Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin

Interesting excerpts about local Hungarian groups that had close contacts with Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, from the paper Immigration and transhumance in the Early Bronze Age Carpathian Basin: the occupants of a kurgan, by Gerling, Bánffy, Dani, Köhler, Kulcsár, Pike, Szeverényi & Heyd, Antiquity (2012) 86(334):1097-1111.

The most interesting of the local people is the occupant of grave 12, which is the earliest grave in the kurgan and the main statistical range of its radiocarbon date clearly predates the arrival of the western Yamnaya groups c. 3000 BC. This is also confirmed by the burial rite, which is not typical for the Yamnaya (Dani 2011: 29–33; Heyd in press), although some heterogeneity may apply in Yamnaya communities too. The migrant group, graves nos. 4, 7, 9 and 11, all occupy late stratigraphic positions in the mound, and have radiocarbon dates in the second quarter of the third millennium BC. It is also noteworthy that they are all adult or mature men. The contextual data, their physical distribution over the space of the whole kurgan, and the variety of burial practices, indicate several generations of burials. The cultural attributes of this group are summarised in Figure 5. Overall, their closest match lies in the Livezile group from the eastern and southern Apuseni Mountains, which is also the likely place of origin of the buried persons.

Cultural geography of the Carpathian Basin in the first half of the third millennium BC (in black: archaeological cultures and groups dating roughly to the first quarter; in red: those dating to the second quarter). Indicated also are regions and sites mentioned in the text.

The key question is, what cultural process could be responsible for attracting these men from their homeland to the Great Hungarian Plain, over several generations? Their sex and age uniformity indicate they are a social sub-set within a larger group, implying that only a portion of their society was on the move. Exogamy can probably be excluded, since one would expect more women than men to move in prehistoric times; not to mention the distance of more than 200km between the places of potential origin and burial.

One hypothesis would see these men involved in the exchange of goods, with long-term relations between the mountain and steppe communities. Normally living in, or next to, the Apuseni, these men would journey for weeks into the plain, returning to the same places and people over many decades. Ethnographic examples of such travels to exchange objects and ideas, and perhaps people, are numerous (e.g. Helms 1988). However, the child’s (grave 7a) local isotopic signature would remain unexplained, and one has to wonder for how many generations an exchange continues for four men to die near the Őrhalom.

A second hypothesis is essentially an economic model of transhumance, with livestock passing the winter and spring in the milder regions of the Great Hungarian Plain, and returning to higher pastures in the warmer months (Arnold & Greenfield 2006). Such systems can endure for centuries, provided the social relations underpinning them are stable. This has the advantage of accounting for relatively long periods of time spent away from home, as herdsmen guarded their animals, and perhaps some women and their children came too, which would account for the child’s presence, and the pottery relations of the Livezile group. Furthermore, regular visits to a region would increase the likelihood of Livezile transhumant herders becoming integrated locally. The second quarter of the third millennium BC was a period when Yamnaya ideology, and thus its internal coherence, might have already diminished. This would likely have resulted in a weakened grip by Yamnaya people on pastures and territory, consequently allowing Livezile herders, and potentially others, to step in and take over locally, perhaps first on a seasonal basis and then permanently.

On West Yamna settlers in Hungary

Modified table from Wang et al. (2018) Supplementary materials (in bold, Yamna and related samples; in red, newly reported samples). “Supplementary Table 18. P values of rank=1 and admixture coefficients of modelling the Steppe ancestry populations as a two-way admixture of the Eneolithic_steppe and Globular_Amphora using 14 outgroups. Left populations: Steppe cluster, Eneolithic_steppe, Globular Amphora Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.”

By disclosing very interesting information on (yet unpublished) Yamna samples from Hungary, the latest preprint from the Reich Lab has rendered irrelevant – in a rather surprising turn of events – (what I expected would be) future discussions on West Yamna settlers potentially sharing a similar ancestry with Baltic Late Neolithic / Corded Ware settlers (see here for more details).

Interesting excerpts regarding the tight cluster formed by all Yamna samples:

Individuals from the North Caucasian steppe associated with the Yamnaya cultural formation (5300-4400 BP, 3300-2400 calBCE) appear genetically almost identical to previously reported Yamnaya individuals from Kalmykia20 immediately to the north, the middle Volga region19, 27, Ukraine and Hungary, and to other Bronze Age individuals from the Eurasian steppes who share the characteristic ‘steppe ancestry’ profile as a mixture of EHG and CHG/Iranian ancestry23, 28. These individuals form a tight cluster in PCA space (Figure 2) and can be shown formally to be a mixture by significantly negative admixture f3-statistics of the form f3(EHG, CHG; target) (Supplementary Fig. 3).

Using qpAdm with Globular Amphora as a proximate surrogate population (assuming that a related group was the source of the Anatolian farmer-related ancestry), we estimated the contribution of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry into Yamnaya and other steppe groups. We find that Yamnaya individuals from the Volga region (Yamnaya Samara) have 13.2±2.7% and Yamnaya individuals in Hungary 17.1±4.1% Anatolian farmer-related ancestry (Fig.4; Supplementary Table 18)– statistically indistinguishable proportions.

Yamna – Bell Beaker migration according to Heyd (2007, 2012)

Before this paper, we had the solidest anthropological models backed by Y-DNA against conflicting data from certain statistical tools applied to a few samples (which some used to contradict what was mainstream in Academia).

NOTE. I have discussed this extensively in this blog, and more than once. See for example my posts on R1a speaking IE (July 2017), on the Eneolithic Ukraine sample (September 2017), or on the “Yamnaya ancestral component” (November 2017).

Today, we have everything – including statistical tools – showing a genetically homogeneous, Late PIE-speaking late Khvalynsk/Yamna community expanding into its known branches, confirming what was described using traditional anthropological disciplines:

  • Late Khvalynsk expanding into Afanasevo ca. 3300-3000 BC with an archaic Late PIE dialect, which was attested much later as Tocharian;
  • East Yamna/Poltavka admixing with Uralic-speaking Abashevo migrants probably ca. 2600-2100 BC to form Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka and Potapovka;
  • and now also Yamna settlers: those in Hungary admixing (probably ca. 2800-2500 BC) with the local population to form North-West Indo-European-speaking East Bell Beakers; those from the Balkans forming other IE-speaking Balkan cultures, including the peoples that admixed in Greece, as seen in Mycenaeans.

If Volker Heyd is right with this and other papers – and he has been right until now in his predictions regarding Yamna, Bell Beaker, and Corded Ware cultures – , the change in ancestry will probably begin to be noticed in Yamna samples from Hungary and the Lower Danube during the second quarter of the 3rd millennium, a period defined by the addition of a more fashionable western Proto-Bell Beaker package to the fading traditional Yamna cultural package.

EDIT (19 MAY 2018): I corrected some sentences and added interesting information.


The Caucasus a genetic and cultural barrier; Yamna dominated by R1b-M269; Yamna settlers in Hungary cluster with Yamna


Open access The genetic prehistory of the Greater Caucasus, by Wang et al. bioRxiv (2018).

The Caucasus Mountains as a prehistoric barrier

I think the essential message we can extract from the paper is that the Caucasus was a long-lasting cultural and genetic barrier, although (obviously) it was not insurmontable.

Our results show that at the time of the eponymous grave mound of Maykop, the North Caucasus piedmont region was genetically connected to the south. Even without direct ancient DNA data from northern Mesopotamia, the new genetic evidence suggests an increased assimilation of Chalcolithic individuals from Iran, Anatolia and Armenia and those of the Eneolithic Caucasus during 6000-4000 calBCE23, and thus likely also intensified cultural connections. Within this sphere of interaction, it is possible that cultural influences and continuous subtle gene flow from the south formed the basis of Maykop.

The zoomed map shows the location of sites in the Caucasus. The size of the circle reflects number of individuals that produced genome-wide data. The dashed line illustrates a hypothetical geographic border between genetically distinct Steppe and Caucasus clusters.

Also, unlike more recent times, the North Caucasian piedmont and foothill of the Caucasus region was more strongly connected to Northern Iran than to the steppe, at least until the Bronze Age.

(…) our data shows that the northern flanks were consistently linked to the Near East and had received multiple streams of gene flow from the south, as seen e.g. during the Maykop, Kura-Araxes and late phase of the North Caucasus culture.

Northern Caucasus dominated by R1b, southern Caucasus by J and G2

Comparison of Y-chromosome (A) 1123 and mitochondrial (B) haplogroup distribution in the Steppe and Caucasus cluster.

The first samples from the Eneolithic (one ca. 4300 BC?, the other ca. 4100 BC) are R1b1, without further subclades, so it is difficult to say if they were V88. On the PCA, they seem to be an important piece of the early Khvalynsk -> early Yamna transition period, since they cluster closer to (or even among) subsequent Yamna samples.

From 3000 BC onwards, all samples from the Northern Caucasus group of Yamna are R1b-M269, which right now is probably no surprise for anyone.

The Catacomb culture is dominated by R1b-Z2103, which agrees with what we saw in the unclassified Ukraine Eneolithic sample. However, the new samples (clustering close to Yamna, but with slightly ‘to the south’ of it) don’t seem to cluster closely to that first sample, so that one may still remain a real ‘outlier’, showing incoming influence (through exogamy) from the north.

If anyone was still wondering, no R1a in any of the samples, either. This, and the homogeneous R1b-Z2103 community in Catacomb (a culture in an intermediate region between Late Yamna to the West, and Poltavka to the East), together with Poltavka dominated by R1b-Z2103, too, should put an end to the idea that Steppe MLBA (Sintashta-Petrovka/Potapovka) somehow formed in the North Pontic steppe and appeared directly in the Volga-Ural region. A Uralic/Indo-Iranian community it is, then.

The admixed population from the Caucasus probably points to an isolated region of diverse peoples and languages even in this period, which justifies the strong differences among the historic language families attested in the Caucasus.

So, not much space for Anatolian migrating with those expected Maykop samples with EHG ancestry, unless exogamy is proposed as a source of language change.

ADMIXTURE and PCA results, and chronological order of ancient Caucasus individuals. Samples from Hungary are surrounded by red circles (see below for ADMIXTURE data) (a) ADMIXTURE results (k=12) of the newly genotyped individuals (fillbred symbols with black outlines) sorted by genetic clusters (Steppe and Caucasus) and in chronological order (coloured bars indicate the relative archaeological dates, (b) white circles the mean calibrated radiocarbon date and the errors bars the 2-sigma range. (d) shows these projected onto a PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols).

