Human sacrifice as means of social control and power display in Upper Mesopotamia (early 3rd mill. BC)


Radical ‘royals’? Burial practices at Başur Höyük and the emergence of early states in Mesopotamia, by Hasset and Sağlamtimur, Antiquity (2018) 92:640-654.

Interesting excerpts:

The discovery of sacrificial burials attending a ‘royal’ burial in a cist tomb at Early Bronze Age Arslantepe in Anatolia (Frangipane 2006; Erdal 2012) has dramatically broadened the known range of social responses to the political upheaval of the early third millennium BC. Following the longstanding interpretation of human sacrifice at the Royal Cemetery of Ur just a few hundred years later (Woolley 1934), this raises new questions about the role of human sacrifice in processes of early state formation (Sürenhagen 2002; Croucher 2012). Power over the physical bodies of a population to the point of death has been associated with the hierarchical social structures that accompanied early state-formation processes across the globe (Watts et al. 2016). There is, however, considerable variation in the practice. Sacrifice can be employed variously to achieve spiritual, ritual, political, martial or even economic ends (see Bremmer 2007; Turchin 2016), and the role of human sacrifice in ancient Near Eastern burial practices remains unclear (Porter & Schwartz 2012).

“The mound site of Ba¸sur Höyük, with the archaeological plan of the Early Bronze Age cemetery. Graves are outlined in red, Uruk-period architecture in black. Each grid square is 10 × 10m.”

Wengrow draws an interesting distinction between “sacrificial” and “archival” ritual economies, using metal finds from the much wider context of the Eurasian Bronze Age (Wengrow 2011: 137). For Wengrow, the ‘sacrificial’ deposit of metal work, particularly in burial contexts, indicates a system of metal exchange that is most frequently found on the edges of more complex, centrally administrated urban exchange systems. Metalwork serves here to consolidate and display personal wealth rather than as a standardised commodity for equitable exchange. Wilkinson has highlighted the role of shifting economic modes in marking social change, observing such a transition in ritual-economic systems in the Early Bronze Age Trans-Caucasian sphere of influence that stretched from Anatolia to Iran (Wilkinson 2014). The bronze objects buried at Başur Höyük fall into a pattern of ritual deposits that clearly mark Early Bronze Age funerary rituals as locations for the communication of wealth and status (Săglamtimur & Massimino 2015). The importance of that display is not diminished by the presence of administrative artefacts such as the cylinder seals and ceramics marked with seal impressions that were also found inside the cist tomb. The material culture of the Early Bronze Age cemetery at Başur Höyük demonstrates connections to the Anatolian world, with clear Trans-Caucasian links similar to those found along the Euphrates, and also to the southern, urban networks of the Mesopotamian core.

The utility of such sacrificial gestures waned as other means of social control and power display were brought to bear by an administrated, ‘archival’ economy that did not require the sacrifice of its human subjects.(…) In the vacuum of political centralisation that followed the withdrawal of Uruk material culture in the Mesopotamian sphere, we see precisely the instability among smaller polities that would be expected to underlie the introduction of human sacrifice. In the vast administrative state systems that rose up in southern Mesopotamia in the next millennium, it disappears again from the archaeological record and it is not unreasonable to see in this pattern an implication for the value and economy of human life during the formation of early states.

Ebla’ first kingdom at its height c. 2340 BC. Hipothetical location of Armi depicted. The first Eblaite kingdom extended from Urshu in the north,1 to Damascus area in the south.2 And from Phoenicia and the coastal mountains in the west,3 4 to Tuttul,5 and Haddu in the east.6 The eastern kingdom of Nagar controlled most of the Khabur basin from the river junction with the Euphrates to the northwestern part at Nabada.7 Page 101. From Wikipedia.

Given the potential Anatolian names in Armi inscriptions (ca. 2500-2300 BC), this crucial period of political upheaval after the fall of Uruk-period Mesopotamian interregional networks and before the rise of new state system, i.e. in the early third millennium BC, is probably to be identified with the arrival of Anatolian speakers from the west.

Similar to the Early Indo-Aryan elites ruling over Hurrian-speaking Mitanni, it is possible that some Anatolian-speaking groups imposed their rule as elites (and thus their language) after this period of instability – at least in certain regions, as is obvious from the multilingualism and multiethnic situation found in the Old Assyrian tablets of Kaneš.


About Scepters, Horses, and War: on Khvalynsk migrants in the Caucasus and the Danube


dergachev-scepters-khavlynsk-horsesAbout two months ago I stumbled upon a gem in archaeological studies related to Proto-Indo-Europeans, the book О скипетрах, о лошадях, о войне: этюды в защиту миграционной концепции М.Гимбутас (On sceptres, on horses, on war: Studies in defence of M. Gimbutas’ migration concepts), 2007, by V. A. Dergachev, from the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Moldavian Republic.

Dergachev’s work dedicates 488 pages to a very specific Final Neolithic-Eneolithic period in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and the most relevant parts of the book concern the nature and expansion of horses and horse domestication, horse-head scepters, and other horse-related symbology – arguably the most relevant cultural signs associated with Proto-Indo-European speakers in this period.

I haven’t had enough time to read the whole book, but I have read with interest certain important chapters.

About Scepters

Typological classification

The genetic and chronological relationship of horse-head pommel-scepters is classified with incredible detail, to the extent that one could divide subregions among those cultures using them.

Scheme of regional distribution – chronological – typological development of the carved horse-head stone scepters.

Simplified conclusions of this section include (emphasis mine):

  1. The [horse-head pommel-]scepters arose originally in the depth of the Khvalynsk culture. Following the now well-known finds, they are definitely related to those of the Middle Volga group.
  2. horse-head-pommel-scepters-distribution
    General scheme of genetic and chronological development of carved scepters by visual assessment of morphological details.
  3. In their next modifications, these scepters continued to evolve and develop into the area of the Khvalynsk culture in its latest stages, and possibly later.
  4. Simultaneously, with the same modifications, these scepters “are introduced” into common usage in the Novodanilovka culture, which in its spread by one wing was in contact and interspersed immediately with the area of Khvalynsk remains; and on the other hand, far in the south – in the Pre-Kuban and Ciscaucasian regions – within the range of the Domaikopska culture; and in the west – in the Carpathian – Post-Kuban – with the areas of early agricultural cultures Cucuteni A – Trypillia B1, Gumelnița-Karanovo VI.
  5. The simultaneous presence in the areas of the Ciscaucasian, Carpatho-Danubian, and especially Novodinilovka cultures, whose carriers continue the Khvalynian traditions of making stone scepters, and the scepters themselves (in their non-functional implication in the local cultural environment), all definitely allow us to view these findings as imported Novodanilovka objects.
Schematic depiction of the spread of horse-head scepters in the Middle Eneolithic. See a full version with notes here.

Cultural relevance of scepters

The text goes on to make an international comparison of scepters and their relevance as a cultural phenomenon, with its strong symbolic functions as divine object, its use in times of peace, in times of war, and in a system of ritual power.

Restoration of V. A. Dergachev: a) model for restoration – Paleolithic and Neolithic wands; b) the expected appearance of the Eneolithic scepter on the handle with a coupling (according to Dergachev 2007).
Especially interesting is the section dedicated to Agamemnon’s scepter in the Iliad, one of the oldest Indo-European epics. Here is an excerpt from Illiad II.100-110 (see here the Greek version) with the scepter’s human and divine genealogy:

Then among them lord Agamemnon uprose, bearing in his hands the sceptre which Hephaestus had wrought with toil. Hephaestus gave it to king Zeus, son of Cronos, and Zeus gave it to the messenger Argeïphontes; and Hermes, the lord, gave it to Pelops, driver of horses, and Pelops in turn gave it to Atreus, shepherd of the host; and Atreus at his death left it to Thyestes, rich in flocks, and Thyestes again left it to Agamemnon to bear, that so he might be lord of many isles and of all Argos.

