narrative is the distance that the Corded Ware population assumedly kept, not only from the (Pöljä Ware-producing) hunter-gatherers inhabiting the Finnish inland, but also from the other Corded Ware groups in the northern Baltic Sea area (Edgren 1970: 61; Äyräpää 1973: 199, 207; Carpelan 1999: 266).56 The image of Finnish Corded Ware is static: it is seen to exist in the area of present-day Finland facing little change for centuries (Edgren 1992: 96; see also Luoto 1986: 17; Matiskainen 1994). However, the archaic nature assigned to Corded Ware derives greatly from the out-dated idea of pan-European A-horizon, unrealistic dating given for the phenomenon, as well as an overly narrow view of cultural dynamics concerning what can be accepted as Corded Ware (cf. Furholt 2014; Article III).

The only larger change has been connected to the so-called 2nd wave of Corded Ware, supposedly reaching Finnish coasts from Estonia towards the end of Corded Ware’s existence. However, this event has never really been substantiated, and in Finnish assemblages it seems to materialize only through the so-called sharp-butted axes (see Soikkeli 1912; Äyräpää 1952b: 89–90) (Fig. 37) — pottery related to the 2nd wave has never been presented, although its influences are recognized in later pottery types (Carpelan 1979: 15; Carpelan et al. 2008: 206; see also Lavento 2001: 24–25). Along the northern limit of Corded Ware, in the so-called Middle Zone, the 2nd wave assumedly contributed to the creation of hybrid pottery, which in the earlier research has been vaguely called Middle or Intermediate Zone Ceramics (Carpelan 1979: 15; 2004b: 52). More recently it has been proposed that such mixing of influences and hybridization would have started immediately or soon after the arrival of Corded Ware at least on the south-eastern coast and the Karelian Isthmus, and influences would have been transmitted towards the inland and the middle-zone, too (see Mökkönen 2011: 62–63; Article III; see also Carpelan 1999: 262).

Distribution of the so-called Middle and Late Neolithic asbestos- and organictempered wares. Organic admixtures were commonly used in wide regions to the east and south-east of the research area during this time as well, but asbestos-tempered pottery has only occasionally been reported from areas further east of Lake Onega, the Vologda and Arkhangelsk Oblasts (see Ошибкина 1978; Козырева 1983; Жульников 2007). Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

On assumed early Corded Ware materials in North-East Europe

The emergence of Corded Ware was previously dated in Finland as early as 3200 calBC (Edgren 1992: 92; Matiskainen 1994: 14; Carpelan 2004b: 48–49). The age was based on a few conventional dates from mixed contexts, and has been lately readjusted to around 2900–2800 calBC (Mökkönen 2011: 17–18; Article III). This has not only moved the dating closer to the initial dates given to Corded Ware in Europe (Włodarczak 2009), but also changed the cultural context into which Corded Ware may have arrived in north-eastern Europe. The old dating permitted the assumption of a temporal overlap with Typical/Late Comb Ware (see Edgren 1970: 59–60; see also Carpelan 1999: 262) — with regards to the new dating, even if the Comb Ware tradition continued in some form to the 3rd millennium calBC, it is really not known how the coastal societies transformed and what they looked like during this time. All in all, only a few sites have been securely dated to the 3200–2800 calBC period, which makes estimating all the mechanisms through which Corded Ware was established quite complicated.

Most Corded Ware materials derive from mixed, multi-period settlement contexts, which explain the generally limited knowledge about Corded Ware assemblages. Pottery is the most commonly identified element, although its study has been heavily concentrated on beakers and beaker-like cups: apart from so-called short-wave moulded vessels, household pottery is not much recognized (Edgren 1970: 25–26; see Nordqvist & Häkälä 2014: 18–19). Furthermore, apart from individual remarks, organic tempers have been excluded from the Corded Ware technological repertoire in Finland (Edgren 1970: 33; Korkeakoski- Väisänen 1993: 15) — as shown in Article III, organic-tempered Corded Ware is present at least on the Finnish southern coast and the Karelian Isthmus, and has been reported from Southern Ostrobothnia as well. Organic-tempered pottery found in southern Finland is similar to the so-called Estonian (or Late) Corded Ware, which is thought to be the result of local development (Янитс 1959: 166; Kriiska 2000: 75; see also Kholkina 2017: 155) (Fig. 38). Even preliminary mapping of such pottery (Finnish data is still based on non-systematic survey) shows that an interaction sphere existed in the eastern Gulf of Finland area, reaching from Estonia to the areas of present-day Finland and the Karelian Isthmus in Russia (Article III) (Fig. 36). Sharp-butted axes fit well into this context: rather than being an indication of some ambivalent and unidirectional 2nd wave of influence, they provide better evidence of more continuous contacts across the sea.

