The fast spread of Neolithic farmers in the western Mediterranean

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

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

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


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

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

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

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


Lazaridis’ evolutionary history of human populations in Europe

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

Interesting excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Some interesting excerpts:

On the Corded Ware and related cultures

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

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

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

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

On assumed early Corded Ware materials in North-East Europe

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

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

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

On modern political borders and preconceptions defining archaeological cultures

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

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

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

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

People prefer ethnolinguistic identification “large and early”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Population size potentially affecting rates of language change


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

Summary (emphasis mine):

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

Interesting excerpts:

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

Regarding potential drawbacks of the study:

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

As conclusions:

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

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

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


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

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

Some interesting excerpts from the introduction (emphasis mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

The uneasy relationship between Archaeology and Ancient Genomics

Allentoft Corded Ware

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

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

Agricultural origins on the Anatolian plateau


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

Abstract (emphasis mine):

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

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

Interesting excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also:

The time and place of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jewish history

Open access The time and place of European admixture in Ashkenazi Jewish history, by Xue, Lencz, Darvasi, Pe’er, & Carmi, PLOS Genetics (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Ashkenazi Jewish (AJ) population is important in genetics due to its high rate of Mendelian disorders. AJ appeared in Europe in the 10th century, and their ancestry is thought to comprise European (EU) and Middle-Eastern (ME) components. However, both the time and place of admixture are subject to debate. Here, we attempt to characterize the AJ admixture history using a careful application of new and existing methods on a large AJ sample. Our main approach was based on local ancestry inference, in which we first classified each AJ genomic segment as EU or ME, and then compared allele frequencies along the EU segments to those of different EU populations. The contribution of each EU source was also estimated using GLOBETROTTER and haplotype sharing. The time of admixture was inferred based on multiple statistics, including ME segment lengths, the total EU ancestry per chromosome, and the correlation of ancestries along the chromosome. The major source of EU ancestry in AJ was found to be Southern Europe (≈60–80% of EU ancestry), with the rest being likely Eastern European. The inferred admixture time was ≈30 generations ago, but multiple lines of evidence suggest that it represents an average over two or more events, pre- and post-dating the founder event experienced by AJ in late medieval times. The time of the pre-bottleneck admixture event, which was likely Southern European, was estimated to ≈25–50 generations ago.

Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of the European and Middle-Eastern samples used as reference panels in our study. The analysis was performed using SmartPCA [25] with default parameters (except no outlier removal). The populations included within each region are listed in Table 1 of the main text. The PCA plot supports the partitioning of the European and Middle-Eastern populations into the broad regional groups used in the analysis.

Interesting excerpts:

(…) AJ genetics defies simple demographic theories. Hypotheses such as a wholly Khazar, Turkish, or Middle-Eastern origin have been disqualified [4–7, 17, 55], but even a model of a single Middle-Eastern and European admixture event cannot account for all of our observations. The actual admixture history might have been highly complex, including multiple geographic sources and admixture events. Moreover, due to the genetic similarity and complex history of the European populations involved (particularly in Southern Europe [51]), the multiple paths of AJ migration across Europe [10], and the strong genetic drift experienced by AJ in the late Middle Ages [9, 16], there seems to be a limit on the resolution to which the AJ admixture history can be reconstructed.

A proposed model for the recent AJ history. The proposed intervals for the dates and admixture proportions are based on multiple methods, as described in the main text.

Historical model and interpretation

Under our model, admixture in Europe first happened in Southern Europe, and was followed by a founder event and a minor admixture event (likely) in Eastern Europe. Admixture in Southern Europe possibly occurred in Italy, given the continued presence of Jews there and the proposed Italian source of the early Rhineland Ashkenazi communities [3]. What is perhaps surprising is the timing of the Southern European admixture to ≈24–49 generations ago, since Jews are known to have resided in Italy already since antiquity. This result would imply no gene flow between Jews and local Italian populations almost until the turn of the millennium, either due to endogamy, or because the group that eventually gave rise to contemporary Ashkenazi Jews did not reside in Southern Europe until that time. More detailed and/or alternative interpretations are left for future studies.

