On the potential origin of Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry in Eneolithic steppe cultures

An interesting open genomic question is the origin and spread of Caucasus hunter-gatherer (CHG) ancestry in steppe populations during the Eneolithic.

My broad theory regarding the appearance of this ancestral component is based on:

Two recently published papers ivestigating the Don Region may shed some light on this issue:

Plant food subsistence in the human diet of the Bronze Age Caspian and Low Don steppe pastoralists: archaeobotanical, isotope and 14C data, by Shishlina, Bobrov, Simakova, et al. Veget Hist Archaeobot (2018).

EDIT (16/3/2018): You can now read or download the paper at Academia.edu.


The paper presents the result of analysis of charred food on the interior part of the vessels from the graves of the East Manych and West Manych Catacomb archaeological cultures (2500–2350 cal bc). The phytolith and pollen analyses identified pollen of wild steppe plants and phytoliths of domesticated gramineous plants determined as barley phytoliths. Direct 14С dating of one of the samples demonstrates that barley spikelets and stems were used in funeral rites by local steppe communities. However, there are no data suggesting that steppe inhabitants of the Lower Don Region were engaged in agriculture in the mid-3000 bc. Supposedly, barley could have reached the steppes through seasonal migrations of mobile pastoralists to the south, use of North Caucasus grasslands in the economic system of seasonal moves and exchange with local people. Nevertheless, presence of carbonized barley seeds in the occupation layers at North Caucasus settlements of 4000–3000 bc requires confirmation by direct 14С dating of such samples.

Location of sites. 1: Ulan IV; 2: Peschany IV and V; 3: Shakhaevskaya 1; 4: Zunda-Tolga 2; 5: Lesnoye; 6: Chidgom; 7: Meshoko; 8: Chishkho; 9: Svobodnoye

Dynamics of Chemical and Microbiological Soil Properties in the Desert–Steppe Zone of the Southeast Russian Plain during the Second Part of the Holocene (4000 BC–XIII century AC), Kashirskaya, Khomutova, Kuznetsova, et al. Arid Ecosyst (2018) 8(1):38-46.


The results of studies of the chemical and microbiological properties of the soils buried under the barrows of the Eneolithic, Bronze, and Middle Ages periods of the southeast of the Russian Plain are presented. It was shown that the climate of the region in the Eneolithic period (4200–4100 BC) and in the Middle Ages (700 years ago) was more humid in comparison to the present time. The third millennium BC was characterized by a gradual increase of the climate aridity. Its peak was at the end of the III millennium BC. The number and biomass of microbial cells was maximal in soils buried in periods of high atmospheric humidity (4200–4100 and 3000–2800 BC) and sharply decreased during the aridization period in the second half of the III millennium BC. In general, the variability of indicators of microbocenosis conditions of desert–steppe buried soils of all ages from the burial mounds correlated with the centuries-old dynamics of the climate.

Number of microbial cells in buried soils of different ages and modern background soil.

It is well known that access to more food – as in favorable crops and cattle feeding – may cause demographic explosions, and the second article – together with recent genomic data – may be yet another proof of that.

Until now, pastoralism seemed to be the main subsistence economy for most steppe groups. It seems that earlier Eneolithic contacts of certain steppe groups with settlements of the Northern Caucasus might have been not just to obtain prestige goods though, but – if proper radiocarbon dating confirms it – also implied essential goods, and maybe more stable seasonal exchange systems.

Such stable economic exchanges might have therefore included bidirectional exogamy practices, justifying the sizeable genomic contribution from the Caucasus.

At this point this is just another good theory to take into account.


Language continuity despite population replacement in Remote Oceania


New article (behind paywall) Language continuity despite population replacement in Remote Oceania, by Posth et al., Nat. Ecol. Evol. (2018).


Recent genomic analyses show that the earliest peoples reaching Remote Oceania—associated with Austronesian-speaking Lapita culture—were almost completely East Asian, without detectable Papuan ancestry. However, Papuan-related genetic ancestry is found across present-day Pacific populations, indicating that peoples from Near Oceania have played a significant, but largely unknown, ancestral role. Here, new genome-wide data from 19 ancient South Pacific individuals provide direct evidence of a so-far undescribed Papuan expansion into Remote Oceania starting ~2,500 yr BP, far earlier than previously estimated and supporting a model from historical linguistics. New genome-wide data from 27 contemporary ni-Vanuatu demonstrate a subsequent and almost complete replacement of Lapita-Austronesian by Near Oceanian ancestry. Despite this massive demographic change, incoming Papuan languages did not replace Austronesian languages. Population replacement with language continuity is extremely rare—if not unprecedented—in human history. Our analyses show that rather than one large-scale event, the process was incremental and complex, with repeated migrations and sex-biased admixture with peoples from the Bismarck Archipelago.