The origins and spread of Corded Ware have become highly topical in the last few years with the development of analytical techniques such as genetic and isotopic research (Allentoft et al. 2015; Haak et al. 2015; Sjögren et al. 2016; Kristiansen et al. 2017). Generally, archaeogenetic studies have evidenced large population replacements in Europe, and seem to provide solid support for migration — still, numerous problems related to representativity and interpretation of the data remain to be solved (see Vander Linden 2016; Heyd 2017; Ion 2017). No material is available for such studies from the research area, as no bones have been preserved in the excavated burials. The closest analysed and published individuals from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Allentoft et al. 2015; Jones et al. 2017; Mittnik et al. 2018; Saag et al. 2017) show that the development of Corded Ware in the Baltic States clearly involved newcomers. At the same time, archaeological materials from north-eastern Europe also indicate the input and presence of indigenous people — settling this discrepancy between different source materials is an important task for future research.

On modern political borders and preconceptions defining archaeological cultures

The results presented above illustrate how the modern political borders may appear to be present in the past. For Finnish prehistory they mean also that instead of one ‘Finnish’ group, there are several Corded Ware populations operational within the present-day state. Recent geochemical analyses of clay pastes and grog tempers of Corded Ware have pointed towards the existence of different pottery recipes in different parts of Finland, as well as towards connections and movement across the northern Baltic Sea area (Holmqvist et al. 2018).

The area of Battle Axe/Corded Ware cultures (shaded), with the traditional limit of Finnish Corded Ware shown as a solid line. The distribution of organic-tempered (Estonian) Corded Ware is marked with a dashed line, while the so-called Middle Zone is indicated roughly by hatching. Illustration: K. Nordqvist.

In the present-day Russian territory, a Corded Ware presence has been recognized on the Karelian Isthmus (Крайнов 1987b: 61, Карта 6). In Finnish archaeology this area has been mostly considered a periphery of Finnish Corded Ware (Äyräpää 1952a: 22–23; 1973: 207; Meinander 1954a: 151–152; Huurre 2003: 236; Carpelan et al. 2008: 206), but the identification of organic-tempered Cored Ware in areas north of the Gulf (as well as mapping of all stray finds; Nordqvist & Häkälä 2014; Article III) shows that a Corded Ware presence on the Isthmus was stronger than thought. In other words, the normative perception of culture and strong presuppositions of what Corded Ware should be has led to the exclusion of part of the material culturethe Karelian Isthmus was not just a subsidiary area of Finnish Corded Ware, but a region with its own character and tradition.

No Corded Ware pottery finds have been reported in the areas north of Lake Ladoga. The solitary Corded Ware influences noted in simultaneous Karelian pottery have been connected with the central Russian Fatyanovo culture (Жульников 1999: 53–54; 2008: 419). Because the Fatyanovo territory extends close to the research area in the east and south-east (see Крайнов 1987b: 61, Карта 6; see also Жульников 2008: 417, Рис. 3), it is not surprising that recent studies have revealed evidence of connections between the eastern Gulf of Finland and central Russian battle axe cultures (Kriiska et al. 2015: 47; Крийска et al. 2015: 201; Article III; see also Kholkina 2017: 154–155).

People prefer ethnolinguistic identification “large and early”

The East has been mostly contextualized through the cultural entity perceived to exist between the Baltic Sea and the Urals, i.e. the ‘Comb Ware cultural sphere’. Its binding elements have been kinship- and exchange-based connections, which would have transmitted influences over this vast area. Karelia, the closest-lying region of the East, has been occasionally mentioned as an important area of influence (Tallgren 1938b; Äyräpää 1944), but generally it has not been given any prominent position in the narratives. In fact, Karelia and much of the Comb Ware sphere gained their insignia and paraphernalia already during the first half of the 20th century, and only fairly petrified stereotypes have been presented in the subsequent literature.

On the arrival of the Metal Ages, influence from Pre-Proto-Germanic, and the reasons for the genetic bottleneck

Periodization-wise the question is straightforward: the Neolithic ends with the onset of the Early Metal Period, the Eneolithic (in Russia) and the Bronze Age (in Finland).