About the horse

His studies on horse remains show an interesting, detailed quantitative and statistical approach to the importance and (cultural and chronological) origin of horses (and likely horse domestication) in each culture.

Although the part on horse remains is probably a bit outdated today, after many recent studies of Eneolithic steppe sites (see here one example), it still shows the relative distribution of horse bone remains among different steppe cultures, which is probably similar to what could be reported today:

Territorial distribution of horse remains in the Middle Eneolithic period. Absolute and relative numbers.

Even more interesting is the relationship of the distribution of horse remains with archaeological complexes and horse-related symbols. Some excerpts from the conclusions of this section:

  1. Accounting and analysis of archeo-zoological and archaeological data proper for a horse for a vast area from the Tisza and the Middle Danube to the Caucasus and the Urals (which includes the main cultures of the western agricultural, Caucasian, and Eastern European cultural zones) clearly points to the eastern cultural zone as a zone of the originally the most important social significance of a horse as the only possible zone of the earliest domestication, horseback riding and all-round use of a horse. In relation to the eastern, the western land – the ancient Carpatho-Danubian or the Caucasian cultural zones – are secondary and subordinate to the first on the phenomenon under consideration.
  2. horse-symbols
    Horse-shaped hanger-amulets made of bone.
  3. The first quantitative leap in the manifestation of the remnants of a horse, marking itself and the first qualitative changes in the social status of this animal, is due mainly to the Middle Volga culture of the developed Neolithic of the Middle Volga region (in part, the Southwest Urals), which, accordingly, determine the cultural context, time and geographic region – or, the initial, single and main epicenter of the process of taming and domestication of a horse.
  4. On the one hand, the subsequent substantial increase in the number of horse remnants, and, on the other, the wide inclusion of the horse in cults, rituals, funerary rituals (horse pendants, ornamented metacarpus, horse bones, sacrificial altars) in the Samara culture of the Early Eneolithic of the same region definitely indicates the continuing increase in the social significance of this species of animal, which was most likely expressed in the final design of a specialized horse breeding culture and, accordingly, in a wide range of applications using a horse for riding. At the same time, we can observe the beginning of the transfer of the already domesticated horse from the original historical and geographic epicenter to other cultures of the eastern cultural zone and, in part, the cultures closest to the periphery of this zone, into the western agricultural zone (Bolgrad-Aldeni P, Pre-CuCuteni-Trypillya A) .
  5. expansion-horse-steppe
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of percentage of horse remains. (Depicted are arrows from Middle Volga and Samara culture to the rest)
  6. Middle Eneolithic – early stages. One of the leading places in the remnants of the horse is in the Middle Volga region, the Khvalynsk culture. Genetically related to the Samara, the Khvalynsk I culture preserves the traditions of the ritual, cultural meaning, the treatment of the image of a horse in funerals (altars, horse bones, funerary rituals). But, At the same time, it is in this precise culture that the image of the horse, included in the social symbolism (horse-head pommel-scepter), for the first time it acquires a special, maximum social significance. That is why the appearance and subsequent widespread distribution of the social symbols in Novodanilovka-type objects can definitely be considered as another qualitative leap in the social significance of a horse – its use for military purposes for close and distant expeditions. And such an interpretation is fully confirmed from the analysis of Novodanilovka-type objects, which is the subject of discussion.
  7. Judging by the osteological data and the typological evolution of the horse-head scepters, the Khvalynian culture and remains of the Novodanilovka type are already associated with the relatively widespread and intensive findings of domesticated horses in various areas of the eastern cultural zone (semi-desert regions of the Lower Volga and the Caspian region – Khvalynsk culture, forest-steppe and steppe from the Volga to the Dnieper – Sredni Stog, Repin cultures), and the western – agricultural (Gumelnitsa, Cucuteni A-Tripolye Bl), and the Caucasus (Pre-Maykop) zones, where, however, the horse played a very modest role.
  8. samara-khvalynsk-horses
    Schematic depiction of cultures and regional-chronological distribution of zooarchaeological and ritual data on horses. (Shadowed are from top to bottom the Middle Volga, Samara, Khvalynsk, and Novodanilovka; in bold, other percentages of unrelated cultures: e.g. to the left of Khvalynsk and Novodanilovka, Sredni Stog with 29.65% overall horse bone remains, but 0% of horse symbolism)
  9. From the functional point of view, according to the sum of the data, there is no reason to doubt that in the eastern zone the horse is already present in the Late Neolithic period. Since its domestication and the emergence of a specialized horse breeding, it has been also widely used for meat, milk and dairy products (including the traditional hippace tradition of the later Scythians), and since the beginning of the early Eneolithic for transport and for riding purposes. Another thing is the horse as a means of war, a means of distant travel and expansion. The beginning of the use of a horse for these purposes, in the opinion of the author, is determined by the appearance of social symbolism in the form of horse-head scepters, and is most fully reflected in the memories of the Khvalynsk culture and, in particular, the Novodanilovka type. Concerning western or Caucasian cultural zones related to Khvalynsk, the horse is thought to have been linked to the eastern region, used mainly for riding, as a means of transport and for communication, which, however, does not exclude its use for meat.

These are the main conclusions-interpretations, suggesting the analysis and archaeological and other sources containing information about the horse. And as for our pommel-scepters, then, as can be seen from these sources, the main thing is that the culture of the Middle Volga region, according to all the data, definitely accumulates in itself the longest traditions associated with the gradual increase of social significance of the horse. And if so, this circumstance motivates the possibility or necessity of appearing in the environment of the bearers of this culture of unique signs-symbols that carry within themselves or reflect the image of this animal as an extremely significant social reality. The revealed and characterized quality, as a matter of fact, fill or open by themselves the hypothetical elements we have previously identified, the meanings of that particularity, folded in the social sign-symbol, in our case – the horse-head-shaped scepter.

Archaeological sites with objects (signs-symbols) related to horses. Horse-head scepters included in other maps are excluded from this one (notice the conspicuous absence of such objects in Sredni Stog and neighbouring North Pontic regions).

The relevance of Dergachev’s work

As you certainly know by now if you are a usual reader of this blog, there were two other seminal publications that same year correcting and expanding Gimbutas’ model:

Each one of these works taken independently (especially the books) may give a different version of Proto-Indo-European migrations; Anthony and Dergachev are heirs of Gimbutas’ simplistic kurgan-based model, and of other previous, now rejected ideas, and they reflect them whenever they don’t deal with first-hand investigation (and even sometimes when interpreting their own data). Taken together – and especially in combination with recent genetic studies – , though, they describe a clearer, solider model of how Proto-Indo-Europeans developed and expanded.

Distribution of horse-head scepters, according to Dergachev, Sorokin (1986).

Anthony’s publication overshadowed the importance of Dergachev’s work for the English-speaking world – and by extension for the rest of us. However, V. A. Dergachev’s updated study of his previous work on steppe cultures shows the right, thorough, and diligent way of describing the expansion of early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka chieftains with the horse and horse symbolism into the Caucasus and the Lower Danube (like the seminal work of Harrison & Heyd 2007 described the expansion of Yamna settlers with East Bell Beakers, culturally opposed to Corded Ware and to the Proto-Beakers). On the other hand, Anthony’s broad-brush, superficial description of thousands of years of potential Indo-European-speaking peoples gave a migration picture that – although generally right (like radiocarbon-based Iberian origin of the Bell Beaker culture was right) – was bound to be wrong in some essential details, as we are seeing in archaeology and genetics.

