Yamnaya ancestry: mapping the Proto-Indo-European expansions


The latest papers from Ning et al. Cell (2019) and Anthony JIES (2019) have offered some interesting new data, supporting once more what could be inferred since 2015, and what was evident in population genomics since 2017: that Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded under R1b bottlenecks, and that the so-called “Steppe ancestry” referred to two different components, one – Yamnaya or Steppe_EMBA ancestry – expanding with Proto-Indo-Europeans, and the other one – Corded Ware or Steppe_MLBA ancestry – expanding with Uralic speakers.

The following maps are based on formal stats published in the papers and supplementary materials from 2015 until today, mainly on Wang et al. (2018 & 2019), Mathieson et al. (2018) and Olalde et al. (2018), and others like Lazaridis et al. (2016), Lazaridis et al. (2017), Mittnik et al. (2018), Lamnidis et al. (2018), Fernandes et al. (2018), Jeong et al. (2019), Olalde et al. (2019), etc.

NOTE. As in the Corded Ware ancestry maps, the selected reports in this case are centered on the prototypical Yamnaya ancestry vs. other simplified components, so everything else refers to simplistic ancestral components widespread across populations that do not necessarily share any recent connection, much less a language. In fact, most of the time they clearly didn’t. They can be interpreted as “EHG that is not part of the Yamnaya component”, or “CHG that is not part of the Yamnaya component”. They can’t be read as “expanding EHG people/language” or “expanding CHG people/language”, at least no more than maps of “Steppe ancestry” can be read as “expanding Steppe people/language”. Also, remember that I have left the default behaviour for color classification, so that the highest value (i.e. 1, or white colour) could mean anything from 10% to 100% depending on the specific ancestry and period; that’s what the legend is for… But, fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt.


  1. Neolithic or the formation of Early Indo-European
  2. Eneolithic or the expansion of Middle Proto-Indo-European
  3. Chalcolithic / Early Bronze Age or the expansion of Late Proto-Indo-European
  4. European Early Bronze Age and MLBA or the expansion of Late PIE dialects

1. Neolithic

Anthony (2019) agrees with the most likely explanation of the CHG component found in Yamnaya, as derived from steppe hunter-fishers close to the lower Volga basin. The ultimate origin of this specific CHG-like component that eventually formed part of the Pre-Yamnaya ancestry is not clear, though:

The hunter-fisher camps that first appeared on the lower Volga around 6200 BC could represent the migration northward of un-admixed CHG hunter-fishers from the steppe parts of the southeastern Caucasus, a speculation that awaits confirmation from aDNA.

Natural neighbor interpolation of CHG ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

The typical EHG component that formed part eventually of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry came from the Middle Volga Basin, most likely close to the Samara region, as shown by the sampled Samara hunter-gatherer (ca. 5600-5500 BC):

After 5000 BC domesticated animals appeared in these same sites in the lower Volga, and in new ones, and in grave sacrifices at Khvalynsk and Ekaterinovka. CHG genes and domesticated animals flowed north up the Volga, and EHG genes flowed south into the North Caucasus steppes, and the two components became admixed.

Natural neighbor interpolation of EHG ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

To the west, in the Dnieper-Dniester area, WHG became the dominant ancestry after the Mesolithic, at the expense of EHG, revealing a likely mating network reaching to the north into the Baltic:

Like the Mesolithic and Neolithic populations here, the Eneolithic populations of Dnieper-Donets II type seem to have limited their mating network to the rich, strategic region they occupied, centered on the Rapids. The absence of CHG shows that they did not mate frequently if at all with the people of the Volga steppes (…)

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

North-West Anatolia Neolithic ancestry, proper of expanding Early European farmers, is found up to border of the Dniester, as Anthony (2007) had predicted.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map.

2. Eneolithic

From Anthony (2019):

After approximately 4500 BC the Khvalynsk archaeological culture united the lower and middle Volga archaeological sites into one variable archaeological culture that kept domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle (and possibly horses). In my estimation, Khvalynsk might represent the oldest phase of PIE.

(…) this middle Volga mating network extended down to the North Caucasian steppes, where at cemeteries such as Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, dated 4300 BC, the same Khvalynsk-type ancestry appeared, an admixture of CHG and EHG with no Anatolian Farmer ancestry, with steppe-derived Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b. These three individuals in the North Caucasus steppes had higher proportions of CHG, overlapping Yamnaya. Without any doubt, a CHG population that was not admixed with Anatolian Farmers mated with EHG populations in the Volga steppes and in the North Caucasus steppes before 4500 BC. We can refer to this admixture as pre-Yamnaya, because it makes the best currently known genetic ancestor for EHG/CHG R1b Yamnaya genomes.

From Wang et al (2019):

Three individuals from the sites of Progress 2 and Vonyuchka 1 in the North Caucasus piedmont steppe (‘Eneolithic steppe’), which harbour EHG and CHG related ancestry, are genetically very similar to Eneolithic individuals from Khvalynsk II and the Samara region. This extends the cline of dilution of EHG ancestry via CHG-related ancestry to sites immediately north of the Caucasus foothills

Natural neighbor interpolation of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry among Neolithic populations. See full map. This map corresponds roughly to the map of Khvalynsk-Novodanilovka expansion, and in particular to the expansion of horse-head pommel-scepters (read more about Khvalynsk, and specifically about horse symbolism)

NOTE. Unpublished samples from Ekaterinovka have been previously reported as within the R1b-L23 tree. Interestingly, although the Varna outlier is a female, the Balkan outlier from Smyadovo shows two positive SNP calls for hg. R1b-M269. However, its poor coverage makes its most conservative haplogroup prediction R-M343.

The formation of this Pre-Yamnaya ancestry sets this Volga-Caucasus Khvalynsk community apart from the rest of the EHG-like population of eastern Europe.

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya EHG ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.

Anthony (2019) seems to rely on ADMIXTURE graphics when he writes that the late Sredni Stog sample from Alexandria shows “80% Khvalynsk-type steppe ancestry (CHG&EHG)”. While this seems the most logical conclusion of what might have happened after the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka expansion through the North Pontic steppes (see my post on “Steppe ancestry” step by step), formal stats have not confirmed that.

In fact, analyses published in Wang et al. (2019) rejected that Corded Ware groups are derived from this Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, a reality that had been already hinted in Narasimhan et al. (2018), when Steppe_EMBA showed a poor fit for expanding Srubna-Andronovo populations. Hence the need to consider the whole CHG component of the North Pontic area separately:

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya CHG ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map. You can read more about population movements in the late Sredni Stog and closer to the Proto-Corded Ware period.

NOTE. Fits for WHG + CHG + EHG in Neolithic and Eneolithic populations are taken in part from Mathieson et al. (2019) supplementary materials (download Excel here). Unfortunately, while data on the Ukraine_Eneolithic outlier from Alexandria abounds, I don’t have specific data on the so-called ‘outlier’ from Dereivka compared to the other two analyzed together, so these maps of CHG and EHG expansion are possibly showing a lesser distribution to the west than the real one ca. 4000-3500 BC.

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.

Anatolia Neolithic ancestry clearly spread to the east into the north Pontic area through a Middle Eneolithic mating network, most likely opened after the Khvalynsk expansion:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Chl. ancestry among Eneolithic populations. See full map.

Regarding Y-chromosome haplogroups, Anthony (2019) insists on the evident association of Khvalynsk, Yamnaya, and the spread of Pre-Yamnaya and Yamnaya ancestry with the expansion of elite R1b-L754 (and some I2a2) individuals:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Early Eneolithic in the Pontic-Caspian steppes. See full map, and see culture, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA maps of the Early Eneolithic and Late Eneolithic.

3. Early Bronze Age

Data from Wang et al. (2019) show that Corded Ware-derived populations do not have good fits for Eneolithic_Steppe-like ancestry, no matter the model. In other words: Corded Ware populations show not only a higher contribution of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry (ca. 20-30% compared to the ca. 2-10% of Yamnaya); they show a different EHG + CHG combination compared to the Pre-Yamnaya one.

Supplementary Table 13. P values of rank=2 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a three-way admixture of Eneolithic steppe Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Test, Eneolithic_steppe, Anatolian_Neolithic, WHG.
Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.

Yamnaya Kalmykia and Afanasievo show the closest fits to the Eneolithic population of the North Caucasian steppes, rejecting thus sizeable contributions from Anatolia Neolithic and/or WHG, as shown by the SD values. Both probably show then a Pre-Yamnaya ancestry closest to the late Repin population.

Modelling results for the Steppe and Caucasus cluster. Admixture proportions based on (temporally and geographically) distal and proximal models, showing additional AF ancestry in Steppe groups and additional gene flow from the south in some of the Steppe groups as well as the Caucasus groups. See tables above. Modified from Wang et al. (2019). Within a blue square, Yamnaya-related groups; within a cyan square, Corded Ware-related groups. Green background behind best p-values. In red circle, SD of AF/WHG ancestry contribution in Afanasevo and Yamnaya Kalmykia, with ranges that almost include 0%.

EBA maps include data from Wang et al. (2018) supplementary materials, specifically unpublished Yamnaya samples from Hungary that appeared in analysis of the preprint, but which were taken out of the definitive paper. Their location among Yamnaya settlers from Hungary is speculative, although most uncovered kurgans in Hungary are concentrated in the Tisza-Danube interfluve.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map. This map corresponds roughly with the known expansion of late Repin/Yamnaya settlers.

The Y-chromosome bottleneck of elite males from Proto-Indo-European clans under R1b-L754 and some I2a2 subclades, already visible in the Khvalynsk sampling, became even more noticeable in the subsequent expansion of late Repin/early Yamnaya elites under R1b-L23 and I2a-L699:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Yamnaya expansion. See full map and maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Early Chalcolithic and Yamnaya Hungary.

Maps of CHG, EHG, Anatolia Neolithic, and probably WHG show the expansion of these components among Corded Ware-related groups in North Eurasia, apart from other cultures close to the Caucasus:

NOTE. For maps with actual formal stats of Corded Ware ancestry from the Early Bronze Age to the modern times, you can read the post Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion.

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya CHG ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya EHG ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Chl. ancestry among Early Bronze Age populations. See full map.

4. Middle to Late Bronze Age

The following maps show the most likely distribution of Yamnaya ancestry during the Bell Beaker-, Balkan-, and Sintashta-Potapovka-related expansions.

4.1. Bell Beakers

The amount of Yamnaya ancestry is probably overestimated among populations where Bell Beakers replaced Corded Ware. A map of Yamnaya ancestry among Bell Beakers gets trickier for the following reasons:

  • Expanding Repin peoples of Pre-Yamnaya ancestry must have had admixture through exogamy with late Sredni Stog/Proto-Corded Ware peoples during their expansion into the North Pontic area, and Sredni Stog in turn had probably some Pre-Yamnaya admixture, too (although they don’t appear in the simplistic formal stats above). This is supported by the increase of Anatolia farmer ancestry in more western Yamna samples.
  • Later, Yamnaya admixed through exogamy with Corded Ware-like populations in Central Europe during their expansion. Even samples from the Middle to Upper Danube and around the Lower Rhine will probably show increasing contributions of Steppe_MLBA, at the same time as they show an increasing proportion of EEF-related ancestry.
  • To complicate things further, the late Corded Ware Espersted family (from ca. 2500 BC or later) shows, in turn, what seems like a recent admixture with Yamnaya vanguard groups, with the sample of highest Yamnaya ancestry being the paternal uncle of other individuals (all of hg. R1a-M417), suggesting that there might have been many similar Central European mating networks from the mid-3rd millennium BC on, of (mainly) Yamnaya-like R1b elites displaying a small proportion of CW-like ancestry admixing through exogamy with Corded Ware-like peoples who already had some Yamnaya ancestry.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Yamnaya ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations (Esperstedt CWC site close to BK_DE, label is hidden by BK_DE_SAN). See full map. You can see how this map correlated with the map of Late Copper Age migrations and Yamanaya into Bell Beaker expansion.

NOTE. Terms like “exogamy”, “male-driven migration”, and “sex bias”, are not only based on the Y-chromosome bottlenecks visible in the different cultural expansions since the Palaeolithic. Despite the scarce sampling available in 2017 for analysis of “Steppe ancestry”-related populations, it appeared to show already a male sex bias in Goldberg et al. (2017), and it has been confirmed for Neolithic and Copper Age population movements in Mathieson et al. (2018) – see Supplementary Table 5. The analysis of male-biased expansion of “Steppe ancestry” in CWC Esperstedt and Bell Beaker Germany is, for the reasons stated above, not very useful to distinguish their mutual influence, though.

Based on data from Olalde et al. (2019), Bell Beakers from Germany are the closest sampled ones to expanding East Bell Beakers, and those close to the Rhine – i.e. French, Dutch, and British Beakers in particular – show a clear excess “Steppe ancestry” due to their exogamy with local Corded Ware groups:

Only one 2-way model fits the ancestry in Iberia_CA_Stp with P-value>0.05: Germany_Beaker + Iberia_CA. Finding a Bell Beaker-related group as a plausible source for the introduction of steppe ancestry into Iberia is consistent with the fact that some of the individuals in the Iberia_CA_Stp group were excavated in Bell Beaker associated contexts. Models with Iberia_CA and other Bell Beaker groups such as France_Beaker (P-value=7.31E-06), Netherlands_Beaker (P-value=1.03E-03) and England_Beaker (P-value=4.86E-02) failed, probably because they have slightly higher proportions of steppe ancestry than the true source population.


The exogamy with Corded Ware-like groups in the Lower Rhine Basin seems at this point undeniable, as is the origin of Bell Beakers around the Middle-Upper Danube Basin from Yamnaya Hungary.

To avoid this excess “Steppe ancestry” showing up in the maps, since Bell Beakers from Germany pack the most Yamnaya ancestry among East Bell Beakers outside Hungary (ca. 51.1% “Steppe ancestry”), I equated this maximum with BK_Scotland_Ach (which shows ca. 61.1% “Steppe ancestry”, highest among western Beakers), and applied a simple rule of three for “Steppe ancestry” in Dutch and British Beakers.

NOTE. Formal stats for “Steppe ancestry” in Bell Beaker groups are available in Olalde et al. (2018) supplementary materials (PDF). I didn’t apply this adjustment to Bk_FR groups because of the R1b Bell Beaker sample from the Champagne/Alsace region reported by Samantha Brunel that will pack more Yamnaya ancestry than any other sampled Beaker to date, hence probably driving the Yamnaya ancestry up in French samples.

The most likely outcome in the following years, when Yamnaya and Corded Ware ancestry are investigated separately, is that Yamnaya ancestry will be much lower the farther away from the Middle and Lower Danube region, similar to the case in Iberia, so the map above probably overestimates this component in most Beakers to the north of the Danube. Even the late Hungarian Beaker samples, who pack the highest Yamnaya ancestry (up to 75%) among Beakers, represent likely a back-migration of Moravian Beakers, and will probably show a contribution of Corded Ware ancestry due to the exogamy with local Moravian groups.

Despite this decreasing admixture as Bell Beakers spread westward, the explosive expansion of Yamnaya R1b male lineages (in words of David Reich) and the radical replacement of local ones – whether derived from Corded Ware or Neolithic groups – shows the true extent of the North-West Indo-European expansion in Europe:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Bell Beaker expansion. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Late Copper Age and of the Yamnaya-Bell Beaker transition.

4.2. Palaeo-Balkan

There is scarce data on Palaeo-Balkan movements yet, although it is known that:

  1. Yamnaya ancestry appears among Mycenaeans, with the Yamnaya Bulgaria sample being its best current ancestral fit;
  2. the emergence of steppe ancestry and R1b-M269 in the eastern Mediterranean was associated with Ancient Greeks;
  3. Thracians, Albanians, and Armenians also show R1b-M269 subclades and “Steppe ancestry”.

4.3. Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka

Interestingly, Potapovka is the only Corded Ware derived culture that shows good fits for Yamnaya ancestry, despite having replaced Poltavka in the region under the same Corded Ware-like (Abashevo) influence as Sintashta.

This proves that there was a period of admixture in the Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian community between CWC-like Abashevo and Yamnaya-like Catacomb-Poltavka herders in the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community, probably more easily detectable in this group because of the specific temporal and geographic sampling available.

Supplementary Table 14. P values of rank=3 and admixture proportions in modelling Steppe ancestry populations as a four-way admixture of distal sources EHG, CHG, Anatolian_Neolithic and WHG using 14 outgroups.
Left populations: Steppe cluster, EHG, CHG, WHG, Anatolian_Neolithic
Right populations: Mbuti.DG, Ust_Ishim.DG, Kostenki14, MA1, Han.DG, Papuan.DG, Onge.DG, Villabruna, Vestonice16, ElMiron, Ethiopia_4500BP.SG, Karitiana.DG, Natufian, Iran_Ganj_Dareh_Neolithic.

Srubnaya ancestry shows a best fit with non-Pre-Yamnaya ancestry, i.e. with different CHG + EHG components – possibly because the more western Potapovka (ancestral to Proto-Srubnaya Pokrovka) also showed good fits for it. Srubnaya shows poor fits for Pre-Yamnaya ancestry probably because Corded Ware-like (Abashevo) genetic influence increased during its formation.

On the other hand, more eastern Corded Ware-derived groups like Sintashta and its more direct offshoot Andronovo show poor fits with this model, too, but their fits are still better than those including Pre-Yamnaya ancestry.

Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya EHG ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of non-Pre-Yamnaya CHG ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Anatolia Neolithic ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.
Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Chl. ancestry among Middle to Late Bronze Age populations. See full map.

NOTE For maps with actual formal stats of Corded Ware ancestry from the Early Bronze Age to the modern times, you should read the post Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion instead.

The bottleneck of Proto-Indo-Iranians under R1a-Z93 was not yet complete by the time when the Sintashta-Potapovka-Filatovka community expanded with the Srubna-Andronovo horizon:

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the European Early Bronze Age. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Early Bronze Age.

4.4. Afanasevo

At the end of the Afanasevo culture, at least three samples show hg. Q1b (ca. 2900-2500 BC), which seemed to point to a resurgence of local lineages, despite continuity of the prototypical Pre-Yamnaya ancestry. On the other hand, Anthony (2019) makes this cryptic statement:

Yamnaya men were almost exclusively R1b, and pre-Yamnaya Eneolithic Volga-Caspian-Caucasus steppe men were principally R1b, with a significant Q1a minority.

Since the only available samples from the Khvalynsk community are R1b (x3), Q1a(x1), and R1a(x1), it seems strange that Anthony would talk about a “significant minority”, unless Q1a (potentially Q1b in the newer nomenclature) will pop up in some more individuals of those ca. 30 new to be published. Because he also mentions I2a2 as appearing in one elite burial, it seems Q1a (like R1a-M459) will not appear under elite kurgans, although it is still possible that hg. Q1a was involved in the expansion of Afanasevo to the east.

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Middle Bronze Age. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Middle Bronze Age and the Late Bronze Age.

Okunevo, which replaced Afanasevo in the Altai region, shows a majority of hg. Q1b, but also some R1b-M269 samples proper of Afanasevo, suggesting partial genetic continuity.

NOTE. Other sampled Siberian populations clearly show a variety of Q subclades that likely expanded during the Palaeolithic, such as Baikal EBA samples from Ust’Ida and Shamanka with a majority of Q1b, and hg. Q reported from Elunino, Sagsai, Khövsgöl, and also among peoples of the Srubna-Andronovo horizon (the Krasnoyarsk MLBA outlier), and in Karasuk.

From Damgaard et al. Science (2018):

(…) in contrast to the lack of identifiable admixture from Yamnaya and Afanasievo in the CentralSteppe_EMBA, there is an admixture signal of 10 to 20% Yamnaya and Afanasievo in the Okunevo_EMBA samples, consistent with evidence of western steppe influence. This signal is not seen on the X chromosome (qpAdm P value for admixture on X 0.33 compared to 0.02 for autosomes), suggesting a male-derived admixture, also consistent with the fact that 1 of 10 Okunevo_EMBA males carries a R1b1a2a2 Y chromosome related to those found in western pastoralists. In contrast, there is no evidence of western steppe admixture among the more eastern Baikal region region Bronze Age (~2200 to 1800 BCE) samples.

This Yamnaya ancestry has been also recently found to be the best fit for the Iron Age population of Shirenzigou in Xinjiang – where Tocharian languages were attested centuries later – despite the haplogroup diversity acquired during their evolution, likely through an intermediate Chemurchek culture (see a recent discussion on the elusive Proto-Tocharians).