A much larger problem affecting the study of transition has been the general decrease and even lack of archaeological material pertaining to this time. This situation prevails in large areas from the later 3rd millennium calBC onwards and is accentuated during the 2nd millennium calBC. The disappearance of archaeological evidence has been explained by decreasing population numbers which would have been caused by the deteriorating climate (Lavento 2015: 125; see also Sundell 2014). Nevertheless, in the territory of present-day Finland the abundant number of burial cairns (see Meinander 1954b: 89–120; Saipio 2011) as well as pollen analyses showing anthropogenic activities dating to this time (see Alenius et al. 2009; Augustson et al. 2013) indicate that no complete depopulation took place. Therefore, in addition to sparse habitation, the change must be explained also through changing ways of living and material cultures, which make the material remains more difficult to identify archaeologically (also Lavento 2015: 125, 132).

The changes taking place during this time seem to be connected to external influences. On the coast, the Kiukainen culture is thought to have transformed under Scandinavian influences into the so-called Western Bronze Age, exhibiting changes in their settlements, material culture, means of subsistence and their world view (Meinander 1954b: 196–197; Lavento 2015: 198–199). Development further east, in the areas previously occupied by populations producing asbestos and organic-tempered wares, is characterized by the appearance of so-called Textile Ware, apparently introduced there by a new population originating from the south-east and ultimately from the Volga region (Meinander 1954b; Гурина 1961; Косменко 1992; Lavento 2001). Even though it is not clear what the relationships between the carriers of this new tradition and the local populations were (did the latter perish, assimilate, or coexist?), it is evident that changes took place in all fields of life — and the traditional image of an archaic, static inland is not considered correct anymore (see Saipio 2008; Lavento 2015). However, this does not imply one synchronous or abrupt change or a complete turnover but, for example, traditional forms of subsistence held their ground alongside (slash and burn) agriculture for centuries, even millennia to come.

All in all, a complex account of events in North-East Europe that will define the ethnolinguistic identification of Corded Ware migrants.


Population size potentially affecting rates of language change


Open access Population Size and the Rate of Language Evolution: A Test Across Indo-European, Austronesian, and Bantu Languages, by Greenhill et al. Front. Psychol (2018) 9:576.

Summary (emphasis mine):

What role does speaker population size play in shaping rates of language evolution? There has been little consensus on the expected relationship between rates and patterns of language change and speaker population size, with some predicting faster rates of change in smaller populations, and others expecting greater change in larger populations. The growth of comparative databases has allowed population size effects to be investigated across a wide range of language groups, with mixed results. One recent study of a group of Polynesian languages revealed greater rates of word gain in larger populations and greater rates of word loss in smaller populations. However, that test was restricted to 20 closely related languages from small Oceanic islands. Here, we test if this pattern is a general feature of language evolution across a larger and more diverse sample of languages from both continental and island populations. We analyzed comparative language data for 153 pairs of closely-related sister languages from three of the world’s largest language families: Austronesian, Indo-European, and Niger-Congo. We find some evidence that rates of word loss are significantly greater in smaller languages for the Indo-European comparisons, but we find no significant patterns in the other two language families. These results suggest either that the influence of population size on rates and patterns of language evolution is not universal, or that it is sufficiently weak that it may be overwhelmed by other influences in some cases. Further investigation, for a greater number of language comparisons and a wider range of language features, may determine which of these explanations holds true.

Interesting excerpts:

Our analysis suggests that, as for Polynesian languages, smaller Indo-European languages have greater rates of word loss from basic vocabulary. This result is consistent with the claim that smaller populations are at greater risk of loss of language elements, and other aspects of culture, due to effects of incomplete sampling of variants over generations. However, we note that the relatively small sample size for this dataset complicates the interpretation of this result. Least squares regression after Welch & Waxman test has the same false positive rate but has much less power than Poisson regression when sample size is small (~ten or fewer pairs, Hua et al., 2015). This makes it difficult to interpret the inconsistent results of these two analyses, as they may be due to their difference in the statistical power. Hence, the negative relationship between rates of loss and population size for Indo-European languages would benefit from additional investigation. We do not find evidence for a negative relationship between population size and word loss rates in the Austronesian and Bantu groups. This finding suggests that either these datasets contain too few language variants to have sufficient power to detect rate differences, or that the increased loss rate in small populations is not a universal phenomenon, or that it is a relatively weak force in some language groups and thus may be overwhelmed by other social, linguistic or demographic factors.

