The genetic and cultural barrier of the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone


We know that the Caucasus Mountains formed a persistent prehistoric barrier to cultural and population movements. Nevertheless, an even more persistent frontier to population movements in Europe, especially since the Neolithic, is the Pontic-Caspian steppe – forest-steppe ecotone.

Like the Caucasus, this barrier could certainly be crossed, and peoples and cultures could permeate in both directions, but there have been no massive migrations through it. The main connection between both regions (steppe vs. forest-steppe/forest zone) was probably through its eastern part, through the Samara region in the Middle Volga.

The chances of population expansions crossing this natural barrier anywhere else seem quite limited, with a much less porous crossing region in the west, through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor.

A Persistent ecological and cultural frontier

It is very difficult to think about any culture that transgressed this persistent ecological and cultural frontier: many prehistoric and historical steppe pastoralists did appear eventually in the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during their expansions (e.g. Yamna, Scythians, or Turks), as did forest groups who permeated to the south (e.g. Comb Ware, GAC, or Abashevo), but their respective hold in foreign biomes was mostly temporary, because their cultures had to adapt to the new ecological environment. Most if not all groups originally from a different ecological niche eventually disappeared, subjected to renewed demographic pressure from neighbouring steppe or forest populations…

The Samara region in the Middle Volga may be pointed out as the true prehistoric link between forests and steppes (see David Anthony’s remarks), something reflected in its nature as a prehistoric sink in genetics. This strong forest – forest-steppe – steppe connection was seen in the Eurasian technocomplex, during the expansion of hunter-gatherer pottery, in the expansion of Abashevo peoples to the steppes (in one of the most striking cases of population admixture in the area), with Scythians (visible in the intense contacts with Ananyino), and with Turks (Volga Turks).

Simplified map of the distribution of steppes and forest-steppes (Pontic and Pannonian) and xeric grasslands in Eastern Central Europe (with adjoining East European ranges) with their regionalisation as used in the review (Northern—Pannonic—Pontic). Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Before the emergence of pastoralism, the cultural contacts of the Pontic region (i.e. forest-steppes) with the Baltic were intense. In fact, the connection of the north Pontic area with the Baltic through the Dnieper-Dniester corridor and the Podolian-Volhynian region is essential to understand the spread of peoples of post-Maglemosian and post-Swiderian cultures (to the south), hunter-gatherer pottery (to the north), TRB (to the south), Late Trypillian groups (north), GAC (south), or Comb Ware (south) (see here for Eneolithic movements), and finally steppe ancestry and R1a-Z645 with Corded Ware (north). After the complex interaction of TRB, Trypillia, GAC, and CWC during the expansion of late Repin, this traditional long-range connection is lost and only emerges sporadically, such as with the expansion of East Germanic tribes.

A barrier to steppe migrations into northern Europe

One may think that this barrier was more permeable, then, in the past. However, the frontier is between steppe and forest-steppe ecological niches, and this barrier evolved during prehistory due to climate changes. The problem is, before the drought that began ca. 4000 BC and increased until the Yamna expansion, the steppe territory in the north Pontic region was much smaller, merely a strip of coastal land, compared to its greater size ca. 3300 BC and later.

This – apart from the cultural and technological changes associated with nomadic pastoralism – justifies the traditional connection of the north Pontic forest-steppes to the north, broken precisely after the expansion of Khvalynsk, as the north Pontic area became gradually a steppe region. The strips of north Pontic and Azov steppes and Crimea seem to have had stronger connections to the Northern Caucasus and Northern Caspian steppes than with the neighbouring forest-steppe areas during the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic.

NOTE. We still don’t know the genetic nature of Mikhailovka or Ezero, steppe-related groups possibly derived from Novodanilovka and Suvorovo close to the Black Sea (which possibly include groups from the Pannonian plains), and how they compare to neighbouring typically forest-steppe cultures of the so-called late Sredni Stog groups, like Dereivka or partly Kvityana.

Typical migration routes through European steppes and forest-steppes. Red line represents the persistent cultural and genetic barrier, with the latest evolution in steppe region represented by the shift from dashed line to the north. Arrows show the most common population movements. Modified from Kajtoch et al. (2016).

Despite the Pontic-Caspian steppes and forest-steppes neighbouring each other for ca. 2,000 km, peoples from forested and steppe areas had an obvious advantage in their own regions, most likely due to the specialization of their subsistence economy. While this is visible already in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, the arrival of the Neolithic package in the Pontic-Caspian region incremented the difference between groups, by spreading specialized animal domestication. The appearance of nomadic pastoralism adapted to the steppe, eventually including the use of horses and carts, made the cultural barrier based on the economic know-how even stronger.

Even though groups could still adapt and permeate a different territory (from steppe to forest-steppe/forest and vice-versa), this required an important cultural change, to the extent that it is eventually complicated to distinguish these groups from neighbouring ones (like north-west Pontic Mesolithic or Neolithic groups and their interaction with the steppes, Trypillia-Usatovo, Scythians-Thracians, etc.). In fact, this steppe – forest-steppe barrier is also seen to the east of the Urals, with the distinct expansion of Andronovo and Seima-Turbino/Andronovo-like horizons, which seem to represent completely different ethnolinguistic groups.

As a result of this cultural and genetic barrier, like that formed by the Northern Caucasus:

1) No steppe pastoralist culture (which after the emergence of Khvalynsk means almost invariably horse-riding, chariot-using nomadic herders who could easily pasture their cows in the huge grasslands without direct access to water) has ever been successful in spreading to the north or north-west into northern Europe, until the Mongols. No forest culture has ever been successful in expanding to the steppes, either (except for the infiltration of Abashevo into Sintashta-Potapovka).