Haplogroup diversity seems to be common in Iron Age populations all over Eurasia, most likely due to the spread of different types of sociopolitical structures where alliances played a more relevant role in the expansion of peoples. A well-known example of this is the spread of Akozino warrior-traders in the whole Baltic region under a partial N1a-VL29-bottleneck associated with the emerging chiefdom-based systems under the influence of expanding steppe nomads.

Y-DNA haplogroups in West Eurasia during the Early Iron Age. See full map and see maps of cultures, ADMIXTURE, Y-DNA, and mtDNA of the Early Iron Age and Late Iron Age.

Surprisingly, then, Proto-Tocharians from Shirenzigou pack up to 74% Yamnaya ancestry, in spite of the 2,000 years that separate them from the demise of the Afanasevo culture. They show more Yamnaya ancestry than any other population by that time, being thus a sort of Late PIE fossils not only in their archaic dialect, but also in their genetic profile:


The recent intrusion of Corded Ware-like ancestry, as well as the variable admixture with Siberian and East Asian populations, both point to the known intense Old Iranian and Old/Middle Chinese contacts. The scarce Proto-Samoyedic and Proto-Turkic loans in Tocharian suggest a rather loose, probably more distant connection with East Uralic and Altaic peoples from the forest-steppe and steppe areas to the north (read more about external influences on Tocharian).

Interestingly, both R1b samples, MO12 and M15-2 – likely of Asian R1b-PH155 branch – show a best fit for Andronovo/Srubna + Hezhen/Ulchi ancestry, suggesting a likely connection with Iranians to the east of Xinjiang, who later expanded as the Wusun and Kangju. How they might have been related to Huns and Xiongnu individuals, who also show this haplogroup, is yet unknown, although Huns also show hg. R1a-Z93 (probably most R1a-Z2124) and Steppe_MLBA ancestry, earlier associated with expanding Iranian peoples of the Srubna-Andronovo horizon.

All in all, it seems that prehistoric movements explained through the lens of genetic research fit perfectly well the linguistic reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic.


Volga Basin R1b-rich Proto-Indo-Europeans of (Pre-)Yamnaya ancestry


New paper (behind paywall) by David Anthony, Archaeology, Genetics, and Language in the Steppes: A Comment on Bomhard, complementing in a favourable way Bomhard’s Caucasian substrate hypothesis in the current issue of the JIES.

NOTE. I have tried to access this issue for some days, but it’s just not indexed in my university library online service (ProQuest) yet. This particular paper is on Academia.edu, though, as are Bomhard’s papers on this issue in his site.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Along the banks of the lower Volga many excavated hunting-fishing camp sites are dated 6200-4500 BC. They could be the source of CHG ancestry in the steppes. At about 6200 BC, when these camps were first established at Kair Shak III and Varfolomievka (42 and 28 on Figure 2), they hunted primarily saiga antelope around Dzhangar, south of the lower Volga, and almost exclusively onagers in the drier desert-steppes at Kair-Shak, north of the lower Volga. Farther north at the lower/middle Volga ecotone, at sites such as Varfolomievka and Oroshaemoe hunter-fishers who made pottery similar to that at Kair-Shak hunted onagers and saiga antelope in the desert-steppe, horses in the steppe, and aurochs in the riverine forests. Finally, in the Volga steppes north of Saratov and near Samara, hunter-fishers who made a different kind of pottery (Samara type) and hunted wild horses and red deer definitely were EHG. A Samara hunter-gatherer of this era buried at Lebyazhinka IV, dated 5600-5500 BC, was one of the first named examples of the EHG genetic type (Haak et al. 2015). This individual, like others from the same region, had no or very little CHG ancestry. The CHG mating network had not yet reached Samara by 5500 BC.

Eneolithic settlements (1–5, 7, 10–16, 20, 22–43, 48, 50), burial grounds (6, 8–9, 17–19, 21, 47, 49) and kurgans (44–46) of the steppe Ural-Volga region: 1 Ivanovka; 2 Turganik; 3 Kuzminki; 4 Mullino; 5 Davlekanovo; 6 Sjezheye (burial ground); 7 Vilovatoe; 8 Ivanovka; 9 Krivoluchye; 10–13 LebjazhinkaI-III-IV-V; 14 Gundorovka; 15–16 Bol. Rakovka I-II; 17–18 Khvalunsk I-II; 19 Lipoviy Ovrag; 20 Alekseevka; 21 Khlopkovskiy; 22 Kuznetsovo I; 23 Ozinki II; 24 Altata; 25 Monakhov I; 26 Oroshaemoe; 27 Rezvoe; 28 Varpholomeevka; 29 Vetelki; 30 Pshenichnoe; 31 Kumuska; 32 Inyasovo; 33 Shapkino VI; 34 Russkoe Truevo I; 35 Tsaritsa I-II; 36 Kamenka I; 37 Kurpezhe-Molla; 38 Istay; 39 Isekiy; 40 Koshalak; 41 Kara-Khuduk; 42 Kair-Shak VI; 43 Kombakte; 44 Berezhnovka I-II; 45 Rovnoe; 46 Politotdelskoe; 47 burial near s. Pushkino; 48 Elshanka; 49 Novoorsk; 50 Khutor Repin. Modified from Morgunova (2014).

But before 4500 BC, CHG ancestry appeared among the EHG hunter-fishers in the middle Volga steppes from Samara to Saratov, at the same time that domesticated cattle and sheep-goats appeared. The Reich lab now has whole-genome aDNA data from more than 30 individuals from three Eneolithic cemeteries in the Volga steppes between the cities of Saratov and Samara (Khlopkov Bugor, Khvalynsk, and Ekaterinovka), all dated around the middle of the fifth millennium BC. Many dates from human bone are older, even before 5000 BC, but they are affected by strong reservoir effects, derived from a diet rich in fish, making them appear too old (Shishlina et al 2009), so the dates I use here accord with published and unpublished dates from a few dated animal bones (not fish-eaters) in graves.

Only three individuals from Khvalynsk are published, and they were first published in a report that did not mention the site in the text (Mathieson et al. 2015), so they went largely unnoticed. Nevertheless, they are crucial for understanding the evolution of the Yamnaya mating network in the steppes. They were mentioned briefly in Damgaard et al (2018) but were not graphed. They were re-analyzed and their admixture components were illustrated in a bar graph in Wang et al (2018: figure 2c), but they are not the principal focus of any published study. All of the authors who examined them agreed that these three Khvalynsk individuals, dated about 4500 BC, showed EHG ancestry admixed substantially with CHG, and not a trace of Anatolian Farmer ancestry, so the CHG was a Hotu-Cave or Kotias-Cave type of un-admixed CHG. The proportion of CHG in the Wang et al. (2018) bar graphs is about 20-30% in two individuals, substantially less CHG than in Yamnaya; but the third Khvalynsk individual had more than 50% CHG, like Yamnaya. The ca. 30 additional unpublished individuals from three middle Volga Eneolithic cemeteries, including Khvalynsk, preliminarily show the same admixed EHG/CHG ancestry in varying proportions. Most of the males belonged to Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b1a, like almost all Yamnaya males, but Khvalynsk also had some minority Y-chromosome haplogroups (R1a, Q1a, J, I2a2) that do not appear or appear only rarely (I2a2) in Yamnaya graves.

Pontic-Caspian steppe and neighbouring groups in the Neolithic. See full map.

Wang et al. (2018) discovered that this middle Volga mating network extended down to the North Caucasian steppes, where at cemeteries such as Progress-2 and Vonyuchka, dated 4300 BC, the same Khvalynsk-type ancestry appeared, an admixture of CHG and EHG with no Anatolian Farmer ancestry, with steppe-derived Y-chromosome haplogroup R1b. These three individuals in the North Caucasus steppes had higher proportions of CHG, overlapping Yamnaya. Without any doubt, a CHG population that was not admixed with Anatolian Farmers mated with EHG populations in the Volga steppes and in the North Caucasus steppes before 4500 BC. We can refer to this admixture as pre-Yamnaya, because it makes the best currently known genetic ancestor for EHG/CHG R1b Yamnaya genomes. The Progress-2 individuals from North Caucasus steppe graves lived not far from the pre-Maikop farmers of the Belaya valley, but they did not exchange mates, according to their DNA.

The hunter-fisher camps that first appeared on the lower Volga around 6200 BC could represent the migration northward of un-admixed CHG hunter-fishers from the steppe parts of the southeastern Caucasus, a speculation that awaits confirmation from aDNA. After 5000 BC domesticated animals appeared in these same sites in the lower Volga, and in new ones, and in grave sacrifices at Khvalynsk and Ekaterinovka. CHG genes and domesticated animals flowed north up the Volga, and EHG genes flowed south into the North Caucasus steppes, and the two components became admixed. After approximately 4500 BC the Khvalynsk archaeological culture united the lower and middle Volga archaeological sites into one variable archaeological culture that kept domesticated sheep, goats, and cattle (and possibly horses). In my estimation, Khvalynsk might represent the oldest phase of PIE.

Pontic-Caspian steppe and neighbouring groups in the Early Eneolithic. See full map.

Anatolian Farmer ancestry and Yamnaya origins

The Eneolithic Volga-North Caucasus mating network (Khvalynsk/Progress-2 type) exhibited EHG/CHG admixtures and Y-chromosome haplogroups similar to Yamnaya, but without Yamnaya’s additional Anatolian Farmer ancestry. (…)

Like the Mesolithic and Neolithic populations here, the Eneolithic populations of Dnieper-Donets II type seem to have limited their mating network to the rich, strategic region they occupied, centered on the Rapids. The absence of CHG shows that they did not mate frequently if at all with the people of the Volga steppes, a surprising but undeniable discovery. Archaeologists have seen connections in ornament types and in some details of funeral ritual between Dnieper-Donets cemeteries of the Mariupol-Nikol’skoe type and cemeteries in the middle Volga steppes such as Khvalynsk and S’yez’zhe (Vasiliev 1981:122-123). Also their cranio-facial types were judged to be similar (Bogdanov and Khokhlov 2012:212). So it it surprising that their aDNA does not indicate any genetic admixture with Khvalynsk or Progress-2. Also, neither they nor the Volga steppe Eneolithic populations showed any Anatolian Farmer ancestry. (…)

All three of the steppe-admixed exceptions were from the Varna region (Mathieson et al. 2018). One of them was the famous “golden man’ at Varna (Krause et al. 2016), Grave 43, whose steppe ancestry was the most doubtful of the three. If he had steppe ancestry, it was sufficiently distant (five+ generations before him) that he was not a statistically significant outlier, but he was displaced in the steppe direction, away from the central values of the majority of typical Anatolian Farmers at Varna and elsewhere. The other two, at Varna (grave 158, a 5-7-year-old girl) and Smyadovo (grave 29, a male 20-25 years old), were statistically significant outliers who had recent steppe ancestry (consistent with grandparents or great-grandparents) of the EHG/CHG Khvalynsk/Progress-2 type, not of the Dnieper Rapids EHG/WHG type.

(…) I believe that the Suvorovo-Cernavoda I movement into the lower Danube valley and the Balkans about 4300 BC separated early PIE-speakers (pre-Anatolian) from the steppe population that stayed behind in the steppes and that later developed into late PIE and Yamnaya.

This archaeological transition marked the breakdown of the mating barrier between steppe and Anatolian Farmer mating networks. After this 4300-4200 BC event, Anatolian Farmer ancestry began to pop up in the steppes. The currently oldest sample with Anatolian Farmer ancestry in the steppes in an individual at Aleksandriya, a Sredni Stog cemetery on the Donets in eastern Ukraine. Sredni Stog has often been discussed as a possible Yamnaya ancestor in Ukraine (Anthony 2007: 239- 254). The single published grave is dated about 4000 BC (4045– 3974 calBC/ 5215±20 BP/ PSUAMS-2832) and shows 20% Anatolian Farmer ancestry and 80% Khvalynsk-type steppe ancestry (CHG&EHG). His Y-chromosome haplogroup was R1a-Z93, similar to the later Sintashta culture and to South Asian Indo-Aryans, and he is the earliest known sample to show the genetic adaptation to lactase persistence (I3910-T). Another pre-Yamnaya grave with Anatolian Farmer ancestry was analyzed from the Dnieper valley at Dereivka, dated 3600-3400 BC (grave 73, 3634–3377 calBC/ 4725±25 BP/ UCIAMS-186349). She also had 20% Anatolian Farmer ancestry, but she showed less CHG than Aleksandriya and more Dereivka-1 ancestry, not surprising for a Dnieper valley sample, but also showing that the old fifth-millennium-type EHG/WHG Dnieper ancestry survived into the fourth millennium BC in the Dnieper valley (Mathieson et al. 2018).

Pontic-Caspian steppe and neighbouring groups in the Late Eneolithic. See full map.

Probably, late PIE (Yamnaya) evolved in the same part of the steppes—the Volga-Caucasus steppes between the lower Don, the lower and middle Volga, and the North Caucasus piedmont—where early PIE evolved, and where appropriate EHG/CHG admixtures and Y-chromosome haplogroups were seen already in the Eneolithic (without Anatolian Farmer). There have always been archaeologists who argued for an origin of Yamnaya in the Volga steppes, including Gimbutas (1963), Merpert (1974), and recently Morgunova (2014), who argued that this was where Repin-type ceramics, an important early Yamnaya pottery type, first appeared in dated contexts before Yamnaya, about 3600 BC. The genetic evidence is consistent with Yamnaya EHG/CHG origins in the Volga-Caucasus steppes. Also, if contact with the Maikop culture was a fundamental cause of the innovations in transport and metallurgy that defined the Yamnaya culture, then the lower Don-North Caucasus-lower Volga steppes, closest to the North Caucasus, would be where the earliest phase is expected.

I would still guess that the Darkveti-Meshoko culture and its descendant Maikop culture established the linguistic ancestor of the Northwest Caucasian languages in approximately the region where they remained. I also accept the general consensus that the appearance of the hierarchical Maikop culture about 3600 BC had profound effects on pre-Yamnaya and early Yamnaya steppe cultures. Yamnaya metallurgy borrowed from the Maikop culture two-sided molds, tanged daggers, cast shaft hole axes with a single blade, and arsenical copper. Wheeled vehicles might have entered the steppes through Maikop, revolutionizing steppe economies and making Yamnaya pastoral nomadism possible after 3300 BC.

For those who still hoped that Proto-Indo-Europeans of Yamnaya/Afanasievo ancestry from the Don-Volga region were associated with the expansion of hg. R1a-M417, in a sort of mythical “R1-rich” Indo-European society, it seems this is going to be yet another prediction based on ancestry magic that goes wrong.

Proto-Indo-Europeans were, however, associated with other subclades beyond R1b-M269, probably (as I wrote recently) R1b-V1636, I2a-L699, Q1a-M25, and R1a-YP1272, but also interestingly some J subclade, so let’s see what surprises the new study on Khvalynsk and Yamnaya settlers from the Carpathian Basin brings…

On the bright side, it is indirectly confirmed that late Sredni Stog formed part of the neighbouring Corded Ware-like populations of ca. 20-30%+ Anatolian farmer ancestry that gave Yamnaya its share (ca. 6-10%), relative to the comparatively unmixed Khvalynsk and late Repin population (as shown by Afanasevo).

In this steppe mating network that opened up after the Khvalynsk expansion, the increasing admixture of Anatolian farmer-related ancestry in Yamnaya from east (ca. 2-10%) to west (ca. 6-15%) points to an exogamy of late Repin males in their western/south-western regions with populations around the Don River basin and beyond (and endogamy within the Yamnaya community), in an evolution relevant for language expansions and language contacts during the Late Eneolithic.

NOTE. “Mating network” is my new preferred term for “ancestry”. Also great to see scholars finally talk about “Pre-Yamnaya” ancestry, which – combined with the distinction of Yamnaya from Corded Ware ancestry – will no doubt help differentiate fine-scale population movements of steppe- and forest-steppe-related populations.

Modified from Rassamakin (1999), adding red color to Repin expansion. The system of the latest Eneolithic Pointic cultures and the sites of the Zhivotilovo-Volchanskoe type: 1) Volchanskoe; 2) Zhivotilovka; 3) Vishnevatoe; 4) Koisug.

The whole issue of the JIES is centered on Caucasian influences on Early PIE as an Indo-Uralic dialect, and this language contact/substrate is useful to locate the most likely candidates for the Northeast and Northwest Caucasian and the Proto-Indo-European homelands.

On the other hand, it would also be interesting to read a discussion of how this Volga homeland of Middle PIE and Don-Volga-Ural homeland of Late PIE would be reconciled with the known continuous contacts of Uralic with Middle and Late PIE (see here) to locate the most likely Proto-Uralic homeland.

Especially because Corded Ware fully replaced all sub-Neolithic groups to the north and east of Khvalynsk/Yamnaya, like Volosovo, so no other population neighbouring Middle and Late Proto-Indo-Europeans survived into the Bronze Age…

EDIT: For those new to this blog, this information on unpublished samples from the Volga River basin is yet another confirmation of Khokhlov’s report on the R1b-L23 samples from Yekaterinovka, and its confirmation by a co-author of The unique elite Khvalynsk male from a Yekaterinovskiy Cape burial, apart from more support to the newest data placing Yekaterinovka culturally and probably chronologically between Samara and Khvalynsk.


Corded Ware ancestry in North Eurasia and the Uralic expansion


Now that it has become evident that Late Repin (i.e. Yamnaya/Afanasevo) ancestry was associated with the migration of R1b-L23-rich Late Proto-Indo-Europeans from the steppe in the second half of the the 4th millennium BC, there’s still the question of how R1a-rich Uralic speakers of Corded Ware ancestry expanded , and how they spread their languages throughout North Eurasia.

Modern North Eurasians

I have been collecting information from the supplementary data of the latest papers on modern and ancient North Eurasian peoples, including Jeong et al. (2019), Saag et al. (2019), Sikora et al. (2018), or Flegontov et al. (2019), and I have tried to add up their information on ancestral components and their modern and historical distributions.

Fortunately, the current obsession with simplifying ancestry components into three or four general, atemporal groups, and the common use of the same ones across labs, make it very simple to merge data and map them.

Corded Ware ancestry

There is no doubt about the prevalent ancestry among Uralic-speaking peoples. A map isn’t needed to realize that, because ancient and modern data – like those recently summarized in Jeong et al. (2019) – prove it. But maps sure help visualize their intricate relationship better:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among modern populations. See full map

Interestingly, the regions with higher Corded Ware-related ancestry are in great part coincident with (pre)historical Finno-Ugric-speaking territories:

Modern distribution of Uralic languages, with ancient territory (in the Common Era) labelled and delimited by a red line. For more information on the ancient territory see here.

Edit (29/7/2019): Here is the full Steppe_MLBA ancestry map, including Steppe_MLBA (vs. Indus Periphery vs. Onge) in modern South Asian populations from Narasimhan et al. (2018), apart from the ‘Srubnaya component’ in North Eurasian populations. ‘Dummy’ variables (with 0% ancestry) have been included to the south and east of the map to avoid weird interpolations of Steppe_MLBA into Africa and East Asia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Steppe MLBA-like ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Anatolia Neolithic ancestry

Also interesting are the patterns of non-CWC-related ancestry, in particular the apparent wedge created by expanding East Slavs, which seems to reflect the intrusion of central(-eastern) European ancestry into Finno-Permic territory.

NOTE. Read more on Balto-Slavic hydrotoponymy, on the cradle of Russians as a Finno-Permic hotspot, and about Pre-Slavic languages in North-West Russia.

Natural neighbor interpolation of LBK EN ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of LBK EN ancestry among modern populations. See full map

WHG ancestry

The cline(s) between WHG, EHG, ANE, Nganasan, and Baikal HG are also simplified when some of them excluded, in this case EHG, represented thus in part by WHG, and in part by more eastern ancestries (see below).

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Arctic, Tundra or Forest-steppe?

Data on Nganasan-related vs. ANE vs. Baikal HG/Ulchi-related ancestry is difficult to map properly, because both ancestry components are usually reported as mutually exclusive, when they are in fact clearly related in an ancestral cline formed by different ancient North Eurasian populations from Siberia.

When it comes to ascertaining the origin of the multiple CWC-related clines among Uralic-speaking peoples, the question is thus how to properly distinguish the proportions of WHG-, EHG-, Nganasan-, ANE or BaikalHG-related ancestral components in North Eurasia, i.e. how did each dialectal group admix with regional groups which formed part of these clines east and west of the Urals.