Regarding potential drawbacks of the study:

[M]easuring speech community size is notoriously difficult. How exactly does one delimit a speech community (Crystal, 2008) and what degree of proficiency in a language is sufficient to be part of the community (Bloomfield, 1933)? This task is made harder as there are few national censuses that collect detailed speaker statistics. Further, speaker population size can change rapidly with many modern world languages (especially the Indo-European languages) experiencing rapid growth over the last few hundred years (Crystal, 2008), while others have experienced catastrophic declines (Bowern, 2010). For the same reasons, the difficulty of obtaining accurate population estimates is also a problem in biology. Furthermore, the relevant parameter for genetic change—the effective population size—is difficult to estimate directly, even when accurate census information is available (Wang et al., 2016). Likewise, there may be an important role played by population and network density—tight-knit networks may inhibit change, while loosely integrated speech communities (regardless of their size), may facilitate change (Granovetter, 1973; Milroy and Milroy, 1992). One way forward here is perhaps to simulate rates of change over a range of population sizes and network topologies (c.f. Reali et al., 2018).

As conclusions:

Firstly, we provide some evidence that rates of language change can be affected by demographic factors. Even if the effect is not universal, the finding of significant associations between population size and patterns of linguistic change in some languages urges caution for any analysis of language evolution that makes an assumption of uniform rates of change. These results also potentially provide a window on processes of language change in these lineages, providing further impetus to investigate the effect of number of speakers on patterns of language transmission and loss. A more detailed study of language change for a larger number of comparisons might clarify the relationship between population size and word loss rates, particularly within the Indo-European language family.

Secondly, we have shown that the significant patterns of language change identified in a previous study are not a universal phenomenon. Unlike the study of Polynesian languages, we did not find any significant relationships between word gain rate and population size, and the association between loss rates and population size was not evident for all language families analyzed. The lack of universal relationships suggests that it may be difficult to draw general conclusions about the influence of demographic factors on patterns and rates of language change. Many other factors have been proposed to influence rates of language change (Greenhill, 2014) including population density, social structure (Nettle, 1999; Labov, 2007; Ke et al., 2008; Trudgill, 2011), degree of contact, and connectedness with other languages (Matras, 2009; Bowern, 2010), degree of language diffusion within a speech community (Wichmann et al., 2008), degree of bilingualism or multilingualism (Lupyan and Dale, 2010; Bentz and Winter, 2013), language group diversity (Atkinson et al., 2008) and environmental factors such as habitat heterogeneity and latitude (Bowern, 2010; Blust, 2013; Amano et al., 2014). These factors might mediate or overwhelm the effect of speaker population size.

We find no evidence to support the hypothesis that uptake of new words should be faster in small populations, which is based on the assumption that new words can diffuse more efficiently through a smaller speaker population than a larger one (Nettle, 1999). Nor do we find support for the suggestion that large, widespread languages have a tendency to lose linguistic features a greater rate (Lupyan and Dale, 2010). However, this latter hypothesis is predominantly expected to explain loss of complex linguistic morphology (such as case systems), which may be harder for non-native speakers to learn, rather than basic vocabulary studied here which may be comparatively easier for second language learners to acquire (but see Kempe and Brooks, 2018). Further, our results cannot be interpreted as confirmation of previous studies that suggest there is no effect of population size on rates (Wichmann and Holman, 2009). The detection of significant patterns in rates of lexical change with population size variation in the Polynesian and Indo-European languages, but the failure to identify similar patterns in the Bantu and Austronesian data, suggests that patterns of rates may need to be investigated on a case-by-case basis.


The origins of the Tumulus culture: Proto-Lusatian and potential Proto-Balto-Slavic origins

Interesting chapter The birth of a new world. Barrows, warriors, and metallurgists, by Przemyslaw Makarowicz. In: Urbańczyk P. (Ed.) THE PAST SOCIETIES. Polish lands from the first evidence of human presence to the Early Middle Ages, Warszawa 2017, vol. 3, U. Bugaj (Ed.) (2000 – 500 BC), Warszawa, pp. 127-186.