2) Corded Ware was not an exception: like hunter-gatherer pottery before it (and like previous population movements of TRB, late Trypillia, GAC, Comb Ware or Lublin-Volhynia settlers) their movements between the north Pontic area and central Europe happened through forest-steppe ecological niches due to their adaptation to them. There is no reason to support a direct connection of CWC with true steppe cultures.

3) The so-called “Steppe ancestry” permeated the steppe – forest-steppe ecotone for hundreds of years during the 5th and early 4th millennium BC, due to the complex interaction of different groups, and probably to the aridization trend that expanded steppe (and probably forest-steppe) to the north. Language, culture, and paternal lineages did not cross that frontier, though.

EDIT (4 FEB 2019): Wang et al. is out in Nature Communications. They deleted the Yamna Hungary samples and related analyses, but it’s interesting to see where exactly they think the trajectory of admixture of Yamna with European MN cultures fits best. This path could also be inferred long ago from the steppe connections shown by the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker evolution and by early Balkan samples:

Prehistoric individuals projected onto a PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Dashed arrows indicate trajectories of admixture: EHG—CHG (petrol), Yamnaya—Central European MN (pink), Steppe—Caucasus (green), and Iran Neolithic—Anatolian Neolithic (brown). Modified from the original, a red circle has been added to the Yamna-Central European MN admixture.


ASoSaH Reread (II): Y-DNA haplogroups among Uralians (apart from R1a-M417)


This is mainly a reread of from Book Two: A Game of Clans of the series A Song of Sheep and Horses: chapters iii.5. Early Indo-Europeans and Uralians, iv.3. Early Uralians, v.6. Late Uralians and vi.3. Disintegrating Uralians.

“Sredni Stog”

While the true source of R1a-M417 – the main haplogroup eventually associated with Corded Ware, and thus Uralic speakers – is still not known with precision, due to the lack of R1a-M198 in ancient samples, we already know that the Pontic-Caspian steppes were probably not it.

We have many samples from the north Pontic area since the Mesolithic compared to the Volga-Ural territory, and there is a clear prevalence of I2a-M223 lineages in the forest-steppe area, mixed with R1b-V88 (possibly a back-migration from south-eastern Europe).

R1a-M459 (xR1a-M198) lineages appear from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic scattered from the Baltic to the Caucasus, from the Dniester to Samara, in a situation similar to haplogroups Q1a-M25 and R1b-L754, which supports the idea that R1a, Q1a, and R1b expanded with ANE ancestry, possibly in different waves since the Epipalaeolithic, and formed the known ANE:EHG:WHG cline.

Y-DNA samples from Khvalynsk and neighbouring cultures. See full version.

The first confirmed R1a-M417 sample comes from Alexandria, roughly coinciding with the so-called steppe hiatus. Its emergence in the area of the previous “early Sredni Stog” groups (see the mess of the traditional interpretation of the north Pontic groups as “Sredni Stog”) and its later expansion with Corded Ware supports Kristiansen’s interpretation that Corded Ware emerged from the Dnieper-Dniester corridor, although samples from the area up to ca. 4000 BC, including the few Middle Eneolithic samples available, show continuity of hg. I2a-M223 and typical Ukraine Neolithic ancestry.

NOTE. The further subclade R1a-Z93 (Y26) reported for the sample from Alexandria seems too early, given the confidence interval for its formation (ca. 3500-2500 BC); even R1a-Z645 could be too early. Like the attribution of the R1b-L754 from Khvalynsk to R1b-V1636 (after being previously classifed as of Pre-V88 and M73 subclade), it seems reasonable to take these SNP calls with a pinch of salt: especially because Yleaf (designed to look for the furthest subclade possible) does not confirm for them any subclade beyond R1a-M417 and R1b-L754, respectively.

The sudden appearance of “steppe ancestry” in the region, with the high variability shown by Ukraine_Eneolithic samples, suggests that this is due to recent admixture of incoming foreign peoples (of Ukraine Neolithic / Comb Ware ancestry) with Novodanilovka settlers.

The most likely origin of this population, taking into account the most common population movements in the area since the Neolithic, is the infiltration of (mainly) hunter-gatherers from the forest areas. That would confirm the traditional interpretation of the origin of Uralic speakers in the forest zone, although the nature of Pontic-Caspian settlers as hunter-gatherers rather than herders make this identification today fully unnecessary (see here).

EDIT (3 FEB 2019): As for the most common guesstimates for Proto-Uralic, roughly coinciding with the expansion of this late Sredni Stog community (ca. 4000 BC), you can read the recent post by J. Pystynen in Freelance Reconstruction, Probing the roots of Samoyedic.

Late Sredni Stog admixture shows variability proper of recent admixture of forest-steppe peoples with steppe-like population. See full version here.

NOTE. Although my initial simplistic interpretation (of early 2017) of Comb Ware peoples – traditionally identified as Uralic speakers – potentially showing steppe ancestry was probably wrong, it seems that peoples from the forest zone – related to Comb Ware or neighbouring groups like Lublyn-Volhynia – reached forest-steppe areas to the south and eventually expanded steppe ancestry into east-central Europe through the Volhynian Upland to the Polish Upland, during the late Trypillian disintegration (see a full account of the complex interactions of the Final Eneolithic).

The most interesting aspect of ascertaining the origin of R1a-M417, given its prevalence among Uralic speakers, is to precisely locate the origin of contacts between Late Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic. Traditionally considered as the consequence of contacts between Middle and Upper Volga regions, the most recent archaeological research and data from ancient DNA samples has made it clear that it is Corded Ware the most likely vector of expansion of Uralic languages, hence these contacts of Indo-Europeans of the Volga-Ural region with Uralians have to be looked for in neighbours of the north Pontic area.