Yamna Hungary, and the previous Yamna “outliers”

Those western “Yamna outliers”, as I expected, were part of some late Khvalynsk/early Yamna groups that cluster “to the south” of eastern Yamna samples:

Another important observation is that all later individuals in the steppe region, starting with Yamnaya, deviate from the EHG-CHG admixture cline towards European populations in the West. This documents that these individuals had received Anatolian farmer-related ancestry, as documented by quantitative tests and recently also shown for two Yamnaya individuals from Ukraine (Ozera) and one from Bulgaria24. For the North Caucasus region, this genetic contribution could have occurred through immediate contact with groups in the Caucasus or further south. An alternative source, explaining the increase in WHG-related ancestry, would be contact with contemporaneous Chalcolithic/EBA farming groups at the western periphery of the Yamnaya culture distribution area, such as Globular Amphora and Tripolye (Cucuteni–Trypillia) individuals from Ukraine, which also have been shown to carry Anatolian Neolithic farmer-derived ancestry24.

On the other hand, it is interesting that – although no information is released about these samples – Yamna Bulgaria is now a clear outlier, among very “Yamnaya”-like Yamna settlers from Hungary, most likely from the Carpathian basin, and new Yamna LCA/EBA samples, possibly from Late Yamna (see them also marked in the PCA above):

Modified image, with red rectangles surrounding (unexplained) Hungarian samples (c) ADMIXTURE results of relevant prehistoric individuals mentioned in the text (filled symbols)

The important admixture of Yamna settlers with native populations, seen in expanding East Bell Beakers of R1b-L23 lineages from ca. 2500 BC on, must have therefore happened at the same time as the adoption of the proto-Bell Beaker package, i.e. precisely during the Carpathian Basin / Lower Danube settlements, and not in West Yamna.

Modified image, with red rectangles surrounding (unexplained) Yamna samples Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Steppe groups as well as additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups

So, it can’t get clearer that Late Neolithic Baltic and Corded Ware migrants, sharing R1a-Z645 lineages and a different admixture, related to Eneolithic North Pontic groups such as Sredni Stog (see above ADMIXTURE graphics of CWC and Eneolithic Ukraine samples), did not come from West Yamna migrants, either.

So much for the R1a/R1b Yamna community that expanded Late PIE into Corded Ware.

NOTE. Andrew Gelman has coined a term for a curious phenomenon (taken from an anonymous commenter): “Eureka bias”, which refers not only to how researchers stick to previously reported incorrect results or interpretations, but also to how badly they react to criticism, even if they understand that it is well-founded. Directly applicable to the research groups that launched the Yamna-CWC idea (and the people who followed them) based on the fallacious “Yamnaya ancestry” concept, and who are still rooting for some version of it, from now on with exogamy, patron-client relationships, Eneolithic Indo-Slavonic, and whatnot. Unless, that is, Anthony’s latest model is right, and Yamna Hungary is suddenly full of R1a-Z645 samples…

Images used are from the article. They are available under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International license. (Yes, I know, I modified them. To mark special newly reported samples from Yamna Hungary and Yamna LCA/EBA. I expect this to count as fair use).


Consequences of Damgaard et al. 2018 (III): Proto-Finno-Ugric & Proto-Indo-Iranian in the North Caspian region


The Indo-Iranian – Finno-Ugric connection

On the linguistic aspect, this is what the Copenhagen group had to say (in the linguistic supplement) based on Kuz’mina (2001):

(…) a northern connection is suggested by contacts between the Indo-Iranian and the Finno-Ugric languages. Speakers of the Finno-Ugric family, whose antecedent is commonly sought in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains, followed an east-to-west trajectory through the forest zone north and directly adjacent to the steppes, producing languages across to the Baltic Sea. In the languages that split off along this trajectory, loanwords from various stages in the development of the Indo-Iranian languages can be distinguished: 1) Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian (Proto-Finno-Ugric *kekrä (cycle), *kesträ (spindle), and *-teksä (ten) are borrowed from early preforms of Sanskrit cakrá- (wheel, cycle), cattra- (spindle), and daśa- (10); Koivulehto 2001), 2) Proto-Indo-Iranian (Proto-Finno-Ugric *śata (one hundred) is borrowed from a form close to Sanskrit śatám (one hundred), 3) Pre-Proto-Indo-Aryan (Proto-Finno-Ugric *ora (awl), *reśmä (rope), and *ant- (young grass) are borrowed from preforms of Sanskrit ā́rā- (awl), raśmí- (rein), and ándhas- (grass); Koivulehto 2001: 250; Lubotsky 2001: 308), and 4) loanwords from later stages of Iranian (Koivulehto 2001; Korenchy 1972). The period of prehistoric language contact with Finno-Ugric thus covers the entire evolution of Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian into Proto-Indo-Iranian, as well as the dissolution of the latter into Proto-Indo- Aryan and Proto-Iranian. As such, it situates the prehistoric location of the Indo-Iranian branch around the southern Urals (Kuz’mina 2001).

NOTE. While I agree with the evident ancestral nature of the *kekrä borrowing, I will repeat it here again: I don’t believe that the distinction of late Proto-Indo-Iranian from ‘Pre-Proto-Indo-Aryan’ loans is warranted; not for words reconstructed from recent Finno-Ugric languages.

The time and place for Finno-Ugric and Indo-Iranian contacts. Late Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 2800-2300 BC.

In this period of a Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community, which is to be associated with East Yamna/Poltavka, ca. 3000-2400 BC – as accepted in the supplement from de Barros Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018) – , both Poltavka and Abashevo/Balanovo herders were expanding ca. 2800-2600 BC to the east (and Abashevo already admixing into Poltavka territory), near the southern Urals.

There is no other, clearer, later connection between Finno-Ugric and Proto-Indo-Iranian speakers. Even the arrival of the Seima-Turbino phenomenon (after ca. 2000 BC), if it brought migrants to North-East Europe, would not fit the linguistic, archaeological, or genetic data. It is by now quite clear that Seima-Turbino does not fit with incoming N1c1 lineages and/or Siberian ancestry, either, for those looking for these as potential signs of incoming Uralic speakers.

While the Copenhagen group did not have access to data from Sintashta ca. 2100 BC onwards – now available in Narasimhan et al. (2018) – when submitting the papers, we already know that there was a clear long period of slow progressive admixture in the North Caspian region. It can be seen in the genetic contribution of Yamna to incoming Abashevo groups, and in the R1b-L23 samples still appearing in Sintashta until ca. 1800 BC (as I predicted could happen).

Since the first sample signalling incoming Abashevo migrants is found in the Poltavka outlier dated ca. 2700 BC (of R1a-Z93 lineage), this represents a rather unique, several centuries long process of admixture in the North Caspian region, different from the massive Afanasevo or Bell Beaker migrations in Asia and Europe, whereby a great part of the native male population was suddenly replaced.

This offers further support for language continuity despite genetic replacement in the development of East Yamna/Poltavka (part of the Steppe EMBA cline, formed by Yamna and Afanasevo) mixing with Abashevo migrants (probably identical to Corded Ware samples) to form Potapovka, Sintashta, and later Srubna, and Andronovo communities (all forming, with Corded Ware groups, a wide Eurasian Steppe MLBA cloud). See the available data from Narasimhan et al. (2018).

Image modified from Narasimhan et al. (2018), including the most likely proto-language identification of different groups. Original description “Modeling results including Admixture events, with clines or 2-way mixtures shown in rectangles, and clouds or 3-way mixtures shown in ellipses”. See the original full image here.

The continuous interactions and migrations left thus eventually two communities in the southern Urals genetically similar, but ethnolinguistically diverse:

  • To the north, Abashevo-Balanovo – but potentially also Fatyanovo, and related North-East European late Corded Ware groups – borrowed necessary words from Indo-Iranian neighbours, while maintaining their Finno-Ugric language and culture.
  • To the south, immigrants (or their descendants) of Abashevo origin expanding among Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian-speaking North Caspian communities assimilated the surrounding culture and language, giving it their own accent (i.e. ‘satemizing’ it) and turning it into Proto-Indo-Iranian (see e.g. Parpola’s account).

Anthropologically, this ‘long-term founder effect’ that appears as genetic replacement is probably explained by the faster life history in MLBA North Caspian populations, likely due to a combination of changing environmental and social circumstances.

NOTE. The prevalent explanation before the latest studies on the Sintashta society were social strife and isolation of small groups, an argument I used in my demic diffusion model. Other, similar cases of proven linguistic continuity despite genetic replacement are seen in Iberian Bronze Age after the expansion of R1b-L23 lineages (with Vasconic, Iberian, and Tartessian surviving at least until proto-historic times), and in Remote Oceania.

Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2250-1750 BC

Implications for Late PIE migrations

I am happy to see that people are resorting now to dialectal classifications and Y-DNA to explain the findings in Old Hittites, Tocharians (and related migrations), and Indo-Iranians. It is especially interesting to see precisely this Danish group downplay the relevance of ancestry and favor complex anthropological models when assessing migrations and ethnolinguistic identification.

So let’s talk about the growing elephant in the room.

It seems we all accept now Tocharian’s more archaic Late PIE nature, which is supported by waves of late Khvalynsk migrants starting probably ca. 3300 BC, as seen in different samples to the east in Central Asia, and to the south in Iran. Almost all of them share R1b-L23 lineages.

NOTE. Whereas their early LPIE dialects have not survived to historic times, the rather speculative hypotheses of Euphratic and Gutian languages may be of interest.

We also know of the coetaneous migrants that settled to the west of the Don River (in the territory of the previous late Sredni Stog culture), to form the western South-Bug / Lower Don groups, which, together with the Volga-Ural / North Caucasian groups formed the early Yamna culture, that dominated from ca. 3300 BC over the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

It is only logical that the other attested languages belonging to the common Late PIE trunk must come from these groups, which must have stuck together for quite some time – after the recently proven late Khvalynsk migrations – , to allow for the spread of isoglosses (not found in Tocharian) among them.

This is agreed, even by the Copenhagen group, who expressly state that Yamna is to be identified with the rest of Late PIE languages after the Tocharian-related migrations.

Early Yamna community and its migrations ca. 3000 BC onwards.