Recent admixture in Northern Europe (Western or Eastern) is consistent with the presence of Ashkenazi Jews in the Rhineland since the 10th century and in Poland since the 13th century. Evidence from the IBD analysis suggests that Eastern European admixture is more likely; however, the results are not decisive. An open question in AJ history is the source of migration to Poland in late Medieval times; various speculations have been proposed, including Western and Central Europe [2, 10]. The uncertainty on whether gene flow from Western Europeans did or did not occur leaves this question open.

The effect of gene flow from the Middle-East into Southern EU on f4 statistics. Panels (A) and (B) demonstrate f4(West-EU,YRI;AJ,ME) and f4(South-EU,YRI;AJ,ME), respectively (cf S4A Fig). Paths from the Middle-East into AJ are indicated with red arrows; paths from YRI to Western or Southern Europe with green arrows. The f4 statistic is proportional to the total overlap between these paths (black bars). Whereas panel (B) (f4(South-EU,YRI;AJ,ME)) has more overlapping branches than in (A), migration from the Middle-East into Southern EU introduces a branch where the arrows run in opposite directions (patterned bar). Hence, the observed f4 statistic in (B) may be lower (depending on branch lengths) than in (A), even if Southern EU is the true source of gene flow into AJ.

Featured image: Expulsions of Jews, from Wikipedia.

Ancient genomes document multiple waves of migration in south-east Asian prehistory


Open access preprint at bioRxiv Ancient genomes document multiple waves of migration in Southeast Asian prehistory, by Lipson, Cheronet, Mallick, et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Southeast Asia is home to rich human genetic and linguistic diversity, but the details of past population movements in the region are not well known. Here, we report genome-wide ancient DNA data from thirteen Southeast Asian individuals spanning from the Neolithic period through the Iron Age (4100-1700 years ago). Early agriculturalists from Man Bac in Vietnam possessed a mixture of East Asian (southern Chinese farmer) and deeply diverged eastern Eurasian (hunter-gatherer) ancestry characteristic of Austroasiatic speakers, with similar ancestry as far south as Indonesia providing evidence for an expansive initial spread of Austroasiatic languages. In a striking parallel with Europe, later sites from across the region show closer connections to present-day majority groups, reflecting a second major influx of migrants by the time of the Bronze Age.

Schematics of admixture graph results. (A) Wider phylogenetic context. (B) Details of the Austroasiatic clade. Branch lengths are not to scale, and the order of the two events on the Nicobarese lineage in (B) is not well determined (Supplementary Text).

Featured image, from the article: “Overview of samples. (A) Locations and dates of ancient individuals. Overlapping positions are shifted slightly for visibility. (B) PCA with East and Southeast Asians. We projected the ancient samples onto axes computed using the present-day populations (with the exception of Mlabri, who were projected instead due to their large population-speci c drift). Present-day colors indicate language family affiliation: green, Austroasiatic; blue, Austronesian; orange, Hmong-Mien; black, Sino-Tibetan; magenta, Tai-Kadai.”

See also:

Reactionary views on new Yamna and Bell Beaker data, and the newest IECWT model

You might expect some rambling about bad journalism here, but I don’t have time to read so much garbage to analyze them all. We have seen already what they did with the “blackness” or “whiteness” of the Cheddar Man: no paper published, just some informal data, but too much sensationalism already.

Some people who supported far-fetched theories on Indo-European migrations or common European haplogroups are today sharing some weeping and gnashing of teeth around forums and blogs – although, to be fair, neither Olalde et al. (2018) nor Mathieson et al. (2018) actually gave any surprising new data that you couldn’t infer before… People are nevertheless in the middle of the five stages of grief (for whatever expectations they had for new samples), and acceptance will surely take some time.