Sredni Stog – Repin contacts representing Uralic – Late Indo-European contacts were probably concentrated around the Don River.

My bet – rather obvious today – is that the Don River area is the source of the earliest borrowings of Late Uralic from Late Indo-European (i.e. post-Indo-Anatolian). The borrowing of the Late PIE word for ‘horse’ is particularly interesting in this regard. Later contacts (after the loss of the initial laryngeal) may be attributed to the traditionally depicted Corded Ware – Yamna contact zone in the Dnieper-Dniester area.

NOTE. While the finding of R1a-M417 populations neighbouring R1b-L23 in the Don-Volga interfluve would be great to confirm these contacts, I don’t know if the current pace of more and more published samples will continue. The information we have right now, in my opinion, suffices to support close contacts of neighbouring Indo-Europeans and Uralians in the Pontic-Caspian area during the Late Eneolithic.

Classical Corded Ware

After some complex movements of TRB, late Trypillia and GAC peoples, Corded Ware apparently emerged in central-east Europe, under the influence of different cultures and from a population that probably (at least partially) stemmed from the north Pontic forest-steppe area.

Single Grave and central Corded Ware groups – showing some of the earliest available dates (emerging likely ca. 3000/2900 BC) – are as varied in their haplogroups as it is expected from a sink (which does not in the least resemble the Volga-Ural population):

Interesting is the presence of R1b-L754 in Obłaczkowo, potentially of R1b-V88 subclade, as previously found in two Central European individuals from Blätterhole MN (ca. 3650 and 3200 BC), and in the Iron Gates and north Pontic areas.

Haplogroups I2a and G have also been reported in early samples, all potentially related to the supposed Corded Ware central-east European homeland, likely in southern Poland, a region naturally connected to the north Pontic forest-steppe area and to the expansion of Neolithic groups.

Y-DNA samples from early Corded Ware groups and neighbouring cultures. See full version.

The true bottlenecks under haplogroup R1a-Z645 seem to have happened only during the migration of Corded Ware to the east: to the north into the Battle Axe culture, mainly under R1a-Z282, and to the south into Middle Dnieper – Fatyanovo-Balanovo – Abashevo, probably eventually under R1a-Z93.

This separation is in line with their reported TMRCA, and supports the split of Finno-Permic from an eastern Uralic group (Ugric and Samoyedic), although still in contact through the Russian forest zone to allow for the spread of Indo-Iranian loans.

This bottleneck also supports in archaeology the expansion of a sort of unifying “Corded Ware A-horizon” spreading with people (disputed by Furholt), the disintegrating Uralians, and thus a source of further loanwords shared by all surviving Uralic languages.

Confirming this ‘concentrated’ Uralic expansion to the east is the presence of R1a-M417 (xR1a-Z645) lineages among early and late Single Grave groups in the west – which essentially disappeared after the Bell Beaker expansion – , as well as the presence of these subclades in modern Central and Western Europeans. Central European groups became thus integrated in post-Bell Beaker European EBA cultures, and their Uralic dialect likely disappeared without a trace.

NOTE. The fate of R1b-L51 lineages – linked to North-West Indo-Europeans undergoing a bottleneck in the Yamna Hungary -> Bell Beaker migration to the west – is thus similar to haplogroup R1a-Z645 – linked to the expansion of Late Uralians to the east – , hence proving the traditional interpretation of the language expansions as male-driven migrations. These are two of the most interesting genetic data we have to date to confirm previous language expansions and dialectal classifications.

It will be also interesting to see if known GAC and Corded Ware I2a-Y6098 subclades formed eventually part of the ancient Uralic groups in the east, apart from lineages which will no doubt appear among asbestos ware groups and probably hunter-gatherers from north-eastern Europe (see the recent study by Tambets et al. 2018).

Corded Ware ancestry marked the expansion of Uralians

Sadly, some brilliant minds decided in 2015 that the so-called “Yamnaya ancestry” (now more appropriately called “steppe ancestry”) should be associated to ‘Indo-Europeans’. This is causing the development of various new pet theories on the go, as more and more data contradicts this interpretation.

There is a clear long-lasting cultural, populational, and natural barrier between Yamna and Corded Ware: they are derived from different ancestral populations, which show clearly different ancestry and ancestry evolution (although they did converge to some extent), as well as different Y-DNA bottlenecks; they show different cultures, including those of preceding and succeeding groups, and evolved in different ecological niches. The only true steppe pastoralists who managed to dominate over grasslands extending from the Upper Danube to the Altai were Yamna peoples and their cultural successors.

Corded Ware admixture proper of expanding late Sredni Stog-like populations from the forest-steppe. See full version here.

NOTE. You can also read two recent posts by FrankN in the blog aDNA era, with detailed information on the Pontic-Caspian cultures and the formation of “steppe ancestry” during the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic: How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 1: LGM to Early Holocene and How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 2: The Pottery Neolithic. Unlike your typical amateur blogger on genetics using few statistical comparisons coupled with ‘archaeolinguoracial mumbo jumbo’ to reach unscientific conclusions, these are obviously carefully redacted texts which deserve to be read.

I will not enter into the discussion of “steppe ancestry” and the mythical “Siberian ancestry” for this post, though. I will just repost the opinion of Volker Heyd – an archaeologist specialized in Yamna Hungary and Bell Beakers who is working with actual geneticists – on the early conclusions based on “steppe ancestry”:

[A]rchaeologist 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.