The period of an early Yamna community constrained to the Pontic-Caspian steppe (ca. 3300-3000 BC) is followed by renewed waves of Late Proto-Indo-European migrations, during which areal contacts and innovations (even between unrelated LPIE branches) can still be reconstructed.

These later migrations can be precisely described as follows (after the latest studies):

  • Yamna migrants, of mixed R1b-L51 and R1b-Z2103 lineages, settle ca. 3000-2600 BC along the lower Danube, in the Balkans and the Carpathian basin, giving rise later to groups of:
  • In the Pontic-Caspian steppe, early Yamna groups evolve into (from west to east) Late Yamna, Catacomb, and Poltavka groups, ca. 2800-2300 BC, all still dominated by R1b-L23 lineages (see discussion on the Catacomb sample), with:
    • Poltavka peoples admixing with Abashevo migrants to form admixed Potapovka and Sintashta-Petrovka groups, showing still after ca. 1800 BC a mixed society of R1a-Z93 and R1b-Z2103 lineages (see Narasimhan et al. 2018);
      • Expanding early Proto-Iranian and Proto-Indo-Aryan groups in Srubna (to the west) and Andronovo (to the east), during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, dominate over the Bronze Age steppe and Central Asia with expanding R1a-Z93 lineages.


Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including Classical Bell Beaker (east group) expansion from central Europe ca. 2600-2250 BC

1) East Bell Beakers clearly dominated culturally and genetically over almost all of Europe, ca. 2500-2000 BC, including previous Corded Ware territory, representing thus the most recent massive migration of steppe peoples in Europe, and being the only pan-European culture derived from Late Proto-Indo-European-speaking Yamna. They must therefore be identified with North-West Indo-European speakers, as proposed by Mallory (2013), and not just Italo-Celtic (as supported recently by the Danish school, based on Gimbutas’ outdated model):

1.A) For Germanic, we already have proof that an appropriate, unitary Scandinavian society, ripe for the development of a common Pre-Germanic language (that expanded much later, during the Iron Age, as Proto-Germanic) could have developed only after the arrival of Bell Beakers (see Prescott 2017). The association of proto-historic Germanic tribes mainly with the expansion of R1b-U106 lineages bears witness to that.

NOTE. Even without taking into account the likely L51 samples from Khvalynsk, it is by now quite clear that R1b-L51 lineages were already admixed in Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin, and any subclade of U106, L21, DF27, or U152 can thus be found everywhere in Europe associated with any of those North-West Indo-European migrations. What we are seing later, as in the East Bell Beaker migrants arriving in the British Isles (L21), Iberia (DF27), or the Netherlands/Scandinavia (U106), is the further reduction in variability coupled with the expansion of a few sucessful families (and their lineages), as we know it usually happens during migrations.

1.B) For Balto-Slavic, it seems they were not part of the eastern Corded Ware peoples: the Copenhagen group denies an Indo-Slavonic group in the Nature paper, referring instead to a dominion of early Iranians in the steppes, following their traces to proto-historic and historic Iranian-speaking peoples. And we knew already that Bell Beakers dominated over Central-East Europe, before the resurge of R1a-Z645 lineages in the region, which is compatible with the North-West Indo-European nature of their language undergoing a satemization process similar (but not equal to) to the Indo-Iranian one (see the full discussion on Balto-Slavic here).

NOTE. The few ancestral traits common to Germanic and Balto-Slavic are today considered a common substrate language to both, and not due to close contacts (and still less a common branch, as was proposed in the 1st half of the 20th c.). You can read e.g. Kortlandt’s Baltic, Slavic, Germanic (2017), or our Corded Ware substrate hypothesis (2017). In both theories, the referenced substrate is likely a non-Indo-European language, and in both cases it is related to the Corded Ware culture, which represents their most common immediate ancestral population before the spread of Bell Beakers.

2) The late Corded Ware groups of Finland and Estonia, as well as Fatyanovo and Abashevo (and succeeding groups of Eastern Europe) may now be more clearly associated with Proto-Finno-Ugric dialects, and thus probably Corded Ware groups in general with Uralic languages, whose western branches have not survived to this day, with their culture and language being replaced quite early by expanding Bell Beakers.

NOTE. While the demise of Central and Central-East European CWC groups is evident, continuous contacts among Battle Axe culture groups in Scandinavia and the Gulf of Finland through the Baltic Sea – and the strong Bronze Age Palaeo-Germanic influence on Finnic languages (stronger than earlier Indo-Iranian borrowings) may point to the continuity of Proto-Finnic in Northern Scandinavia, which may force a reinterpretation of the prehistoric location of Proto-Finnic-speaking groups.

Those supporting a Corded Ware expansion of Germanic or Balto-Slavic with R1a subclades, now rejecting the expansion of Proto-Indo-European from an Anatolian homeland (following the spread of Neolithic farmer ancestry), and negating the close Proto-Indo-Iranian – Uralic contacts, are willfully ignoring linguistic, archaeological, and genetic data whenever it does not fit with their previous theories.

Good times ahead to chase false syllogisms and contradictions everywhere.


Brexit forces relocation of one of today’s main Yamna research projects to Finland


Archaeologist Volker Heyd is bringing his ERC Advanced Grant to Helsinki. So has proudly reported the University of Helskinki.

Some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

With his research group, Heyd wants to map out how the Yamnaya culture, also known as the Pit Grave culture, migrated from the Eurasian steppes to prehistoric south-eastern Europe approximately 3,000 years BCE. Most of the burial mounds typical of the Yamnaya culture have already been destroyed, but new techniques enable their identification and study.

The project is using multidisciplinary methods to solve the mystery. Archaeologists are collaborating with scholars of biological and environmental sciences, using the methods of funerary archaeology, landscape archaeology and remote sensing that are at the group’s disposal. From the field of biological sciences, the group is making use of genetics/DNA analysis, biological anthropology and biogeochemistry. As for environmental sciences, their contribution is in the form of palaeoclimatology, which studies climate before modern meteorological observations, and soil formation processes.

The project, coordinated by the discipline of archaeology at the University of Helsinki, will also welcome researchers from Mainz, London, Bristol and Budapest, in addition to which the group will collaborate with Czech, Slovak and Polish colleagues. Field studies and sample collection for the project will be conducted in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.

In Helsinki, Volker Heyd’s main collaborator is Professor Heikki Seppä from the Department of Geosciences and Geography on the Kumpula Campus, while the team will also be hiring three postdoctoral researchers.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC, after Heyd (2007, 2012)

Yam­naya from the east changed Europe forever

The researchers wish to understand how the Yamnaya migrated to Europe and how the arrival of a new culture changed an entire continent.

How many people actually arrived? Taking the scale of the changes, some estimates range in the millions, but according to Volker Heyd, the number of people representing the Yamnaya culture in southeast Europe was around several ten thousands. It is indeed remarkable how such a relatively small group of people has had such a significant and far-reaching impact on Europe.

The Yamnaya also brought with them new cultural and social norms that have had far-reaching consequences. For instance, patriarchy and monogamy seems to be part of the Yamnaya legacy. Another established theory speculates that marriages made women migrate and travel even across great distances.

In accordance with primogeniture, the first-born son of the family inherited his parents’ possessions, while the younger siblings had to make their own way through other means. Among other things, this practice guaranteed ample human resources for the legions of the Roman Empire, which enabled its establishment and expansion, and later filled the ranks of medieval monasteries across Europe.

Another interesting question is what made representatives of the Yamnaya culture migrate from the eastern European steppes to the west. Heyd believes that the underlying reason may have been climate change. The Yamnaya were almost exclusively dependent on animal husbandry. As the climate changed – when rainfalls decreased in the east – they may have been forced to migrate west to secure the welfare of their cattle.

North-East Europe and Corded Ware

Heyd has already been here as a visiting professor in the Helsinki University Humanities programme since the beginning of the year, working on another project. Together with Postdoctoral Researcher Kerkko Nordqvist, he is investigating the prehistoric settlement of north-eastern Europe 3,000 – 6,000 years ago with research methods similar to the new Yamnaya project. One of their central research questions is what made people migrate to this region, and which innovations they brought with them. In this case also, the reasons behind the migration may be related to changes in the environment and climate.

This is probably bad news for research in the UK (I say probably because I guess many Brexiteers will be happy to have less foreign researchers in their country), but it is great news to see both researchers, Heyd and Nordqvist (whose Ph.D. thesis includes research on the Corded Ware culture that I have recently mentioned) – , be able to collaborate together to assess Indo-European and Uralic migrations.

Heyd’s website at the University of Bristol states that he is currently working on:

  1. The Milking Revolution in Temperate Neolithic Europe (NeoMilk)‘. Funded by an ERC Advanced Grant, European Union, to R. Evershed. See, for further information:
  2. The Yamnaya Impact‘: Archaeology and scientific research of/into the Yamnaya populations of Southeastern Europe and their impact on contemporary local and neighboring 3rd millennium BC societies as well as their role in the emergence of the Corded Ware and Bell Beaker complexes in Europe.
  3. The Prehistoric Peopling of Northeastern Europe‘: Inter-/crossdisciplinary studies on the archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, and bio- and environmental sciences of early Uralic speakers and their first horizon of interactions with Indo-European speakers. This wider project is in cooperation with colleagues from Helsinki and Turku Universities in Finland, as well as from Russia, Estonia and Poland.
  4. Czech Republic‘: I am closely cooperating with the Institute of Archaeology, Czech Academy of Sciences, in Prague for two research projects funded by the Czech Grant Agency in which we measure various isotopes from human remains in Bristol to understand past mobility and diet. The Humboldt-Kolleg -conference ‘Reinecke’s Heritage’ (with P. Pavúk, M. Ernée and J. Peska) held in June 2017 at Chateau Křtiny/Moravia is also part of this cooperation. See, for further information:
Image modified from Narasimhan et al. (2018), including the most likely proto-language identification of different groups. Original description “Modeling results including Admixture events, with clines or 2-way mixtures shown in rectangles, and clouds or 3-way mixtures shown in ellipses”. See the original full image here.

On the genetic aspect, we have gross Yamna migrations today as clearly depicted as they will ever be: late Khvalynsk/Yamna expanded Late Proto-Indo-European languages, and Bell Beakers brought North-West Indo-European to almost all of Europe, as predicted in Harrison and Heyd (2007). Full stop.