Some interesting excerpts from the introduction (emphasis mine):

In the 17th century BC the northern reaches of the Únětice culture oecumene experienced a structural crisis and a settlement hiatus; no such interruption in development occurred in the southern or western regions, or further west in the circle of the Blechkreiskulturen (Innerhofer 2000; Müller 2012, 257f.). In light of the most recent research, the decline of Únětice structures in the north was associated with a growing social and ecological crisis that resulted e.g., in the well-documented regression in the development of the fortified settlement in Bruszczewo in Greater Poland/Wielkopolska, which occurred ca. 1650/1600 BC (Kneisel 2012; Kneisel 2013, 101f.; Müller 2012). The settlement structure in that region only stabilized after several decades, with the emergence of Tumulus culture (Schurbein 2009; Cwaliński 2012, 16). In some parts of Central Europe (e.g., Bohemia, Bavaria, Hesse, Thuringia) a relatively gradual and smooth transition in the form of bronze items and pottery was observed between the periods of BA2 and BB1, diagnostic for the Early and Middle Bronze Age respectively (Rittershofer 1984; Innerhofer 2000). The term ‘pre-Tumulus’ horizon (BA3) was introduced to denote the stage that followed the disappearance of Early Bronze Age cultural structures and preceded the formation of Tumulus culture at the foothills of the Alps (Innerhofer 2000, 241f.)

The processes behind the development of this new cultural phenomenon may become clearer if one considers the origins of the new ideology of warriorhood apparent in the most progressive formations of the late stages of the early Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin (Vandkilde 2007, 129; 2014; the beginnings of the Middle Bronze Age in Hungarian chronology; Hänsel 1968; Bóna 1992; Harding 2000, Fig. 1.3).This factor is particularly relevant in the case of the centralized communities of the Otomani-Füzesabony culture. Its members built impressive fortified settlements, knew advanced methods of bronze casting, and maintained a vast network of contacts that connected the north of Europe with the eastern reaches of the Mediterranean world (e.g., Bouzek 1985; Furmánek, Veliačik, Vladár 1991; Kristiansen, Larrson 2005; David 2007)
The composition of some spectacular hoards and the presence of military items in some of the graves associated with such communities may suggest that a new type of individualized elite (military aristocracy) emerged in this very culture (Kristiansen 1998, 376f.; 1999; Kristiansen, Larrson 2005). The attractive ideology would then have spread to the west and north-west and be adapted by the ‘post-Early-Bronze’, de-centralized and mobile communities (most likely based on kinship) of animal farmers inhabiting the upper Danube basin and the upper Rhine basin, as well as by the peoples of the Nordic regions (Vandkilde 2014, Fig. 5). This process went hand in hand with the dissemination of the custom of tumulus-building and the associated religious concepts, funerary practices, and territorial behaviour. The mechanism behind the adoption of this custom remains unknown. It may have been the result of imitating the barrows of Corded Ware culture, already present in the landscape of Central Europe – a similar process took place in the communities of the Trzciniec circle (Makarowicz 2009; 2010; 2011). It is also possible that the tumuli were based on the few existing Únětice barrows, though in this case the similarities are more apparent in the stone elements beneath the barrows’ mound. In both cases there was no direct contact between the earlier cultural formation and the emerging group.

Spatial range of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus Culture (‘Vorlauzitzer Kultur’) after M. Gedl 1992, amended

The new lifestyle became a pan-European phenomenon, but involved a considerable degree of regional diversity that stemmed primarily from contact with local tradition (Bóna 1975; Gedl 1989; Jockenhövel, Kubach [eds.] 1994; David 2002; Jockenhövel 2013). But how did this model spread? It appears that analogies for this development may be found in the social processes and interactions that took place at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC and led to the emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon (Burgess 1986; Nicolis 2001 [ed.]; Czebreszuk 2001; 2004 [ed.]; Heyd 2013; Van der Linden 2013, further literature therein). The most important elements of the ‘Tumulus set of cultural patterns’ included: warriorhood (conveyed through the presence of individual weaponry as grave goods), characteristic types of territorial behaviour (methods of familiarizing space that largely relied on constructing tumuli – monumental graves with a unique external form and internal architecture that was singular, spectacular, and immensely symbolic), and a specific array of valuables made of bronze or, less frequently, of amber or glass (such items indicated the status, gender, and sometimes also the social role of the deceased with whom they were buried). Local cultural milieux transmitted and adapted a set of ideological, social, and political principles that gave the emerging formation coherence and a new ‘quality’. The symbolism of the stone barrow construction (rings, kerbs, cores, rays, etc.), the high value of bronze and amber, and the emergence of the custom of cremation suggests that ‘Tumulus’ communities had a large part to play in the dissemination of the solar cult during the Middle Bronze Age (cf. Kristiansen, Larsson 2005; Czebreszuk 2011, 164-171).