NOTE. As I have said before, Anthony’s interpretations of Sredni Stog culture representing a sort of ‘peasants’ under the rule of Novodanilovka chiefs was based on old theories of Telegin, who changed his mind – as did the rest of the Russian school well before the publication of Dergachev’s book, considering both as distinct cultural phenomena. Anthony selected the old interpretation, not to follow a Gimbutas / Kristiansen model of Sredni Stog being Indo-European and expanding with GAC into Corded Ware (because, for him, Corded Ware peoples were originally non-Indo-European speakers): he seems to have done it to prove that Proto-Anatolian traveled indeed through the North Pontic area, i.e. to avoid the regional ‘gap’ in the maps, if you like. Then with the expansion of Repin over the area, Sredni Stog peoples would have been absorbed. With genetic investigation, as we know, and with this kind of detailed archaeological studies, the traditional preference for “large and early” IE territories – proper of the mid-20th century – are no longer necessary.

Anthony (2007): “Steppe and Danubian sites at the time of the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, about 4200-3900 BC.”

Steppe Eneolithic

We already had in 2016 a Samara hunter-gatherer sample dated ca. 5600 BC, representative of EHG ancestry, of haplogroup R1b1a. We also had three early Khvalynsk samples from Samara Eneolithic dated ca. 4600 BC, with a drift towards (what we believe now is) a population from the Caucasus, showing haplogroups Q1a, R1a1(xM198), and R1b1a, the last one described in its paper as from a high-status burial, similar to high-status individuals buried under kurgans in later Yamna graves (of R1b-L23 lineages), and therefore likely a founder of an elite group of patrilineally-related families, while the R1a1 sample showed scarce decoration, and does not belong to the M417 lineage expanded later in Sredni Stog or Corded Ware.

In 2017 we knew of the Ukraine_Eneolithic sample I6561, from Alexandria, of a precise subclade (L657) of haplogroup R1a-Z93, dated ca. 4000 BC, and likely from the Sredni Stog (or maybe Kvitjana) culture. This sample alone makes it quite likely that the expansion of R1a-Z645 subclades happened earlier than expected, and that it was associated with movements along forest-steppe cultures, most likely along the Upper Dniester or Dnieper-Dniester corridor up to the Forest Zone.

We have now confirmation that Khvalynsk samples from the Yekaterinovka Cape settlement ca. 4250-4000 BC were reported by a genetic lab (to the archaeological team responsible) as being of R1b-L23 subclades, although the precise clades (reported as P312 and U106) are possibly not accurate.

NOTE. Curiously enough, and quite revealing for the close relationship of scepters to the ritual source of power for Khvalynsk chieftains (political and/or religious leaders), the scepter found in the elite burial 45 of the Ekaterinovka cape (a riverine settlement) shows a unique zoomorphic carving, possibly resembling a toothed fish or reptile, rather than the most common horse-related motifs of the time.

Zoomorphic carved stone scepter of the Ekaterinovka Cape burial 45: photos (left) and schematic depiction (right).

With Wang et al. (2018), a real game-changer in the Khvalynsk – Sredni Stog (and also in the Yamna/Bell Beaker – Corded Ware) opposition, we also know that two Steppe Eneolithic samples from the Northern Caucasus Piedmont, dated ca. 4300-4100 BC, show haplogroup R1b1. Although its direct connection to the expansion of early Khvalynsk with horse-related symbolism is not clear from the archaeological information shared (none), this is what the paper has to say about them:

The two distinct clusters are already visible in the oldest individuals of our temporal transect, dated to the Eneolithic period (~6300-6100 yBP/4300-4100 calBCE). Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonjuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbor Eastern and Caucasian hunter-gatherer related ancestry (EHG and CHG, respectively), are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khalynsk II and the Samara region19, 27. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG/Iranian-like ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills.

In contrast, the oldest individuals from the northern mountain flank itself, which are three first degree-related individuals from the Unakozovskaya cave associated with the Darkveti-Meshoko Eneolithic culture (analysis label ‘Eneolithic Caucasus’) show mixed ancestry mostly derived from sources related to the Anatolian Neolithic (orange) and CHG/Iran Neolithic (green) in the ADMIXTURE plot (Fig. 2C). While similar ancestry profiles have been reported for Anatolian and Armenian Chalcolithic and Bronze Age individuals20, 23, this result suggests the presence of the mixed Anatolian/Iranian/CHG related ancestry north of the Great Caucasus Range as early as ~6500 years ago.

On the specific burials, we have e.g. the recent open access paper New cases of trepanations from the 5th to 3rd millennia BC in Southern Russia in the context of previous research: Possible evidence for a ritually motivated tradition of cranial surgery?, by Gresky et al. J Am Phys Anthropol (2016):

During the late 5th millennium BC, cultural groups of the Eneolithic occupied the northern circumpontic area and the areas between the North Caucasus and the Lower Volga. For the first time, individual inhumations were placed below low burial mounds (Rassamakin, 2011). During the 4th millennium BC, the area split into two cultural spheres. In the northern steppe area communities continued with the burial practice of crouched inhumations below low mounds, with this culturally transforming into the early Pit Grave culture. In contrast, in the Caucasian foothill zone and the neighbouring steppe, the Majkop-Novosvobodnaya culture emerged (Kohl and Trifonov, 2014). Similarly, during the 3rd millennium BC, two cultural spheres influenced the area: The North Caucasian Culture dominated the Caucasian foothills for the next five centuries, while in the steppe area between the Lower Don and the Caucasus, regional groups of the Catacomb Culture existed side-by-side.

Burials of the Eneolithic epoch (late 5th millennium BC)

The oldest group of individuals with trepanations are found in the North Caucasian variant of the late circumpontic Eneolithic and date to the last third of the 5th millennium BC (Korenevsky, 2012). Burials of this epoch are inhumations in shallow pits, chiefly without burial goods, but covered with large quantities of red ochre. Of special interest is a collective burial of seven individuals from VP 1/12, who were interred together in a secondary burial ritual. The sites of Tuzluki, Mukhin, Voinuchka, Progress, and Sengileevskii all belong to this period.

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. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

Without the datasets to test different models, you can only imagine what is happening with the processed, secondary data we have. The position of Eneolithic Steppe cluster in the PCA (probably Khvalynsk-related peoples already influenced by the absorbed, previous Caucasus population), as well as other potential Caucasus groups intermediate between Steppe Maykop and Caucasus Maykop (as suggested by other ancient and modern Caucasus samples), may indicate that Yamna is between Khvalynsk and such intermediate Caucasus populations (as the source of the additional CHG-related ancestry) and – as the paper itself states – that it also received additional EEF contribution, probably from the western cultures absorbed during these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations (or later during Khvalynsk/Repin migrations).

Also interpreted in light of these early Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka migrations of horse riding chieftains (and their close contacts with the Caucasus), you can clearly see where the similar CHG-like contribution to Ukraine Eneolithic and other North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (which later contributed to Proto-Corded Ware peoples) must have come from. The simplistically reported proportions of EHG:CHG:EEF ancestry might be similar in many of these groups, but the precise origin and evolution of such ancestral components is certainly not the same: statistical methods will eventually show this, when (and if) we have many more samples, but for the moment Y-DNA is the most obvious indicator of such differences.