The truth is, one ought to test specific ancient samples for each “Siberian” ancestry found in the different Uralic dialectal groups, but the simplistic “Siberian” label somehow gets a pass in many papers (see a recent example).

Below qpAdm results with best fits for Ulchi ancestry, Afontova Gora 3 ancestry, and Nganasan ancestry, but some populations show good fits for both and with similar proportions, so selecting one necessarily simplifies the distribution of both.

Ulchi ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Ulchi ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Ulchi ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

ANE ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of ANE ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of ANE ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Nganasan ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Iran Chalcolithic

A simplistic Iran Chalcolithic-related ancestry is also seen in the Altaic cline(s) which (like Corded Ware ancestry) expanded from Central Asia into Europe – apart from its historical distribution south of the Caucasus:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Iran Neolithic ancestry among modern populations. See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Iran Chalcolithic ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Other models

The first question I imagine some would like to know is: what about other models? Do they show the same results? Here is the simplistic combination of ancestry components published in Damgaard et al. (2018) for the same or similar populations:

NOTE. As you can see, their selection of EHG vs. WHG vs. Nganasan vs. Natufian vs. Clovis of is of little use, but corroborate the results from other papers, and show some interesting patterns in combination with those above.


Natural neighbor interpolation of EHG ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of EHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Natufian ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Natufian ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Natufian ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

WHG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of WHG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Baikal HG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal hunter-gatherer ancestry among modern populations, data from Damgaard et al. (2018). See full map.
Kriging interpolation of Baikal HG ancestry among modern populations. See full map.

Ancient North Eurasians

Once the modern situation is clear, relevant questions are, for example, whether EHG-, WHG-, ANE, Nganasan-, and/or Baikal HG-related meta-populations expanded or became integrated into Uralic-speaking territories.

When did these admixture/migration events happen?

How did the ancient distribution or expansion of Palaeo-Arctic, Baikalic, and/or Altaic peoples affect the current distribution of the so-called “Siberian” ancestry, and of hg. N1a, in each specific population?

NOTE. A little excursus is necessary, because the calculated repetition of a hypothetic opposition “N1a vs. R1a” doesn’t make this dichotomy real:

  1. There was not a single ethnolinguistic community represented by hg. R1a after the initial expansion of Eastern Corded Ware groups, or by hg. N1a-L392 after its initial expansion in Siberia:
  2. Different subclades became incorporated in different ways into Bronze Age and Iron Age communities, most of which without an ethnolinguistic change. For example, N1a subclades became incorporated into North Eurasian populations of different languages, reaching Uralic- and Indo-European-speaking territories of north-eastern Europe during the late Iron Age, at a time when their ancestral origin or language in Siberia was impossible to ascertain. Just like the mix found among Proto-Germanic peoples (R1b, R1a, and I1)* or among Slavic peoples (I2a, E1b, R1a)*, the mix of many Uralic groups showing specific percentages of R1a, N1a, or Q subclades* reflect more or less recent admixture or acculturation events with little impact on their languages.

*other typically northern and eastern European haplogroups are also represented in early Germanic (N1a, I2, E1b, J, G2), Slavic (I1, G2, J) and Finno-Permic (I1, R1b, J) peoples.

Map of archaeological cultures in north-eastern Europe ca. 8th-3rd centuries BC. [The Mid-Volga Akozino group not depicted] Shaded area represents the Ananino cultural-historical society. Fading purple arrows represent likely stepped movements of subclades of haplogroup N for centuries (e.g. Siberian → Ananino → Akozino → Fennoscandia [N-VL29]; Circum-Arctic → forest-steppe [N1, N2]; etc.). Blue arrows represent eventual expansions of Uralic peoples to the north. Modified image from Vasilyev (2002).

The problem with mapping the ancestry of the available sampling of ancient populations is that we lack proper temporal and regional transects. The maps that follow include cultures roughly divided into either “Bronze Age” or “Iron Age” groups, although the difference between samples may span up to 2,000 years.

NOTE. Rough estimates for more external groups (viz. Sweden Battle Axe/Gotland_A for the NW, Srubna from the North Pontic area for the SW, Arctic/Nganasan for the NE, and Baikal EBA/”Ulchi-like” for the SE) have been included to offer a wider interpolated area using data already known.

Bronze Age

Similar to modern populations, the selection of best fit “Siberian” ancestry between Baikal HG vs. Nganasan, both potentially ± ANE (AG3), is an oversimplification that needs to be addressed in future papers.

Corded Ware ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Nganasan-like ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan-like ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Baikal HG ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal Hunter-Gatherer ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Afontova Gora 3 ancestry

Natural neighbor interpolation of Afontova Gora 3 ancestry among Bronze Age populations. See full map.

Iron Age

Corded Ware ancestry

Interestingly, the moderate expansion of Corded Ware-related ancestry from the south during the Iron Age may be related to the expansion of hg. N1a-VL29 into the chiefdom-based system of north-eastern Europe, including Ananyino/Akozino and later expanding Akozino warrior-traders around the Baltic Sea.

NOTE. The samples from Levänluhta are centuries older than those from Estonia (and Ingria), and those from Chalmny Varre are modern ones, so this region has to be read as a south-west to north-east distribution from the Iron Age to modern times.

Natural neighbor interpolation of Srubnaya ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

Baikal HG-like ancestry

The fact that this Baltic N1a-VL29 branch belongs in a group together with typically Avar N1a-B197 supports the Altaic origin of the parent group, which is possibly related to the expansion of Baikalic ancestry and Iron Age nomads:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Baikal HG ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

Nganasan-like ancestry

The dilution of Nganasan-like ancestry in an Arctic region featuring “Siberian” ancestry and hg. N1a-L392 at least since the Bronze Age supports the integration of hg. N1a-Z1934, sister clade of Ugric N1a-Z1936, into populations west and east of the Urals with the expansion of Uralic languages to the north into the Tundra region (see here).

The integration of N1a-Z1934 lineages into Finnic-speaking peoples after their migration to the north and east, and the displacement or acculturation of Saami from their ancestral homeland, coinciding with known genetic bottlenecks among Finns, is yet another proof of this evolution:

Natural neighbor interpolation of Nganasan ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.

WHG ancestry

Similarly, WHG ancestry doesn’t seem to be related to important population movements throughout the Bronze Age, which excludes the multiple North Eurasian populations that will be found along the clines formed by WHG, EHG, ANE, Nganasan, Baikal HG ancestry as forming part of the Uralic ethnogenesis, although they may be relevant to follow later regional movements of specific populations.

Natural neighbor interpolation of WHG ancestry among Iron Age populations. See full map.


It seems natural that people used to look at maps of haplogroup distribution from the 2000s, coupled with modern language distributions, and would try to interpret them in a certain way, reaching thus the wrong conclusions whose consequences are especially visible today when ancient DNA keeps contradicting them.

In hindsight, though, assuming that Balto-Slavs expanded with Corded Ware and hg. R1a, or that Uralians expanded with “Siberian” ancestry and hg. N1a, was as absurd as looking at maps of ancestry and haplogroup distribution of ancient and modern Native Americans, trying to divide them into “Germanic” or “Iberian”…

The evolution of each specific region and cultural group of North Eurasia is far from being clear. However, the general trend speaks clearly in favour of an ancient, Bronze Age distribution of North Eurasian ancestry and haplogroups that have decreased, diluted, or become incorporated into expanding Uralians of Corded Ware ancestry, occasionally spreading with inter-regional expansions of local groups.

Given the relatively recent push of Altaic and Indo-European languages into ancestral Uralic-speaking territories, only the ancient Corded Ware expansion remains compatible with the spread of Uralic languages into their historical distribution.


Iron Age Tocharians of Yamnaya ancestry from Afanasevo show hg. R1b-M269 and Q1a1

New open access Ancient Genomes Reveal Yamnaya-Related Ancestry and a Potential Source of Indo-European Speakers in Iron Age Tianshan, by Ning et al. Current Biology (2019).

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, changes for clarity):

Here, we report the first genome-wide data of 10 ancient individuals from northeastern Xinjiang. They are dated to around 2,200 years ago and were found at the Iron Age Shirenzigou site. We find them to be already genetically admixed between Eastern and Western Eurasians. We also find that the majority of the East Eurasian ancestry in the Shirenzigou individuals is related to northeastern Asian populations, while the West Eurasian ancestry is best presented by ∼20% to 80% Yamnaya-like ancestry. Our data thus suggest a Western Eurasian steppe origin for at least part of the ancient Xinjiang population. Our findings furthermore support a Yamnaya-related origin for the now extinct Tocharian languages in the Tarim Basin, in southern Xinjiang.


The dominant mtDNA lineages of the Shirenzigou people are commonly found in modern and ancient West Eurasian populations, such as U4, U5, and H, while they also have East Eurasian-specific haplogroups A, D4, and G3, preliminarily documenting admixed ancestry from eastern and western Eurasia.

The admixture profile is also shown on the paternal Y chromosome side that 4 out of 6 males in Shirenzigou (Figure S2) belong to the West Eurasian-specific haplogroup R1b (n = 2) and East Eurasian-specific haplogroup Q1a (n = 2), the former is predominant in ancient Yamnaya and nearly 100% in Afanasievo, different from the Middle and Late Bronze Age Steppe groups (Steppe_MLBA) such as Andronovo, [Potapovka], Srubnaya, and Sintashta whose Y chromosomal haplogroup is mainly R1a.



We first carried out principal component analysis (PCA) to assess the genetic affinities of the ancient individuals qualitatively by projecting them onto present-day Eurasian variation (Figure 2). We observed a distinct separation between East and West Eurasians. Our ancient Shirenzigou samples and present-day populations from Central Asia and northwestern China form a genetic cline from East to West in the first PC. The distribution of Shirenzigou samples on the cline is relatively scattered with two major clusters, one being closer to modern-day Uygurs and Kazakhs and the other being closer to recently published ancient Saka and Huns from the Tianshan in Kazakhstan (…).

We applied a formal admixture test using f3 statistics in the form of f3 (Shirenzigou; X, Y) where X and Y are worldwide populations that might be the genetic sources for the Shirenzigou individuals. We observed the most significant signals of admixture in the Shirenzigou samples when using Yamnaya_Samara or Srubnaya as the West Eurasian source and some Northern Asians or Koreans as the East Eurasian source (Table S1). We also plotted the outgroup f3 statistics in the form of f3 (Mbuti; X, Anatolia_Neolithic) and f3 (Mbuti; X, Kostenki14) to visualize the allele sharing between population X and Anatolian farmers. As shown in Figure S3, the Steppe_MLBA populations including Srubnaya, Andronovo, and Sintashta were shifted toward farming populations compared with Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou samples. This observation is consistent with ADMIXTURE analysis that Steppe_MLBA populations have an Anatolian and European farmer-related component that Yamnaya groups and the Shirenzigou individuals do not seem to have. The analysis consistently suggested Yamnaya-related Steppe populations were the better source in modeling the West Eurasian ancestry in Shirenzigou.

PCA and ADMIXTURE for Shirenzigou Samples. Modified from the original to include in black squares samples related to Yamnaya.

Genetic Composition of Iron Age Shirenzigou Individuals

We continued to use qpAdm to estimate the admixture proportions in the Shirenzigou samples by using different pairs of source populations, such as Yamnaya_Samara, Afanasievo, Srubnaya, Andronovo, BMAC culture (Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA) and Tianshan_Hun as the West Eurasian source and Han, Ulchi, Hezhen, Shamanka_EN as the East Eurasian source. In all cases, Yamnaya, Afanasievo, or Tianshan_Hun always provide the best model fit for the Shirenzigou individuals, while Srubnaya, Andronovo, Bustan_BA and Sappali_Tepe_BA only work in some cases. The Yamnaya_Samara or Afanasievo-related ancestry ranges from ∼20% to 80% in different Shirenzigou individuals, consistent with the scattered distribution on the East-West cline in the PCA


(…) we then modeled Shirenzigou as a three-way admixture of Yamnaya_Samara, Ulchi (or Hezhen) and Han to infer the source from the East Eurasia side that contributed to Shirenzigou. We found the Ulchi or Hezhen and Han-related ancestry had a complicated and unevenly distribution in the Shirenzigou samples. The most Shirenzigou individuals derived the majority of their East Eurasian ancestry from Ulchi or Hezhen-related populations, while the following two individuals M820 and M15-2 have more Han related than Ulchi/Hezhen-related ancestry.

One important question remains, though: how and when did these Proto-Tocharian speakers migrate from the Afanasevo culture in the Altai into the Tarim Basin? The traditional answer, now more likely than ever, is through the Chemurchek culture. See e.g. A re-analysis of the Qiemu’erqieke (Shamirshak) cemeteries, Xinjiang, China, by Jia and Betts JIES (2010) 38(4).

Also, given the apparent lack of (extra farmer ancestry that characterizes) Corded Ware ancestry, if the results were already suspicious before, how likely are now the published R1a(xZ93) and/or radiocarbon dates of the Xiaohe mummies from Li et al. (2010, 2015)? Because, after all, one should have expected in such a late date a generalized admixture with neighbouring Srubna/Andronovo-like populations.


Vikings, Vikings, Vikings! “eastern” ancestry in the whole Baltic Iron Age


Open access Population genomics of the Viking world, by Margaryan et al. bioRxiv (2019), with a huge new sampling from the Viking Age.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine, modified for clarity):

To understand the genetic structure and influence of the Viking expansion, we sequenced the genomes of 442 ancient humans from across Europe and Greenland ranging from the Bronze Age (c. 2400 BC) to the early Modern period (c. 1600 CE), with particular emphasis on the Viking Age. We find that the period preceding the Viking Age was accompanied by foreign gene flow into Scandinavia from the south and east: spreading from Denmark and eastern Sweden to the rest of Scandinavia. Despite the close linguistic similarities of modern Scandinavian languages, we observe genetic structure within Scandinavia, suggesting that regional population differences were already present 1,000 years ago.

Maps illustrating the following texts have been made based on data from this and other papers:

  • Maps showing ancestry include only data from this preprint (which also includes some samples from Sigtuna).
  • Maps showing haplogroup density include Vikings from other publications, such as those from Sigtuna in Krzewinska et al. (2018), and from Iceland in Ebenesersdóttir et al. (2018).
  • Maps showing haplogroups of ancient DNA samples based on their age include data from all published papers, but with slightly modified locations to avoid overcrowding (randomized distance approx. ± 0.1 long. and lat.).

Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe during the Viking expansions (full map). See other maps from the Middle Ages.

We find that the transition from the BA to the IA is accompanied by a reduction in Neolithic farmer ancestry, with a corresponding increase in both Steppe-like ancestry and hunter-gatherer ancestry. While most groups show a slight recovery of farmer ancestry during the VA, there is considerable variation in ancestry across Scandinavia. In particular, we observe a wide range of ancestry compositions among individuals from Sweden, with some groups in southern Sweden showing some of the highest farmer ancestry proportions (40% or more in individuals from Malmö, Kärda or Öland).

Ancestry proportions in Norway and Denmark on the other hand appear more uniform. Finally we detect an influx of low levels of “eastern” ancestry starting in the early VA, mostly constrained among groups from eastern and central Sweden as well as some Norwegian groups. Testing of putative source groups for this “eastern” ancestry revealed differing patterns among the Viking Age target groups, with contributions of either East Asian- or Caucasus-related ancestry.

Ancestry proportions of four-way models including additional putative source groups for target groups for which three-way fit was rejected (p ≤ 0.01);

Overall, our findings suggest that the genetic makeup of VA Scandinavia derives from mixtures of three earlier sources: Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, Neolithic farmers, and Bronze Age pastoralists. Intriguingly, our results also indicate ongoing gene flow from the south and east into Iron Age Scandinavia. Thus, these observations are consistent with archaeological claims of wide-ranging demographic turmoil in the aftermath of the Roman Empire with consequences for the Scandinavian populations during the late Iron Age.

Genetic structure within Viking-Age Scandinavia

We find that VA Scandinavians on average cluster into three groups according to their geographic origin, shifted towards their respective present-day counterparts in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Closer inspection of the distributions for the different groups reveals additional complexity in their genetic structure.

Natural neighbor interpolation of “Danish ancestry” among Vikings.

We find that the ‘Norwegian’ cluster includes Norwegian IA individuals, who are distinct from both Swedish and Danish IA individuals which cluster together with the majority of central and eastern Swedish VA individuals. Many individuals from southwestern Sweden (e.g. Skara) cluster with Danish present-day individuals from the eastern islands (Funen, Zealand), skewing towards the ‘Swedish’ cluster with respect to early and more western Danish VA individuals (Jutland).

Some individuals have strong affinity with Eastern Europeans, particularly those from the island of Gotland in eastern Sweden. The latter likely reflects individuals with Baltic ancestry, as clustering with Baltic BA individuals is evident in the IBS-UMAP analysis and through f4-statistics.

Natural neighbor interpolation of “Norwegian ancestry” among Vikings.

For more on this influx of “eastern” ancestry see my previous posts (including Viking samples from Sigtuna) on Genetic and linguistic continuity in the East Baltic, and on the Pre-Proto-Germanic homeland based on hydrotoponymy.

Baltic ancestry in Gotland

Genetic clustering using IBS-UMAP suggested genetic affinities of some Viking Age individuals with Bronze Age individuals from the Baltic. To further test these, we quantified excess allele sharing of Viking Age individuals with Baltic BA compared to early Viking Age individuals from Salme using f4 statistics. We find that many individuals from the island of Gotland share a significant excess of alleles with Baltic BA, consistent with other evidence of this site being a trading post with contacts across the Baltic Sea.

Natural neighbor interpolation of “Finnish ancestry” among Vikings.

The earliest N1a-VL29 sample available comes from Iron Age Gotland (VK579) ca. AD 200-400 (see Iron Age Y-DNA maps), which also proves its presence in the western Baltic before the Viking expansion. The distribution of N1a-VL29 and R1a-Z280 (compared to R1a in general) among Vikings also supports a likely expansion of both lineages in succeeding waves from the east with Akozino warrior-traders, at the same time as they expanded into the Gulf of Finland.

Density of haplogroup R1a-Z280 (samples in pink) overlaid over other R1a samples (in green, with R1a-Z284 in cyan) among Vikings.

Vikings in Estonia

(…) only one Viking raiding or diplomatic expedition has left direct archaeological traces, at Salme in Estonia, where 41 Swedish Vikings who died violently were buried in two boats accompanied by high-status weaponry. Importantly, the Salme boat-burial predates the first textually documented raid (in Lindisfarne in 793) by nearly half a century. Comparing the genomes of 34 individuals from the Salme burial using kinship analyses, we find that these elite warriors included four brothers buried side by side and a 3rd degree relative of one of the four brothers. In addition, members of the Salme group had very similar ancestry profiles, in comparison to the profiles of other Viking burials. This suggests that this raid was conducted by genetically homogeneous people of high status, including close kin. Isotope analyses indicate that the crew descended from the Mälaren area in Eastern Sweden thus confirming that the Baltic-Mid-Swedish interaction took place early in the VA.

Natural neighbor interpolation of “Swedish ancestry” among Vikings.

Viking samples from Estonia show thus ancient Swedes from the Mälaren area, which proves once again that hg. N1a-VL29 (especially subclade N1a-L550) and tiny proportions of so-called “Siberian ancestry” expanded during the Early Iron Age into the whole Baltic Sea area, not only into Estonia, and evidently not spreading with Balto-Finnic languages (since the language influence is in the opposite direction, east-west, Germanic > Finno-Samic, during the Bronze Age).

N1a-VL29 lineages spread again later eastwards with Varangians, from Sweden into north-eastern Europe, most likely including the ancestors of the Rurikid dynasty. Unsurprisingly, the arrival of Vikings with Swedish ancestry into the East Baltic and their dispersal through the forest zone didn’t cause a language shift of Balto-Finnic, Mordvinic, or East Slavic speakers to Old Norse, either…

NOTE. For N1a-Y4339 – N1a-L550 subclade of Swedish origin – as main haplogroup of modern descendants of Rurikid princes, see Volkov & Seslavin (2019) – full text in comments below. Data from ancient samples show varied paternal lineages even among early rulers traditionally linked to Rurik’s line, which explains some of the discrepancies found among modern descendants:

  • A sample from Chernihiv (VK542) potentially belonging to Gleb Svyatoslavich, the 11th century prince of Tmutarakan/Novgorod, belongs to hg. I2a-Y3120 (a subclade of early Slavic I2a-CTS10228) and has 71% “Modern Polish” ancestry (see below).
  • Izyaslav Ingvarevych, the 13th century prince of Dorogobuzh, Principality of Volhynia/Galicia, is probably behind a sample from Lutsk (VK541), and belongs to hg. R1a-L1029 (a subclade of R1a-M458), showing ca. 95% of “Modern Polish” ancestry.
  • Yaroslav Osmomysl, the 12th century Prince of Halych (now in Western Ukraine), was probably of hg. E1b-V13, yet another clearly early Slavic haplogroup.