The decline of the Central European early Bronze Age civilization and the birth of a new, pan-European formation was a complex process that lasted at least several decades. It may be surmised that the downfall of Únětice structures and the Otomani-Füzesabony-Gyulavarsánd complex in the Carpathian Basin was brought about primarily by internal structural crises, yet the reasons for the emergence of Tumulus culture lay in the attractive, almost ‘Dionysian’ ideology of warriorhood. Its solidification coincided with the decline of the ‘old’ Early Bronze Age elites that ruled over centralized structures that were territorial in character (fortified settlements with proto-urban characteristics) and were buried in magnificent, richly furnished graves covered with mounds (Fürstengräber). It was also concurrent with the emergence of active kinship-based and de-centralized groups led by the ‘new’ elite class of warriors (the beginnings of military aristocracy?). The significance of such groups continued to grow during the pivotal period – and the decline of the Únětice world and the final turbulent phase of the development of centres in the Carpathian Basin may well be thus described. The process was facilitated by the escalation of military conflicts that occurred in the Bronze Age (Harding 1999; 2007; Kristiansen 1999; Osgood, Monks, with Thoms 2000; Kristiansen, Larsson 2005; Hårde 2006; Vandkilde 2011; 2014). War became an inherent part of social life, as indicated by the increasing presence of weaponry in male graves, rock carvings and steles depicting warriors and their equipment, as well as arrowheads and spearheads embedded in the bones (soft tissues) of the deceased, and plentiful evidence of injuries caused by melee weapons (e.g., Osgood 2006). New types of weaponry (swords, spears) started to be used in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, leading to more efficient methods of combat (e.g., Harding 2006; Thrane 2006). This must have resulted in the emergence of new types of units, combat styles, and military strategies. It may also be surmised that ‘Tumulus’ communities adopted a hitherto unknown, institutionalized model of warriorhood based on groups of men who dealt with warfare professionally (cf. Sarauw 2007, 66).

The origin of the Tumulus culture meant therefore a pan-European ideological socio-political and ideological change, that may be associated with the last true North-West Indo-European dialect continuum in Europe, as evidenced in Archaeology by long-distance cultural contacts, in Linguistics potentially by late layers of shared vocabulary, and in Ancient Genomics by the different origins of combatants studied from the the Tollense valley.

Settlement points of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus Culture in the Prosna-Odra interfluve (‘close zone’) superimposed on a hypsometric map. By Jakub Niebieszczański

The origins of Tumulus culture in what is now Polish territory most likely resulted from a combination of different factors. In the hitherto prevailing narrative its arrival in the Odra-middle Vistula interfluve was associated with an invasion (aggressive migration) of the Tumulus peoples from enclaves in the middle Danube basin, the destruction of Únětice centres and the Nowa Cerekwia Group, and the subsequent conquest of the western territories inhabited by members of the Trzciniec culture (Gedl 1975, 81; 1989; 1992; Gediga 1978). There is, however, much evidence to suggest that the provenance of this cultural group is more complex.

Recent archaeological research and environmental analyses indicate that the decline of the Únětice culture in the northern reaches of its scope (e.g., the economic and settlement crisis of the Kościan agglomeration with its centre in Bruszczewo and the princely barrow graves in Łęki Małe) was mainly the result of excessive human activity and overly intense exploitation of natural resources (Kneisel 2012; 2013; Müller 2012). Palynological data from the period of1700-1500 BC collected in this part of the North European Plain indicates a decline of human activity. It coincides with the devolution of settlement centres (hamlets and necropolises) dated to the end of the Early Bronze Age and the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (depopulation?). The decline of Early Bronze Age settlements occurred between 1700 and 1600 BC, whereas the beginning of the Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus culture may be dated to 1600-1500 BC. A renewed increase in human activity, indicated e.g., by the ‘opening’ of the landscape, did not occur until ca. 1500-1400 BC, in the classic period of the development of ‘Tumulus’ cultural structures (Kneisel 2012, 221).

The whole paper is interesting from the point of view of the potential formation of a Proto-Balto-Slavic community in the Proto-Lusatian or Silesian-Greater Polish Tumulus culture, before its expansion to the east.

After O&M 2018, the only plausible alternative to this model of Balto-Slavic homeland is that Proto-Lusatian represents a Temematic community instead, and an Indo-Slavonic community formed in East Yamna, whereby Balto-Slavic would have possibly expanded with Srubna, and only much later over Temematic territory, absorbing its language as a North-West Indo-European substratum.