There was no steppe people speaking a steppe language AKA immutable Proto-Indo-European: the glottochronological models spanning thousands of years are not valid for the steppe, just as they are not valid for an Anatolian homeland, nor for a Caucasus homeland. The actual cultural-historical early Sredni Stog – Khvalynsk community, formed earlier than ca. 5000 BC, is a thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk with the horse, and some two thousand years older than the expansion of Khvalynsk-Repin/Early Yamna migrants (see here for the latest genetic research).

What lies between the formation of that early Eneolithic cultural-historical community, and what we see in archaeology and genetics in Middle and Late Eneolithic steppe cultures, is the radical differentiation of western (Ukraine Eneolithic, mainly forest-steppe) and eastern (Samara and Khvalynsk/Repin, mainly steppe) cultures and peoples, i.e. precisely the period of differentiation of an eastern, Proto-Indo-Hittite-speaking early Khvalynsk community (that expanded with the horse and horse-related symbols) from a western, probably Early Proto-Uralic speaking community of the North Pontic forest-steppe cultural area.

NOTE. I am not against a Neolithic ‘steppe’ language. But this steppe language was spoken before and/or during the first Neolithisation wave, and should be associated with Indo-Uralic. If there was no Indo-Uralic language, then some communities would have developed Early Proto-Indo-European and Early Proto-Uralic side by side, in close contact to allow for dozens of loanwords or wanderwords to be dated to this period (where, simplistically, PIH *H corresponds to EPU *k, with some exceptions).

Map of a) steppe – forest-steppe border during the Eneolithic in the Pontic-Caspian region and b) the border today, showing a more limited steppe zone in the North Pontic area (reason for the specific ways of expansion of horse-related cultures and horse-related nomadic pastoralism during the Eneolithic).

The convergence that we see in PCA and Admixture of Yamna and the earliest Baltic LN / Corded Ware ‘outlier’ samples (if not directly related exogamy of some Baltic LN/CWC groups with Yamna migrants, e.g. those along the Prut), must be traced back to the period of genetic drift that began precisely with these Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansions, also closely associated with populations of the Caucasus, thus bringing North Pontic forest-steppe cultures (probably behind Proto-Corded Ware peoples) nearer to Khvalynsk, and both by extension to Yamna.

We have seen this problem arise in Bell Beaker samples expanding all over Europe, turning from a fully Yamnaya-like population to something else entirely in different regions, from more EEF-like to more CWC-like, sharing one common trait: Y-DNA. We are seeing the same happen with Balkan groups and Mycenaeans, with Old Hittites, and with steppe MLBA from Andronovo peoples expanding over Central and South Asia, and we know that patrilineal clans and thus Y-chromosome bottlenecks were common after Neolithisation, especially with nomadic pastoralist steppe clans (and probably also with many previous population expansions).

Steppe Eneolithic peoples were thus no different to other previous and posterior expanding groups, and ancestry is going to be similar for people living in neighbouring regions, so Y-DNA will remain the essential tool to distinguish different peoples (see here a summary of Proto-Indo-Europeans expanding R1b-L23).

We are nevertheless still seeing “R1b zombies” (a quite appropriate name I read on Anthrogenica) still arguing for a Western European origin of R1b-L23 based on EEF-like ancestry and few steppe-related contribution found in Iberian Bell Beakers (read what David Reich has to say on this question); and “OIT zombies” still arguing for IVC representing Proto-Indo-European, based on Iran_N ancestry and the minimal steppe ancestry-related impact on certain ancient Asian cultures, now partly helped by “Caucasus homeland zombies” with the new PIE=CHG model; apart from many other pet theory zombies rising occasionally from their graves here and there. Let’s hope that this virus of the undead theories does not spread too strongly to the R1a-Indo-European association, when the official data on Khvalynsk, West Yamna, and Yamna Hungary come out and show that they were dominated by R1b-L23 lineages.

Because we need to explore in detail the continuation of Khvalynsk-related (potential Proto-Anatolian) cultures in the Lower Danube and the Balkans, e.g. from Cernavoda I to Cernavoda III, then maybe to Ezero, and then to Troy; as well as the specific areas of Late Indo-European expansions associated with Early Yamna settlers turning into Bell Beakers, Balkan EBA, and Steppe MLBA-associated cultures. There is a lot of work to do on proper definition of Bronze Age cultures and their potential dialects, as well as convergence and divergence trends, and not only of Indo-European, but also of Uralic-speaking communities derived from Corded Ware cultures.

If we let the narratives of the 2000s in Genetics (in combination with the 1960s in Archaeology) dominate the conversation, then a lot of time will be absurdly lost until reality imposes itself. And it will.

EDIT (2 JUL 2018): Some sentences corrected, and some information added to the original post.


The future of the Reich Lab’s studies and interpretations of Late Indo-European migrations


Short report on advances in Genomics, and on the Reich Lab:

Some interesting details:

  • The Lab is impressive. I would never dream of having something like this at our university. I am really jealous of that working environment.
  • They are currently working on population transformations in Italy; I hope we can have at last Italic and Etruscan samples.
  • It is always worth it to repeat that we are all the source of multiple admixture events, many of them quite recent; and I liked the Star Wars simile.
  • Also, some names hinting at potential new samples?? Zajo-I, Chanchan, Gurulde?, Володарка (Ukraine – medieval?), Autodrom, Облевка, Кресты, Кудуксай (Ural region, palaeo-metal?), Золкут, etc.
Ancient DNA sample bag?

On the bad aspect, they keep repeating the same “steppe ancestry” meme (in the featured image above, or the one below). I know this is the news report (i.e. science communication), not exactly the Reich Lab, but these maps didn’t appear out of the blue.

Steppe ancestry distribution in Europe, according to PBS.

Interesting for future interpretations is the whiteboard behind David Reich’s back (apparently they like to keep relevant information on whiteboards…):

Whiteboard behind David Reich’s back (at his office?).

It seems that while the Copenhagen group will still be bound (see here) by the Gimbutas/Kristiansen starting point, the Reich Lab will remain bound by Anthony’s selection of Ringe’s (2002) glottochronological model, and they will try to make genomic data fit in with it.

In fact, the whiteboard doesn’t even include Ringe’s link of Germanic with Italo-Celtic, which could maybe hint at Anthony’s recent change of heart? (i.e. Yamna Hungary -> Corded Ware). That would mean still less Linguistics (if glottochronology can be called that), and more Archaeology…

Image from Anthony & Ringe (2015). “The Proto-Indo-European homeland, with migrations outward at about 4200 BCE (1), 3300 BCE (2), and 3000 BCE (3a and 3b). A tree diagram (inset) shows the pre-Germanic split as unresolved. Modified from Anthony (2013).”

I don’t know why university labs need to do this: To select the linguistic model preferred by a single archaeologist, which happens to be the lead archaeologist of the group, and then try to make genetic data agree again and again with that model. I guess it is a strategic question, and has to do with granting continued contacts with archaeological sites, and access to samples from them?

I understand none of them will try to learn ancient languages, too much work probably. But, wouldn’t it have been more scientifish, at least, to depart from, say, three or four reasonable potential linguistic models (that is, from Indo-Europeanists), and from there discuss the best potential fits for the current genomic data in each paper?

This is, for example, how the Heyd (archaeologist) + German/Spanish Indo-Europeanist schools would look like:

Yamnaya expansion coupled with Meid’s (1975) description of three stages of Proto-Indo-European development (as interpreted by Adrados 1998) and depiction of Heyd’s proposal of Yamna expansion.

Wouldn’t you say it could have fitted the statistical and Y-DNA data seamlessly, in contrast to Gimbutas/Trager (i.e. Kristiansen today), or to Anthony/Ringe?