Density of haplogroup N1a-VL29, N1a-L550 (samples in pink, most not visible) among Vikings. Samples of hg. R1b in blue, hg. R1a in green, hg. I in orange.

Finnish ancestry

Firstly, modern Finnish individuals are not like ancient Finnish individuals, modern individuals have ancestry of a population not in the reference; most likely Steppe/Russian ancestry, as Chinese are in the reference and do not share this direction. Ancient Swedes and Norwegians are more extreme than modern individuals in PC2 and 4. Ancient UK individuals were more extreme than Modern UK individuals in PC3 and 4. Ancient Danish individuals look rather similar to modern individuals from all over Scandinavia. By using a supervised ancient panel, we have removed recent drift from the signal, which would have affected modern Scandinavians and Finnish populations especially. This is in general a desirable feature but it is important to check that it has not affected inference.

PCA of the ancient and modern samples using the ancient palette, showing different PCs. Modern individuals are grey and the K=7 ancient panel surrogate populations are shown in strong colors, whilst the remaining M-K=7 ancient populations are shown in faded colors.

The story for Modern-vs-ancient Finnish ancestry is consistent, with ancient Finns looking much less extreme than the moderns. Conversely, ancient Norwegians look like less-drifted modern Norwegians; the Danish admixture seen through the use of ancient DNA is hard to detect because of the extreme drift within Norway that has occurred since the admixture event. PC4 vs PC5 is the most important plot for the ancient DNA story: Sweden and the UK (along with Poland, Italy and to an extent also Norway) are visibly extremes of a distribution the same “genes-mirror-geography” that was seen in the Ancient-palette analysis. PC1 vs PC2 tells the same story – and stronger, since this is a high variance-explained PC – for the UK, Poland and Italy.

Uniform manifold approximation and projection (UMAP) analysis of the VA and other ancient samples.

Evidence for Pictish Genomes

The four ancient genomes of Orkney individuals with little Scandinavian ancestry may be the first ones of Pictish people published to date. Yet a similar (>80% “UK ancestry) individual was found in Ireland (VK545) and five in Scandinavia, implying that Pictish populations were integrated into Scandinavian culture by the Viking Age.

Our interpretation for the Orkney samples can be summarised as follows. Firstly, they represent “native British” ancestry, rather than an unusual type of Scandinavian ancestry. Secondly, that this “British” ancestry was found in Britain before the Anglo-Saxon migrations. Finally, that in Orkney, these individuals would have descended from Pictish populations.

Natural neighbor interpolation of “British ancestry” among Vikings.

(…) ‘UK’ represents a group from which modern British and Irish people all receive an ancestry component. This information together implies that within the sampling frame of our data, they are proxying the ‘Briton’ component in UK ancestry; that is, a pre-Roman genetic component present across the UK. Given they were found in Orkney, this makes it very likely that they were descended from a Pictish population.

Modern genetic variation within the UK sees variation between ‘native Briton’ populations Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland as large compared to that within the more ‘Anglo-Saxon’ English. This is despite subsequent gene flow into those populations from English-like populations. We have not attempted to disentangle modern genetic drift from historically distinct populations. Roman-era period people in England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland may not have been genetically close to these Orkney individuals, but our results show that they have a shared genetic component as they represent the same direction of variation.

Density of haplogroup R1b-L21 (samples in red), overlaid over all samples of hg. R1b among Vikings (R1b-U106 in green, other R1b-L151 in deep red). To these samples one may add the one from Janakkala in south-western Finland (AD ca. 1300), of hg. R1b-L21, possibly related to these population movements.

For more on Gaelic ancestry and lineages likely representing slaves among early Icelanders, see Ebenesersdóttir et al. (2018).


As in the case of mitochondrial DNA, the overall distribution profile of the Y chromosomal haplogroups in the Viking Age samples was similar to that of the modern North European populations. The most frequently encountered male lineages were the haplogroups I1, R1b and R1a.

Haplogroup I (I1, I2)

The distribution of I1 in southern Scandinavia, including a sample from Sealand (VK532) ca. AD 100 (see Iron Age Y-DNA maps) proves that it had become integrated into the West Germanic population already before their expansions, something that we already suspected thanks to the sampling of Germanic tribes.

Density of haplogroup I (samples in orange) among Vikings. Samples of hg. R1b in blue, hg. R1a in green, N1a in pink.
Density of haplogroup I1 (samples in red) overlaid over all samples of hg. I among Vikings.

Haplogroup R1b (M269, U106, P312)

Especially interesting is the finding of R1b-L151 widely distributed in the historical Nordic Bronze Age region, which is in line with the estimated TMRCA for R1b-P312 subclades found in Scandinavia, despite the known bottleneck among Germanic peoples under U106. Particularly telling in this regard is the finding of rare haplogroups R1b-DF19, R1b-L238, or R1b-S1194. All of that points to the impact of Bell Beaker-derived peoples during the Dagger period, when Pre-Proto-Germanic expanded into Scandinavia.

Also interesting is the finding of hg. R1b-P297 in Troms, Norway (VK531) ca. 2400 BC. R1b-P297 subclades might have expanded to the north through Finland with post-Swiderian Mesolithic groups (read more about Scandinavian hunter-gatherers), and the ancestry of this sample points to that origin.

However, it is also known that ancestry might change within a few generations of admixture, and that the transformation brought about by Bell Beakers with the Dagger Period probably reached Troms, so this could also be a R1b-M269 subclade. In fact, the few available data from this sample show that it comes from the natural harbour Skarsvågen at the NW end of the island Senja, and that its archaeologist thought it was from the Viking period or slightly earlier, based on the grave form. From Prescott (2017):

In 1995, Prescott and Walderhaug tentatively argued that a dramatic transformation took place in Norway around the Late Neolithic (2350 BCE), and that the swift nature of this transition was tied to the initial Indo-Europeanization of southern and coastal Norway, at least to Trøndelag and perhaps as far north as Troms. (…)

The Bell Beaker/early Late Neolithic, however, represents a source and beginning of these institution and practices, exhibits continuity to the following metal age periods and integrated most of Northern Europe’s Nordic region into a set of interaction fields. This happened around 2400 BCE, at the MNB to LN transition.

NOTE. This particular sample is not included in the maps of Viking haplogroups.

Density of haplogroup R1b (samples in blue) among Vikings. Samples of hg. I in orange, hg. R1a in green, N1a in pink.
Density of haplogroup R1b-U106 (samples in green) overlaid over all samples of hg. R1b (other R1b-L23 samples in red) among Vikings.
Density of R1b-L151 (xR1b-U106) (samples in deep red) overlaid over all samples of hg. R1b (R1b-U106 in green, other R1b-M269 in blue) among Vikings.

Haplogroup R1a (M417, Z284)

The distribution of hg. R1a-M417, in combination with data on West Germanic peoples, shows that it was mostly limited to Scandinavia, similar to the distribution of I1. In fact, taking into account the distribution of R1a-Z284 in particular, it seems even more isolated, which is compatible with the limited impact of Corded Ware in Denmark or the Northern European Plain, and the likely origin of R1a-Z284 in the expansion with Battle Axe from the Gulf of Finland. The distribution of R1a-Z280 (see map above) is particularly telling, with a distribution around the Baltic Sea mostly coincident with that of N1a.

Density of haplogroup R1a (samples in green) among Vikings. Samples of hg. R1b in blue, of hg. I in orange, N1a in pink.
Density of haplogroup R1a-Z284 (samples in cyan) overlaid over all samples of hg. R1a (in green, with R1a-Z280 in pink) among Vikings.

Other haplogroups

Among the ancient samples, two individuals were derived haplogroups were identified as E1b1b1-M35.1, which are frequently encountered in modern southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa. Interestingly, the individuals carrying these haplogroups had much less Scandinavian ancestry compared to the most samples inferred from haplotype based analysis. A similar pattern was also observed for less frequent haplogroups in our ancient dataset, such as G (n=3), J (n=3) and T (n=2), indicating a possible non-Scandinavian male genetic component in the Viking Age Northern Europe. Interestingly, individuals carrying these haplogroups were from the later Viking Age (10th century and younger), which might indicate some male gene influx into the Viking population during the Viking period.

Natural neighbor interpolation of “Italian ancestry” among Vikings.

As the paper says, the small sample size of rare haplogroups cannot distinguish if these differences are statistically relevant. Nevertheless, both E1b samples have substantial Modern Polish-like ancestry: one sample from Gotland (VK474), of hg. E1b-L791, has ca. 99% “Polish” ancestry, while the other one from Denmark (VK362), of hg. E1b-V13, has ca. 35% “Polish”, ca. 35% “Italian”, as well as some “Danish” (14%) and minor “British” and “Finnish” ancestry.

Given the E1b-V13 samples of likely Central-East European origin among Lombards, Visigoths, and especially among Early Slavs, and the distribution of “Polish” ancestry among Viking samples, VK362 is probably a close description of the typical ancestry of early Slavs. The peak of Modern Polish-like ancestry around the Upper Pripyat during the (late) Viking Age suggests that Poles (like East Slavs) have probably mixed since the 10th century with more eastern peoples close to north-eastern Europeans, derived from ancient Finno-Ugrians:

Natural neighbor interpolation of “Polish ancestry” among Vikings.

Similarly, the finding of R1a-M458 among Vikings in Funen, Denmark (VK139), in Lutsk, Poland (VK541), and in Kurevanikha, Russia (VK160), apart from the early Slav from Usedom, may attest to the origin of the spread of this haplogroup in the western Baltic after the Bell Beaker expansion, once integrated in both Germanic and Balto-Slavic populations, as well as intermediate Bronze Age peoples that were eventually absorbed by their expansions. This contradicts, again, my simplistic initial assessment of R1a-M458 expansion as linked exclusively (or even mainly) to Balto-Slavs.

Y-DNA haplogroups in Europe during Antiquity (full map). See other maps of cultures and ancient DNA from Antiquity.


European hydrotoponymy (VI): the British Isles and non-Indo-Europeans


The nature of the prehistoric languages of the British Isles is particularly difficult to address: because of the lack of ancient data from certain territories; because of the traditional interpretation of Old European names simply as “Celtic”; and because Vennemann’s re-labelling of the Old European hydrotoponymy as non-Indo-European has helped distract the focus away from the real non-Indo-European substrate on the islands.

Alteuropäisch and Celtic

An interesting summary of hydronymy in the British Isles was already offered long ago, in British and European River-Names, by Kitson, Transactions of the Philological Society (1996) 94(2):73-118. In it, he discusses, among others:

  • Non-serial hydronyms: Drua-/Drav-/Dru-, from drew- sometimes reshaped as derw-; ab-; ag-; al-; alb-; alm-; am-; antjā-; arg-; aw-; dan-; eis-; el-/ol-; er-/or-; kar(r)a-, ker-; nebh-; ned-; n(e)id-; sal-; wig-; weis-/wis-; ur-, wer-; etc.
  • Serial elements: -went-, -m(e)no-, -nt-o-, -n-; -nā-, -tā-; -st-, -r-; etc.

Probably non-Celtic suffixes are found e.g. in Tamesis, paralelled in the Spey Tuesis, and also in Tweed (<*Twesetā?); or -no-/-nā- is also particularly frequent in Scottish river-names, but not in English ones. Another interesting case is the reverse suffix relative order into -r-st- instead of -st-r-.

Most if not all of them can be explained as of Old European nature. I will leave aside the discussion of particular formations – most of which may be found repeated, complemented, and updated in more modern texts.

Hydronyms ub-, ob-. Another Western European river name.

Bell Beakers as Old Europeans

(…) Bell-beakers are in fact the only archaeological phenomenon of any period of prehistory with a comparably wide spread to that of river-names in the western half of Europe. The presumption must I think be that Beaker Folk were the vector of alteuropäisch river-names to most of western Europe. Rivers in the base Arg-, which we have seen there is cause to think was not already in use at the earliest stage of the river-naming system, and which therefore should be associated with such a vector if one existed, fit their distribution exceptionally well.

That they were a single-speech community can be asserted more confidently of the Beaker Folk than of most archaeologically identified groups for the very reasons that have caused archaeologists difficulty in interpreting them. As McEvedy (1967:28) put it, ‘the bell-beaker folk march convincingly in every prehistorian’s text, but they do so from Spain to Germany in some and from Germany to Spain in others, while lately there has been a tendency to make them go from Spain to Germany and back again (primary and reflux movements)’. One ‘firm datum seems to be that the British beaker folk came from the Rhine-Elbe region.’

This confirms what the long chronology now indicated for Common Indo-European would suggest anyway, and what to me, as remarked above, the rareness of non-Indo-European names in England suggests, that the old dissenting minority of Celticists were right to see the arrival in Britain of Indo-Europeans, as evinced in river-names whether or not in ethnic proto-Celts, as early as the third millennium. McEvedy’s map of Beaker Folk identifies them linguistically with Celto-Ligurians, but in that his admirably tidy mind was, typically, a degree too tidy. Considerations of phonology indicate that more than one linguistic group was involved.

It is normal in reconstructed Indo-European for groups of related words not all to have the same vowel in the root syllable. The commonest vowel gradation is between e, o, and zero; (…) Language-groups that level short a and o include Germanic and Baltic, Slavonic, Illyrian, Hittite and Indo-Iranian; but Celtic and Italic like Greek and Armenian preserve the original distinction. It follows that Celts speaking normal Celtic sounds cannot have been wholly responsible for bringing alteuropäisch river-names to any area. It would seem to follow, as Professor Nicolaisen has consistently urged, that in Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Italy, where the only historically known early Indo-Europeans were speakers of non-levelling languages, they were preceded by speakers of levelling languages not historically known. This hypothesis, pretty well required by the linguistic evidence, finds so good an archaeological correlate in the Beaker People that I think it would now be flying in the face of the evidence not to accept those as bearers of the river-names to these countries.

Bell Beaker Civilization (CAD O. Lemercier).

The funny note is the rejection of the steppe homeland by Kitson in favour of Central European Neolithic cultures, due in part to the ‘impossibility’ of proto-Finnic loans from East Indo-European, if Proto-Indo-European was spoken in the steppe. As I said recently, the lack of knowledge of Uralic languages and Indo-European – Uralic contacts has clearly conditioned the Urheimat question for both, Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Uralic researchers.

On the other hand, the identification of Bell Beakers with Old Europeans was not something new. Already in the 1950s Hugh Hencken talked about this, and J.P. Mallory (who described Bell Beakers more exactly in 2013 as North-West Indo-Europeans) is sure that this idea had been used even before the 1950s.

The question is, though, to what extent the reasoning of those researchers was as detailed so as to consider it a modern approach to the question, because Krahe in the 1940s seems to offer the first reliable data to make that assumption. In any case, Gimbutas’ idea of Kurgan warriors imposing Indo-European languages everywhere, so over-represented in Encyclopedia-like texts since the end of the 1990s, was not the only, and probably never the main hypothesis among many Indo-Europeanists.

Celts part of Bell Beakers?

Regarding Koch and Cunliffe’s revival of the autochthonous Celts idea, one can find a similar traditional view among British researchers of the early and mid-20th century – and a proper rejection based on hydrotoponymy. It seems that many fringe theories in Indo-European studies, from Nordic or Baltic homelands to autochthonous Celts to the Europa Vasconica, can be traced back to revivalist waves of romantic views of the 19th c.:

What the late Professor C. F. C. Hawkes called in British archaeology ‘cumulative Celticity’, built up by successions of comparatively small tribal migrations, will then have operated on the linguistic side as well. That the predecessors of the Celts proper for so long had in most of Britain been people of similar Indo-European speech explains why there is not a significant survival of recognizably non-Indo-European river-names, and why the few serious candidates for non-Indo-European among recorded place-names all seem to be in Scotland. That the river-names kept their north European non-Celtic phonology will be because the Celts proper took them over as names, with denotative not fully lexical meaning. (…)

(…) I think non-Celtic Indo-European-speakers are likely to have been involved in fact, whether or not they are the whole story, both because that it is the hypothesis which makes best sense of the archaeological evidence (…)

(…) because it is widely accepted that placenames in the Low Countries imply the existence of at least one group of not historically attested Indo-European-speakers, not the same as the ones we are concerned with. So do names in Spain, another country where the only historically attested early Indo-Europeans were Celtic. Comparing Spanish alteuropäisch names with British ones gives a glimpse of the dialectal range that must have characterized the Beaker phenomenon. Either group shares one feature with historical Celtic that the other lacks. The Spanish names like Celtic proper mostly keep Inda-European o. There the diagnostic feature is initial p (Schmoll 1959:93, 78-80; Rodriguez 1980), lost from Celtic and the alteuropäisch of Britain.

Interesting is also the early reaction against Vennemann’s much publicized interpretation of Krahe’s Old European as ‘Vasconic’. This is a useful comment which is still applicable to the same non-existent ‘problem’ found by some Indo-Europeanists, depending on their ideas about Indo-European dialectalization:

It is again naughty of Vennemann (1994:244) to call his laryngealist explanation ‘the only kind of explanation that I know’. At least he does not quite go so far in his laryngealism as to posit a proto-Indo-European in which the vowel a never existed, as Kuiper does.

NOTE. It is difficult to understand why the work of so many Indo-Europeanists is usually not known, while Vennemann’s far-fetched theory has been endlessly repeated. I reckon it must be the same phenomenon of personal and professional contacts, involvement in editorial decisions, and simplification in mass media which makes Kristiansen and his theories frequently published and cited nowadays.



Based on these data, I entertained the idea of arguing for a Pre-Celtic Indo-European language in A Storm of Words, called Pre-Pritenic, with a tentative fable based on the data described below for the Insular Celtic substrate, but eventually deleted the whole text, because (unlike other tentative fables, like the Lusitanian or Venetic ones) it was pure speculation with not even fragmentary data to rely on. Here is a fragment of the discussion:

Among the main reasons adduced to reject the non-Celtic nature of Pritenic is Orkney, a region where Pictish carved stones have been found (indicator of a centralised Pictish power and identity). The name was attested first as Gk. Orkas / Orkádos (secondary source, from Pytheas of Massilia, ca. 322-285 BC, or possibly much later) and Lat. Orchades / Orcades (by Latin sources in the 1st century AD), and it was used to describe the northernmost promontory in Scotland, commonly identified as Dunnet Head in Caithness. It is supposed to derive its name from Cel. *φorko- ‘pig’, because speakers of Old Irish interpreted the name for the island later as Insi Orc ‘island of the pigs’. Therefore, Pritenic would have undergone the prototypical Common Celtic evolution of NWIE *p- → Ø- (see above).

This argument is flawed, in so far as it could have happened (with the interpretation of the name from a Celtic point of view) what happened later with Norwegian settlers, who reinterpreted the name according to Old Norse orkn ‘seal’, to identify it as ‘island of the seals’. In fact, texts published in the 19th and 20th century looked for an even closer etymology to the interpreter, who usually saw it as ‘island of the orcas’.

The region name orc- could be speculatively linked to NWIE *ork-i- ‘cut off, divide’, cf. Ita. *erk-i- (vowel analogically changed), Hitt. ārk- (<*hork-ei-), in Latin found with the meaning ‘divide (an inheritance)’, hence noun Lat. erctum ‘inheritance, inherited part’.

Maybe more interesting is a connection to *or-, as found in British rivers or streams Arrow, Oare Water (Som), Ayre , Armet Water, Arnot Burn, Ernan Water etc. for which cognates Skt. arvan(t)- ‘running, swift’, árṇa- ‘surging’, Gmc. *arnia- ‘lively, energetic’ have been proposed (Forster 1941; Nicolaisen 1976; Kitson 1996). Similar to these derivatives in -n-, -m-, one could argue for a denominative suffixation in *-ko-, not uncommon in Old European toponyms (Villar Liébana 2007), which could be interpreted originally as ‘(region) pertaining to the Or (river, stream)’. The a-vocalism of Old European does not need further explanation, being fairly common in the British Isles (Kitson 1996).