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The uneasy relationship between Archaeology and Ancient Genomics

Allentoft Corded Ware

News feature Divided by DNA: The uneasy relationship between archaeology and ancient genomics, Two fields in the midst of a technological revolution are struggling to reconcile their views of the past, by Ewen Callaway, Nature (2018) 555:573-576.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In duelling 2015 Nature papers6,7the teams arrived at broadly similar conclusions: an influx of herders from the grassland steppes of present-day Russia and Ukraine — linked to Yamnaya cultural artefacts and practices such as pit burial mounds — had replaced much of the gene pool of central and Western Europe around 4,500–5,000 years ago. This was coincident with the disappearance of Neolithic pottery, burial styles and other cultural expressions and the emergence of Corded Ware cultural artefacts, which are distributed throughout northern and central Europe. “These results were a shock to the archaeological community,” Kristiansen says.


Still, not everyone was satisfied. In an essay8 titled ‘Kossinna’s Smile’, archaeologist Volker Heyd at the University of Bristol, UK, disagreed, not with the conclusion that people moved west from the steppe, but with how their genetic signatures were conflated with complex cultural expressions. Corded Ware and Yamnaya burials are more different than they are similar, and there is evidence of cultural exchange, at least, between the Russian steppe and regions west that predate Yamnaya culture, he says. None of these facts negates the conclusions of the genetics papers, but they underscore the insufficiency of the articles in addressing the questions that archaeologists are interested in, he argued. “While I have no doubt they are basically right, it is the complexity of the past that is not reflected,” Heyd wrote, before issuing a call to arms. “Instead of letting geneticists determine the agenda and set the message, we should teach them about complexity in past human actions.”

Many archaeologists are also trying to understand and engage with the inconvenient findings from genetics. (…)
[Carlin:] “I would characterize a lot of these papers as ‘map and describe’. They’re looking at the movement of genetic signatures, but in terms of how or why that’s happening, those things aren’t being explored,” says Carlin, who is no longer disturbed by the disconnect. “I am increasingly reconciling myself to the view that archaeology and ancient DNA are telling different stories.” The changes in cultural and social practices that he studies might coincide with the population shifts that Reich and his team are uncovering, but they don’t necessarily have to. And such biological insights will never fully explain the human experiences captured in the archaeological record.

Reich agrees that his field is in a “map-making phase”, and that genetics is only sketching out the rough contours of the past. Sweeping conclusions, such as those put forth in the 2015 steppe migration papers, will give way to regionally focused studies with more subtlety.

This is already starting to happen. Although the Bell Beaker study found a profound shift in the genetic make-up of Britain, it rejected the notion that the cultural phenomenon was associated with a single population. In Iberia, individuals buried with Bell Beaker goods were closely related to earlier local populations and shared little ancestry with Beaker-associated individuals from northern Europe (who were related to steppe groups such as the Yamnaya). The pots did the moving, not the people.

This final paragraph apparently sums up a view that Reich has of this field, since he repeats it:

Reich concedes that his field hasn’t always handled the past with the nuance or accuracy that archaeologists and historians would like. But he hopes they will eventually be swayed by the insights his field can bring. “We’re barbarians coming late to the study of the human past,” Reich says. “But it’s dangerous to ignore barbarians.”

I would say that the true barbarians didn’t have a habit or possibility to learn from the higher civilizations they attacked or invaded. Geneticists, on the other hand, only have to do what they expect archaeologists to do: study.

EDIT (30 MAR 2018): A new interesting editorial of Nature, On the use and abuse of ancient DNA.

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Agricultural origins on the Anatolian plateau


New paper (behind paywall) Agricultural origins on the Anatolian plateau, by Baird et al. PNAS (2018), published ahead of print (March 19).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