NOTE. I would say the mainstream German school follows Meid’s (1975) three-stage theory coupled with Dunkel’s (e.g. 1997) nomenclature. The Spanish school follows Adrados, who has repeated ad nauseam that he was the first to mention the three-stage theory in conferences and papers previous to and coincident with Meid’s proposal (see his latest JIES article, a paper available in Scribd). In any case, Spanish and German scholars have been working hand in hand in accepting and developing a general linguistic model similar to the one above.

Archaeological theories like those of Heyd or Mallory for Yamna and Bell Beaker (in contrast to Kristiansen or Anthony), and Prescott and Walderhaug for Bell Beaker and Germanic (contrasting with Kristiansen and Iversen) are compatible with this German/Spanish model.

The French school is non-existent on the homeland matter, Italian scholars seem to be behind even in the description of Anatolian as archaic (probably related to the general wish to have Latin as derived from Vergil’s Troy), Russian scholars are still working with Nostratic and Mesolithic expansions, and Leiden, as the leading IE publisher worldwide today, is full of very different ‘divos’, each with his own pet theory (some obviously agreeing with the German/Spanish model; and especially interesting is that some of them are strong supporters of an Indo-Uralic proto-language).

The English-speaking world, on the other hand, has seen the most varied models being either proposed or translated into its language, with the most popular ones being those publicized by archaeologists (Winfred P. Lehmann being one of the noteworthy exceptions), which may explain why for some people (archaeologists or geneticists) linguistics seems more like a game. It is to be assumed that these same people haven’t taken a look at the dozens of genetic papers published to date – and hundreds of archaeological papers using a bit of linguistics to support their models – , and how wrong they have all been in their interpretations, or else they would realize that genomics does (sadly) not really look like a serious discipline at all right now among most linguists, and among many archaeologists either…

Thus, instead of comparing the main theories on Proto-Indo-European (i.e. linguistics->archaeology->genetics), which would have offered the most stable framework to assess potential prehistoric ethnolinguistic identifications, they keep using a single, simplistic language tree liked by an archaeologist, and trying to fit genetic data to it, while also adapting archaeology to genetics, i.e. genetics->archaeology->linguistics; which, as you can imagine, is not going to convince any linguist.

Especially disappointing is that the world’s leading genetic lab still relies on a marginal proposal based on glottochronology, the homeopathy of linguistics… At least in that regard everyone should know better by now.

Also, they keep interacting with the wrong audience: instead of trying to engage linguists into the real homeland and dialectal quest, to keep Genomics a serious discipline among academics, they tend to discuss with politically- or racially-motivated people, which is probably also in line with strategic decisions.

In the example below, we see the main author of their recent paper on Indo-Iranian migrations seeking once again interaction, this time through “news” promoted by Hindu nationalist bigots, so that – even if that makes them look more neutral in the eyes of those who may allow access to Indian samples – , in the end, we see in genomics a fictitious revival of the “AIT vs. OIT debate” dead long ago in linguistics and archaeology (anywhere but in India).

Pretty disappointing to see these trends; so much effort and time invested in futile discussions and infinitely reworked doomed glottochronological or 19th-century models, when it is the fine-scale population structure of expanding Yamna peoples what we should be discussing now, and thus Late PIE dialectalisation with offshoots Afanasevo, East Bell Beaker, Balkan Bronze Age, and Sintashta/Potapovka; as well as Corded Ware evolution in Uralic-speaking territory.

EDIT (7 JUN 2018): Some parts of the text have been corrected or slightly modified.


The new Scicomm’s warhorse is “CHG ancestry = PIE” and the Iranian homeland


Funny reports are popping up due to a recent article in New Scientist (behind paywall), World’s most-spoken languages may have arisen in ancient Iran, which echoes the controversial interpretations of Wang et al. (2018).

I have been waiting to read the printed edition, but that of May 26th doesn’t have the article in it, so it may be a web-only text.

Nevertheless, here are some excerpts about the PIE homeland from a news aggregator that caught my attention (emphasis mine):

The two proposed locations are divided by the Caucasus mountains, which are found between the Black and Caspian Seas. In today’s geography, the mountains cover parts of Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

To find out whether the ancient language came from north or south of these mountains, a team from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History looked at the bones of 45 ancient humans from the Caucasus region, and analyzed their DNA. These people lived in the area between 3,200 and 6,500 years ago.

Interestingly, from looking at their genes, the researchers determined that these ancient people seemed to be moving predominantly in one direction – they were heading north. This suggests that, contrary to what was previously believed, the first Indo-European language might actually have arisen south of the Caucasus mountains, only spreading to other parts of Europe and Asia as people migrated north from this region. The findings are currently available on BioRxiv.

We know that the Proto-Indo-European language appeared somewhere between 5,500 and 9,000 years ago, and the study suggests it only spread to Europe about 6,500 years ago. Therefore, this lost language could have originated south of the Caucasus.

What’s more, the ancient people analyzed had similar genetic signatures to prehistoric farmers who once lived in western Iran. Therefore, the ancient version of many of our languages may have first evolved in ancient Iran, before spreading with the people who first spoke it, and their ancestors, as they radiated north of the Caucasus mountains to the Eurasian steppe.

However, there are still many who favor the conflicting theory – that the Proto-Indo-European language arose in the Eurasian steppe. But this would only take the language back about 4,800 years – when people moved from the Eurasian steppe into Europe – and specialists think the language is significantly older. The idea that it first sprung up in Iran about 6,500 years ago follows this assumption.

It seems that – now that the Danish workgroup (responsible for the “steppe ancestry = Indo-European” and “Corded Ware expanded from Yamna“) is backing down, and both it and the Reich/Jena group are accepting that Yamna represents the expansion of Late Indo-European into Afanasevo, Bell Beaker, and Sintashta – anything before Yamna in the steppe is just another “conflicting theory” among equals…

So forget the “steppe ancestry = PIE”, and welcome the newly fashionable “CHG ancestry = PIE“, and of course the Iranian homeland.

This is how I imagine genetic labs writing anthropological interpretations and conclusions of their papers, against every single reasonable restraint (and the well-established models of linguists and archaeologists) and then publicizing them:



Copenhagen group: Germanic and Balto-Slavic from Bell Beaker; Indo-Anatolian homeland in the Caucasus


Article of general knowledge in Der Spiegel, Invasion from the Steppe, with comments from Willerslev and Kristiansen, appeared roughly at the same time as the Damgaard et al. Nature (2018) and Science (2018) papers were published.

NOTE. You can read the article (in German) from Kristiansen’s account.

Excerpts translated from German (emphasis mine):

On the Y-DNA data

Particularly striking is the genetic signature from the steppe on the Y chromosome. From this the researchers conclude that the majority of migrants were males. Kristian Kristiansen, chief archaeologist in the Willerslev team, also has an idea of ​​how this could be explained: “Maybe it’s a rite of initiation, as it was spread among the steppe peoples,” he says.

The younger sons of the Yamnaya herders, who were excluded from the succession, had to seek their fortune on their own. As part of a solemn ritual, they threw themselves to wolves’ skins and then swarmed in warlike gangs to buy their own herds by cattle-stealing.


An ally that they seem to have brought from their homeland may also have contributed to the genetic success of the steppe people: Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium. Its genes were found by researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Jena – and apparently it emerged exactly at the same time as the Yamnaya thrust began.

About the Hittites

(…) And yet now, where Asia and Europe meet geographically, there is no trace of the Yamnaya genes. The wander-loving people from the Pontic-Caspian steppe apparently found neither the way across the Balkans nor through the Caucasus mountains.