I tried to look for rivers and streams in Caithness that fit a potential border for an ancestral tribe, but after reading many (and I really mean too many) texts on Scotland’s hydronymy, which is a quite well-researched area, I didn’t like the idea of plunging into such a speculative task; not when I have this blog for that… I deleted the text from the book, seeing how it doesn’t really add anything of value and may have distracted from its real aim. If any reader wants to post potential candidates for this delimiting river ‘Or’ in Caithness, feel free to post that below.

Or- hydronyms, mapped by Villar (2007). He considered it a variant of ur-, uro-, and only included one certain occurrence from old river-names in southern England.

Weak (if any) support of a non-Celtic nature of the names might also be found in the late description of Ptolemy’s Geographia (originally ca. 150 AD), Tauroedoúnou tēs kai Orkádos kaloumenēs, translated in Latin as Tarved(r)um, quod et Orcas promontorium dicitur. The original name seems to be formed from *tau-r-, as is common in Indo-European *taur-o- (compare also river Taum), whereas the commonly used Latin translation seems to rely on a Celtic *tarw-o-.

Always Celtic?

As with other Pictish material, these questions are unlikely to be settled without unequivocal sources pointing to the original names and their meaning. The autochthonous trend is set lately by Guto Rhys, whose work is thorough and methodologically sound, although his reviews tend to dismiss all evidence of a non-Celtic (or even non-Brittonic) layer in Pictland as described in previous works, mostly because of the lack of direct sources or uncontroverted data:

Where a supposed divergence is found in certain names, a lack of proper reading or interpretation of materials (or lack of enough cases to generalize them), combined with similar names in other (neighbouring or distant) Celtic languages, is adduced.

However, the same arguments can indeed be used to reject his proposal of a Celtic nature of many names which cannot be simply explained with other clearly Celtic examples: namely, that all similarities are due to later influences, re-analysis and modifications of Old European terms according to Celtic phonemic (or etymological) patterns, or that the Brittonic nature of many names are due to convergence of the attested Pritenic naming conventions with neighbouring dialects.

In the end, the only conclusion is that there is a clear impasse in hydrotoponymic research in the British Isles, particularly in Scotland, with an impossibility of describing non-Celtic or non-Indo-European Pre-Pritenic layers, due in great part – in my opinion – to the trend among many British Celticists to consider Celtic as autochthonous to the Atlantic. This hinders the proper investigation of the question, just like the trend among Basque studies to consider the western Pyrenees as the eternal Vasconic homeland hinders a fair investigation of the actual Vasconic proto-history.

Probable maximum extent of Pictland is also highlighted in blue and overlain on the modern outline of northern Britain. Image from Noble, G., Goldberg, M., & Hamilton, D. (2018).

Non-Indo-Europeans in Northern Europe

Insular Celtic substrate

Matasović, a specialist in Celtic languages and author of the famous Eytmological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic (IEED 2009), writes in The substratum in Insular Celtic (2009):

Syntactic evidence

The syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages (which used to be called Hamito-Semitic) were noted more than a century ago by Morris-Jones (1899), and subsequently discussed by a number of scholars. These parallels include the following.

  1. The VSO order, attested both in OIr. and in Brythonic from the earliest documents (…).
  2. The existence of special relative forms of the verb, (…).
  3. The existence of prepositions inflected for person (or prepositional pronouns), (…).
  4. Prepositional progressive verbal forms, (…).
  5. The existence of the opposition between the “absolute” and “conjunct” verbal forms. (…)

The aforementioned features of Old Irish and Insular Celtic syntax (and a few others) are all found in Afro-Asiatic languages, often in several branches of that family, but usually in Berber and Ancient Egyptian (see e.g. Isaac 2001, 2007a).

Orin Gensler, in his unpublished dissertation (1993) applied refined statistical methods showing that the syntactic parallels between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic cannot be attributed to chance. The crucial point is that these parallels include features that are otherwise rare cross-linguistically, but co-occur precisely in those two groups of languages. This more or less amounts to a proof that there was some connection between Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic at some stage in prehistory, but the exact nature of that connection is still open to speculation.

“Atlantic” typology

Insular Celtic also shares a number of areal isoglosses with languages of Western Africa, sometimes also with Basque, which shows that the Insular Celtic — Afroasiatic parallels should be viewed in light of the larger framework of prehistoric areal convergences in Western Europe and NW Africa.

The text goes on with typologically rare features found in West Europe and West Africa, such as the inter-dental fricative /þ/ (also in English, Icelandic, Castillian Spanish); initial consonant mutations/regular alterations of initial consonants caused by the grammatical category of the preceding word; the common order demonstrative-noun (within the NP) reversed; the vigesimal counting system; or use of demonstrative articles.

Lexical evidence

(…) only 38 words shared by Brythonic and Goidelic without any plausible IE etymology. These words belong to the semantic fields that are usually prone to borrowing, including words referring to animals (…), plants (…), and elements of the physical world (…). Note that cognates of these words may be unattested in Gaulish and Celtiberian because these languages are poorly attested, so that the actual number of exclusive loanwords from substratum language(s) in Insular Celtic is probably even lower. In my opinion it is not higher than 1% of the vocabulary. The large majority of substratum words in Irish and Welsh (and, generally, in Goidelic and Brythonic) is not shared by these two languages, which probably means that the sources were different substrates of, respectively, Ireland and Britain; (…)


The thesis that Insular Celtic languages were subject to strong influences from an unknown, presumably non-Indo-European substratum, hardly needs to be argued for. However, the available evidence is consistent with several different hypotheses regarding the areal and genetic affiliation of this substratum, or, more probably, substrata. The syntactic parallels between the Insular Celtic and Afro-Asiatic languages are probably not accidental, but they should not be taken to mean that the pre-Celtic substratum of Britain and Ireland belonged to the Afro-Asiatic stock. It is also possible that it was a language, or a group of languages (not necessarily related), that belonged to the same macro-area as the Afro-Asiatic languages of North Africa. The parallels between Insular Celtic, Basque, and the Atlantic languages of the Niger-Congo family, presented in the second part of this paper, are consistent with the hypothesis that there was a large linguistic macro-area, encompassing parts of NW Africa, as well as large parts of Western Europe, before the arrival of the speakers of Indo-European, including Celtic.

Map of tuk-, tok-, tuch-, tug- (with India). Interestingly, the language of the -tuk- represents a more recent layer in Iberia than the earlier Old European serial elements, pointing to a west-european expansion from the north, although it may have an Indo-European etymology.

Language of the geminates

Further evidence of the potential presence of non-Indo-European speakers at the arrival of Insular Celtic may be found in Schrijver’s Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2000), and his less enthusiastic revision More on Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD (2005). Both are referred and enough summarized by Matasović (2009).

Even more interesting than the discussion of potential non-Indo-Europeans still lingering in Ireland until well into the Common Era, is the discussion on his paper Lost Languages in Northern Europe (2001). Apart from other non-Indo-European borrowings in northern Europe, most of which must clearly be included within the European agricultural substrate, Schrijver tries to interpret the relative chronology of a substratum language of northern Europe, described by Kuiper (1995) as A2, and by Schrijver as “language of geminates“.

This substrate language is heavily present in Germanic (see e.g. Boutkan 1998), but also in Celtic and Balto-Slavic:

A highly characteristic feature of words deriving from this language is the variation of the final root consonant, which may be single or double, voiced or voiceless, and prenasalized. (…)

Incidentally, the language of geminates cannot be Uralic, as another of its characteristics is the frequent occurrence of word-initial *kn- and *kl-, and Uralic languages do not allow consonant clusters at the beginning of the word. On the other hand, and at the risk of explaining obscura per obscuriora, one might consider the possibility that the consonant gradation of Lappish and Baltic Finnic is somehow connected with the alternation of consonants at the end of the first syllable in the “language of geminates”.

The idea that the Northern European language of geminates could play an intermediary role in loan contacts between Northern and Western Indo-European on the one hand and Finno-Ugric on the other may also account for the fact that Finno-Ugric words could end up as far away as Celtic, which as far as we know was never in direct contact with a branch of Uralic.

Schrijver later changed his view about certain aspects of this substrate, from a “language of geminates” influencing Balto-Finnic which in turn influenced Germanic, to Pre-Balto-Finnic speakers being the substrate of Germanic, and both evolving at the same time in contact in Scandinavia. In fact, we know that Pre-Proto-Germanic evolved in southern Scandinavia, with a core in Jutland that shifted to the south, so the location must have been close to the North European Plain.

Also fitting this model is the substrate behind Balto-Slavic (spoken in the West Baltic), which must have also been (Para-)Balto-Finnic. However, the frequent word-initial *kn- and *kl- and the loanwords appearing in the Celtic homeland (also including Early Balto-Finnic) must place this Uralic(± non-Indo-European) language contact also well into Central European Corded Ware groups.

Similarly, one of the shared features between Finnic and Mordvinic is precisely the presence of certain geminated consonants. A revision of the data in combination with these facts should shift of evidence to a (Para-)Balto-Finnic-speaking Baltic area during the Early Bronze Age, certainly encompassing the Battle Axe culture.

Corded Ware groups. “Classical funerary practices” found regularly, in darker shades. Modified from Furholt (2014).

Afroasiatic-like substrate and Vasconic

The only archaeological culture that could fit most of these data, in the currently known relative chronological time frame, would be the Megalithic expansion in Western Europe, or potentially (maybe in addition to this early layer) the expansion of the Proto-Beaker package, which could have spread a Basque-Iberian language (see e.g. my take on Basque-Iberians).

Whether the language behind the Insular Celtic substrate (or, rather, some of its dialects) had true Afroasiatic syntactic features or it was just a language with features which happened to be similar to Afroasiatic is irrelevant. It’s impossible to reconstruct with confidence a Pre-Proto-Basque language with the currently available information.

Interestingly, it is possible to argue for an Afroasiatic branch surviving among hunter-gatherers adopting Neolithic traits in northern Europe. This has been proposed many times in the past, and one could argue in palaeogenomics for indirect supporting data, such as the expansion of WHG ancestry from south-east Europe (close to Anatolia, forming a cline with AME), and in particular of hg. R1b-V88 from the steppe – potentially associated with the Afroasiatic expansion into Africa from a Nostratic community.

NOTE. I will not resort here to typologically-based arguments similar to the “Hamito-Semit(id)ic” and “Vasconic-Uralic” Europe that were commonly in use in the 1990s, because they are in great part based on the mere re-labelling of Old European layers as “Vasconic” and flawed mass lexical/grammatical comparisons. For linguists favourable to this kind of reasoning, the theory set forth here is probably easier, though, as will be for those supporting a Neolithic expansion of Indo-European from the Mediterranean. This, however, has its own set of problems, as I have already discussed.

Distribution of megaliths in western, central, and northern Europe (after Muller 2006; graphic: Holger Dieterich).

Single Grave culture

The non-Indo-European substrate of Insular Celtic, in combination with the oldest hydrotoponymic layers – almost exclusively of Old European nature – of Britain and likely all of Ireland, can more easily be explained as a first layer of North-West Indo-European speakers heavily influenced by an Afroasiatic(-like) substrate reaching the British Isles, possibly with a slightly richer set of non-Indo-European loanwords at the time. Their language would have been later replaced by the closely related Celtic dialects imposed by elites in the Early Iron Age, which could have then easily absorbed this (mainly syntactic) substrate.

There is little space to argue for a hypothetic non-Indo-European expansion from another region, or for an in situ substrate, due to:

  1. the radical population replacement (and Y-chromosome bottleneck) in Britain and northern Ireland stemming from the Lower Rhine;
  2. the lack of meaningful population movements during the Bronze Age (at least from out of the islands);
  3. the final east-west movements of Celtic languages;
  4. the presence of the same (mainly syntactic) substrate in both Goidelic and Brittonic; and
  5. the minimal non-Indo-European lexical borrowings and hydrotoponymy, different in each island;

Based on archaeological and palaeogenomic data, the only reasonable direct connection of north-western Bell Beakers and this substrate language would be then the Corded Ware groups from north-western Europe – i.e. the traditionally named Single Grave culture from northern Germany and Denmark, and the Protruding Foot Beaker culture from the Netherlands.

The main reasons for this are as follows:

1. Early Corded Ware wave

The earliest Corded Ware burials from northern Europe (ca. 2900-2800 BC) show important differences, so no strict funerary norms existed at first (Furholt 2014):

  • In southern Sweden the prevailing orientation is north-east–south-west, and south–north; contrary to the supposed rule, male individuals are regularly deposite on their left and females on their right side
  • In the Danish Isles and north-eastern Germany, the Final Neolithic / Single Grave Period is characterized by a majority of megalithic graves, with only some single graves from typical barrows.
  • In south Germany, west–east and collective burials prevail, while in Switzerland no graves are found.
  • In Kuyavia (south-eastern Poland), Hesse (Germany), or the Baltic, west–east orientation and gender differentiation cannot be proven statistically.
Corded Ware and neighbouring groups. Top: cultural map. Bottom: varied Y-chromosome haplogroups from ancient DNA samples. See full maps.

In genetics, the area that would become the ‘core Corded Ware province’ only after ca. 2700 BC also shows a surprising variability in the oldest samples in terms of haplogroups (which may indicate a recent departure of migrants from a mixed homeland); in terms of admixture, at least one sample clusters close to EEF groups, while later ones from Esperstedt – of hg. R1a-M417 (possibly xZ645) – show a likely admixture with Yamna vanguard groups expanding from the Carpathian Basin.

On the contrary, the slightly later eastern expansions as Battle Axe and Abashevo show long-lasting genetic continuity and a marked bottleneck under R1a-Z645 subclades, as well as a clear cultural connection through the Fatyanovo culture. The role of local populations, particularly females, in preserving local customs in the Single Grave culture (see Bourgeois and Kroon 2017) is also quite relevant to the continuity of the regionl culture in spite of migrations.

2. Single Grave culture in Denmark

The Corded Ware culture in Denmark was particularly weak in its human impact compared to previous farmers (see e.g. Feeser et al. 2019), and also in its cultural traits, adopting Funnel Beaker culture traits up to a point where even the Copenhagen group describes cultural continuity, likely entailing an important substrate language impact (see e.g. Iversen and Kroonen 2017).

It’s not difficult to realize that this same argument used for Semitic-like terms in Germanic by Kroonen (2012) – e.g. words for ‘lentil’, ‘pea’, and ‘turnip’ – and supported by the Copenhagen group may be used to support the adoption of non-Uralic substrate in a Uralic-speaking Corded Ware area (as Schrijver does), which later influenced incoming Bell Beakers that developed into the Pre-Proto-Germanic speakers.

From Iversen (2016):

As it appears from the analysis above, the situation in East Denmark during the 3rd millennium BC is culturally rather complex. The continued use of megalithic entombments and the almost total rejection of the Single Grave burial custom show a strong affiliation with old Funnel Beaker traditions even after the end of the Funnel Beaker culture. (…) With an almost total lack of the two defining elements of the Single Grave culture – interments in single graves and the prominent position of stone battle axes – one can hardly talk about a Single Grave culture in East Denmark. What we see is rather the adoption of various Single Grave, Battle Axe and Pitted Ware cultural traits into a setting that was basically a continuation of Funnel Beaker norms and traditions (Iversen 2015).

Single Grave and Battle axe culture graves in Denmark and scania (dots). Grey colouring: Distribution of Jutland single Graves. Dark grey: Initial phase ca. 2850–2800 BC. Cross: Megalithic tombs with single Grave/Battle axe culture finds (Iversen 2013 fig. 3).

The reason why East Denmark so conservatively upheld the Funnel Beaker traditions must be found in the area’s old position as a ‘megalithic heartland’, which reaches back to the early 4th millennium BC when dolmens and passage graves were constructed in very large numbers. (…) The result was a cultural blend governed by old Funnel Beaker norms and the use of Pitted Ware, Single Grave and Battle Axe material culture. This situation continued until the beginning of the Late Neolithic (ca. 2350 BC) when cultural and social development took a new course and flint daggers and metal objects appeared/ re-appeared in South Scandinavia.

The radical change brought about in the Late Neolithic “Dagger Period” is commonly agreed to be associated with the arrival and expansion of the Pre-Proto-Germanic communtity (read more here).

3. Single Grave culture in the Netherlands

The Corded Ware culture in the Netherlands is particularly disconnected culturally from its eastern core areas, which is reflected in the likely survival of a non-Indo-European language around the Low Countries, in the so-called Nordwestblock area. From Kroon et al. (2019):

The connections between changes in ceramic production techniques and social changes (see Fig. 2) allow for the formulation of hypotheses about the technological impact of the scenarios that archaeologists have proposed for the introduction of the CWC. If migration (i.e. an influx of new communities that bring new material culture) causes the spread of the CWC, then CWC vessels should differ from the vessels of previous communities in all respects: resilient, group-related, and salient techniques. However, if the introduction of the CWC is the result of diffusion of stylistic traits and moving objects, both these imported objects (different raw materials and production sequences) and changes in salient techniques should be observed when comparing CWC vessels to VLC vessels. Network interactions should yield the same changes as diffusion, as the combined movement of people, objects and styles within existing networks leads to the introduction of CWC. However, network interactions should yield one additional characteristic. Given that new people are integrated into extant communities, the occurrence of vessels with different resilient techniques, but group-related techniques that are stable relative to previous communities, is to be expected.

Schematic representation of the hypothesised changes in ceramic technology for diffusion (above) and migration (below) scenarios for the spread of the CWC. Image from Kroon et al. (2019).

The over-arching transitional process in the Western coastal area of the Netherlands is local continuity with diffusion and network interaction traits. Interestingly, the supra-regional networks of the VLC communities in this region, as well as some of the defining technological practices within these networks, remain intact throughout the CWC transition.

In the absence of detailed genetic and isotopic data from Late Neolithic individuals from the western coastal areas of the Netherlands, direct conclusions on the relations between the migrations demonstrated by genetic analyses in other regions and the outcomes of this study remain speculative. However, if a similar shift in the late Neolithic gene pool from this area can be detected, this raises questions on the impact of such migrations on knowledge transmission and local traditions. If such a change cannot be attested, questions should be raised about the nature of the CWC in this particular area. Questions that will ultimately boil down to what we define as CWC.

In other words, the introduction of Corded Ware in the Netherlands, which we can assume were driven by migrations – evidenced by the arrival of “Steppe ancestry” (see below) – would need to be interpreted in light of the adoption of a different set of cultural traits in this region. Combining linguistic and archaeological data, there is strong evidence that the Corded Ware ideology and its internal coherence might have been broken in the westernmost territories, hence the likely survival of the local culture and language(s).

Further reasons for this independence from the Uralic homeland, supporting the advantages of a cultural and linguistic integration among regional groups, include:

  1. the gradual shift of the core Corded Ware territory to the east in the centuries leading to the mid-3rd millennium BC;
  2. the similar weakened grip in Jutland (see above);
  3. the development of an isolated “classical” package in western Europe disconnected from eastern groups; and
  4. the cultural and genetic impact of expanding vanguard Yamna settlers.
General distribution of SGC settlements in the Netherlands. A = the tidal area in the province of Noord-Holland; B = the coastal barriers and Older Dunes area; C = the central river district; D = the northern, central and southern Dutch Pleistocene areas. a = certain/probable settlement; b = possible settlement; c = wooden trackway. Legend Holocene: 1 = coastal barriers and dunes. 2 = marine clay. 3 = peat. 4 = river clay. 5 = river dunes. 6 = water. Image modified from Drenth, Brinkkemper, and Lauwerier (2006).

4. Old Europeans in Britain

This predominant non-Indo-European language would later be the substrate language of Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine and the British Isles.

Culturally, the same process as in the previous Single Grave culture period may have happened in the Low Countries, due to the culturally favorable situation there. This might be inferred from the continuity of Protruding Foot Beaker into All-Over Ornamented Beaker, most likely an imitation of the expanding Proto-Beaker package by locals of the Single Grave culture.

Arguably, though, the same situation should have happened in all other Proto-Beaker regions favourable to cultural change and witnessing admixture with locals, such as Iberia, and the social relevance of this imitation is far from being accepted by almost anyone except for archaeologists working around the Rhine… From Heise (2014):

While in 1955 the Maritime Beaker was considered to be intrusive, the 1976 work seemed to prove that in the Netherlands a continuous development from Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB) to All-Over Ornamented (AOO) Beaker to Maritime Beaker occurred. Nevertheless, the authors stressed that it was not possible to identify ‘the’ origin of the ‘Bell Beaker Culture’ in the Lower Rhine Area since typical artefacts (wristguards, daggers) were not known to be associated with the early AOO and Maritime pottery. Furthermore they argued against the “misleading simplification” of a single point of origin (Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 2). However, this last observation was not appreciated or was simply ignored by large parts of the research community and the theory was subsequently applied as a universal solution in many parts of Europe.