ASoSaH Reread (I): Y-DNA haplogroups among Indo-Europeans (apart from R1b-L23)


Given my reduced free time in these months, I have decided to keep updating the text on Indo-European and Uralic migrations and/or this blog, simultaneously or alternatively, to make the most out of the time I can dedicate to this. I will add the different ‘A Song of Sheep and Horses (ASoSaH) reread’ posts to the original post announcing the books. I would be especially interested in comments and corrections to the book chapters rather than the posts, but any comments are welcome (including in the forum, where comments are more likely to stick).

This is mainly a reread of iv.2. Indo-Anatolians and vi.1. Disintegrating Indo-Europeans.

Indo-Anatolians and Late Indo-Europeans

I have often written about R1b-L23 as the majority haplogroup among Late Proto-Indo-Europeans (see my predictions for 2018 and my summary of 2018), but always expected other haplogroups to pop up somewhere along the way, in Khvalynsk, in Repin, in Yamna, and in Bell Beakers (see e.g. the post on common fallacies of R1a/IE-fans).

Luckily enough – for those of us who want precise answers to our previous infinite models of Indo-European language expansions (viz. GAC-associated expansion, IE-speaking Old Europe, Anatolian homeland, Iran homeland, Maykop as Proto-Anatolian, Palaeolithic Continuity Theory, Celtic in the Atlantic façade, etc.) – the situation has been more clear-cut than expected: it turns out that, especially during population expansions, acute Y-chromosome bottlenecks were very common in the past, at least until the Iron Age.

Khvalynsk and Repin-Yamna expansions were no different, and that seems quite natural in hindsight, given the strong familial ties and aversion to foreigners proper of the Late Proto-Indo-European society and culture – probably not really that different from other contemporary societies, like the neighbouring Late Proto-Uralic or Trypillian ones.

Y-DNA samples from Khvalynsk and neighbouring cultures. See full version here.

Y-DNA haplogroups

During the expansion of early Khvalynsk, the most likely Indo-Anatolian culture, the society of the Don-Volga area was probably made up of different lineages including R1b-V1636, R1b-M269, R1a-YP1272, Q1a-M25, and I2a-L699 (and possibly some R1b-V88?), a variability possibly greater than that of the contemporary north Pontic area, probably a sign of this region being a sink of different east and west migrations from steppe and forest areas.

During its expansion, the Khvalynsk society saw its haplogroup variability reduced, as evidenced by the succeeding expansive Repin culture:

Afanasevo, representing Pre-Tocharian (the earliest Late PIE dialect to branch off), expanded with R1b-L23 – especially R1b-Z2103 – lineages, while early Yamna expanded with R1b-L23 and I2a-L699 lineages, which suggests that these are the main haplogroups that survived the Y-DNA bottleneck undergone during the Khvalynsk expansion, and especially later during the late Repin expansion. Nevertheless, other old haplogroups might still pop up during the Repin and early Yamna period, such as the R1b-V1636 sample from Yamna in the Northern Caucasus.

It is still unclear if R1b-L23 sister clade R1b-PF7562 (formed ca. 4400 BC, TMRCA ca. 3400 BC), prevalent among modern Albanians, expanded with Yamna migrants, or if it was part of an earlier expansion of R1b-M269 into the Balkans, and represent thus Indo-Anatolian speakers who later hitchhiked the expansion of the Late PIE language from the north or west Pontic area. The early TMRCA seems to suggest an association with Repin (and therefore Yamna), rather than later movements in the Balkans.

Y-DNA samples from Yamnaya and neighbouring cultures. See full version here.

‘Yamnaya’ or ‘steppe’ ancestry?

After the early years when population genetics relied mainly on modern Y-DNA haplogroups, geneticists and amateurs have been recently playing around with testing “ancestry percentages”, based on newly developed free statistical tools, which offer obviously just one among many types of data to achieve a proper interpretation of the past.

Today we have quite a lot Y-DNA haplogroups reported for ancient samples of more recent prehistoric periods, and they seem to offer (at least since the 2015 papers, but more evidently since the 2018 papers on Bell Beakers and Europeans, Corded Ware, or Fennoscandia among others) the most straightforward interpretation of all results published in population genomics research.

NOTE. The finding of a specific type of ancestry in one isolated 40,000-year-old sample from Tianyuan can offer very interesting information on potential population movements to the region. However, the identification of ethnolinguistic communities and their migrations among neighbouring groups in Neolithic or Bronze Age groups is evidently not that simple.

Yamnaya (Indo-European peoples) and their evolution in the steppes, together with North Pontic (eventually Uralic) peoples.Notice how little Indo-European ancestry changes from Khvalynsk (Indo-Anatolian) to Yamna Hungary (North-West Indo-Europeans) Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). See more on the evolution of “steppe ancestry”.

It is becoming more and more clear with each paper that the true “Yamnaya ancestry” – not the originally described one – was in fact associated with Indo-Europeans (see more on the very Yamnaya-like Yamna Hungary and early East Bell Beaker R1b samples, all of quite similar ancestry and PCA cluster before their further admixture with EEF- and CWC-like groups).

The so-called “steppe ancestry”, on the other hand, reflects the contribution of a Northern Caucasus-related ancestry to expanding Khvalynsk settlers, who spread through the steppes more than a thousand years before the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans with late Repin, and can thus be found among different groups related to the Pontic-Caspian steppes (see more on the emergence and evolution of “steppe ancestry”).