Now the researchers are puzzled: How can it be that a language goes on a walk, without the accompanying speakers coming along? Is it possible that the Indo-European seeped into Anatolia, much like the English language spread today without the need for Englishmen?

Archaeologist Kristiansen does not believe it. The researchers would find it hard to reconsider their theories, he says: “Especially the first chapter of the story has to be rewritten.”

He suspects that there was a predecessor of the Yamnaya culture, in which a kind of Proto-Proto-Indo-European was spoken. And he also has a suspicion, where this people could have drifted around: The Caucasus, says Kristiansen, was their homeland. But that remains unproven: “There’s another hole left,” he admits.

Spread of Indo-European languages

About the Botai

The study of [the Botai] genome revealed that it was genetically radically different from the members of the Yamnaya culture. The Botai, it seems, consistently avoided any contact with their neighbors – even though they must have crossed the territory of the Botai on their migratory waves.

Willerslev assumes that the art of keeping horses from the Yamnaya steppe nomads was adopted from these peoples, and then they developed it further. At some point, the Botai could then have itself become doomed by its groundbreaking innovation: While the descendants of the Yamnaya spread over half of Eurasia, the Botai disappeared without leaving a trace.

Even more interesting than the few words that set the Copenhagen group’s views for future papers (such as the expected Maykop samples with EHG ancestry) is the artistic sketch of the Indo-European migrations, probably advised by the group.

A simple map does not mean that all members of the Danish workgroup have changed their view completely, but I would say it is a great improvement over the previous “arrows of migration” (see here), and it is especially important that they show a more realistic picture of ancient migrations to general readers.

NOTE. Especially absurd is the identification of the ‘Celtic’ expansion with the first Bell Beakers in the British Isles (that idea is hold by few, such as Koch and Cunliffe in their “Celtic from the West” series). Also inexact, but not so worrying, are the identification of ‘Germanic’ in Germany/Únětice, or the spread of ‘Baltic’ and ‘Slavic’ directly to East Europe (i.e. I guess Mierzanowice/Nitra -> Trzciniec), which is probably driven by the need to assert a close connection with early Iranians and thus with their satemization trends.

Also, as we know now thanks to Narasimhan et al. (2018), there is no need to support that convoluted west arrow (representing CWC) from West Yamna to Central Europe, and then to East Yamna, since the Proto-Indo-Iranian community – represented by the Steppe MLBA cloud that later expanded Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages – has a more direct connection with the in situ admixture of Poltavka/Abashevo within the Volga-Ural region.

I think we can keep this from the article:

Their results, as well as those of the competition labs at Harvard University and Jena’s Max Planck Institute for the History of Humanity, leave no doubt: Yes, the legendary herdsmen in the Pontic-Caspian steppe really existed. They belonged to the so-called Yamnaya culture, and they spread, as linguists had predicted, in massive migrations towards Central Europe and India – a later triumph for linguists.

This can be added to a recent comment by de Barros Damgaard:

The project has been an extremely enriching and exciting process. We were able to direct many very different academic fields towards a single coherent approach. By asking the right questions, and keeping limitations of the data in mind, contextualizing, nuancing, and keeping dialogues open between scholars of radically different backgrounds and approaches, we have carved out a path for a new field of research. We have already seen too many papers come out in which models produced by geneticists working on their own have been accepted without vital input from other fields, and, at the other extreme, seen archaeologists opposing new studies built on archaeogenetic data, due to a lack of transparency between the fields.

Data on ancient DNA is astonishing for its ability to provide a fine-grained image of early human mobility, but it does stand on the shoulders of decades of work by scholars in other fields, from the time of excavation of human skeletons to interpreting the cultural, linguistic origins of the samples. This is how cold statistics are turned into history.


Earliest evidence for equid riding in the ancient Near East is a donkey from the Early Bronze Age

Open access Earliest evidence for equid bit wear in the ancient Near East: The “ass” from Early Bronze Age Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, by Greenfield et al. PLOS One


Analysis of a sacrificed and interred domestic donkey from an Early Bronze Age (EB) IIIB (c. 2800–2600 BCE) domestic residential neighborhood at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath, Israel, indicate the presence of bit wear on the Lower Premolar 2 (LPM2). This is the earliest evidence for the use of a bit among early domestic equids, and in particular donkeys, in the Near East. The mesial enamel surfaces on both the right and left LPM2 of the particular donkey in question are slightly worn in a fashion that suggests that a dental bit (metal, bone, wood, etc.) was used to control the animal. Given the secure chronological context of the burial (beneath the floor of an EB IIIB house), it is suggested that this animal provides the earliest evidence for the use of a bit on an early domestic equid from the Near East.

Interesting excerpts:

In contrast to what is known about the use of donkeys for transportation, relatively little is known about their use for riding during this early period [37]. Riding is possible, but fast riding is difficult without some kind of bridle with reins to grasp. Thus, the development of the bit becomes an essential part of the mechanism to control and ride an equid, whether horse, donkey or otherwise [38–41]. While some have tried to argue based on cave art for the presence of bridles (including cheek straps and potentially bits) on equids as far back as the Upper Palaeolithic [42, 43], this perspective has not been accepted [44, 45]. Instead, the weight of the evidence for bridles points toward the Eneolithic and Bronze Age of Kazakhstan and Russia, c. 3500 BCE for horses, not donkeys [38, 40, 46–50]. But, horses are not the earliest domestic equids to appear in the Near East. This role is reserved for the ass/donkey [20, 32, 51].

Photograph of donkey burial from the E5c Stratum of Area E at Tell eṣ-Ṣâfi/Gath in Area E as it was being uncovered; facing north.

The earliest unambiguous evidence for bridles and bits in equids in the Near East appear only in the Middle Bronze Age [52, 62, 63], and horses become common only in cuneiform texts and the archaeological record after the turn of the second millennium BC [44]. For example, at the Middle Bronze Age site of Tel Haror, a metal bit was found associated with a donkey burial [63].

Beginning in the Middle Bronze Age, there is a variety of sources that demonstrate that asses were being ridden. In fact, they seem to be the preferred animal ridden for elites in the Early and Middle Bronze Age of Mesopotamia. The earliest clear association of asses being ridden by elites comes from the Old Babylonian period (MBA, 18th century BCE—the Kings of Mari, Syria) [64]. Similarly, by the beginning of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, various texts and iconographic images (e.g. the stela of Serabit el-Khadem) from Egypt and petroglyphs from southern Sinai unambiguously depict and/or describe elites riding asses [5, 65, 66]. The later biblical narrative depicts donkeys carrying the biblical Patriarchs (Abraham), various leaders (such as Saul before he became king), prophets, and judges of Israel [16, 67, 68].

Horses became the standard royal riding animal during the Late Bronze and Iron Ages as they became more prevalent. In later periods, donkeys became associated with humility and the lower classes, and leaders emanating from it (e.g. Jesus).

These finds suggest that bit use on donkeys was already present in the early to mid-3rd millennium BCE, long before the appearance of horses in the ancient Near East. Thus, the appearance of bit use in donkeys in the ancient Near East is not connected to appearance of the horse, contrary to previous suggestions (as already noted by [62]). As such, the impact of the domestic donkey on the cultures of this region and the evolution of early complex societies cannot be underestimated. As with plant and animal domestication, the use of donkeys created a surplus of human labor that allowed for the easy transport of people and goods across the entire Near East. These changes continue to permeate the economic, social, and political aspects of even modern life in many third world countries [3, 8, 9, 93, 94].

So, the first case of equid riding in the Near East, near two of the cradles of civilization (Sumeria and Egypt), is a donkey from the early third millennium BC. Not much in favour of horse domestication (and still less for horse riding) expanding from Norh Iran or the Southern Caucasus to the north.