Typological development of Beakers in the Netherlands (PFB: Protruding Foot Beakers; AOO: All Over Ornamented Beakers; BB: Bell Beakers) (after Lanting & van der Waals 1976, 4, fig. 1).

In fact, most archaeologists have unequivocally rejected a Single Grave – Classical Bell Beaker continuity, and Heyd’s model has been recently confirmed in paleogenomics, which shows an evident expansion of East Bell Beakers from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (see here). We may nevertheless still save the following assertion, as particularly relevant for the continuity of non-Indo-European languages among the Single Grave groups of the Lower Rhine:

Marc Vander Linden argued that the “local validity of the Dutch sequence cannot […] be questioned” (2012, 76).

Olalde et al. (2019) showed how British, Dutch, and French Beakers have excess “Steppe ancestry” relative to Central European Beakers from Germany, who are in turn closest to the origin of Old Europeans in Iberia (i.e. Galaico-Lusitanian, “Ligurian”), the Lower Danube (i.e. Celtic), Italy (i.e. Italic, Venetic, Messapic), Sicily, and even Denmark (i.e. Germanic). This excess “Steppe ancestry” probably implies admixture with local Single Grave populations of the Lower Rhine, which is further supported by the position of these Lower Rhine Beakers in the PCA (using British Beakers and Netherlands BA as proxies), clustering – among Bell Beakers – closest to Corded Ware samples.

PCA of ancient Eurasian samples, with Corded Ware clusters drawn. Rhine/British Bell Beakers partially overlapping them. See full PCAs.

Futhermore, the emergence of Bell Beakers in the British Isles represents a radical replacement, with a population turnover of ca. 90% of the local population, and Yamna lineages representing more than 90% of the haplogroups of individuals in Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland, apart from an evident Y-chromosome bottleneck under hg. R1b-S461 (and its subclade R1b-L21), maintained during the whole Bronze Age. The scarce non-Indo-European hydrotoponymy attests to the lack of integration of local populations or their languages into the new society. All this suggests an initial swift and massive intrusion marking the linguistic evolution of the British Isles until the Iron Age.

The arrival of Insular Celtic in the British Isles will be likely defined by an increase in ancestry related to Central Europe (and probably haplogroups, too). Since the Afroasiatic-like substrate is unrelated to Common Celtic, the non-Indo-European substrate must be associated with preceding Bronze Age populations of western Europe, most likely with Bronze Age Britons, who are in turn derived from Bell Beakers from the Lower Rhine admixed with Single Grave peoples. The latter, therefore, must have passed on their Afroasiatic-like language as the substrate of Lower Rhine Beakers.

5. Vasconic from the north

Another indirect proof to the survival of non-Indo-Europeans in northern Europe is offered by Basques. Vasconic speakers came originally from some place beyond Aquitaine, and very recently before the Roman conquests, because place- and river-names show an overwhelming Old European substratum to the north of the Pyrenees, and exclusively Old European to the south.

Their origin is potentially quite far away, since Modern Basques show a similar cluster to that found in Iron Age Celtiberians of the Basque country. This could essentially mean that Basques were peoples of north/central European ancestry (see below fitting models of origin populations), because they must have arrived to Aquitaine after the arrival of Celtiberians, and with a similar ancestry.

In words of Olalde et al. (2019):

(…) increases in Steppe ancestry were not always accompanied by switches to Indo-European languages. This is consistent with the genetic profile of present-day Basques who speak the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe but overlap genetically with Iron Age populations showing substantial levels of Steppe ancestry.


The Tollense Valley near Rügen in the West Baltic shows LBA people clustering with Modern Basques (see here). This is compatible with the arrival (or displacement) of Vasconic-speaking Northern/Central Europeans close to the Rhine, possibly originally from northern France, very likely close to the Atlantic area during the Final Bronze Age / Early Iron Age based on cultural interactions.

Population movements from central-northern Europe into western Europe. Top: Cultures of the Late Bronze Age. Bottom: PCA with Bronze Age samples and drawn clusters. Marked in red is the Tollense site (please note: the approximate Tollense cluster does not include outliers, among them those closer to Modern Basques). Also marked is the British Bell Beaker sample closest to CWC populations. See full maps and whole PCAs.

Pre-Steppe languages in Europe?

An alternative to Old Europeans of the British Isles would be to support some kind of non-Indo-European/Vasconic continuity in the Atlantic façade close to the English Channel and the North Sea, given the current lack of palaeogenomic data on Bell Beakers and later groups in the area, and the potential Vasconic nature of Megalithic/Proto-Beaker groups that might have survived there.

The main problems with this approach are the lack of such an Afroasiatic-like substrate in Gaulish, which should have shown the same substrate as Insular Celtic, and the impossibility of associating this Afroasiatic-like substrate with Vasconic, both potentially representing completely different languages. A counterargument would be that we don’t have that much information on Gaulish and its dialects – or on the syntax of Vasconic, for that matter – to reject this hypothesis straight away…

In any case, the survival of pockets of non-Indo-European, non-Uralic speakers in northern Europe, even after Steppe-related expansions, should not shock anyone:

If the survival of non-Indo-European-speaking groups happened despite the swift expansion and radical population replacement brought about by the Bell Beaker folk – so called traditionally because of its unitary culture suggesting a unitary language community -, and non-Uralic-speaking groups in areas dominated by Corded Ware peoples, it could certainly have happened, and even more so, with Corded Ware and Bell Beaker groups at the western and northern edges of their expansions, due to the early loss of contact with their respective core cultural regions.


Even obscure components of place or river names, like those from northern Europe, the Nordwestblock area, and the British Isles, might be better explained as Old European exceptions than any other alternative, i.e. either as an Indo-European layer over a non-Indo-European one or vice versa, or both in different periods, before the eventual unifying Celtic, Roman, and (later) Germanic expansions.

All in all, one could say about substrates and hydrotoponymy in the British Isles, the Lower Rhine, and in northern Europe as a whole, that the potentially interesting non-Indo-European forms are precisely those which do not interest either scholarly ‘faction’:

  • those supporting a non-Indo-European Western Europe, because it doesn’t represent the whole substrate, and can’t be used to argue for a Europa Vasconica or Europa Afroasiatica;
  • those supporting a Palaeo-Indo-European Western Europe, because their limited presence concentrated in isolated pockets doesn’t deny the Indo-Europeanness of the Old European layer anywhere.

However, these are the details that should be studied and that could define what happened exactly after steppe-related migrations, e.g. in the Single Grave cultural area before and after North-West Indo-Europeans admixed with its population, and thus what happened in the British Isles, too.

Ignoring the (mostly useless) typological comparisons, my bet would be for an ancient Uralic layer heavily admixed with local non-Uralic peoples, especially intense in the Single Grave culture. This Proto-Uralic layer would be of a dialect or dialects (assuming succeeding CWC waves and later local expansions) different from the known Late Proto-Uralic – which expanded with eastern Corded Ware groups.

Describing the phonetic features of this layer could improve our knowledge of Early Proto-Uralic, as well as some specifics of the evolution of Germanic, Balto-Slavic, and potentially Celtic and Balto-Finnic.

This would be similar to the relevance of Aquitanian toponyms for Proto-Basque reconstruction, or of the alteuropäische substratum when it conflicts with the Proto-Indo-European dialectal reconstruction of some linguists (e.g. the laryngeal Pre-Indo-Slavonic of Kortlandt) which, like Kitson implies, should question the dialectal reconstruction of this minority of Indo-Europeanists, and not the Indo-European nature of the substratum.


European hydrotoponymy (V): Etruscans and Rhaetians after Italic peoples


There is overwhelming evidence that the oldest hydrotoponymic layer in Italy (and especially Etruria) is of Old European nature, which means that non-Indo-European-speaking (or, at least, non-Old-European-speaking) Etruscans came later to the Apennine Peninsula.

Furthermore, there is direct and indirect linguistic, archaeological, and palaeogenomic data supporting that the intrusive Tursānoi came from the Aegean during the Late Bronze Age, possibly through the Adriatic, and that their languages spread to Etruria and probably also to the eastern Alps.

Hydrotoponymic layer

The following are translated excerpts (emphasis mine) from Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental, by Villar et al. Universidad de Salamanca (2007):

Lenguas, genes y culturas en la Prehistoria de Europa y Asia suroccidental (2007). Buy the ebook online (or the printed version, if available).

‘(Indo-)Mediterranean’ substrate?

The name Indo-Mediterranean substrate was spread in Italy by the work of V. Pisani. Other Italian scholars continued this idea, such as W. Belardi, L. Heilmann, D. Silvestri, etc. In their hands, the nuclear area of ​​the Indo-Mediterranean substratum was established as follows: “il mondo culturale indomediterráneo trova i suoi più importanti centri di gravitazione (e, soltanto secondariamente, di espansione) nel Mediterràneo Orientale (Creta, Cipro, Asia Minore), nella ‘regione dei due fiumi’ (area di espansione subarea) e nella valle dell’Indo (civiltà de Harappa e Mohenjo Daro)”. From there they could have spread to other areas, such as the western Mediterranean. Even at one point there was talk of “a Mediterranean oasis in the Baltic”, whose main basis was the existence of numerous lexical elements, real or supposedly pre-Indo-European in the Baltic languages.

One of the paradoxes of the theory of the Mediterranean substrate is that the lexical or toponymic components that are attributed to it can rarely be explained etymologically from the surviving languages ​​of said supposed substrate; sometimes they are not even very compatible with what we know of the non-Indo-European languages ​​of the corresponding area. For example, neither Basque nor Iberian have an ancestral and autochthonous phoneme /p/, while that phoneme is frequent in substrate words (cf. among the few mentioned above *pal- and *lap-). In fact, for these three languages ​​other alternative origins have been imagined, so that they would not be representatives of the local substrate: Basque (North Africa, the Caucasus), Iberian (North Africa), Etruscan (Asia Minor). Thus, under such hypotheses the non-Indo-European languages ​​attested in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula would not be autochthonous, but as immigrant as the Indo-European languages.

Akʷa hydronyms. The majority of old serial elements are found in Italy, with 9, where they don’t appear as second element. Different to the southern areas, they are found in especially frequent compounds in the acha-Namen in Germany, and hyper-represented (as usual) in Lithuania, which shows strictly 8 ancient names.

Italy and Iberia

Let’s review data on Italy:

I. Serial tponyms and hydronyms of Italy:

  1. ub-: Caecubus, Egubium, Litubium, Marrubium, Olobia, Rutuba, Tardoba, Tardubius, Verubius, etc.
  2. uc-: Aluca, Arucia, Arugus, Ausucum, Ausugum, Motuca, Uccia.
  3. ur-: Orinos, Stura, Stura, Astura, Tibur, Caburrum, Calorem.
  4. urc-: Coturga, Orgus, Urcia, Urcinia, Urgo.
  5. bai-: Baebiani.
  6. tuc-: Tucianus (pagus).
  7. murc-: Murcia, Murgantia, Murgantia.
  8. *war: Varduli, Barduli.


II. Non-serial toponyms and hydronyms of Italy: Aesis, Aisis, Ana, Ania, Anios, Arsia, Astura, Ausa, Ausonia, Ausculum, Bardinisca vallis, Barduli, Basentius, Basta, Boron, Cabienses (Cabia), Caburrum, Cales, Cales, Casta Ballenis, Ceresium, Cerili, Corsica, Cortona, Curicum, Ispelum, Ispila, Isporos, Istonium, Istria, lacus, Latis, Latium, Laurentum, Laurentes, Luca, Lucania, Lucera, Maleventum, mare, Marrucini, Minio, Minius, Oscela, Osci, Ossa, Ostia, Paestum, Pisaurum, Pisaurus, Sabini, Sagis, Savo, Sila, Silarus, Silis, Soletum, etc.


Not few of the coincident place names between the southern Iberian and Italic material are rigorous cognates. We understand by such the names that not only coincide in the root or in the serial element, but in the whole root set plus suffixes, or – if it is a compound – in the two sets of roots plus suffixes. In addition to the ones that we are going to present below, there are others that we did not mention because the Iberian correlate was not found within the southern group, but in other geographical areas, as is the case, for example, with the Italian Mantua and the Spanish Mantua (Carpetania).

As can be seen, the parallels between the southern Iberian toponymic area and the Italic one are so wide and strict that the mere calculation of probabilities makes any attempt to attribute them to the mere chance of random homophony irrational. And the improbability of chance increases as coincidences are added in new places in Europe. What will not prevent, for sure, that some would resort to it as an explanation, in particular those who are reluctant to abandon the conception of the prehistory of the European continent that underlies their usual approaches, which suffer an irreparable strike when they are confronted with these data.

The second aspect, the compatibility of this material with Indo-European etymology, offers another significant correlation: the “southern” series that are also found in the Ibero-Pyrenean region and in Italy (and the rest of western Europe) are compatible with Indo-European etymologies; (…)

I will spare the reader of all proposed Indo-European etymologies, most of which are fairly evident. Those interested should buy one of the books, or both.



(…) in the whole of Italy there is a considerable collection of toponyms and hydronyms of “Southern Iberian” type, whose joint inventory we have contributed to above. From them we find in Etruria Ause, Veturris / Bituriza, Castola, Hasta, Cortona, Luca, Minio, Osa / Ossa, Pissai, Pistoria. The Hispanic and Italian correlates of those names are:


However, the inventory of ancient names and hydronyms of Etruria compatible without discussion with well-known Indo-European etymologies is much wider: Albina, Alma, Alsium, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Aventia, Marta, Pallia, Umbro, Vetulonium, Volsinii. Furthermore, the majority of Etrurian hydronyms have non-Latin Indo-European etymology: Albina, Alma, Arnine, Arnos, Arnus, Auser, Aventia, Marta, Minio, Osa, Ossa, Pallia, Umbro. And very few of the others (Clusinus, Cremera, Lingeus, Trasumenus, Vesidia) could claim an Etruscan etymology, if only one could do so.

In summary, the territory occupied by Etruscans presents a hydro-toponymic situation very similar to that of the rest of Italy and Western Europe: it exhibits a very deep toponymic stratum of Indo-European character to which most hydronyms attested in antiquity belong. As we know the history of Etruria from the end of the 1st millennium BC, and we know that no other Indo-European peoples mediated between the Etruscans and the Romanization of the territory, we must conclude that this ancient toponymy was there before the Etruscans arrived or emerged in that place. And, when the Etruscans settled there, they did not have the opportunity to put names of their language to the rivers in general, because they had already received them from a previous people and the Etruscans limited themselves to learning them, adapting them to their language, and transmitting them in turn to the Romans. When the latter Romanized Etruria, they limited themselves to incorporating those names and adapting them to Latin.



The ‘foreign’ Tyrsenians

Here is a recapitulation of the main reasons why Etruscans were recently intrusive to Italy, as they appeared in The Origin of the Etruscans, by Beekes (2003):

NOTE. You can read another version of the text in PDF, as the main paper from Biblioteca Orientalis LIX(3-4) 2002.

  1. The tradition as given by Herodotus and Dionysius of Halikarnassos.
  2. The story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians.
  3. The use of the term ‘Tyrsēnoi’ for both Etruscans and a people in north-western Asia Minor. Above we argued that the eastern Tyrsēnoi are the remnant of a population. This means that the Tyrsēnoi/Etruscans came from this area.
  4. The Lemnos inscription.
  5. To the testimony of Lemnos must now be added that Herodotus says that the people of Plakiê and Skylakê spoke the same language as the Etruscans.
  6. etruscan-homeland

  7. The kumdanlı inscription. (…) lake Egridir (of which the old name is unknown, unless it was just Limnai). This is just over the border of classical Lydia. The inscription dates from the second century ad and is given by Ramsay (i883); the same inscription is cited by Sundwall (i9i3, 22i). It mentions three people as Tyrsēnoi(67, 68, i02). Though very late, the inscription is of great interest, as it is the only time that we have inscriptional evidence for Tyrsēnoi in Asia Minor. (And nobody will argue that these were Etruscans from Italy.) (…)
  8. The suffix -ānos. The suffix -ānos in the name Tyrsēnoi (with ē from ā) points to the north-west of Asia Minor. It has long since been recognized that this suffix for ethnic names is at home in north-west Asia Minor; some think that it is of non-Greek origin; cf. Αβυδηνός , Ολυμπιηνός, Περγαμηνός, Σαρδηνός; (see Chantraine i933, 206; Schwyzer 490 (6); De Simone i993, 88ff.). This proves that the name Tyrsēnoi originated in the north-west of Asia Minor. (…)
  9. Loanwords. As to the language, Steinbauer (i999, 367) observes that Etruscan shows most connections (loanwords) with Lydian (…)
  10. Tarchon. The definite proof of the oriental origin of the Etruscans is that a ‘hero’ of great significance is Tarchon (Briquel i99i). He is clearly the Stormgod Tarhun(t)-, the highest god of the Luwians and Hittites.
  11. Nanas. This identification is strongly confirmed by the story that the Etruscans were Pelasgians who came from Greece under Nanas (Nanos), mentioned by Hellanikos. This name was long ago recognized as an Anatolian ‘Lallname’.
  12. The triumphus complex. In his study of the Roman triumphus Versnel has shown that (i970, 293): ‘the Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor, together with the god who formed the centre of it, a god whom the Greeks called Dionysos, the Etruscans Tinia (or by an Italic name Voltumna), a figure of the ‘dying and rising’ type, who was invoked by the cry *thriambe and who on New Year’s Day was represented by the king.’ And on p. 300: ‘The Etruscans brought the New Year festival with them from Asia Minor and gave Rome two ceremonies: the ludi Romani as the festival of the New Year, the triumph as the festival of the victory. … Only along this way is it possible to explain the data: i. the Dionysiac call to epiphany triumpe, introduced via Etruria; 2. the identification of the Roman victorious general and of the magistrate leading the games with the god Iuppiter; 3. the typological and historic relation between the ludi Romani and the triumph.’
  13. The double axe. On a smaller issue Versnel concludes (p. 299): ‘When this bipennis [‘double axe’], property of ‘Zeus Bakchos’, carried as symbol of sacred power by Lydian kings, is encountered again as the symbol of the royal authority of the Etruscan kings, particularly of the supreme king of the federation of cities, this may be considered an important indication of the Asia Minor origin of the entire underlying ideology, and of the ceremony of investiture in which the bipennis played a part.’ These conclusions are of primary importance, as they concern a deeprooted complex of religious views that cannot have been taken over from elsewhere.
  14. The Kabeiroi. One might also recall the Latin word camillus, which means a young boy of noble birth who assists with ritual actions. (…) Probably more evidence can be found in the field of religion, such as the much discussed hepatoscopy. It seems quite probable to me that the lituus, the crosier used by the Roman priests, is Anatolian (see e.g. Wainwright i959, 2i0; cf. Haas i99i, Abb. 75, the Stormgod standing on an animal with his lituus over his shoulder).
  15. The Etruscan way of life. There was in antiquity much criticism on Etruscan customs, concerning cruelty, sexual behaviour, and the behaviour of women. (…) Dionysius concluded from the fact that they were so strange that they had always lived in Italy, whereas it is of course much more natural to explain it by assuming that they were strangers.
  16. No withdrawal area. We have seen above that Tuscany is not a ‘withdrawal area’, where an ancient people may hold out when the country is invaded. On the contrary, it is a desirable area which the Indo-European peoples, had they come later, would certainly have occupied. (But it went the other way: the Etruscans came long after the Indo-Europeans and settled there/conquered the country.)
  17. sea-peoples-expansion-tyrsenians
    The Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean c. 1200 BC. Map by Ian Mladjov.
  18. Archaeology. Many scholars would like to see archaeological evidence, but I think that it is quite possible that we shall never find any.
  19. The 1200 crisis. In 1200 the whole Mediterranean was in commotion; the Mycenaean and Hittite worlds, between which the TyrseOEnoi lived, disappeared. So the movement of the Etruscans fits very well in the general picture. That this was the setting of the migration of the Etruscans has been assumed by many earlier scholars.
  20. The ten saecula. As to the time, it has been argued that the Etruscans thought that their world would last ten saecula (Briquel i999, 58; Pfiffig i975, i59ff.). The way of counting provides several problems, however (…) If we accept it, we arrive at 968 bc. Now we do not know from when one started counting. This might have been a decisive victory over the Umbrians, or a kind of unification of the Etruscans, or the founding of an important city. It could well be that this was some 200 years after the arrival of the Etruscans, which would take us to 1168 bc. (…)
  21. The famine. Herodotus states that the reason for the departure of the Tyrsēnoi was a long famine. This has been identified as the famine about i200. (…)
  22. The sea-peoples. (…) The phenomenon as a whole stands, it seems; the problem is the details: which peoples took part in which movements? In our case, as the Lukka are mentioned (which were very probably the Lycians), the Tyrsēnoi may have been involved as well. So the question is whether the T(w)r(w)š, mentioned by Merneptah, were the Tyrsēnoi. We have no confirmation, but it seems quite possible.
  23. The journey. We know from the abundant finds of ceramics in the i3th century that the Mycenaeans knew the sea-route to Italy. (…)
  24. The Umbrians. Pliny (3, ii2) states that the Etruscans conquered 300 cities from the Umbrians (Trecenta eorum oppida Tusci debellasse reperiuntur.). This clearly refers to the ‘Landnahme’. This statement is confirmed by the river Umbro (mod. Ombrone), which flows in its full length in Etruscan territory. The river will have given its name to the people, or vice versa. Anyhow, the river will have flowed in Umbrian territory; so the Etruscans must have pushed the Umbrians out.
  25. The name Sergestus, of a prominent friend of Aeneas, seems identical with Lydian Srkastu- and Phrygian Surkastos (…) it is excluded that (Virgil) got it from Lydia or Phrygia, or Asa Minor in general. So he must have got it at home, from a source that was acqainted with Etruscan traditions. This means that the name was known to the Etruscans (or those who studied their traditions). Above I proposed that it lives on in Etr. Sekst-alu-.