In fact, after the Yamna/Indo-European and Corded Ware/Uralic expansions, it is more likely to find “steppe ancestry” to the north and east in territories traditionally associated with Uralic languages, whereas to the south and west – i.e. in territories traditionally associated with Indo-European languages – it is more likely to find “EEF ancestry” with diminished “steppe ancestry”, among peoples patrilineally descended from Yamna settlers.

Y-DNA haplogroups, the only uniparental markers (see exceptions in mtDNA inheritance) – unlike ancestry percentages based on the comparison of a few samples and flawed study designs – do not admix, do not change, and therefore they do not lend themselves to infinite pet theories (see e.g. what David Reich has to say about R1b-P312 in Iberia directly derived from Yamna migrants in spite of their predominant EEF ancestry): their cultural continuity can only be challenged with carefully threaded linguistic, archaeological, and genetic data.


Happy new year 2019…and enjoy our new books!


Sorry for the last weeks of silence, I have been rather busy lately. I am having more projects going on, and (because of that) I also wanted to finish a project I have been working on for many months already.

I have therefore decided to publish a provisional version of the text, in the hope that it will be useful in the following months, when I won’t be able to update it as often as I would like to:

EDIT (20 JAN 2019): For those of you who are more comfortable reading in your native language, I have placed some links to automatic translations by Google Translate. They might work especially well for the texts of A Game of Clans & A Clash of Chiefs.

Don’t forget to check out the maps included in the supplementary materials: I have added Y-DNA, mtDNA, and ADMIXTURE data using GIS software. The PCA graphics are also important to follow the main text.

NOTE. Right now the files are only in my server. I will try to upload them to and Research Gate when I have time, I have uploaded them to and ResearchGate, in case the websites are too slow.

I would have preferred to wait for a thorough revision of the section on archaeology and the linguistic sections on Uralic, but I doubt I will have time when the reviews come, so it was either now or maybe next December…

I say so in the introduction, but it is evident that certain aspects of the book are tentative to say the least: the farther back we go from Late Proto-Indo-European, the less clear are many aspects. Also, linguistically I am not convinced about Eurasiatic or Nostratic, although they do have a certain interest when we try to offer a comprehensive view of the past, including ethnolinguistic identities.

I cannot be an expert in everything, and these books cover a lot. I am bound to publish many corrections as new information appears and more reviews are sent. For example, just days ago (before SNP calls of Wang et al. 2018 were published) some paragraphs implied that AME might have expanded Nostratic from the Middle East. Now it does not seem so, and I changed them just before uploading the text. That’s how tentative certain routes are, and how much all of this may change. And that only if we accept a Nostratic phylum…

NOTE. Since the first book I wrote was the linguistic one, and I have spent the last months updating the archaeology + genetics part, now many of you will probably understand 1) why I am so convinced about certain language relationships and 2) how I used many posts to clarify certain ideas and receive comments. Many posts offer probably a good timeline of what I worked with, and when.


I did not add this section to the books, because they are still not ready for print, but I think this is due somewhere now. It is impossible to reference all who have directly or indirectly contributed to this, so this is a list of those I feel have played an important role.

I am indebted to the following people (which does not mean that they share my views, obviously):

First and foremost, to Fernando López-Menchero, for having the patience to review with detail many parts on Indo-European linguistics, knowing that I won’t accept many of his comments anyway. The additional information he offers is invaluable, but I didn’t want to turn this into a huge linguistic encyclopaedia with unending discussions of tiny details of each reconstructed word. I think it is already too big as it is.

I would not have thought about doing this if it were not for the interest of Wekwos (Xavier Delamarre) in publishing a full book about the Indo-European demic diffusion model (in the second half of 2017, I think). It was them who suggested that I extended the content, when all I had done until then was write an essay and draw some maps in my free time between depositing the PhD thesis and defending it.

Sadly, as much as I would like to publish a book with a professional publisher, I don’t think ancient DNA lends itself for the traditional format, so my requests (mainly to have free licenses and being able to review the text at will, as new genetic papers are published) were logically not acceptable. Also, the main aim of all volumes, especially the linguistic one, is the teaching of essentials of Late Proto-Indo-European and related languages, and this objective would be thwarted by selling each volume for $50-70 and only in printed format. I prefer a wider distribution.

At first I didn’t think much of this proposal, because I do not benefit from this kind of publications in my scientific field, but with time my interest in writing a whole, comprehensive book on the subject grew to the point where it was already an ongoing project, probably by the start of 2018.

I would not have been in contact with Wekwos if it were not for user Camulogène Rix at Anthrogenica, so thanks for that and for the interest in this work.

I would not have thought of writing this either if not for the spontaneous support (with an unexpected phone call!) of a professor of the Complutense University of Madrid, Ángel Gómez Moreno, who is interested in this subject – as is his wife, a professor of Classics more closely associated to Indo-European studies, and who helped me with a search for Indo-Europeanists.

EDIT (1 JAN 2019): I remembered that Karin Bojs sent me her book after reading the demic diffusion model. I may have also thought about writing a whole book back then, but mid-2017 is probably too early for the project.

Professor Kortlandt is still to review the text, but he contributed to both previous essays in some very interesting ways, so I hope he can help me improve the parts on Uralic, and maybe alternative accounts of expansion for Balto-Slavic, depending on the time depth that he would consider warranted according to the Temematic hypothesis.

The maps are evidently (for those who are interested in genetics) in part the result of the effort of the late Jean Manco: As you can see from the maps including Y-DNA and mtDNA samples, I have benefitted from her way of organising data and publishing it. Similarly, the work of Iain McDonald in assessing the potential migration routes of R1b and R1a in Europe with the help of detailed maps was behind my idea for the first maps, and consequently behind these, too.