We already know about domesticated animals in Eneolithic steppe cultures, and there is a clear connection between the appearance of horse riding in Khvalynsk in the early 5th millennium and the expansion of this culture, including Suvorovo-Novodanilovka chiefs as Proto-Anatolians via the Balkans in the second half of the 5th millennium BC, and of Late Proto-Indo-Europeans with late Khvalynsk/Yamna in the late 4th millennium BC.

NOTE. The recent papers of the Copenhagen group made yet another controversial interpretation of genomic findings (see here): they support multiple simultaneous origins for horse-riding technique, in Khvalynsk and Botai, based on the lack of genetic connection between both human populations, with which I can’t agree. Based on the similar time of appearance and the geographic proximity, I think the most likely explanation is expansion of the technique from one to the other, probably – as supported by Anthony’s investigation – from Khvalynsk to neighbouring cultures.


Consequences of Damgaard et al. 2018 (I): EHG ancestry in Maykop samples, and the potential Anatolian expansion routes


This is part I of two posts on the most recent data concerning the earliest known Indo-European migrations.

Anatolian in Armi

I am reading in forums about “Kroonen’s proposal” of Anatolian in the 3rd millennium. That is false. The Copenhagen group (in particular the authors of the linguistic supplement, Kroonen, Barjamovic, and Peyrot) are merely referencing Archi (2011. “In Search of Armi”. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 63: 5–34) in turn using transcriptions from Bonechi (1990. “Aleppo in età arcaica; a proposito di un’opera recente”. Studi Epigrafici e Linguistici sul Vicino Oriente Antico 7: 15–37.), who asserted the potential Anatolian origin of the terms. This is what Archi had to say about this:

Most of these personal names belong to a name-giving tradition different from that of Ebla; Arra-ti/tulu(m) is attested also at Dulu, a neighbouring city-state (Bonechi 1990b: 22–25).28 We must, therefore, deduce that Armi belonged to a marginal, partially Semitized linguistic area different from the ethno-linguistic region dominated by Ebla. Typical are masculine personal names ending in -a-du: A-la/li-wa-du/da, A-li/lu-wa-du, Ba-mi-a-du, La-wadu, Mi-mi-a-du, Mu-lu-wa-du. This reminds one of the suffix -(a)nda, -(a)ndu, very productive in the Anatolian branch of Indo-European (Laroche 1966: 329). Elements such as ali-, alali-, lawadu-, memi-, mula/i- are attested in Anatolian personal names of the Old Assyrian period (Laroche 1966: 26–27, 106, 118, 120).

Ebla’ first kingdom at its height c. 2340 BC. Hipothetical location of Armi depicted. The first Eblaite kingdom extended from Urshu in the north,1 to Damascus area in the south.2 And from Phoenicia and the coastal mountains in the west,3 4 to Tuttul,5 and Haddu in the east.6 The eastern kingdom of Nagar controlled most of the Khabur basin from the river junction with the Euphrates to the northwestern part at Nabada.7 Page 101. From Wikipedia.

This was used by Archi to speculatively locate the state of Armi, in or near Ebla territory, which could correspond with the region of modern north-western Syria:

The onomastic tradition of Armi, so different from that of Ebla and her allies (§ 5), obliges us to locate this city on the edges of the Semitized area and, thus, necessarily north of the line running through Hassuwan – Ursaum – Irritum – Harran. If Armi were to be found at Banat-Bazi, it would have represented an anomaly within an otherwise homogenous linguistic scenario.34

Taken as a whole, the available information suggests that Armi was a regional state, which enjoyed a privileged relationship with Ebla: the exchange of goods between the two cities was comparable only to that between Ebla and Mari. No other state sent so many people to Ebla, especially merchants, lú-kar. It is only a hypothesis that Armi was the go-between for Ebla and for the areas where silver and copper were extracted.

This proposal is similar to the one used to support Indo-Aryan terminology in Mittanni (ca. 16th-14th c. BC), so the scarce material should not pose a problem to those previously arguing about the ‘oldest’ nature of Indo-Aryan.

NOTE. On the other hand, the theory connecting ‘mariannu‘, a term dated to 1761 BC (referenced also in the linguistic supplement), and put in relation with PIIr. *arya, seems too hypothetical for the moment, although there is a clear expansion of Aryan-related terms in the Middle East that could support one or more relevant eastern migration waves of Indo-Aryans from Asia.

Potential routes of Anatolian migration

Once we have accepted that Anatolian is not Late PIE – and that only needed a study of Anatolian archaisms, not the terminology from Armi – , we can move on to explore the potential routes of expansion.

On the Balkan route

A current sketch of the dots connecting Khvalynsk with Anatolia is as follows.

1—39 — sceptre bearers of the type Giurgiuleşti and Suvorovo; 40—60 — Gumelniţa-Varna-Bolgrad-Aldeni cultural sphere; 61 — Fălciu; 62 — Cainari; 63 — Giurgiuleşti; 64 — Suvorovo; 65 — Casimcea; 66 — Kjulevča; 67 — Reka Devnja; 68 — Drama; 69 — Gonova Mogila; 70 — Reževo.

First, we have the early expansion of Suvorovo chieftains spreading from ca. 4400-4000 BC in the lower Danube region, related to Novodanilovka chiefs of the North Pontic region, and both in turn related to Khvalynsk horse riders (read a a recent detailed post on this question).

Then we have Cernavoda I (ca. 3850-3550 BC), a culture potentially derived from the earlier expansion of Suvorovo chiefs, as shown in cultural similarities with preceding cultures and Yamna, and also in the contacts with the North Pontic steppe cultures (read a a recent detailed post on this question).

We also have proof of genetic inflow from the steppe into populations of cultures near those suggested to be heirs of those dominated by Suvorovo chiefs, from the 5th millennium BC (in Varna I ca. 4630 BC, and Smyadovo ca. 4500 BC, see image below).

If these neighbouring Balkan peoples of ca. 4500 BC are taken as proxies for Proto-Anatolians, then it becomes quite clear why Old Hittite samples dated 3,000 years after this migration event of elite chiefs could show no or almost no ancestry from Europe (for this question, read my revision of Lazaridis’ preprint).

NOTE. A full account of the crisis in the lower Danube, as well as the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka intrusion, is available in Anthony (2007).

Modified image, including PCA and supervised ADMIXTURE data from Mathieson et al. (2018). Blue arrow represents incoming ancestry from Suvorovo chiefs, red line represents distance from the majority of the neighbouring Balkan population in this period studied to date. Northwestern-Anatolian Neolithic (grey), Yamnaya from Samara (yellow), EHG (pink) and WHG (green).

The southern Balkans and Anatolia

The later connection of Cernavoda II-III and related cultures (and potentially Ezero) with Troy, on the other hand, is still blurry. But, even if a massive migration of Common Anatolian is found to happen from the Balkans into Anatolia in the late 4th / beginning of the 3rd millennium, the people responsible for this expansion could show a minimal trace of European ancestry.

A new paper has appeared recently (in Russian), Dubene and Troy: Gold and Prosperity in the Third Millennium Cal. BCE in Eurasia. Stratum Plus, 2 (2018), by L. Nikolova, showing commercial contacts between Troy and cultures from Bulgaria:

Earlier third millennium cal BCE is the period of development of interconnected Early Bronze Age societies in Eurasia, which economic and social structures expressed variants of pre-state political structures, named in the specialized literature tribes and chiefdoms. In this work new arguments will be added to the chiefdom model of third millennium cal BC societies of Yunatsite culture in the Central Balkans from the perspectives of the interrelations between Dubene (south central Bulgaria) and Troy (northwest Turkey) wealth expression.