You can read the full text (and its appendices) for further evidences adduced by Beekes, who considers the matter mostly settled.

Local Italic peoples

Another main reason for the intrusion of Tyrsenians among local groups is the ancient connection between Italic languages, which most likely formed an ancient Apennine dialect continuum:

  • the core Italic group with Latino-Faliscan and Palaeo-Sabellic – probably also including an Ausonian-Siculian branch – separated ca. 1500-1000 BC;
  • NOTE. Sicel is believed to have arrived in Sicily with Ausonian-Siculian speakers either around the 13th c. or in the middle of the 11th c. BC (or in both waves), from their ancient settlements in the mainland, driving prior inhabitants (Elymians) to the east of the island, which sets another clear terminus ante quem for the expansion of Italic languages in southern Italy.

  • and the possibly more distantly related North Picene and Venetic, connecting all roughly to an early to mid-2nd millennium BC language.

This continuum was probably broken (with language replacement and displacement events) with the 12th c. BC turmoil and the emergence of new social hierarchies. The adoption of older place and river names, as well as the lack of long-lasting influence on neighbouring languages, suggests that the predominance of the Etruscan language in its proto-historic territory was probably gradual and quite recent.

NOTE. For more on guesstimates, relative chronological expansions and potential archaeological identifications, see e.g. “Ausgliederung und Aufgliederung der italischen Sprachen”, by Helmut Rix In: Languages in Prehistoric Europe (2003). Or, basically, any recent (linguistic) text on the distribution and attribution of ancient Apennine languages to the Ital(o-Venet)ic group.

Languages of pre-Roman Italy and nearby islands. Italo-Venetic languages surrounded with shadowed red border. I1, South Picene; I2, Umbrian; I3, Sabine; I4, Faliscan; I5, Latin; I6, Volscian and Hernican; I7, Central Italic (Marsian, Aequian, Paeligni, Marrucinian, Vestinian); I8, Oscan, Sidicini, Pre-Samnite; I9, Sicel; IE1, Venetic; IE2, North Picene; IE3, Ligurian; IE4, Elymian; IE5, Messapian; C1, Lepontic; C2, Gaulish; G1-G2-G3, Greek dialects (G1: Ionic, G2: Aeolic, G3: Doric); P1, Punic; N1, Rhaetian; N2, Etruscan; N3, Nuragic. Image modified from Davius Sanctex.


The main criticism against this ethnolinguistic model of foreign Tyrsenians comes, surprisingly, from the lack of archaeological data to support this arrival. Or, rather, fitting anthropological interpretations of a culture of Asia Minor with similar hierarchical societies (?). From Review of R. S. P. Beekes, The Origin of the Etruscans, by Mahoney, Etruscan Studies (2008):

A crucial part of Beekes’ argument, however, is that there is a significant cultural break in Etruria around 1200, at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age or Proto-Villanovan period (p. 34, citing Briquel and Torelli). The introduction of cremation can be dated to around this period, and there is also evidence for a new hierarchical social organization (convenient summary in Barker and Rasmussen, p. 53-60). Beekes simply says that there is a change, and changes of this sort can come about when new people move in to an existing society, so therefore this change is consistent with his theory. That is correct as far as it goes, but what is missing is any consideration of how and why people coming in from Asia Minor would cause the particular changes that take place in Etruria. Can we argue that the society of the pre-migration Tyrsenians was hierarchical in the same way as those of the various Indo-European-speaking peoples in the region? Beekes simply says “what we still would like to have is material objects, or art traditions etc., from Etruria agreeing with their homeland” (p. 34). What we would really like to have is evidence for the organization of society in this alleged homeland.

Weird as this criticism is, here it is yet another example of the social change brought about under Eastern Mediterranean influences during the Final Bronze Age, from a recent paper (behind paywall) Mobile elites at Frattesina: flows of people in a Late Bronze Age ‘port of trade’ in northern Italy, by Cavazzuti et al. Antiquity (2019):


The collapse of the Terramare system c. 1150 BC was followed by a sudden and substantial depopulation of the central part of the Po Plain (Cardarelli 2009). At the beginning of the Final Bronze Age, the southern part of the Po Valley was almost abandoned. In contrast, in the northern part of the Po Valley, some villages survived (…) Concurrently, a new territorial system arose, pivoting around the socio-economic pole of Frattesina (Calzavara Capuis et al. 1984; Bietti Sestieri et al. 2015; Cupitò et al. 2015). Therefore, within the area of the wider Terramare ‘culture’, local responses to the crisis led to different outcomes, some of which were relatively successful and others catastrophic. Economic factors—both in terms of internal carrying capacity and degree of openness to external relations—probably played a key role in determining different responses to the tensions.

The communities of the Terramare, especially in the southern area, were probably not flexible enough to adapt their political structure and modes of production to the needs of a rapidly changing world. Moreover, the domino effect from the overall geo-political instability of the twelfth century BC, in a highly interconnected system such as the Mediterranean, was undoubtedly another factor (Cardarelli 2009). The lack of evidence in the southern Terramare area for connections with the Aegean and the Levant suggests a more ‘closed’ system located on the edge of the ‘globalised’ world of the Late Bronze Age. In contrast, there is well-documented evidence from the largest terramare on the northern side of the Po River for possible incipient institutionalised, well-connected elites—particularly at Fondo Paviani, which has yielded locally produced pottery in Levantine and Late Helladic IIIC Aegean-Mycenaean styles (Bettelli et al. 2015).

The display of austere equality that dominated the Middle and Late Bronze Age ‘urnfields’ (Salzani 2005; Cardarelli 2014) strongly limited funerary expressions of social differentiation. Internal inequalities nonetheless existed between different co-resident extended families and lineages comprising tens of individuals at most (e.g. at Casinalbo; Cardarelli et al. 2014: 722–28), and, above all, between large centres, such as the terramara at Fondo Paviani and dependent satellite settlements (Balista et al. 2005; Cupitò et al. 2015). It seems reasonable therefore to hypothesise that groups based at nodal sites in the system attracted more prestige goods from exotic places, along with individuals from distant areas, while small villages attracted people mainly from within a local radius (Cavazzuti et al. 2019a). Within this dynamic cultural context, the Final Bronze Age funerary evidence from Frattesina documents a more elaborate display of power and wealth concentrated in the hands of elites. At Le Narde (Frattesina’s cemetery), this privileged segment of society, probably with its own entourage, is clearly represented by a small number of burials with several indicators of prestige.

Distribution of the violin-bow fibulae with two temple knots in the different source categories. Map by Sabine Pabst (2018).


(…) the individual in burial Narde1-168 may have achieved the status of a ‘warrior-chief’, as symbolised by the presence of an Allerona-type sword (Bianco Peroni 1970). This was ritually broken and deposited in pieces inside the grave, along with a bronze pin, a pair of tweezers and other ornaments (Figure 8). (…) yielded a strontium isotope ratio (0.70983) that is incompatible with the local 0–20km baseline (Table 3), but fits within the 20–50km range. By contrast, the value obtained from the femoral cortical bone (0.70924) is consistent with the local range of Frattesina. This means that this individual moved to the site after early childhood—possibly during youth or early adulthood—and he probably spent the last years of his life there, at the apex of the community.

Marshall Sahlins (1981), in his famous article ‘The stranger-king: or Dumézil among the Fijians’, compares the dynamics of power in the Fiji Islands to the Indo-European tradition, arguing that human societies tend to locate power as originating from the outside (Sahlins 1981, 2008; see also Ling & Rowlands 2015). Sahlins focuses on origin myths across ancient polities in the Indo-European language area, which systematically feature a dichotomy between what the Romans called gravitas and celeritas. The former refers to the conservative, peaceful and productive character of an established native community, while celeritas represents the disruptive, transformative violence personified in the stranger king, who “erupts upon a pastoral scene of peaceful husbandry and political equality (or at least limited authority)” (Sahlins 1981: 112).

The grave goods and cremated bones of burial Narde1-168 (after Salzani 1989). Urn height is 0.26m, sword length is 0.46m.

The individual buried in grave Narde1-168 at Frattesina was probably neither a true ‘king’, nor a true ‘stranger’. Despite its uniqueness, his grave resembles those of the rest of the community and is included within a large collective—or at least not evidently exclusive—burial mound. ‘Warrior-chief’ perhaps would be a more appropriate definition for this individual. Moreover, his place of origin was not so distant as to define him as a ‘stranger’. Nonetheless, Sahlins’s archetype of the ‘stranger-king’ evokes the power of alterity; burial Narde1-168 perfectly embodies celeritas, which breaks with the gravitas of the former Terramare tradition and guided whatever survived the collapse towards a new social model. Since the discovery of Frattesina and its cemeteries, Italian scholars have debated the mechanisms underlying the origin and economic success of the settlement, and the degree of foreign (i.e. Cypriot and Levantine) involvement in this process as suggested by archaeological finds (Cupitò et al. 2015). The new isotopic data presented here demonstrate that even though some individuals may have come from the Levant—where the available 87Sr/86Sr baseline ranges from 0.7079–0.7086 (Sheridan & Gregoricka 2015; Gregoricka & Guise Sheridan 2016)—or were from other exotic places, they nonetheless represent a minority of the population and, in any case, not the upper elite. The latter appear quite mobile, although probably from within the broader hinterland radius.

Adriatic or western route?

One of the interesting questions, and probably non-trivial for the correct interpretation of ancestry in future ancient DNA samples, is from where exactly did Tyrsenians come from, and more importantly where exactly did the arrive, and when. I have the impression that a Tyrrhenian Sea route is more commonly depicted (as in my maps) due to the historical predominance of Etruscans in the west, but that archaeologists usually consider the Adriatic – and thus a spread from the Po River Valley and/or Pannonia – a more likely route for Tyrsenian speakers, and probably rightly so.

NOTE. The tentative (and highly speculative) classification of fragmentary Rhaetian as more archaic than Etruscan relative to Lemnian may give further support to this route.

Failing a precise time transect from a population geographically close to the origin of their expansion in central or northern Italy, we are bound to see the same misinterpretations of the data we have seen in the case of Sea Peoples of hg. R1b behind Philistines. Nevertheless, here are some interesting predictions of population movements by Pabst (2013) based particularly on the Stätzling-/Allerona-sword from Narde in Veneto, which have been confirmed for the moment with isotope analyses, showing that some peoples of Frattesina had previously lived in the eastern Mediterranean, and that local elites had a much closer origin:

Distribution of the various blade profiles of the Stätzling (l) and Casale (H) type of leaf blade sword: 1 White symbols: blade with rapier-like ribs. – 2 black symbols: flat rhombic blade profile.- 3 Large gray symbols: a blade with a narrow midrib and longitudinal grooves.- Small gray symbols: lenticular or indefinite blade profile. (Map S. Pabst).

An Ingot fragment from the hoard of Hočko Pohorje in Styria, Slovenia indicates that possibly also Pannonia was involved in the 12th century BC (or during stage Ha A1) in the East and Central Mediterranean copper trade. According to the chemical composition or the high iron content, it is particularly close to individual finds from Sardinia, Italy and Anatolia.

The people behind the Stätzling swords could have been the potentates of this supraregional trade in the Adriatic and Ionian seas. This is also to be expected from the presence of late Mycenaean populations on the upper Adriatic. This is indicated – in addition to individual Mycenaean ceramics imports – especially in the Aegean Stätzling sword from the fly cave of Škocjan in the hinterland of Trieste, in this exchange network of the 12th century BC. However, not only people from the late Mycenaean cultural area were involved in the process. For native elites are suspected behind the mostly locally manufactured Stätzling swords in Pannonia and Italy, according to the analysis of the grave find 227 of Narde; perhaps local organizers of the trade, as allies of the Mycenaean chiefs.


Palaeogenomics might help shed light upon the complex matter of the Tyrsenian emergence in Europe. Even though Rhaetian is a fragmentary language, it seems that it is related to Etruscan, and neither are remnant languages from the Bronze Age, but rather intrusive languages to Italy and Central Europe.

It is more than likely, then, that ancient DNA will show an increase in Aegean ancestry during the Late/Final Bronze Age in central and/or northern Italy, even if this change is found rapidly diluted within generations, as happened with the Aegean ancestry among Philistines, who – in spite of this dilution – also left their prolonged linguistic mark in the Levant.

This is the summary I made of an online report from oral communication A 12,000-year Genetic History of Rome and the Italian Peninsula, by Hannah Moots, the 6th February 2019, with 134 samples from Lazio and surrounding areas:

Bronze Age – Iron Age evolution of Italy Top Left: Early Bronze Age cultures. Bottom left: PCA of groups from the Bronze Age; marked in red are previous Italy Bell Beakers. Top Right: Early Iron Age cultures. Bottom right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age – Middle Ages; marked in red are the approximate location of described ancient Italian clusters, one including Etruscans, Osco-Umbrians, Picentes, etc., and the wider cluster of Romans (dates unknown). See full maps and PCAs.

While Bronze Age samples of west-central Italy show a clear homogenisation of the genetic pool, with a shift in the PCA towards central Europe (away from the previous CHG/Iran Neolithic influence), and thus close to the modern Sardinian cluster, the few investigated Iron Age samples from the Republican period (ca. 700–20 BC) show a widespread genetic cluster encompassing the modern Italian ones, overlapping North Italian (ca. 60%) or South Italian/Sicilian (ca. 40%) clusters. The arrival or increase of EHG-, Levant Neolithic-, or CHG/IN-related ancestry in samples from this period suggest influence from previous population movements during the LBA from the north or through the Mediterranean, respectively. The Imperial Period shows influence from CHG/IN-related ancestry, but only sporadically Levant Neolithic.

NOTE. For more on the referred northern and southern Italian clusters, see Population structure of modern-day Italians reveals patterns of ancient and archaic ancestries in Southern Europe, by Raveane et al. bioRxiv (2018).

Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from modern individuals. A) Principal component analysis projecting 63 ancient individuals onto the components inferred from 3,282 modern individuals assigned, through a CP/fS analysis, to European West Asian and Caucasian clusters.

The alternative view

Kristiansen is among those who offer an alternative view in the archaeological question, supporting the opposite direction of population movements: of Terramare migrants in Greece, a theory which is not to be lightly dismissed, in the complex setting of population movements across the Mediterranean during the Final Bronze Age.

As a weak linguistic support for such a movement, one can find the hypothesis of Eteo-Cretans as Osco-Umbrian speakers, based on de Ligt’s speculative interpretation of the Praisos inscription (Talanta 2008-2009).

It seems that, even if these views are also correct, the overwhelming evidence is for a foreign origin of Tyrsenians:

  • lack of Tyrsenian hydrotoponymic layers in Italy or central Europe;
  • guesstimates and “split” distribution of Italo-Venetic languages;
  • foreign culture and influences of Etruscans;
  • recent predominance and influence of Etruscan language and culture;
  • East Mediterranean peoples in the LBA Po Valley (isotope analyses);
  • genetics of Sea Peoples from the Aegean.


European hydrotoponymy (IV): tug of war between Balto-Slavic and West Uralic


In his recent paper on Late Proto-Indo-European migrations, when citing Udolph to support his model, Frederik Kortlandt failed to mention that the Old European hydrotoponymy in northern Central-East Europe evolved into Baltic and Slavic layers, and both take part in some Northern European (i.e. Germanic – Balto-Slavic) commonalities.


From Expansion slavischer Stämme aus namenkundlicher und bodenkundlicher sicht, by Udolph, Onomastica (2016), translated into English (emphasis mine):

NOTE. An archived version is available here. The DOI references for Onomastica do not work.

(…) there is a clear center of Slavic names in the area north of the Carpathians. Among them are root words of the Slavic languages such as reka / rzeka, potok u. a. m.

Even more important than this mapping is the question of how the dispersion of ancient Slavic names happened. What is meant by ancient Slavic names? I elaborated on this in this journal years ago (Udolph, 1997):

(1)Ancient suffixes that are no longer productive today.

This clearly includes Slavic *-(j)ava as in Vir-ava, Vod-ava, Il-ava, Glin-iawa, Breg-ava, Ljut-ava, Mor-ava, Orl-java among others. It has clear links to the ancient common Indo-European language (Lupawa, Morava-March-Moravia, Orava, Widawa). They have a center north of the Carpathians.


(2) Unproductive appellatives (water words), which have disappeared from the language, are certain witnesses of ancient Slavic settlements. A nice example of this is Ukr. bahno, Pol. bagno ‘swamp, bog, morass’ etc. The word has long been missing in South Slavic, although it appears in South Slavic names, but only in very specific areas (see Udolph, 1979, pp. 324-336).

(3) Names that go back to different sound shifts. [Examples:]

  • (…) the Slavic clan around Old Sorbian brna ‘feces, earth’, Bulgarian OCS brьnije ‘feces, loam’, OCS brъna ‘feces’, Slovenian brn, ‘river mud’, etc. is solved with the inclusion of onomastic materials (Udolph, 1979, p. 499-514). (…) Toponymic mapping shows important details.
  • bryn-slavic
    Karte 4. brъn < *brŭn und bryn- < *brūn- in slavischen Namen
  • (…)We also have an ablauting *krŭn-:*krūn- in front of us. Map 5 shows the distribution of both variants in Slavic names.
  • The next case is quite similar. It concerns Russ. appellative grjaz’ ‘dirt, feces, mud’, (…) for which an Old Slavic form *gręz exists. Slavic also knows the ablauting variant *grǫz.

    These maps (see Map 6, p. 222) show that a homeland of Slavic tribes can only be inferred north of the Carpathians.

    (4) Place-names formed by Slavic suffixes of Pre-Slavic nature, i.e. derived from Old European hydronyms.

    (a) The largest river in Poland, the Wisła, German Vistula, bears a clearly Pre-Slavic name, no matter how one explains it (Babik, 2001, pp. 311-315; Bijak, 2013, p. 34, Udolph, 1990 , Pp. 303-311).

    (b) With the same suffix are formed Sanok, place on the southwest of Przemyśl; Sanoka, a no longer known waters name, 1448 as fluvium Szanoka, near the place Sanoka and with a diminutive suffix -ok- a tributary of the Sanok, which is called Sanoczek (for details see Udolph, 1990, pp. 264-270; Rymut / Majtan, 1998, p. 222). The San also has a single-language name, but that does not change anything about the right etymology. The suffix variant -očь also includes Liwocz and Liwoczka, river names near Cracow; also a mountain range of the Beskydy is mentioned at Długosz as Lywocz.

    According to the opinion of the “Słownik prasłowiański” (Sławski (red.), 1974, p. 92), the suffix -ok- represents a Proto-Slavic archaism. It appears, for example, in sъvědokъ, snubokъ, vidokъ, edok, igrok, inok among others, but its antiquity also shows, among other things, that it started at archaic athematic tribes.