There is still fine-grained population structure, though, as Lazaridis puts it, to be detected in migratory movements contemporary or subsequent to the Yamna settlements in South-East Europe and the East Bell Beaker expansion.

We will probably lack a comprehensive description of local archaeological cultural exchanges – to fit the potential dialectal developments and expansions – to be coupled with small-scale migratory movements in genetics, as more samples are made available.

This work from the University of Helsinki will hopefully provide the necessary detailed anthropological foundations to be used with future genetic studies to obtain a more precise picture of the formation and expansion of North-West Indo-Europeans.


Haplogroup R1b-L51 in Khvalynsk samples from the Samara region dated ca. 4250-4000 BC

A commenter in a previous post left a reference to an oral communication by Aleksander Khokhlov – shared in a Russian forum on genetics – , from the XIV Conference on Samaran Archaeology, 27-28th January 2018 (still publicized in the Samaran Archaeological Society).

NOTE. You may know Khokhlov as a palaeoanthropologist, part of the Samara Valley project, like David W. Anthony. See the project referenced here, or their recently published book.

Here is my translation of the reported summary (emphasis mine):

Khokhlov, A.A. Preliminary results of anthropological and genetic studies of materials of the Volga-Ural region of the Neolithic-Early Bronze Age by an international group of scientists.

In his report, A. A. Khokhlov introduced the scientific circle to the still unpublished data of the new Eneolithic burial ground Yekaterinovskiy Cape, which combines both the Mariupol and Khvalynsk features, and is dated to the fourth quarter of the V millennium BC. All samples analyzed had a Uraloid anthropological type, the chromosome of all samples belonged to haplogroup R1b1a2 (R-P312/S116), and to haplogroup R1b1a1a2a1a1c2b2b1a2. mtDNA to haplogroups U2, U4, U5. In the Khvalynsk burial grounds (first half of the IV millennium BC), the anthropological material differs in a greater variety. In addition to the Uraloid substratum, European wide-faced and southern European variants are recorded. To the samples are added haplogroup R1a1, O1a1, I2a2 to mtDNA T2a1b, H2a1.

Yekaterinovskiy burial of male, 20-25 years old, dated ca. 4400-4200 BC. Via Pikabu.

So, first of all:

  • This is a reported summary of an oral communication, and it was written in a forum by a user. Unlike many out there, though, this one uses his real name, apparently assisted to the conference, and is himself a Russian of self-reported haplogroup R1a1a, so probably no interest in reporting this if it’s not true. Errors contained may have been made by him, and may not have been found in the original communication, since he says he wrote it by hand.
  • Something is obviously off with the haplogroup nomenclature. There has recently been mixing of standards, with some papers reporting R1b1a2-M269 (which is supposed to be now ISOGG V88), and most using R1b1a1a2-M269. What I had never seen is both standards used at the same time, as in this report, so I guess it’s another error of transcription.
  • It is doubtful that we would be talking about that recent referenced subclade of U106, but it can’t be a surprise to finally find L51 subclades alongside Z2103 in Proto-Indo-European territory. Also, the summary must obviously refer to Q1a1, not O1a1, and probably to the first half of the V (and not IV) millennium BC.

NOTE. Since Khokhlov, like Anthony, is an anthropologist, and this is an archaeological conference, we could suppose – if the report is truthful to what he said or what could be read in the summary – that this is the best he can do to report genetic material that was not assessed by him, but by a specialized lab, because it is not his field. I think the relevant data is nevertheless useful until we have the official publication.

Archaeological remains studied come from a site near Yekaterinovka. You can read more about it in The Ekaterinovsky cape – A new Eneolithic burial ground in the forest-steppe volga region (2013).

From this report of archaeological works, we know there were 60 Early Eneolithic burials excavated in 2013, dating to the period between S’yezzhe and Khvalynsk. 15 more burials were excavated in 2017, and there are to date already around 93 reported burials, with ongoing excavations.

Assuming that what the report conveys is more or less correct in the basics, let’s derive some simple conclusions from the data:

  • The presence of some samples uniformly of R1b-L23 subclades that early will mean an end to the question of when this haplogroup dominated over the Khvalynsk population, and probably also when it appeared (rather early during this culture’s formation), since it would mean R1b-L23 subclades were widespread already by the end of the 5th millenium.
  • I can only guess that CHG ancestry will be found in these samples, based indirectly on what is reported in anthropological terms, and what appears later in Yamna and Afanasevo samples. This will contradict some recent comments suggesting an admixture driven by males from the south, and especially a Maykop -> Khvalynsk migration as a source of this component, placing the admixture at earlier times, and/or driven by exogamy. Therefore we can reject the formation of Middle PIE outside of Khvalynsk, and also the expansion of Proto-Anatolian from Maykop (unless Maykop itself is proposed as a steppe offshoot).
  • The presence of L51 lineages in certain clans side by side with others formed mainly by Z2103 in such a small region supports (as I proposed) the existence of early diverging LPIE communities – and therefore also the early splitting of a Northern and a Southern (i.e. Graeco-Aryan) dialect, each associated with certain regional groups – already by this time, which may help with the identification of later migrants that ended in Afanasevo (and thus confirm the dialectal origin of Pre-Tocharian). It goes without saying that all those ideas of R1b-L51 stemming from North Pontic cultures, the Balkans, Central or Western Europe – unrelated to Khvalynsk or Yamna – should be rejected.
  • Khvalynsk was probably dominated by R1b-L23 subclades already ca. 4250-4000 BC, which – combined with earlier, more diverse Eneolithic samples from the region (dated ca. 5000-4500 BC) – would support an expansion of these subclades just before this time, in the mid-5th millennium BC, as I proposed based on ancient samples and TMRCAs of modern haplogroups. It is now more likely then that I was right in linking the expansion of R1b-M269 and early R1b-L23 lineages as chiefs with the spread of horse riding from early Khvalynsk, and thus associated also with the split and migration of the Proto-Anatolian community, probably with expanding Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs.
  • These findings should finally put an end to the idea of a shared “R1a-R1b Proto-Indo-European community”, by rejecting its existence already during the early Khvalynsk period, and therefore also rejecting the idea of a North Pontic Indo-Slavonic proto-language as impossible, since it would need a split 2,000 years before the known Late PIE expansions associated with Yamna, and 3,000 years before the formation of the early Indo-Iranian community in Sintashta-Andronovo.

NOTE. While the presence of R1b-P312 and R1b-U106 subclades that early does not seem likely based on their estimated formation dates (in turn based on modern descendants), this is not the first time that such estimations have been proven wrong with ancient samples (viz. the “late” Z93 subclade from Eneolithic Ukraine sample I6561). Also, we already have one sample labelled U106 supposedly expanding with Indo-Iranians, and a sample of an early L51 subclade in Central Asia potentially linked to Afanasevo migrants in the infamous tables of Narasimhan et al. (2018), which help support its early presence in the North Caspian area. Some of these younger subclades seem (based on TMRCAs and forming dates of modern haplogroups) more like a wrong ‘excessive-subclade-reporting fest’, probably due to the use of a certain software for inferences of Y-SNP calls from scarce material, but who knows.

EDIT (2 MAY 2018): A commenter in the forum cast doubts on the actual dates of the site, citing the reservoir effect in Khvalynsk which may show earlier radiocarbon dates than the actual ones. Since this is an international team well versed in archaeological remains of this region, and there have been already many samples and remains assessed before and after these dates, it is not very likely that they did not take such problems of radiocarbon dating into account when reporting the findings…

The publication of this and more data in a book is supposedly due for the summer, so let’s wait for the officially reported haplogroups, and for the corrected tables in Narasimhan et al. (2018), to draw the necessary detailed conclusions.

This post was emailed to subscribers of this blog on the 1st of May immediately after publication, with our Newsletter. If you want to keep up to date with the latest interesting information instantly (few mails will be submitted a month, if any), subscribe now.

EDIT (May 2017) The answer I received from the group to my questions regarding these samples can be read here.


Rakhigarhi samples from the Indus Valley Civilisation will support the conclusions of Narasimhan et al. (2018)


New article on The Caravan, Indus Valley People Did Not Have Genetic Contribution From The Steppes: Head Of Ancient DNA Lab Testing Rakhigarhi Samples, by Hartosh Singh Val.

Niraj Rai, head of the DNA Laboratory where the samples from the Harappan site of Rakhigarhi in Haryana are being analysed, has this to say:

It will show that there is no steppe contribution to the Indus Valley DNA.

The Indus Valley people were indigenous, but in the sense that their DNA had contributions from near eastern Iranian farmers mixed with the Indian hunter-gatherer DNA, that is still reflected in the DNA of the people of the Andaman islands.

The Rakhigarhi study provides direct evidence for the claims of a paper published in preprint on bioRxiv in March 2018, which outlines a comprehensive model for the settlement of different populations within the subcontinent.

Rai had earlier told Open magazine that the male:

Y chromosome R1a genetic marker is missing in the Rakhigarhi sample.

Commenting on other hypotheses:

any model of migration of Indo-Europeans from South Asia simply cannot fit the data that is now available.

The paper based on the examination of the Rakhigarhi samples will soon be published on bioRxiv.

EDIT: Added related Tweet of the report’s author:


Consequences of O&M 2018 (III): The Balto-Slavic conundrum in Linguistics, Archaeology, and Genetics

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

The recent publication of Narasimhan et al. (2018) has outdated the draft of this post a bit, and it has made it at the same time still more interesting.

While we wait for the publication of the dataset (and the actual Y-DNA haplogroups and precise subclades with the revision of the paper), and as we watch the wrath of Hindu nationalists vented against the West (as if the steppe was in Western Europe) and science itself, we have already seen confirmation from the Reich Lab of their new approach to Late Proto-Indo-European migrations.

Yamna/Steppe EMBA, previously identified as the direct source of “steppe” ancestry (AKA Yamnaya‘ ancestry) and Late Indo-European migrations in Asia – through Corded Ware, it is to be understood – has been officially changed. In the case of Indo-Iranian migrations it is the “Steppe MLBA cloud”, after a direct contribution to it of Yamna/Steppe EMBA, which expanded Indo-Iranian, as I predicted ancient DNA could support.