This paper explores the explanations for, and consequences of, the early appearance of food production outside the Fertile Crescent of Southwest Asia, where it originated in the 10th/9th millennia cal BC. We present evidence that cultivation appeared in Central Anatolia through adoption by indigenous foragers in the mid ninth millennium cal BC, but also demonstrate that uptake was not uniform, and that some communities chose to actively disregard cultivation. Adoption of cultivation was accompanied by experimentation with sheep/goat herding in a system of low-level food production that was integrated into foraging practices rather than used to replace them. Furthermore, rather than being a short-lived transitional state, low-level food production formed part of a subsistence strategy that lasted for several centuries, although its adoption had significant long-term social consequences for the adopting community at Boncuklu. Material continuities suggest that Boncuklu’s community was ancestral to that seen at the much larger settlement of Çatalhöyük East from 7100 cal BC, by which time a modest involvement with food production had been transformed into a major commitment to mixed farming, allowing the sustenance of a very large sedentary community. This evidence from Central Anatolia illustrates that polarized positions explaining the early spread of farming, opposing indigenous adoption to farmer colonization, are unsuited to understanding local sequences of subsistence and related social change. We go beyond identifying the mechanisms for the spread of farming by investigating the shorter- and longer-term implications of rejecting or adopting farming practices.

Map of central Anatolia showing the principal sites mentioned in the text.

Interesting excerpts:

The persistence of foraging and rejection of farming at Pınarbaşı is also worthy of further consideration. Pınarbaşı’s longevity as a settlement locale in the early Holocene appears to have been based on hunting of wild mammals, wetland exploitation, and significant focus on nut exploitation, all afforded by its ecotonal setting between the hills, plain, and wetland. Perhaps this existing diversity, including nutritious storable plant resources, was a key factor in a lack of interest in adopting cultivation. Another factor may have been a conscious desire to maintain traditional identities and long-standing distinctions with other communities, in part reflected in its particular way of life and its specific connections with particular elements in landscape, for example the almond and terebinth woodlands whose harvests underwrote the continuity of the Pınarbaşı settlement.

The variability in response to the possibilities of early food production in a relatively small geographical area demonstrated here is notable and provides an example useful in evaluating the spread of farming in other regions. It shows the possible role of indigenous foragers, the potential patchwork and diffuse nature of the spread of farming, the lack of homogeneity likely in the communities caught up in the process, the probability of significant continuities in local cultural traditions within the process, and the potentially long-term stable adaptation offered by lowlevel food production. The strength of identities linked to exploitation of particular foods and particular parts of the landscape may have been a major factor contributing to rejection or adoption of food production by indigenous foragers.

The results are also relevant for understanding the processes that underpinned the initial development of farming within the Fertile Crescent itself: that is, the region in which the wild progenitors of the Old World founder crops and stock animals are found. Recent research has rejected the notion of a core area for farming’s first appearance in southwest Asia and demonstrated that farming developed in diverse ways over the Fertile Crescent zone from the southern Levant to the Zagros, very analogous to the situation just described for Central Anatolia (2). Cultivation, herding, and domestication developed in that region, and it seems inescapable that exchange of crops and herded animals occurred between communities (2), involving a spread of farming within the Fertile Crescent, leading eventually to the Neolithic farming package that was so similar across the region and which spread into Europe (5). Central Anatolia was clearly linked to the Fertile Crescent, with significant evidence of exchange and some shared cultural traditions from at least the Epipaleolithic (22). The evidence presented here demonstrates very clearly the movement of crops between settlements and regions in early phases of the Neolithic through exchange, and thus allows us to identify episodes of crop exchange that were probably taking place within the Fertile Crescent itself, but are difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish due to the presence of crop progenitors across much of the region.

A very interesting read in combination with 14C-radiometric data and climatic conditions showing potential triggers of dispersal of Neolithic lifeways from Turkey to Southeast Europe, e.g. Dispersal of Neolithic Lifeways: Absolute Chronology and Rapid Climate Change in Central and West Anatolia, by Lee Clare & Bernhard Weninger, in The Neolithic in Turkey, Vol.6 (2014), Edited by Mehmet Özdogan, Nezih Basgelen, Peter Kuniholm.

The Late Neolithic (6600-6000 cal. BC) witnesses the rapid westward dispersal of Neolithic communities, apparently reaching the Aegean in the space of a very short time (ca. 6600 cal. BC). This process is linked to the demand of individuals, groups, and communities for less vulnerable conditions in the face of climate fluctuation associated with RCC. Coastal areas not only offered respite from more frequently occurring physical impacts (extreme winters and high drought risk) in inner Anatolia, they may also have provided refuge for weaker (more vulnerable) social groups (…).

Featured image, from the latter: “In the Early Pottery Neolithic (7000-6600 cal. BC) there occurs a clear break with precedeing (PPN) traditions, attested by abandonment and decreasing size of settlements, albeit that evidence for migration of groups westwards towards the Aegean is still ambiguous (black arrows: human migrations; white arrows: Anatolian obsidian)”

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