    Mapping of older and younger East Slavic place-names and translation into settlement evolution.

    Slavonic Urheimat

    If we apply this to the loess distribution in western Ukraine and south-eastern Poland, it is very noticeable that the center of the Old Slavic place names lies in the area where loess dispersal is gradually “frayed out”, i.e. for example, in the area west of Kiev between Krakow in the west and Winnycja and Moldavia in the east. In short, the distribution of good soils coincides with ancient Slavic names. If that is correct, we can expect a homeland in the Pre-Carpathian region, or better, a core landscape of Slavic settlement.

    The existence of Pre-Slavic Indo-European place names and water names whose structure indicates that they originated from an Indo-European basis, but then also developed Slavic peculiarities, can now – as stated above – only be understood to mean that the language group that we call today Slavic emerged in a century-long process from an Indo-European dialectal area.

    Loess areas between Poland and Ukraine. Image from Jary et al. (2018).

    From a genetic point of view, the scarce data published to date show a clear shift of central-east populations from more Corded Ware-like groups in the EBA towards more BBC-derived ancestry in the common era, to the point where ancient DNA samples from East Germany, Poland and Lithuania evolve from clustering between Corded Ware and Sub-Neolithic peoples to clustering close to Bell Beaker-derived groups, such as West Germanic peoples, Tollense samples, etc. (see below)

    Furthermore, sampled Early Slavs show bottlenecks under “Dinaric” I2a-L621 and central-eastern E1b-V13, which – in combination with the known phylogeography of Únětice and Urnfield – is compatible with its late expansion from a central-east European Slavonic homeland, such as the Pomeranian culture, in turn likely derived from Lusatian culture groups.

    This doesn’t preclude a more immediate expansion of Common Slavic in Antiquity closer to the northern Carpathians, which is also supported by the available Early Slavic sampling, apart from samples from the Avar and Hungarian polities.

    Likely Baltic (yellow-green) and Slavic (orange) groups ca. 500 AD on, with Finnic (cyan) and Mordvinic (blue) groups roughly divided through hydrotoponymy line ca. 1000 AD Top Left: Late Iron Age cultures. Top right: PCA of groups from the Iron Age to the Middle Ages. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Germanic migrations (Bottom left) and during the Middle Ages (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

    Proto-Baltic / Proto-Slavic

    Northern European hydronymy

    From Alteuropäische Hydronymie und urslavische Gewässernamen, by Udolph, Onomastica (1997), translated into English (emphasis mine):

    NOTE. An HTML version is available at Jurgen Udolph’s personal site.

    Because of the already striking similarities as the well-known “-m-case”, the number-words for ‘1000’, ’11’ and ’12’ and so on, J. Grimm had already assumed a close relationship between Germanic and Baltic and Slavic. (…)

    In my own search, I approached this trinity from the nomenclature side. In doing so, I noticed some name groups that can speak for a certain common context:

    1.* bhelgh-, *bholgh-.

    Map 10, p. 64, shows that a root * bhelgh- occurs in the name material of a region from which later Germanic, Baltic and Slavic originated. The Balkans play no role in this.


    2. *dhelbh-, *dholbh-, *dhl̥bh-

    The proof of the three ablauting * dhelbh, * dholbh, * dhl̥bh- within a limited area shows the close relationship that this root has with the Indo-European basis. Again it is significant in which area the names meet (…)


    3. An Indo-European root extension *per-s- with the meaning ‘spray, splash, dust, drop’ is detectable in several languages (…). From a Baltic-Slavic-Germanic peculiarity cannot therefore be spoken from the toponymic point of view. The picture changes, however, if one includes the derived water names.

    4. The root extension *pel-t-, *pol-t-, *pl̥-t- of a tribe widely spread in the Indo-European languages around *pel-, pol- ‘pour, flow, etc.’, whose reflexes are found Armenian through Baltic and Slavic to the Celtic area, is found in the Baltic toponymy, cf. Latv. palts, palte ‘puddle, pool’.

    The dynamics of stylistic changes of the form of the “Trzciniec pot” in the lowland regions of Central Europe, and spreading routes of the Trzciniec package in Central Europe. A good proxy for contacts through the Northern European Plain during the Early Bronze Age. Modified from Czebreszuk (1998).

    Early Balto-Finnic

    In order to properly delimit (geographically and chonologically) the Proto-Baltic and Proto-Slavic expansions, it is necessary to understand where the late Balto-Finnic homeland was located during the Bronze Age. The following are excerpts from the comprehensive hydrotoponymic study by Pauli Rahkonen (2013):

    In any case, Finnic probably had its origin somewhere around the Gulf of Finland. Names of large and central rivers such as Vuoksi (< Finnic vuo ‘stream’) and Neva (< Finnic neva ‘marsh, river’) must be very old and might represent Proto-Finnic hydronyms. In the southern coastal area of Finland, the names Kymi and Nietoo < *Niet|oja (id. later Porvoonjoki) may also be of Finnic origin and derive from, respectively, kymi ‘stream’ (see SSA I s.v. *kymi; see however SPK s.v. Kemijärvi; Rahkonen 2013: 24) and nieto(s) ‘heap of snow’ (SSA II s.v. nietos), in hydronyms probably ‘high (snowy?) banks of a river’. Mustion|joki is clearly a Finnish name < *must|oja ‘black river’. The river name Vantaa remains somewhat obscure, although Nissilä (see SPK s.v. Vantaanjoki) has derived it from the Finnic word vana ‘water route’. In western Finland the names of large rivers, such as Aura and Eura, are supposedly of Germanic origin (Koivulehto 1987).

    In Estonia the names of many of the most important rivers might be of Finnic origin: e.g. Ema|jõgi Est. ema ‘mother’ [Tartu district] (?? cf. the Lake Piiga|ndi < Est. piiga ‘maiden’), Pärnu [Pärnu district] < Est. pärn ‘linden’, Valge|jõgi [Loksa district] < Est. valge ‘white’, Must|jõgi [Võru district] < Est. must ‘black’. It is possible that Emajogi and especially Piigandi are the result of later folk etymologizing of a name with some unknown origin. However, as a naming motif there exist in Finland numerous toponyms with the stems Finnic *emä (e.g. 3 Emäjoki), *neit(V)- ‘maiden’ (e.g. Neitijärvi, Neittävänjoki, Neittävänjärvi) and Saami stems that can be derived from Proto Saami *nejte̮ ‘id’ (GT2000; NA).

    The historical southern boundary of Finnic hydronyms, excluding hydronyms produced by the Karelian refugees of the 17th century.

    These seemingly very old names of relatively large rivers in southern Finland, modern Leningrad oblast and Estonia support the hypothesis that Proto-Finnic was spoken for a long time on both sides of the Gulf of Finland and it thus basically corresponds to the hypothesis of Terho Itkonen (see below). In the Novgorod, Tver or Vologda oblasts of Russia, Finnic names for large rivers cannot be found (Rahkonen 2011: 229). For this reason, it is likely that the Late Proto-Finnic homeland was the area around the Gulf of Finland.

    Beyond the southeastern boundary of the modern or historically known Finnic-speaking area, there exists a toponymic layer belonging to the supposedly non-Finnic Novgorodian Čudes (see Rahkonen 2011). In theory it is possible that Proto-Finnic and Proto-Čudian separated from each other at an early stage or it is even possible that Proto-Čudian was identical with Proto-Finnic. However, this cannot be proven, because there is not enough material available describing what Novgorodian Čudic was like exactly.

    Yakhr-, -khra, yedr-, -dra and yer-/yar, -er(o), -or(o) names of lakes in Central and North Russia and the possible boundary of the proto-language words *jäkra/ä and *järka/ä. Rahkonen (2013)

    A summary of the data is then:

    • The Daugava River and the Gulf of Livonia formed the most stable south-western Balto-Finnic border (up until ca. 1000 AD): the Daugava shows a likely Indo-European etymology, while some of its tributaries are best explained as derived from Uralic.
    • The first layer of “Early Baltic” loans in Early Balto-Finnic are of a non-attested Baltic dialect closest to Proto-Balto-Slavic (read more about this early layer).
    • The latest samples of the Trzciniec culture (or derived Iron Age group) from its easternmost group in Turlojiškė (ca. 1000-800 BC?) show a western shift towards Bell Beaker, although they show a majority of hg. R1a-Z280; while the earliest sample from Gustorzyn (ca. 1900 BC), likely from Trzciniec/Iwno, from the westernmost area of the culture, shows a Corded Ware-like ancestry (and hg. R1a-Z280, likely S24902+) among a BA sampling from Poland clearly derived from Bell Beaker groups.

    One can therefore infer that the expansion of the Trzciniec culture – as the earliest expansion of central-west European peoples into the Baltic after the Bell Beaker period – represented either the whole disintegrating Balto-Slavic community, or at least an Early Baltic-speaking community expanding from the West Baltic area to the east.

    The similarity of Early Slavs and the Trzciniec outlier with the Czech BA cluster, formed by samples from Bohemia (ca. 2200–1700 BC), and the varied haplogroups found among Early Slavs – reminiscent of the variability of the Unetice/Urnfield sampling – may help tentatively connect the early Proto-Slavic homeland more strongly with a Proto-Lusatian community immediately to the south-west of the Iwno/Proto-Trzciniec core.

    Top Left:Likely Baltic, Slavic, and Balto-Finnic-speaking territories (asynchronous), overlaid over Late Bronze Age cultures. Balto-Slavic in green: West(-East?) Baltic (B1), unattested early Baltic (B2), and Slavic (S). Late Balto-Finnic (F) in cyan. In red, Tollense and Turlojiškė sampling. Dashed black line: Balto-Slavic/West Uralic hydrotoponymy border until ca. 1000 AD. Top right: PCA of groups from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age. Marked are Iwno/Pre-Trzciniec of Gustorzyn (see below), Late Trzciniec/Iron Age samples from Turlojiškė, and in dashed line approximate extent of Tollense cluster; Y-DNA haplogroups during the Late Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Early Iron Age (Bottom right). Notice a majority non-R1a lineages among sampled Early Slavs. See full maps and PCAs.

    Proto-Balto-Slavic homeland

    Disconnected western border: Germanic

    The common Balto-Slavic – Germanic community must necessarily be traced back to the West Baltic. From Udolph’s Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem, de Gruyter (1994), translated from German (emphasis mine):

    My work [Namenkundliche Studien zum Germanenproblem] has shown how strong the Germanic toponymy is related to the East, less to Slavic, much more to Baltic. It confirms the recent thesis by W.P. Schmid on the special relationship Germanic and Baltic, according to which “the formation of the typical Germanic linguistic characteristics…must have taken place in the neighborhood of Baltic“.

    If one starts from a Germanic core area whose eastern boundary is to be set on the middle Elbe between the Erzgebirge and Altmark, there are little more than 400 km. to the undoubtedly Baltic settlement area east of the Vistula. Stretching the Baltic area westwards over the Vistula (as far as the much-cited Persante), the distance is reduced to less than 300 km. Assuming further that Indo-European tribes between the developing Germanic and the Baltic groups represent the connection between the two language groups, so can one understand well the special relationship proposed by W.P. Schmid between Germanic and Baltic. In an earlier period shared Slavic evidently the same similarities (Baltic-Slavic-Germanic peculiarities).

    Top: Palaeo-Germanic (G2, blue area), Proto-Balto-Slavic/Pre-Baltic (PBSL, green area) and Early Proto-Balto-Finnic (PBF, cyan area) homelands superimposed over Early Bronze Age cultures. Persante hydronym and Gustorzyn ancient DNA sample location marked. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Early Bronze Age (Bottom left) and during the Middle Bronze Age (Bottom right). Notice a mix of R1b-L151 samples from the west and the process of integration of R1a-Z645 lineages from the the north-east. See full maps and PCAs.

    Substrate and immediate eastern border: Early Balto-Finnic

    While Balto-Finnic shows a late Balto-Slavic adstrate, Balto-Slavic has a Balto-Finnic(-like) substrate, also found later in Baltic and Slavic, which implies that Balto-Slavic (and later Baltic and Slavic) replaced the language of peoples who spoke Balto-Finnic(-like) languages, influencing at the same time the language of neighbouring peoples, who still spoke Balto-Finnic (or were directly connected to the Balto-Finnic community).

    For more on this relative chronology in Balto-Slavic – Balto-Finnic contacts, see e.g. the recent posts on Kallio (2003), Olander (2019), or a summary of this substrate.

    While Rahkonen (2013) entertains Parpola’s theory of a West-Uralic-speaking Netted Ware area (ca. 1900-500 BC), due to the Uralic-like hydrotoponymy of its territory, he also supports Itkonen’s idea of the ancient presence of almost exclusively Balto-Finnic place and river names in the Eastern Baltic and the Gulf of Finland since at least the Corded Ware period, due to the lack of Indo-European layers there:

    NOTE. This idea was also recently repeated by Kallio (2015), who can’t find a non-Uralic layer of hydrotoponymy in Balto-Finnic-speaking areas.

    It should be observed that the territory between the historical Finnic and Mordvin-speaking areas matches quite well with the area of the so-called Textile Ceramics [circa 1900–800 BC] (cf. Parpola 2012: 288). The culture of Textile Ceramics could function as a bridge between these two extreme points. Languages that were spoken later in this vast territory between Finland–Estonia and Mordovia seem to derive from Western Uralic (WU) as well. I have called those languages Meryan-Muroma, Eastern and Western Čudian and an unknown “x” language spoken in inland Finland, Karelia and the Lake Region of the Russian North (Rahkonen 2011; 241; 2012a: 19–27; 2013: 5– 43). This might mean that the territory of the Early Textile Ceramics reflects to some extent the area of late Western Uralic.

    The archaeologically problematic area is Estonia, Livonia and Coastal Finland – the area traditionally assumed to have been populated by the late Proto-Finns. The Textile Ceramics culture was absent there. It is very difficult to believe that the Textile Ware population in inland Finland migrated or was even the main factor bringing the Pre- or Early Proto-Finnic language to Estonia or Livonia. There are no archaeological or toponymic signs of it. Therefore, I am forced to believe that Textile Ceramics did not bring Uralic-speaking people to those regions. This makes it possible, but not absolutely proven, to assume that some type of Uralic language was spoken in the region of the Gulf of Finland already before Textile Ceramics spread to the northwest (circa 1900 BC).

    Top Left: Corded Ware culture expansion. Top right: PCA of Corded Ware and Sub-Neolithic groups. Y-DNA haplogroups during the Corded Ware expansion (Bottom left) and during the subsequent Bell Beaker expansion (Bottom right). Notice the rapid population replacement of typical Corded Ware R1a-Z645 lineages by expanding Bell Beakers of hg. R1b-L23 in central-east Europe, while they show continuity in the described ancestral Fennoscandian West-Uralic-speaking territory. See full maps and PCAs.

    The Corded Ware population in Finland is thought to have been NW Indo-European by many scholars (e.g. Koivulehto 2006: 154–155; Carpelan & Parpola 2001: 84). At least, it is probable that the Corded Ware culture was brought to Finland by waves of migration, because the representatives of the former Late Comb Ceramics partially lived at the same time side by side with the Corded Ware population. However, it is possible that the immigrants were a population that spoke Proto-Uralic, who had adopted the Corded Ware culture from their Indo-European neighbors, possibly from the population of the Fatjanovo culture, e.g. in the Valdai region. This was suggested by Terho Itkonen (1997: 251) as well. In that case the population of the Typical and Late Comb Ceramics may have spoken some Paleo European language (see Saarikivi 2004a). In the Early Bronze Age, the Baltic Pre-Finnic language that I have suggested must have been very close to late WU and therefore no substantial linguistic differences existed between the Baltic Pre-Finns and the population of Textile Ceramics in inland Finland. I admit that this model is difficult to prove, but I have presented it primarily in order to offer new models of thinking.16 At least, there is no archaeological or linguistic reason against this idea.

    This dubitative attribution of Proto-Uralic to the expansion of Corded Ware groups in eastern Europe, which is what hydrotoponymic data suggests in combination with archaeology, has to be understood as a consequence of how striking Rahkonen finds the results of his research, despite Itkonen’s previous proposal, in the context of an overwhelming majority of Indo-Europeanists who, until very recently, simplistically associated Corded Ware with the Indo-European expansion.


    Even Kortlandt accepts at this point the identification of expanding East Bell Beakers from the Carpathian Basin as those who left the Alteuropäische layer reaching up to the Baltic. However, he identified Udolph’s data solely with West Indo-European, forgetting to mention the commonly agreed upon western Proto-Balto-Slavic homeland, most likely because it contradicts two of his main tenets:

    1. that Balto-Slavic split from a hypothetical Indo-Slavonic (i.e. Satem) group expanding from the east; and
    2. that laryngeals can be reconstructed for Balto-Slavic – unlike for North-West Indo-European.
    Indo-European hydrotoponymy in Europe and the Middle East (scarce Central Asian data). Baltic data compensated, statistical method RBF: intermediate regions devoid of Indo-European toponyms are inferred to have them; it compensates thus e.g. for the scarce Indo-European hydrotoponyms in Poland by assuming ‘soft’ continuity from West Germany to the Baltic.

    A hypothetic “Pre-Indo-Slavonic” laryngeal Indo-European layer reaching Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone with Corded Ware is fully at odds with all known data:

    • in comparative grammar, since the one feature that characterizes Graeco-Aryan is precisely its set of innovations relative to Northern Indo-European, which presupposes a longer contact (and further laryngeal loss) once Tocharian and North-West Indo-European had separated – hence probably represented by Palaeo-BalkanCatacomb-Poltavka contacts once Afanasevo and Yamna settlers from the Carpathian Basin / East Bell Beakers had become isolated;
    • in hydrotoponymy, because of the prehistoric linguistic areas that can be inferred from (1) the distribution of Old European hydrotoponymy; (2) Udolph’s work on Germanic and the likely non-Indo-European substrate in Scandinavia and land contacts with Balto-Finnic; (3) from the Northern European traits in the Northern European Plain; or (4) from the decreasing proportion of Indo-European place and river names from central Europe towards the east and north.
    • NOTE. An alternative explanation of Old European/Balto-Slavic layers, e.g. by a ‘Centum’ Temematic – even if one obviates the general academic rejection to Holzer’s proposal – couldn’t account for the absolute lack of an ancestral layer of Indo-European hydrotoponymy in North-Eastern Europe (i.e. the longest-lasting Corded Ware territory), in sharp contrast with Western Europe, South-Eastern Europe, and South Asia. All of that contradicts an Eastern Indo-European community, even without a need to recall that the oldest hydrotoponymic layers common to Fennoscandia and the Forest Zone are of Uralic nature.

    • in archaeology, because cultural expansions of the Eastern European Early Bronze Age province since the Bell Beaker period (viz. Mierzanowice, Trzciniec, Lusatian, Pomeranian, West Baltic Culture of Cairns) suggest once and again west-east movements, most (if not all) of which – based on the presence of Indo-European speakers during the common era – were likely associated with Indo-European-speaking communities replacing or displacing previous ones.
    • in palaeogenomics, because of the late and different association of Corded Ware ancestry and haplogroups among Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian communities, in turn corresponding to the different satemization processes found in both dialects, which may have actually been related to the Uralic substrate that is found in both (read more on Uralic influences on Balto-Slavic and on Indo-Iranian).

    On the other hand, a careful combination of Uralic and Indo-European comparative grammar, hydrotoponymic data, and population genomics fits perfectly well Itkonen’s and Rahkonen’s association of Corded Ware in Eastern Europe with Uralic languages, as well as the traditional mainstream view of Uralic before Indo-European in Fennoscandia and in the Forest Zone, as I explained in a recent post about genetic continuity in the East Baltic area.

    Population genomics is not the main reason to reject the Indo-European Corded Ware theory – or any other prehistoric ethnolinguistic identification, for that matter. It can’t be. This new field offers just the occasional confirmation of a well-founded theory or, alternatively, another nail in the coffin of fringe theories that were actually never that likely, but seemed impossible to fully dismiss on purely theoretical grounds.

    The problem with Corded Ware was that we couldn’t see how unlikely its association with Indo-European languages was until we had ancient DNA to corroborate archaeological models, because few (if any) Indo-Europeanists really cared about the linguistic prehistory of eastern and northern Europe, or about Uralic languages in general (contrary to the general trend among Uralicists to be well-versed in Indo-European studies). Now they will.