I should thank all people responsible for the release of free datasets to work with, including the Reich and Jena labs, the Veeramah Lab, and also researchers from the Max Planck Institute or the Mainz Palaeogenetics group, who didn’t mind to share with me datasets to work with.

Readers of this blog with interesting comments have also been essential for the improvement of the texts. You can probably see some of your many contributions there. I may not answer many comments, because I am always busy (and sometimes I just don’t have anything interesting to say), but I try to read all of them.

EDIT (1 JAN 2019) I think I should mention at least Chetan, Egg, or Robert George; but then I would leave out old europe, Sgr Ganesh, or Tileman Ehlen; and if I include them I would leave out others…

Users of other sites, like Anthrogenica, whose particular points of view and deep knowledge of some very specific aspects are sometimes very useful. In particular, user Anglesqueville helped me to fix some issues with the merging of datasets to obtain the PCAs and ADMIXTURE, and prepared some individual samples to merge them.

Even without posting anything, Google Analytics keeps sending me messages about increasing user fidelity (returning users), and stats haven’t really changed (which probably means more people are reading old posts), so thank you for that.

I hope you enjoy the books.

Happy new year!

Spread of Y. pestis, earlier than previously thought, may have caused Neolithic decline


Open access Emergence and Spread of Basal Lineages of Yersinia pestis during the Neolithic Decline, by Rascovan et al. Cell (2018)

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, many Neolithic societies declined throughout western Eurasia due to a combination of factors that are still largely debated. Here, we report the discovery and genome reconstruction of Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, in Neolithic farmers in Sweden, pre-dating and basal to all modern and ancient known strains of this pathogen. We investigated the history of this strain by combining phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses of the bacterial genome, detailed archaeological information, and genomic analyses from infected individuals and hundreds of ancient human samples across Eurasia. These analyses revealed that multiple and independent lineages of Y. pestis branched and expanded across Eurasia during the Neolithic decline, spreading most likely through early trade networks rather than massive human migrations. Our results are consistent with the existence of a prehistoric plague pandemic that likely contributed to the decay of Neolithic populations in Europe.

(A) Schematic representation of the trajectories and time periods (thousand years before present, kyr) of major known human migrations in Eurasia during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The observed geographic distribution and divergence times of Y. pestis strains from the Gok2 and Bronze Age clades cannot be explained by the timings and routes of these human movements.
(B) Geographic distribution of the use of animal traction and wheeled transport across Neolithic and Bronze Age populations in Eurasia, which broadly expanded during the period of 5,500 and 5,000 BP. The expansion of these technological innovations overlaps the predicted period for the expansion of the basal Y. pestis strains.
(C) Timeline indicating the proposed key historical events that contributed to the emergence and spread of plague during the Neolithic.

We have evolved in the interpretation of the plague from 1) a Corded Ware-driven disease, to 2) a steppe disease that was spread by Yamna and Corded Ware, and now 3) a (potentially) Trypillia-driven disease that spread to the west earlier than Yamna and Corded Ware, but probably also later east and west with both.

At least it still seems that the plague and its demographic consequences were a good reason for the expansion of Indo-Europeans and Uralians into Europe, as we thought…

Featured image, from the paper: “The predicted model of early dispersion of Y. pestis during Neolithic and Bronze Age was built by integrating phylogenetic information of Y. pestis strains from this period (Figure 1E), their divergence times (Figure 3), the geographic locations, carbon dating and genotypes of the individuals, and the archaeological record. The model suggests that early Y. pestis strains likely emerged and spread from mega-settlements in Eastern Europe (built by the Trypillia Culture) into Europe and the Eurasian steppe, most likely through human interaction networks. This was facilitated by wheeled and animal-powered transports, which are schematized in the map with red lines with arrows pointing in both senses. Our model builds upon a previous model (Andrades Valtuena et al., 2017) that proposed the spread of plague to be associated with large-scale human migrations (blue line).


Eastern pressure blade technology in west Scandinavia associated with WHG

New interesting preprint Ancient DNA from chewing gums connects material culture and genetics of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Scandinavia, by Kashuba et al. (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Mitochondrial genomes from all three individuals belong to the U5a2d haplogroup. (…) The mitochondrial U5a2d haplogroup is consistent with earlier published results for ancient individuals from Scandinavia, U5a being the most common within SHG. Of the 16 Mesolithic individuals from Scandinavia published prior to our study, seven belong to the U5a haplogroup, nine share the U2 and U4 haplogroups

We divided the SHG group into two groups: SHGa and SHGb (ancient individuals found in contemporary Norway and Sweden, respectively). We based this on both the geographical distribution and the previous studies demonstrating the close relation of SHGa to EHG group and SHGb to WHG group. To further explore the demography within the SHG group, we compared the ancestry of BLE individuals within SHGa and SHGb groups. This comparison revealed a high relative shared drift between BLE individuals and the SHGb group

Admixture analysis showing the major mode for K=15. The figure represents 11 runs out of 20 replicates (Greedy algorithm ran with the Jaccard distance and a 0.97 similarity threshold)

The results from Huseby Kiev allow us to finally connect the SHG group with the eastern pressure blade technology. However, the higher genetic affinity between Huseby Kiev individuals and the WHG group challenges the earlier suggested tie between eastern technology and EHG genetics. Our results suggest either early cultural transmission, or a more complex course of events involving both non- and co-dependent cultural and genetic admixture.


Seeing how culture is indeed usually associated with the expansion of a certain population, especially at such an early date, I guess this similarity with WHG of incoming eastern peoples comes from an originally EHG population expanding into a mainly WHG area in the west (similar to what happens e.g. with Bell Beakers), or being replaced later by a WHG population which adopted the culture (similar to what happened with late Corded Ware populations in central-east Europe after the expansion of Bell Beakers).