Possible explanations of the similarity in the wealth expression between Troy and Yunatsite chiefdoms is the direct interaction between the political elite. However, the golden and silver objects in the third millennium cal BCE in the Eastern Mediterranean are most of all an expression of economic wealth. This is the biggest difference between the early state and chiefdoms in the third millennium cal BCE in Eurasia and Africa. The literacy and the wealth expression in the early states was politically centralized, while the absence of literacy and wider distribution of the wealth expression in the chiefdoms of the eastern Mediterranean are indicators, that wider distribution of wealth and the existed stable subsistence layers prevented the formation of states and the need to regulate the political systems through literacy.

The only way to link Common Anatolians to their Proto-Anatolian (linguistic) ancestors would therefore be to study preceding cultures and their expansions, until a proper connecting route is found, as I said recently.

These late commercial contacts in the south-eastern Balkans (Nikolova also offers a simplified presentation of data, in English) are yet another proof of how Common Anatolian languages may have further expanded into Anatolia.

NOTE. One should also take into account the distribution of modern R1b-M269* and L23* subclades (i.e. those not belonging to the most common subclades expanding with Yamna), which seem to peak around the Balkans. While those may just belong to founder effects of populations preceding Suvorovo or related to Yamna migrants, the Balkans is a region known to have retained Y-DNA haplogroup diversity, in contrast with other European regions.

On a purely linguistic aspect, there are strong Hattic and Hurrian influences on Anatolian languages, representing a unique layer that clearly differentiates them from LPIE languages, pointing also to different substrates behind each attested Common Anatolian branch or individual language:

  • Phonetic changes, like the appearance of /f/ and /v/.
  • Split ergativity: Hurrian is ergative, Hattic probably too.
  • Increasing use of enclitic pronoun and particle chains after first stressed word: in Hattic after verb, in Hurrian after nominal forms.
  • Almost obligatory use of clause initial and enclitic connectors: e.g. semantic and syntactic identity of Hattic pala/bala and Hittite nu.

NOTE. For a superficial discussion of this, see e.g. An Indo-European Linguistic Area and its Characteristics: Ancient Anatolia. Areal Diffusion as a Challenge to the Comparative Method?, by Calvert Watkins. You can also search for any of the mentioned shared isoglosses between Middle Eastern languages and Anatolian if you want more details.

On the Caucasus route

It seems that the Danish group is now taking a stance in favour of a Maykop route (from the linguistic supplement):

The period of Proto-Anatolian linguistic unity can now be placed in the 4th millennium BCE and may have been contemporaneous with e.g. the Maykop culture (3700–3000 BCE), which influenced the formation and apparent westward migration of the Yamnaya and maintained commercial and cultural contact with the Anatolian highlands (Kristiansen et al. 2018).

In fact, they have data to support this:

The EHG ancestry detected in individuals associated with both Yamnaya (3000–2400 BCE) and the Maykop culture (3700–3000 BCE) (in prep.) is absent from our Anatolian specimens, suggesting that neither archaeological horizon constitutes a suitable candidate for a “homeland” or “stepping stone” for the origin or spread of Anatolian Indo- European speakers to Anatolia. However, with the archaeological and genetic data presented here, we cannot reject a continuous small-scale influx of mixed groups from the direction of the Caucasus during the Chalcolithic period of the 4th millennium BCE.

While it is difficult to speak about the consequences of this find without having access to this paper in preparation or its samples, we already knew that Maykop had obvious cultural contacts with the steppe.

It will not be surprising to find not only EHG, but also R1b-L23 subclades there. In my opinion, though, the most likely source of EHG ancestry in Maykop (given the different culture shown in other steppe groups) is exogamy.

The question will still remain: was this a Proto-Anatolian-speaking group?

Diachronic map of Eneolithic migrations ca. 4000-3100 BC

My opinion in this regard – again, without access to the study – is that you would still need to propose:

  • A break-up of Anatolian ca. 4500 BC represented by some early group migrating into the Northern Caucasus area.
  • For this group – who were closely related linguistically and culturally to early Khvalynsk – to remain isolated in or around the Northern Caucasus, i.e. somehow ‘hidden’ from the evolving LPIE speakers in late Khvalynsk/early Yamna peoples.
  • Then, they would need to have migrated from Maykop to Anatolian territory only after ca. 3700 BC – while having close commercial contacts with Khvalynsk and the North Pontic cultures in the period 3700-3000 BC -, in some migration wave that has not showed up in the archaeological records to date.
  • Then appear as Old Hittites without showing EHG ancestry (even though they show it in the period 3700-3000 BC), near the region of the Armi state, where Anatolian was supposedly spoken already in the mid-3rd millennium.

Not a very convincing picture, right now, but indeed possible.

Also, we have R1b-Z2103 lineages and clear steppe ancestry in the region probably ca. 2500 BC with Hajji Firuz, which is most likely the product of the late Khvalynsk migration waves that we are seeing in the recent papers.

These migrations are then related to early LPIE-speaking migrants spreading after ca. 3300 BC – that also caused the formation of early Yamna and the expansion of Tocharian-related migrants – , which leaves almost no space for an Anatolian expansion, unless one supports that the former drove the latter.

NOTE. In any case, if the Caucasus route turned out to be the actual Anatolian route, I guess this would be a way as good as any other to finally kill their Indo-European – Corded Ware theory, for obvious reasons.

On the North Iranian homeland

A few thoughts for those equating CHG ancestry in IE speakers (and especially now in Old Hittites) with an origin in North Iran, due to a recent comment by David Reich:

In the paper it is clearly stated that there is no Neolithic Iranian ancestry in the Old Hittite samples.

Ancestry is not people, and it is certainly not language. The addition of CHG ancestry to the Eneolithic steppe need not mean a population or linguistic replacement. Although it could have been. But this has to be demonstrated with solid anthropological models.

NOTE. On the other hand, if you find people who considered (at least until de Barros Damgaard et al. 2018) steppe (ancestry/PCA) = Indo-European, then you should probably confront them about why CHG in Hittites and the arrival of CHG in steppe groups is now not to be considered the same, i.e why CHG / Iran_N ≠ PIE.

Since there has been no serious North Iranian homeland proposal made for a while, it is difficult to delineate a modern sketch, and I won’t spend the time with that unless there is some real anthropological model and genetic proof of it. I guess the Armenian homeland hypothesis proposed by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov (1995) would do, but since it relies on outdated data (some of which appears also in Gimbutas’ writings), it would need a full revision.

NOTE. Their theory of glottalic consonants (or ejectives) relied on the ‘archaism’ of Hittite, Germanic, and Armenian. As you can see (unless you live in the mid-20th century) this is not very reasonable, since Hittite is attested quite late and after heavy admixture with Middle Eastern peoples, and Germanic and Armenian are some of the latest attested (and more admixed, phonetically changed) languages.

This would be a proper answer, indeed, for those who would accept this homeland due to the reconstruction of ‘ejectives’ for these languages. Evidently, there is no need to posit a homeland near Armenia to propose a glottalic theory. Kortlandt is a proponent of a late and small expansion of Late PIE from the steppe, and still proposes a reconstruction of ejectives for PIE. But, this was the main reason of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov to propose that homeland, and in that sense it is obviously flawed.

Those claiming a relationship of the North Iranian homeland with such EHG ancestry in Maykop, or with the hypothetic Proto-Euphratic or Gutian, are obviously not understanding the implications of finding steppe ancestry coupled with (likely) early Late PIE migrants in the region in the mid-4th millennium.