In Twitter, the main author responded the following when asked for this change regarding the origin of steppe ancestry in Asian migrants (emphasis mine):

Our reasons are:

  1. The Turan samples show no elevated steppe ancestry till 2000BC.
  2. MLBA is R1a
  3. Indus periphery doesn’t have steppe ancestry but Swat does, and EMBA doesn’t work both in terms of time or genetic ancestry to explain the difference.
Image modified from Narasimhan et al. (2018), including the most likely proto-language identification of different groups. Original description “Modeling results including Admixture events, with clines or 2-way mixtures shown in rectangles, and clouds or 3-way mixtures shown in ellipses”. Yes, this map is the latest official view on migrations from the Reich Lab now. See the original full image here.

I am glad to see finally recognized that Y-DNA haplogroups and time have to be taken into account, and happy also to see an end to the by now obsolete ‘ADMIXTURE/PCA-only relevance’ in Human Ancestry. The timing of archaeological migrations, the cultural attribution of each sample, and the role of Y-DNA variability reduction and expansion have been finally recognized as equally important to assess potential migrations, as I requested.

This change was already in the making some months ago, when David Anthony – who has worked with the group for this paper and others before it – already changed his official view on Corded Ware – from his previous support of the 2015 model. His latest theory, which linked Yamna settlements in Hungary with a potential mixed society of migrants (of R1b-L23 and R1a-Z645 lineages) from West Yamna, is most likely wrong, too, but it was clearly a brave step forward in the right direction.

The only reasonable model now is that Yamna expanded Late Proto-Indo-European languages with steppe ancestry + R1b-L23 subclades.

You can either accept this change, or you can deny it and wait until one sample of R1a-Z645 appears in West Yamna or central Europe, or one sample of R1b-L23 appears in Corded Ware (as it is obvious it could happen), to keep spreading the wrong ideas still some more years, while the rest of the world goes on: Mallory, Anthony, and other archaeologists co-authoring the latest paper (probably part of the stronger partnership with academics that we were going to see), who had formally put forward complex, detailed theories, investing their time and name in them, have rejected their previous migration models to develop new ones based on the most recent findings. If they can do that, I am sure any amateur geneticist out there can, too.

Modified image, from Narasimhan et al. (2018). Anthony’s new model of a Yamna Hungary -> Corded Ware (Małopolska) migration arrow in red. Notice also how they keep the arrow from West Yamna to the north (in black), due probably to the Baltic Late Neolithic samples (see below).

The Balto-Slavic dialect and its homeland

An interesting question in Linguistics and Archaeology, now that Corded Ware cannot be identified as “Indo-Slavonic” or any other imaginary ancient group (like Indo-Slavo-Germanic), remains thus mostly unchanged since before the famous 2015 genetic papers:

  • Was Balto-Slavic a dialect of the expanding North-West Indo-European language, a Northern LPIE dialect, as we support, based on morphological and lexical isoglosses?
  • Or was it part of an Indo-Slavonic group in East Yamna, i.e. a Graeco-Aryan dialect, based mainly on the traditional Satem-Centum phonological division?

I am a strong supporter of Balto-Slavic being a member of a North-West Indo-European group. That’s probably because I educated myself first with the main Spanish books* on Proto-Indo-European reconstruction, and its authors kept repeating this consistent idea, but I have found no relevant data to reject it in the past 15 years.

* Today two of the three volumes are available in English, although they are from the early 1990s, hence a bit outdated. They also maintain certain peculiarities from Adrados’ own personal theories, such as multiple (coloured) laryngeals, 5 cases – with a common ancestral oblique case – for Middle PIE, etc. But it has lots of detailed discussions on the different aspects of the reconstruction. It is not an easy introductory manual to the field, though; for that you have already many famous short handbooks out there, like those of Fortson (N.American), Beekes (Leiden), or Meier-Brügger (Germany).

Fernando and I have always maintained that North-West Indo-European must have formed a very recent community, probably connected well into the early 2nd millennium BC for certain recent isoglosses to spread among its early dialects, based on our guesstimates*, and on our belief that it formed at some point not just a dialect continuum, but probably a common language, so we estimated that the expansion was associated with the pan-European influence of Únětice and close early Bronze Age European contacts.

NOTE. I know, you must be thinking “linguistic guesstimates? Bollocks, that’s not Science”. Right? Wrong. When you learn a dozen languages from different branches, half a dozen ancient ones, and then still study some reconstructed proto-languages from them, you begin to make your own assumptions about how the language changes you perceive could have developed according to your mental time frames. If you just learned a second language and some Latin in school, and try to make assumptions as to how language changes, or you believe you can judge it with this limited background, you have evidently the wrong idea of what a guesstimate is. I accept criticism to this concept from a scientist used only to statistical methods, since it comes from pure ignorance of what it means. And I accept alternative guesstimates from linguists whose language backgrounds may differ (and thus their perception of language change). However, I would not accept a glottochronological or otherwise (supposedly) statistical model instead (or a religious model, for that matter), so we have no alternatives to guesstimates for the moment.

In fact, guesstimates and dialectalization have paved the way to the steppe hypothesis, first with the kurgan hypothesis by Marija Gimbutas, then complemented further in the past 60 years by linguists and archaeologists into a detailed Khvalynsk -> Yamna -> Afanasevo/Bell Beaker/Sintashta-Andronovo expansion model, now confirmed with genomics. So either you trust us (or any other polyglot who deals with Indo-European matters, like Adrados, Lehmann, Beekes, Kloekhorst, Kortlandt, etc.), or you begin learning ancient languages and obtaining your own guesstimates, whichever way you prefer. The easy way of numbers + computer science does not exist yet, and is quite far from happening – until we can understand how our brains summarize and select important details involved in obtaining estimates – , no matter what you might be reading (even in Nature or Science) recently

Proto-Indo-European dialectal expansion according to Adrados (1998).

Data from the 2015 papers changed my understanding of the original NWIE-speaking community, and I have since shifted my preffered anthropological model (from a Northern dialect in Yamna spreading into a loose NWIE-speaking Corded Ware -> Únětice) to a quite close group formed by late Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin, expanded as East Bell Beakers, and later continuing with close contacts through Central European EBA.

NOTE. As you can read, we initially rejected Gimbutas’ and Anthony’s (2007) notion of a Late PIE splitting suddenly into all known dialects (viz. Italo-Celtic with Vučedol/Bell Beaker), and looked thus for a common NWIE spread with Corded Ware migrants, with help from inferences of modern haplogroup distribution (as was common in the early 2000s). Language reconstruction was the foundation of that model, and it was right in its own way. It probably gave the wrong idea to geneticists and archaeologists, who quite easily accepted some results from the 2015 papers as supporting this model. But it also helped us develop a new model and predict what would happen in future papers, as demonstrated in O&M 2018. Any alternative linguistic and archaeological model could explain what is seen today in genomics, but our model of North-West Indo-European reconstruction is obviously at present the best fit for it.

Map of Chalcolithic migrations (A Grammar of Modern Indo-European, 2nd ed. 2008): Corded Ware as the vector of Indo-European languages.

Nevertheless, one of the most important Balticists and Slavicists alive, Frederik Kortlandt, posits that there was in fact an Indo-Slavonic group, so one has to take that possibility into account. Not that his ideas are flawless, of course: he defends the glottalic theory – which is still held today by just a handful of researchers – , and I strongly oppose his description of Balto-Slavic and Germanic oblique cases in *-m- (against other LPIE *-bh-) as an ancestral remnant related to Anatolian (an ending which few scholars would agree corresponds to what he claims), since that would probably represent an older split than warranted in our model. I believe genetics is proving that the dialectalization of Late PIE happened as Fernando López-Menchero and I described.

NOTE. The idea with these examples of how he has been wrong in LPIE and MPIE reconstruction is not to observe the common ad hominem arguments used by amateur geneticists to dismiss academic proposals (“he said that and was wrong, ergo he is wrong now”). It is to bring into attention that the argument from authority is important for the academic community insofar as it creates a common ground, i.e. especially when there are many relevant scholars agreeing on the same subject. But, indeed, any model can and should be challenged, and all authorities are capable of being wrong, and in fact they often are.

The most common explanation today for the dialectal development *-m- is an innovation (not an archaism), whether morphological (viz. Ita. and Gk. them. pl *-i) or phonological (as I defend); and the most commonly repeated model for the satemization trend (even for those supporting a three-dorsal theory for PIE) is areal contact, whether driven by a previous (most likely Uralic) substratum, or not. Hence, if Kortlandt’s main different phonological and morphological assessments of the parent language are flawed, and they are the basis for his dialectal scheme, it should be revised.

The ‘atomic bomb’ that Indo-Slavonic proponents launched, in my opinion, was Holzer’s Temematic (born roughly at the same time as the renewed Old European concept in North-West Indo-European model of Oettinger) – and indeed Kortlandt’s acceptance of it. It seems to me like the linguistic equivalent of the archaeological “patron-client relationship” proposed by Anthony for a cultural diffusion of Late PIE into different Corded Ware regions: almost impossible to be fully rejected, if the Indo-Slavonic superstrate is proposed for a relatively early time.

In my opinion, the shared morphological layer with North-West Indo-European is obviously older than Iranian influence on Slavic, and I think this is communis opinio today. But how could we disentangle the dialectalization of Balto-Slavic, if there is (as it seems) an ancestral substrate layer (most likely Uralic) common to both Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian? It seems a very difficult task.

Diachronic map of migrations in Europe ca. 2250-1750 BC

The expansion of Balto-Slavic

In any case, there are two, and only two mainstream choices right now.

NOTE. Mainstream, as in representing trends current today among Indo-Europeanists, so that many programs around the world would explain these alternative models to their students, or they would easily appear in most handbooks. Not like the word “mainstream” you read in any comment out there by anyone who has never been interested in Indo-European studies, and uses any text from any author, written who knows how long ago, merely to justify their ethnic preconceptions coupled with certain genomic finds.

You can agree with:

A) The Spanish and German schools of thought, together with many American and British scholars, as well as archaeologists like Heyd, Mallory, or Prescott, and now Anthony, too: the language ancestral to Balto-Slavic, Germanic, and Italo-Celtic accompanied expanding West Yamna/East Bell Beakers into Europe, and then their speakers – like the rest of peoples everywhere in Europe – admixed later in the different regions.