Unlike later periods, it will always be difficult to judge such ancient population movements with few samples covering thousands of years… Probably specific Y-DNA haplogroups would help differentiate between both expanding populations from east and west.


A very “Yamnaya-like” East Bell Beaker from France, probably R1b-L151


Interesting report by Bernard Sécher on Anthrogenica, about the Ph.D. thesis of Samantha Brunel from Institut Jacques Monod, Paris, Paléogénomique des dynamiques des populations humaines sur le territoire Français entre 7000 et 2000 (2018).

NOTE. You can visit Bernard Sécher’s blog on genetic genealogy.

A summary from user Jool, who was there, translated into English by Sécher (slight changes to translation, and emphasis mine):

They have a good hundred samples from the North, Alsace and the Mediterranean coast, from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age.

There is no major surprise compared to the rest of Europe. On the PCA plot, the Mesolithic are with the WHG, the early Neolithics with the first farmers close to the Anatolians. Then there is a small resurgence of hunter-gatherers that moves the Middle Neolithics a little closer to the WHGs.

From the Bronze Age, they have 5 samples with autosomal DNA, all in Bell Beaker archaeological context, which are very spread on the PCA. A sample very high, close to the Yamnaya, a little above the Corded Ware, two samples right in the Central European Bell Beakers, a fairly low just above the Neolithic package, and one last full in the package. The most salient point was that the Y chromosomes of their 12 Bronze Age samples (all Bell Beakers) are all R1b, whereas there was no R1b in the Neolithic samples.

Finally they have samples of the Iron Age that are collected on the PCA plot close to the Bronze Age samples. They could not determine if there is continuity with the Bronze Age, or a partial replacement by a genetically close population.

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. Marked and labelled are interesting samples; In red, likely position of late Yamna Hungary / early East Bell Beakers An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them. See the original file here. To understand the drawn potential Caucasus Mesolithic cluster, see above the PCA from Lazaridis et al. (2018).

The sample with likely high “steppe ancestry“, clustering closely to Yamna (more than Corded Ware samples) is then probably an early East Bell Beaker individual, probably from Alsace, or maybe close to the Rhine Delta in the north, rather than from the south, since we already have samples from southern France from Olalde et al. (2018) with high Neolithic ancestry, and samples from the Rhine with elevated steppe ancestry, but not that much.

This specific sample, if confirmed as one of those reported as R1b (then likely R1b-L151), as it seems from the wording of the summary, is key because it would finally link Yamna to East Bell Beaker through Yamna Hungary, all of them very “Yamnaya-like”, and therefore R1b-L151 (hence also R1b-L51) directly to the steppe, and not only to the Carpathian Basin (that is, until we have samples from late Repin or West Yamna…)

NOTE. The only alternative explanation for such elevated steppe ancestry would be an admixture between a ‘less Yamnaya-like’ East Bell Beaker + a Central European Corded Ware sample like the Esperstedt outlier + drift, but I don’t think that alternative is the best explanation of its position in the PCA closer to Yamna in any of the infinite parallel universes, so… Also, the sample from Esperstedt is clearly a late outlier likely influenced by Yamna vanguard settlers from Hungary, not the other way round…

Unexpectedly, then, fully Yamnaya-like individuals are found not only in Yamna Hungary ca. 3000-2500 BC, but also among expanding East Bell Beakers later than 2500 BC. This leaves us with unexplained, not-at-all-Yamnaya-like early Corded Ware samples from ca. 2900 BC on. An explanation based on admixture with locals seems unlikely, seeing how Corded Ware peoples continue a north Pontic cluster, being thus different from Yamna and their ancestors since the Neolithic; and how they remained that way for a long time, up to Sintashta, Srubna, Andronovo, and even later samples… A different, non-Indo-European community it is, then.

Image modified from Olalde et al. (2018). PCA of 999 Eurasian individuals. Marked is the Espersted Outlier with the approximate position of Yamna Hungary, probably the source of its admixture. Different Bell Beaker clines have been drawn, to represent approximate source of expansions from Central European sources into the different regions. In red, likely zone of Yamna Hungary and reported early East Bell Beaker individual from France.

Let’s wait and see the Ph.D. thesis, when it’s published, and keep observing in the meantime the absurd reactions of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression (stages of grief) among BBC/R1b=Vasconic and CWC/R1a=Indo-European fans, as if they had lost something (?). Maybe one of these reactions is actually the key to changing reality and going back to the 2000s, who knows…

Featured image: initial expansion of the East Bell Beaker Group, by Volker Heyd (2013).


Genetic landscape and past admixture of modern Slovenians


Open access Genetic Landscape of Slovenians: Past Admixture and Natural Selection Pattern, by Maisano Delser et al. Front. Genet. (2018).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):


Overall, 96 samples ranging from Slovenian littoral to Lower Styria were genotyped for 713,599 markers using the OmniExpress 24-V1 BeadChips (Figure 1), genetic data were obtained from Esko et al. (2013). After removing related individuals, 92 samples were left. The Slovenian dataset has been subsequently merged with the Human Origin dataset (Lazaridis et al., 2016) for a total of 2163 individuals.

Y chromosome

First, Y chromosome genetic diversity was assessed. A total of 52 Y chromosomes were analyzed for 195 SNPs. The majority of individuals (25, 48.1%) belong to the haplogroup R1a1a1a (R-M417) while the second major haplogroup is represented by R1b (R-M343) including 15 individuals (28.8%). Twelve samples are assigned to haplogroup I (I M170): five and two samples belong to haplogroup I2a (I L460) and I1 (I M253), respectively, while the remaining five samples did not have enough information to be further assigned.