They will be confronted with two options:

  1. Keep fighting for what they believed, however wrong it turns out to be – after all, we still see all kinds of autochthonous continuists out there, no matter how much data there is against their views. People want to be supporters of a West European origin of R1b-M269 linked to Vasconic languages, fans of R1b-M269 continuity in Central Europe, Uralic speakers who believe in hidden N1c communities in Mesolithic or Neolithic Eastern Europe, fans of the OIT and Indian origins of R1a-M417…
  2. Just accept what seems now clear, change their model, and go on.
Modified from Wiik for the current autochthonous continuity fans: Vasconic-Uralic distribution and Indo-European folk distribution

For me, the second option sounds quite simple, since whatever happens – markers of Indo-European migration being R1a or R1b, Corded Ware or Bell Beaker, or bothour group’s aim for the past 15 years or so is to support a North-West Indo-European proto-language, so any of the most reasonable anthropological models are a priori compatible with that. My model of Indo-European demic diffusion fits best the most recent proto-language guesstimates, though.

However, I understand that if I had been buying or selling dreams – and I mean literally buying or selling fantasies of whiteness and Europeanness (hidden behind an idealized concept of “Indo-European”, and ancestral components disguised as populations), beginning with the ‘R1a-M417/CWC’ and ‘Yamnaya ancestry’ craze of the 2015 papers – , and I realized data didn’t support that money exchange, I would be frustrated, too.

There is a funny mental process going on here for some of these people, as far as I could read today. Let me review some history of the Indo-European question here before getting to the point:

  1. Firstly linguists reconstructed (and are still doing it) Proto-Indo-European and other ancestral Indo-European proto-languages.
  2. Then archaeologists tried to identify certain ancestral cultures with these actual communities with help from linguistic guesstimates and dialectal classifications,
  3. using anthropological models of migration or cultural diffusion.
  4. Then genetic data came to support one of these alternative anthropological models, if possible.

Now some (amateur) geneticists are apparently disregarding what “Indo-European” means, and why Yamna was considered the best candidate for the expansion of Late Indo-European languages, and question the very sciences of Linguistics and Archaeology as unreliable, instead of questioning their own false assumptions and wrong interpretations from genetic papers.

Really? Genomics (especially ancestral components) now defines what an Indo-European population, culture, and language is? If that is not a fallacy of circular reasoning, I wonder what is.

The modified IECWT model

The surprise today came from the quick reaction of one member of the IECWT workgroup, Guus Kroonen, in his draft Comments to Olalde et al. 2018., The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic, transformation of northwest Europe, Nature.

Allentoft Corded Ware
The IECWT workgroup’s so-called “Steppe model” until today, as presented in Haak et al. (2015).

He and – I can only guess – the whole IECWT workgroup finally rejected their characteristic Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration model – which they defended as “The steppe model” of Indo-European migration in Haak et al. 2015. They now defend a proposal similar to Anthony (2007).

Fan fact: Anthony changed his mind recently to partially support what Heyd said in 2007. While I did not dislike Anthony’s new model, I consider it wrong.

The Danish group – unsurprisingly – sticks nevertheless to the hypothesis of some kind of autochthonous Germanic in Scandinavia being defined by Corded Ware migrants and haplogroup R1a, and being somehow special and older among Proto-Indo-European dialects because of its non-Indo-European substrate – although in fact Kroonen’s original linguistic paper didn’t imply so.

While this new change of the workgroup’s model brings it closer to Heyd (2007), and parallels in that sense the adaptation process of Anthony (but always one step behind), what they are proposing right now seems not anymore a modified Kurgan model, as I described it: it is essentially The Kurgan model of Marija Gimbutas (1963), with Bell Beakers spreading a language ancestral to Italo-Celtic, and Corded Ware spreading some kind of mythical Germano-Balto-Slavic

I find it odd that he would not cite Gimbutas, Heyd – as Anthony recently did – , or the most recent paper of Mallory on the language expanded with Bell Beakers, but just the workgroup’s papers and other old ones, to present this “new” theory.

However simple and (obviously) rapidly drafted it was, following the publications in Nature, it does not seem right: They were first, they were right, acknowledge them. Period.

It is interesting how the wrong interpretations of the ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’ (you know, that bulletproof “Yamna R1a-R1b community” and Yamna->Corded Ware migration that never happened) is affecting everyone involved in Indo-European studies.