B) Frederik Kortlandt and other Indo-Slavicists. The ‘original’ Balto-Slavic would have spread with Srubna (and likely Potapovka before it), as a product of the admixture of East Yamna’s Indo-Slavonic with incoming Corded Ware migrants (this would correspond to my description of Indo-Iranian). ‘True’ Balto-Slavic speakers would have then absorbed the Temematic-speaking migrants (equivalent to early Balto-Slavic migrants as described in the demic diffusion model) spreading from the west, most likely in the steppe. Later developments from the steppe would have then brought Baltic to the north, and Slavic to the west.

Therefore, in both cases the language spoken by early R1a-Z645 lineages in Únětice or Mierzanowice/Nitra EBA cultures would have been an eastern North-West Indo-European dialect associated with expanding Bell Beakers, and closely related to Germanic and Italo-Celtic. In the second case, the ancient samples we see genetically closer to modern West Slavs could thus be identified with those speaking the Temematic substrate absorbed later by Balto-Slavic, or maybe by Balts migrating northward, and Slavs spreading west- and southward.

NOTE. In any case, we know that R1a-Z645 subclades resurged in Central-East Europe after the expansion of Bell Beakers, potentially showing an ancient link with the prevalent R1a subclades in the region today. We know that some ancient Central European populations cluster near modern West Slavs, but in other interesting regions (like the British Isles, Central Europe, Scandinavia, or Iberia) we also see close clusters, and nevertheless observe historically documented radical ethnolinguistic changes, as well as many different subsequent genetic inflows and founder effects, that have significantly altered the anthropological picture in these regions, so it could very well be that the lineages we find in ancient samples do not correspond to modern West Slavic lineages, or even similar ancient and modern lineages could show a radical cultural discontinuity (as is likely the case in this to-and-from-the-steppe migration scheme).

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

Since we are going to see signs of both – west and east admixture – in early Slavic communities near the steppe, and the distribution from South, West, and East Slavs will include a wide “cloud” connecting Central, East, and South-East Europe, as it is evident already from early Germanic samples, it may be interesting to shift our attention to the Tollense valley and Lusatian samples, and their predominant Y-DNA haplogroups. Once again, tracking male-driven migrations from Central Europe to the Baltic region and the steppe, and back again to much of Central and South Europe, will determine which groups expanded this eastern NWIE dialect initially and in later times.

Since Baltic and Slavic languages are attested quite late, genetics is likely to help us select among the different available models for Balto-Slavic, although (it is worth repeating it) these lineages may not be the same that later expanded each dialect.

NOTE. Bronze and Iron Age samples might begin to depict the true Balto-Slavic migration map. Apart from the strong differences in the satemization processes seen among Baltic, Slavic, and Indo-Iranian, from an archaeological point of view the geographic location of the earliest attested Baltic languages and the prehistoric developments of the region seem to me almost incompatible with a homeland in the steppe. Anyway, in the worst-case scenario – for those of us who work with Balto-Slavic to reconstruct North-West Indo-European – there is consensus that there must an eastern North-West Indo-European language (which some would call Temematic), whose common traits with Germanic and Italo-Celtic we use to reconstruct their parent language. The question remains thus mostly theoretical, of limited pragmatic use for the reconstruction.

The third way: Baltic Late Neolithic

I have referred to Kristiansen and his group‘s position regarding Corded Ware as Indo-European as flawed before. While their latest interpretation (and language identification) was wrong, Kristiansen’s original idea of long-lasting contacts in the Dnieper-Dniester region with the area occupied by late Trypillia developing a Proto-Corded Ware culture was probably right, as we are seeing now.

New data in Mittnik et al. 2018 show some interesting early Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region – Zvejnieki, Gyvakarai1 (R1a-Z645) and Plinkaigalis242 – , proving what I predicted: that elevated steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 subclades would be found in the Dnieper-Dniester region unrelated to the Yamna expansion, and, it seems, to migrants of the Corded Ware A-horizon.

Funnily enough, this shows that there were probably ancient interactions in the region, as originally asserted by Kristiansen, and probably following some of Victor Klochko‘s proposed exchange paths, but earlier than predicted by him.

Nevertheless, linguist Guus Kroonen (from Kristiansen’s workgroup) issued a quick response to O&M 2018 in yet another twist of his agricultural substrate theory, changing Corded Ware from the vector to a vector of expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European languages (thus following again strictly Gimbutas’ oudated model), which fails thus to tackle the main inconsistencies of their previous models, as shown now with the latest paper on South Asian migrations. As I said, they were always one step behind Anthony, and they still are.

Funny also how Anthony, too – like Kristiansen – , may have been right all along since 2007, in proposing that Corded Ware (the nuclear Corded Ware migrants) stemmed from the Dnieper-Dniester region roughly at the same time as Yamna migrants expanded west, and that they did not have any direct genetic connection (in terms of migrations) with each other.

Most likely Pre-Proto-Anatolian migration with Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs in the North Pontic steppe and the Balkans.

Both researchers, who collaborated with the latest genomic research, remade their models, and have to revise now their most recent proposals with the new data, influencing each new paper published with their pressure to be right in their previous models, and with new genomic data compelling them to change their theories under the pressure not to be too wrong again, in this strange vicious circle. Had they remained silent and committed to their archaeological theories, they could have been right all along, each one in their own way.

NOTE. BTW, in case you see ad hominem here too, I feel compelled to say that only thanks to their commitment to disentangle the truth about ancient migrations, and their readiness to collaborate with genetic research – unlike many others in their field – we know today what we know. If they have been wrong many times, it is because they have tried to connect the genetic dots as they were told. Only because of their readiness to explore their science further they should be praised by all. But, again, that does not mean that they cannot be wrong in their models…

Thanks to Anthony’s latest change of mind, we don’t have to hear the “cultural diffusion” argument anymore, and I consider this a great advance for the field.

NOTE. Not that there could not be prehistoric cultural diffusion events of language (i.e. not accompanied by genetic admixture), of course, but such theories, almost impossible to disprove, probably need much more than a simple “patron-client relationship” proposal and anthropometry to justify them, in a time when we will be able to see almost every meaningful personal exchange in Genomics…

Today – since the finding of Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4200 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog culture – it seems more likely than ever that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades was in fact associated with the spread of steppe admixture probably near the North Pontic forest-steppe region, most likely from the Dnieper-Dniester or Upper Dniester region.

The appearance of a ‘late’ Z93 subclade already at such an early date, with steppe admixture, makes it still more likely that the Proto-Corded Ware culture, from where Corded Ware migrants of R1a-Z645 lineages later spread, was probably associated with this wide region.

In a parallel but unrelated migration, as it is now clear, steppe admixture also expanded with Yamna settlers of R1b-L23 lineages into the North Pontic steppe – from the North Caspian steppe, where it had developed previously as the Khvalynsk and (likely) Repin cultures -, roughly at the same time as Proto-Corded Ware expanded to the north, ca. 3300-3000 BC, and then expanded to the west into the Balkans (contributing to the formation of Balkan EBA cultures, and to the East Bell Beaker group).

NOTE. A migration of Yamna settlers northward along the Prut dated ca. 3000 BC or later could have justified the appearance of steppe admixture in the Dnieper-Dniester region, as I proposed for the Zvejnieki sample, although dates from Baltic samples are likely too early for that. For this to be corroborated, migrants should be accompanied up to a certain region by R1b-L23 lineages, and this could mean in turn a revival of Anthony’s original model of cultural diffusion of 2007. The most likely scenario, however, as predicted by Heyd, given the early appearance of steppe admixture and R1a-Z93 subclades in the forest-steppe during the 5th millennium, is that the admixture happened much earlier than that, fully unrelated to Late PIE migrations.

Diachronic map of Copper Age migrations in Europe ca. 3100-2600 BC

The modern Baltic and Slavic conundrum

As for some people of Northern European ancestry previously supporting a bulletproof Yamna (R1a/R1b) -> Corded Ware migration that was obviously wrong; now supporting different Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware groups representing Indo-Slavonic (and Germanic??) in a model that is clearly wrong: how are these attempts different from Western Europeans supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1b-P312 lineages against all recent data, from Indians supporting the autochthonous continuity of R1a-M417 lineages no matter what, and from the more recent trend of autochthonous continuity theories for N1c lineages and Uralic in Eastern Europe?

Modern Germanic-speaking peoples can trace their common language to Nordic Iron Age Proto-Germanic, Celts to La Tène’s expansion of Proto-Celtic, and Romance speakers to the Roman expansion (and to an earlier Proto-Italic), all three dating approximately to the Iron Age. Proto-Slavic is dated much later than that, and probably Proto-Baltic too (or maybe earlier depending on the dialectal proposal), with Balto-Slavic being possibly coeval with Pre-Proto-Germanic and Italo-Celtic, but probably slightly later than that. Also, the language ancestral to Slavic may be (like a theoretical Proto-Romance language) impossible to reconstruct with precision, due to multiple substrate (or superstrate?) influences on the wide territory where Proto-Slavic formed and expanded from, in close alliance with steppe communities of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds.

We know that proto-historic Germanic, Celtic, and Italic peoples spread from relatively small regions, and had almost nothing to do with historic groups speaking their daughter languages, let alone modern speakers. Baltic and Slavic are not different.

NOTE. We have read that Weltzin samples clustered closely to Central Europeans (especially Austrians), and at a certain distance from modern Poles. That’s the conclusion of Sell’s PhD thesis, and it may be right, if you take only modern samples for comparison. However, if you have read or thought that they represented some kind of “ancestral Germanic vs. Slavic” battle, please imagine Trump’s voice for my opinion: Wrroonng, wrroonng, wrroonng. They cluster closely with Bell Beaker migrants, Poland BA, and Únětice (in this order), which we now know thanks to the data from O&M 2018 and Mittnik et al. 2018. And we also know who they don’t cluster close too: Corded Ware and Trzciniec samples. Therefore, people from the region near the most likely homelands of Pre-Proto-Germanic and Proto-Balto-Slavic are – as expected – likely descendants from Bell Beaker migrants in Central Europe. The genetic relationship of those ancient samples to modern inhabitants of Central-East Europe? Not obvious – at all.

PCA of samples from Tollense Valley battlefield and some ancient and modern samples.

We also know (and have known for a long time, well before these recent papers) that the oldest attested Indo-European languagesMycenaean, early Anatolian languages, and Indo-Aryan (through certain words in Mitanni inscriptions) – do not show continuity from the places where they were first attested to the Late and Middle Proto-Indo-European (steppe) homeland either. There should be no problem then in accepting that there is no linguistic, archaeological, or common sense reason to support that Balto-Slavic is older or shows more regional continuity than other IE languages from Europe.