PCA of Slovenian samples with European populations (Slovenian_HO_EU dataset). For details regarding the populations included, see Supplementary Table 1.


Considering the unbalanced sample size of the Slovenian population compared to the other populations included in the dataset, a subset of 20 Slovenian individuals randomly sampled was used.

All Slovenian samples group together with Hungarians, Czechs, and some Croatians (“Central-Eastern European” cluster) as also suggested by the PCA. All Basque individuals with few French and Spanish cluster together (“Basque” cluster) while a “Northern-European” cluster is made of the majority of French, English, Icelanders, Norwegians, and Orcadians. Five populations contributed to the “Eastern-European” cluster including Belarusians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Mordovians, and Russians. Western and South Europe is split into two cluster: the first (“Western European” cluster) includes all Spanish individuals, few French, and some Italians (North Italy) while the second (“Southern-European” cluster) groups Sicilians, Greeks, some Croatians, Romanians, and some Italians (North Italy).

Admixture Pattern and Migration

Modified image, from the paper (Central-East Europeans marked). Unsupervised admixture analysis of Slovenians. Results for K = 5 are showed as it represents the lowest cross-validation error. Slovenian samples show an admixture pattern similar to the neighboring populations such as Croatians and Hungarians. The major ancestral components are: the blue one which is shared with Lithuanians and Russians, followed by the dark green one that is mostly present in Greek samples and the light blue which characterizes Orcadians and English. For population acronyms see Supplementary Table 1.

All Slovenian individuals share common pattern of genetic ancestry, as revealed by ADMIXTURE analysis. The three major ancestry components are the North East and North West European ones (light blue and dark blue, respectively, Figure 3), followed by a South European one (dark green, Figure 3). Contribution from the Sardinians and Basque are present in negligible amount. The admixture pattern of Slovenians mimics the one suggested by the neighboring Eastern European populations, but it is different from the pattern suggested by North Italian populations even though they are geographically close.

Using ALDER, the most significant admixture event was obtained with Russians and Sardinians as source populations and it happened 135 ± 9.31 generations ago (Z-score = 11.54). (…) When tested for multiple admixture events (MALDER), we obtained evidence for one admixture event 165.391 ± 17.1918 generations ago corresponding to ∼2620 BCE (CI: 3101–2139) considering a generation time of 28 years (Figure 4), with Kalmyk and Sardinians as sources.

We then modeled the Slovenian population as target of admixture of ancient individuals from Haak et al. (2015) while computing the f3(Ancient 1, Ancient 2, Slovenian) statistic. The most significant signal was obtained with Yamnaya and HungaryGamba_EN (Z-score = -10.66), followed by MA1 with LBK_EN (Z-score -9.7) and Yamnaya with Stuttgart (Z-score = -8.6) used as possible source populations (Supplementary Figure 5).

We found a significant signal of admixture by using both pairs as ancient sources. Specifically, for the pair Yamnaya and Hungary_EN the admixture event is dated at 134.38 ± 23.69 generations ago (Z-score = 5.26, p-value of 1.5e-07) while for Yamnaya and LBK_EN at 153.65 ± 22.19 generations ago (Z-score = 6.92, p-value 4.4e-12). Outgroup f3 with Yamnaya put Slovenian population close to Hungarians, Czechs, and English, indicating a similar shared drift between these population with the Steppe populations (Supplementary Figure 6).

Admixture events identified with ALDER and MALDER. The gray dots represent significant admixture events detected with ALDER using Slovenians as target, the solid line represents the single admixture event detected using MALDER, dashed lines represent the confidence interval. Only the significant results after multiple testing correction are plotted. For ALDER results see Supplementary Table 5.

Not that any of this would come as a surprise, but:

  • R1a-M458 and some R1a-Z280 (xR1a-Z92) lineages (found among Slovenes) were associated with the Slavic expansion, likely with the Prague-Korchak culture, originally stemming probably from peoples of the Lusatian culture. Other R1a-Z280 lineages remained associated with Uralic peoples, and some became Slavicized only recently.
  • PCA keeps supporting the common cluster of certain West, South, and East Slavs in a “Central-Eastern European” cluster, distinct from the “North-Eastern European” cluster formed by modern Finno-Ugrians, as well as ancient Finno-Ugrians of north-eastern Europe who were only recently Slavicized.
  • Admixture supports the same ancient ‘western’ (a core West+South+East Slavic) cluster, and the admixture event with Yamna + Hungary_EN is logically a proxy for Yamna Hungary being at the core of ancestral Central-East population movements related to Bell Beakers in the mid- to late 3rd millennium.

The theory that East Slavs are at the core of the Slavic expansion makes no sense, in terms of archaeology (see Florin Curta’s dismissal of those recent eastern ‘Slavic’ finds, his commentary on 19th century Pan-Slavic crap, or his book on Slavic migrations), in terms of ancient DNA (the earliest Slavs sampled cluster with modern West Slavs, distant from the steppe cluster, unlike Finno-Ugrians), or in terms of modern DNA.

I don’t know where exactly this impulse for the theory of Russia being the cradle of Slavs comes from today (although there are some obvious political trends to revive 19th c. ideas), but it was always clear for everyone, including Russians, that East Slavs had migrated to the east and north and assimilated indigenous Finno-Ugrians, apart from Turkic-, Iranian-, and Caucasian-speaking peoples to the east. Genetics is only confirming what was clear from other disciplines long ago.