NOTE. Oh yes, Balts saying “Baltic is the most similar language to PIE” I hear you thinking? Uh-huh, sure. And according to some Greeks (supported e.g. by the conclusions from Lazaridis et al. 2017) Mycenaeans were ‘autochthonous’, and Proto-Greek the most similar to PIE. For many Hindus, Vedic Sanskrit is in fact PIE), and the latest paper by Narasimhan et al. (2018) only reinforces this idea (don’t ask me why). Also, Caucasian scholar Gamkrelidze (with Ivanov) supported the origin of the language precisely in the Caucasus, with Armenian being thus the purest language. For Italians fans of Virgil and the Roman Empire, Latin (like Aeneas) comes from Anatolian linguistically and genetically, hence it must be the ‘oldest’ IE dialect alive… No, wait, Danish scholars Kroonen and Iversen quite recently asserted that Germanic is the oldest to branch off, then it should thus be nearest to PIE! I think you can see a pattern here…And don’t forget about the new Vasconic-Uralic hypotheses going on now, with Vasconic fans of R1b changing from Palaeolithic to Mesolithic, and now to European Neolithic and whatnot, or Uralic fans of N1c changing now from Mesolithic EHG to Siberia (for ancestry) or Central Asia (for N1c subclades), or whatever is necessary to believe in ‘continuity’ of their people following the newest genetic papers… Just pick whatever theory you want, call it “mainstream”, and that’s it.

So, if there is no reliable archaeological model connecting Bronze or Iron Age cultures to Eastern European cultures which are supposed to represent the Proto-Slavic and Proto-Baltic homelands…why on earth would any reasonable amateur (not to speak about scholars) dare propose any sort of genetic or linguistic continuity for thousands of years from PIE to early Slavs, a people whose first blurry appearance in historical records happened during the Middle Ages in rather turbulent and genetically admixed regions? It does not make any sense, and it had all odds against it. Blond hair, blue eyes, lactase persistence? Sure, and ABO group, brachycephaly, anthropometry… All very scientifish.

Diachronic map of migrations during Classical Antiquity in Europe 250 BC – 250 AD.
Where’s Proto-Slavic Wally?


Human ancestry can only help refine solid academic theories, it cannot create one. Every new pet theory used to satisfy modern cultural pre- and misconceptions has failed, and it will fail again, and again, and again…

To have an own anthropological model of prehistoric migration requires time and study. It is not enough to play with software and to misuse traditional academic disciplines just to ‘prove’ some completely irrelevant, meaningless, and false continuity.


Early Indo-Iranian formed mainly by R1b-Z2103 and R1a-Z93, Corded Ware out of Late PIE-speaking migrations


The awaited, open access paper on Asian migrations is out: The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia, by Narasimhan et al. bioRxiv (2018).


The genetic formation of Central and South Asian populations has been unclear because of an absence of ancient DNA. To address this gap, we generated genome-wide data from 362 ancient individuals, including the first from eastern Iran, Turan (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan), Bronze Age Kazakhstan, and South Asia. Our data reveal a complex set of genetic sources that ultimately combined to form the ancestry of South Asians today. We document a southward spread of genetic ancestry from the Eurasian Steppe, correlating with the archaeologically known expansion of pastoralist sites from the Steppe to Turan in the Middle Bronze Age (2300-1500 BCE). These Steppe communities mixed genetically with peoples of the Bactria Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) whom they encountered in Turan (primarily descendants of earlier agriculturalists of Iran), but there is no evidence that the main BMAC population contributed genetically to later South Asians. Instead, Steppe communities integrated farther south throughout the 2nd millennium BCE, and we show that they mixed with a more southern population that we document at multiple sites as outlier individuals exhibiting a distinctive mixture of ancestry related to Iranian agriculturalists and South Asian hunter-gathers. We call this group Indus Periphery because they were found at sites in cultural contact with the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) and along its northern fringe, and also because they were genetically similar to post-IVC groups in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. By co-analyzing ancient DNA and genomic data from diverse present-day South Asians, we show that Indus Periphery-related people are the single most important source of ancestry in South Asia — consistent with the idea that the Indus Periphery individuals are providing us with the first direct look at the ancestry of peoples of the IVC — and we develop a model for the formation of present-day South Asians in terms of the temporally and geographically proximate sources of Indus Periphery-related, Steppe, and local South Asian hunter-gatherer-related ancestry. Our results show how ancestry from the Steppe genetically linked Europe and South Asia in the Bronze Age, and identifies the populations that almost certainly were responsible for spreading Indo-European languages across much of Eurasia.

NOTE. The supplementary material seems to be full of errors right now, because it lists as R1b-M269 (and further subclades) samples that have been previously expressly said were xM269, so we will have to wait to see if there are big surprises here. So, for example, samples from Mal’ta (M269), Iron Gates (M269 and L51), and Latvia Mesolithic (L51), a Deriivka sample from 5230 BC (M269), Armenia_EBA (Z2103)…Also, the sample from Yuzhnyy Oleni Ostrov is R1a-M417 now.

EDIT (1 APR 2018): The main author has confirmed on Twitter that they have used a new Y Chr caller that calls haplogroups given the data provided, and depending on the coverage tried to provide a call to the lowest branch of the tree possible, so there are obviously a lot of mistakes – not just in the subclades of R. A revision of the paper is on its way, and soon more people will be able to work with the actual samples, since they say they are releasing them.

Nevertheless, since it is subclades (and not haplogroups) the apparent source of gross errors, for the moment it seems we can say with a great degree of confidence that:

  • New samples of East Yamna / Poltavka are of haplogroup R1b-L23.
  • Afanasevo is confirmed to be dominated by R1b-M269.
  • Sintashta, as I predicted could happen, shows a mixed R1b-L23/ R1a-Z645 society, compatible with my model of continuity of Proto-Indo-Iranian in the East Yamna admixture with late Corded Ware immigrants.

With lesser confidence in precise subclades, we find that:

  • A sample from Hajji Firuz in Iran ca. 5650 BC, of subclade R1b-Z2103, may confirm Mesolithic R1b-M269 lineages from the Caucasus as the source of CHG ancestry to Khvalynsk/Yamna, and be thus the reason why Reich wrote about a potential PIE homeland south of the Caucasus . (EDIT 11 APR 2018) The sample shows steppe ancestry, therefore the date is most likely incorrect, and a new radiocarbon dating is due. It is still interesting – depending on the precise subclade – for its potential relationship with IE migrations into the area.
  • New samples of East Yamna / Poltavka are of haplogroup R1b-Z2103.
  • Afanasevo migrants are mainly of haplogroup R1b-Z2103.
    • The Darra-e Kur sample, ca. 2655, of haplogroup R1b-L151, without a clear cultural adscription, may be the expected sign of Afanasevo migrants (Pre-Proto-Tocharian speakers) expanding a Northern Indo-European (in contrast with a Southern or Graeco-Aryan) dialect, in a region closely linked with the later desert mummies in the Tarim Basin. Its early presence there would speak in favour of a migration through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor previous to the one caused by Andronovo migrants.
  • Sintashta shows a mixed R1b-Z2103 / R1a-Z93 society.
    • Later Indo-Iranian migrations are apparently dominated by R1a-Z2123, an early subclade of R1a-Z93, also found in Srubna.
    • R1b is also seen later in BMAC (ca. 1487 BC), although its subclade is not given.
  • There is also a sample of R1a-Z283 subclade in the eastern steppe (ca. 1600 BC). What may be interesting about it is that it could mark one of the subclades not responsible for the expansion of Balto-Slavic (or responsible for it with the expansion of Srubna, for those who support an Indo-Slavonic branch related Sintashta-Potapovka).
  • A sample of R1b-U106 subclade is found in Loebanr_IA ca. 950 BC, which – together with the sample of Darra-e Kur – is compatible with the presence of L51 in Yamna.

NOTE. Errors in haplogroups of previously published samples make every subclade of new samples from the supplementary table questionable, but all new samples (safe for the Darra_i_Kur one) were analysed and probably reported by the Reich Lab, and at least upper subclades in each haplogroup tree seem mostly coherent with what was expected. Also, the contribution of Iranian Farmer related (a population in turn contributing to Hajji Firuz) to Khvalynsk in their sketch of the genetic history may be a sign of the association of R1b-M269 lineages with CHG ancestry, although previous data on precise R1b subclades in the region contradict this. (EDIT 11 APR 2018) The sample of Hajji Firuz is most likely much younger than the published date, hence its younger subclade may be correct. No revision or comment on this matter has been published, though.

Modeling results. (A) Admixture events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading 538 to the formation of the modern Indian cloud shown geographically. Clines or 2-way mixtures of 539 ancestry are shown in rectangles, and clouds (3-way mixtures) are shown in ellipses.

Also, it seems that the Corded Ware culture appears now irrelevant for Late Proto-Indo-European migrations. Observe:

In the text, a consistent terminology of Yamnaya or Yamnaya-related Steppe pastoralists, discarding the relevance of previous migrations from the North Pontic steppe in spreading Late Indo-European:

Our results also shed light on the question of the origins of the subset of Indo-European languages spoken in India and Europe (45). It is striking that the great majority of Indo-European speakers today living in both Europe and South Asia harbor large fractions of ancestry related to Yamnaya Steppe pastoralists (corresponding genetically to the Steppe_EMBA cluster), suggesting that “Late Proto-Indo-European”—the language ancestral to all modern Indo- European languages—was the language of the Yamnaya (46). While ancient DNA studies have documented westward movements of peoples from the Steppe that plausibly spread this ancestry to Europe (5, 31), there has not been ancient DNA evidence of the chain 488 of transmission to South Asia. Our documentation of a large-scale genetic pressure from Steppe_MLBA groups in the 2nd millennium BCE provides a prime candidate, a finding that is consistent with archaeological evidence of connections between material culture in the Kazakh middle-to-late Bronze Age Steppe and early Vedic culture in India (46).

EDIT (1 APR 2018): I corrected this text and the word ‘official’ in the title, because more than rejecting the role of Corded Ware migrants in expanding Late PIE, they actually seem to keep considering Corded Ware migrants as continuing the western Yamna expansion in the Carpathian Basin, so no big ‘official’ change or retraction in this paper, just subtle movements out of their previous model.

Modeling results.(B) A 540 schematic model of events originating from 7 “Distal” populations leading to the formation of 541 the modern Indian cline, shown chronologically. (C) Admixture proportions as estimated 542 using qpAdm for populations reflected in A and B.

NOTE. If they correct the haplogroups soon, I will update the information in this post. Unless there is a big surprise that merits a new one, of course.

EDIT (1 APR 2018): Multiple minor edits to the original post.

EDIT (2 APR 2018): While I and other simple-minded people were only looking to confirm our previous theories using Y-DNA haplogroups, and are content with wildly speculating over the consequences if some of those strange (probably wrong) ones were true, intelligent people are using their time for something useful, interpreting the results of the investigation as described in the paper, to offer a clearer picture of Indo-Iranian migrations for everyone:

Visit the beautiful interactive map with samples: with their location, PCA, ADMIXTURE and haplogroups (still with those originally given):!/vizhome/TheGenomicFormationofSouthandCentralAsia/Fig_1

Featured image, from the article: “A Tale of Two Subcontinents. The prehistory of South Asia and Europe are parallel in both being impacted by two successive spreads, the first from the Near East after 7000 BCE bringing agriculturalists who mixed with local hunter-gatherers, and the second from the Steppe after 3000 BCE bringing people who spoke Indo-European languages and who mixed with those they encountered during their migratory movement. Mixtures of these mixed populations then produced the rough clines of ancestry present in both South Asia and in Europe today (albeit with more variable proportions of local hunter-gatherer-related ancestry in Europe than in India), which are (imperfectly) correlated to geography. The plot shows in contour lines the time of the expansion of Near Eastern agriculture. Human movements and mixtures, which also plausibly contributed to the spread of languages, are shown with arrows.”


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.

See also:

Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-Z2103 in Proto-Indo-Iranians?


We already know that the Sintashta -> Andronovo migrants will probably be dominated by Y-DNA R1a-Z93 lineages. However, I doubt it will be the only Y-DNA haplogroup found.

I said in my predictions for this year that there could not be much new genetic data to ascertain how Pre-Indo-Iranian survived the invasion, gradual replacement and founder effects that happened in terms of male haplogroups after the arrival of late Corded Ware migrants, and that we should probably have to rely on anthropological explanations for language continuity despite genetic replacement, as in the Basque case.

Nevertheless, since we have very few samples, I think we could still see a clear genetic contribution from Yamna to Corded Ware immigrants in the North Caspian region (from Abashevo, in turn a mix of Fatyanovo/Balanovo and Catacomb/Poltavka cultures) in terms of:

  • Ancestral components and PCA in new Sintashta-Petrovka, Andronovo, and/or later samples – similar the ‘steppe’ drift seen in Potapovka relative to Sintashta samples, both formed by incoming Corded Ware migrants – ; and
  • R1b-L23 subclades, either appearing scattered during the Sintashta melting pot (of Abashevo/R1a-Z645 and East Yamna-Poltavka/R1b-Z2103 peoples), or resurging after this period, as we have seen in Pre-Balto-Slavic territory.

This contribution could better explain the obvious language continuity in the region, beautifully complementing the complex anthropological model we have now of archaeological continuity of Sintashta and Potapovka with the previous Poltavka, seen in a similar material and symbolic culture that survived the arrival of newcomers.

A lot of people seem to be looking like crazy since O&M 2018 for some sort of connection between Corded Ware and Yamna migrants in Eastern and Central Europe (wheter in SNP calls of samples published, or among almost forgotten academic papers), either to support the ideas of the 2015 papers – for those who relied on their conclusions and built (even if only mentally) far-fetched migration models around it – , or just because of some sort of absurd continuity theory involving modern R1a-Z645 subclades:

NOTE. The situation we have seen with the hundreds of samples from O&M 2018, and with the recent additional Eastern European samples, depict an unexpected absolutely clear-cut distinction in Y-DNA haplogroups between Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker: I really can’t see how the situation could be more obvious for everyone, so I doubt any further samples will make certain people change their minds. Their hope is, I guess, that just one sample may give some more oxygen to infinite pet theories, as we are still surprisingly seeing even with reactionary R1b autochthonous continuists in Western Europe…

However, looking into the most likely future for the field, what we should be expecting right now is continuity of Yamna ancestry and lineages in early Proto-Indo-Iranian territory. Since we only have a few samples from Sintashta-Petrovka, Potapovka, and Andronovo, I think there might be a sizeable number of R1b-Z2103 subclades in the territory inhabited by those who – no doubt – spread the language into Central Asia.

Modern Y-DNA haplogroup R1b distribution, by Maulucioni at Wikipedia

While full population replacement by R1a-Z93 lineages in the North Caspian region ca. 2000 BC is not impossible, I don’t think it is very likely, since we already know that there are R1b-Z2103 lineages widely distributed in Indo-Iranian-speaking territory, and Z93 is now known to be an older subclade than YFull’s mean formation date suggested (due to the Ukraine_Eneolithic I6561 sample‘s SNP call), so what we can infer now that actually happened in Sintashta -> Andronovo is not exactly the spread of haplogroup Z93 during its formation, but rather a regional reduction in its variability coupled with the expansion of some of its subclades.

The main question, after the South Asia paper is finally published, will then be:

  1. Given that Yamna peoples were an elite group of patrilineally-related families mainly of R1b-L23 subclades:
  2. Accepting that PCA, ADMIXTURE, and other statistical methods are not relevant (alone) for ethnolinguistic identification: e.g. Yamna ‘outliers’ and East Bell Beaker migrants of R1b-L23 lineages without steppe ancestry; N1c1a1a-L392 lineages and Siberian ancestry unrelated to Uralic speakers; R1a-Z645 and steppe ancestry in North-East Europe related to Uralic-speaking cultures
  3. If we find now, as I expect, genetic continuity of east Yamna in Sintashta -> Andronovo (relative to other late Corded Ware peoples), probably including haplogroup R1b-Z2103 mixed with R1a-Z93 before its further reduction of subclades (e.g. to L657) and expansion during its subsequent spread southward…

Diachronic map of migrations in Asia ca. 2250-1750 BC

Why exactly do we need Corded Ware to explain migrations of Late Indo-European speakers?

In other words: if we had the data we have today in 2015, would we have a need for Corded Ware to explain Indo-European migrations from the steppe? Are some people so blinded by their will to (appear to) be right in their past interpretations that they can’t just let go?

NOTE. On a side note, wouldn’t it be nice for this paper to publish some other R1b-L23 (x2103) sample – maybe even R1b-L51 – in Yamna, Andronovo, or Afanasevo territory, to end both autochthonous continuity theories (of North-Eastern and Western Europe) at the same time?

I really hope someone in David Reich’s team understands this matter, or else they will still identify Corded Ware as the (now probably ‘a’ instead) vector of expansion of Indo-European languages, and some of us will still have fun for another 2 or 3 years with such conclusions, until someone in the lab realizes that ancestry ≠ population ≠ ethnic identification ≠ language.

NOTE. It seems rather dull to read how people are discussing in the Twitterverse conventional constructs like ‘human race‘ as found in Reich’s op-ed in The New York Times, as if such grandiose semantic discussions had any practical meaning, when basic anthropological questions actually relevant for Genomics, like the essential ancestral component ≠ people tenet seem not to be of interest for anyone in the field….

Since our Indo-European demic difusion model (and its consequences for our reconstruction of North-West Indo-European) and this blog are becoming more and more popular each day – judging by the constant growth in visits in the past 6 months or so – , I guess the simplemindedness and predictability of certain geneticists is benefitting traditional anthropology directly, driving more and more amateur geneticists to look for sound academic models to answer the growing inconsistencies of genetic research.

NOTE. I am not saying the rejection of Corded Ware as spreading Indo-European is definitive. Maybe more samples within some years will depict a clear ancient expansion of Early or Middle Proto-Indo-Europeans from Khvalynsk to the forest-steppe and forest zone, and later with certain Corded Ware migrants into Central Europe, over whose territory a Late Indo-European dialect from Bell Beakers became the superstrate, as some have proposed in the past – e.g. to explain Krahe’s Old European hydronymy. I really doubt you could demonstrate such an old ethnolinguistic identification with a clear, unbroken archaeological trail, though, and we know now that this old hydronymy is probably of Late Indo-European nature (possibly even more recent).

What I am saying is: with the data we have now, it does not make any sense to keep the anthropological models invented by geneticists ex nihilo in 2015, and the hundred different alternative Late Indo-European migration models that arebornwitheachnewpaper.

These Yamna -> Corded Ware migration models didn’t have any sense for me since early 2016, but now after O&M 2017, and especially O&M 2018, I don’t think any geneticist with a little knowledge in Linguistics or Archaeology (if they are decent about their quest for truth in describing ancient European migrations) would buy them, if not for some sort of created ‘tradition’. So let’s ditch Corded Ware as Late Indo-European-speaking, let’s accept that late Corded Ware migrants should most likely be identified as early Uralic speakers, and then future data will tell if we are – again – wrong.

Please, don’t let Genomics become another pseudoscience based solely on Bioinformatics like glottochronology: let anthropologists (preferably mainstream archaeologists, but also the true Indo-Europeanists, linguists) help you interpret your raw data. Don’t deceive yourselves thinking that you have read enough about the Indo-European question, or that you know enough Indo-Europeanists (say what?) to derive your own conclusions.

Use the South Asia paper to begin expressly retracting the Corded Ware mess.

Please pretty please with sugar on top?


For commenters: this post concerns an anthropological question, and deals with the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European speakers from Yamna, and the controversy surrounding the role of Corded Ware migrants that a handful of academics propose spread from it, based on a renewed model of Gimbutas’ outdated Kurgan theory and on the so-called ‘Yamnaya’ ancestry.

It happens so that the discussion has turned lately mainly to ancient Y-DNA haplogroups, because they help confirm previous mainstream anthropological models of cultural diffusion and migration. It is obviously not reasonable to judge prehistoric ethnolinguistic migrations from ca. 5,000 years ago based on historical nation-states and ethnic or religious concepts invented since the Middle Ages, coupled with “your” people’s main modern (or your own) paternal lineage.

EDIT (27 MAR 2018): Minor corrections and post made shorter.