So, despite the population replacement in Oceania seen recently in Genomics, the people of present-day Vanuatu continue to speak languages descended from those spoken by the initial Austronesian inhabitants, rather than any Papuan language of the incoming migrants.

Professor Gray, Director of the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution at the MPI-SHH, says:

Population replacement with language continuity is extremely rare – if not unprecedented – in human history. The linguist Bob Blust has long argued for a model in which a separate Papuan expansion reaches Vanuatu soon after initial Austronesian settlement, with the initial, and likely undifferentiated, Austronesian language surviving as a lingua franca for diverse Papuan migrant groups.

Dr. Adam Powell, senior author of the study and also of the MPI-SHH, continues,

The demographic history suggested by our ancient DNA analyses provides really strong support for this historical linguistic model, with the early arrival and complex, incremental process of genetic replacement by people from the Bismarck Archipelago. This provides a compelling explanation for the continuity of Austronesian languages despite the almost complete replacement of the initial genetic ancestry of Vanuatu.

Maps showing the migrations in the area, including, in the final map, the migrations revealed by the current study. Credit: Hans Sell, adapted from Skoglund et al. Genomic insights into the peopling of the Southwest Pacific. Nature (2016).

I think we can safely disagree now with their assertion. We are seeing more and more cases of language continuity in spite of population replacement quite clearly in Eurasian prehistory. At least:

All these cases can be explained with founder effects and gradual expansions after an initial arrival, maybe also initial close interaction between different ethnic groups, where one group (and its language) becomes the dominant one.

NOTE. Even if an alternative model is selected (say, that Corded Ware migrants spoke Indo-European languages), alternative language continuity events need to be proposed for some of these regions, so we are beyond their description as ‘rare language events’ already.

What is becoming clearer with ancient samples, therefore, is that there is little space for prehistoric cultural diffusion events (at least massive ones), which were quite popular explanations before the advent of genetic studies.


Consequences of O&M 2018 (I): The latest West Yamna “outlier”


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

As expected, the first Y-DNA haplogroup of a sample from the North Pontic region (apart from an indigenous European I2 subclade) during its domination by the Yamna culture is of haplogroup R1b-L23, and it is dated ca. 2890-2696 BC. More specifically, it is of Z2103 subclade, the main lineage found to date in Yamna samples. The site in question is Dereivka, “in the southern part of the middle Dnieper, at the boundary between the forest-steppe and the steppe zones”.

NOTE: A bit of history for those lost here, which appear to be many: the classical Yamna culture – from previous late Khvalynsk, and (probably) Repin groupsspread west of the Don ca. 3300 BC creating a cultural-historical community – and also an early offshoot into Asia – , with mass migrations following some centuries later along the Danube to the Carpathian Basin, but also south into the Balkans, and north along the Prut. There is thus a very short time frame to find Yamna peoples shaping these massive migrations – the most likely speakers of Late Proto-Indo-European dialects – in Ukraine, compared to their most stable historical settlements east of the Don River.

There is no data on this individual in the supplementary material – since Eneolithic Dereivka samples come from stored dental remains – , but the radiocarbon date (if correct) is unequivocal: the Yamna cultural-historical community dominated over that region at that precise time. Why would the authors name it just “Ukraine_Eneolithic”? They surely took the assessment of archaeologists, and there is no data on it, so I agree this is the safest name to use for a serious paper. This would not be the first sample apparently too early for a certain culture (e.g. Catacomb in this case) which ends up being nevertheless classified as such. And it is also not impossible that it represents another close Ukraine Eneolithic culture, since ancestral cultural groups did not have borders…

NOTE. Why, on the other hand, was the sample from Zvejnieki – classified as of Latvia_LN – assumed to correspond to “Corded Ware” (like the recent samples from Plinkaigalis242 or Gyvakarai1), when we don’t have data on their cultures either? No conspiracy here, just taking assessments from different archaeologists in charge of these samples: those attributed to “Corded Ware” have been equally judged solely by radiocarbon date, but, combining the known archaeological signs of herding in the region arriving around this time with the old belief (similar to the “Iberia is the origin of Bell Beaker peoples” meme) that “only the Corded Ware culture signals the arrival of herding in the Baltic”. This assumption has been contested recently by Furholt, in an anthropological model that is now mainstream, upheld also by Anthony.

We already know that, out of three previous West Yamna samples, one shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, the so-called “Yamna outlier”. We also know that one sample from Yamna in Bulgaria also shows Anatolian Neolithic ancestry, with a distinct ‘southern’ drift, clustering closely to East Bell Beaker samples, as we can still see in Mathieson et al. (2018), see below. So, two “outliers” (relative to East Yamna samples) out of four samples… Now a new, fifth sample from Ukraine is another “outlier”, coinciding with (and possibly somehow late to be a part of) the massive migration waves into Central Europe and the Balkans predicted long ago by academics and now confirmed with Genomics.

I think there are two good explanations right now for its ancestral components and position in PCA:

Modified image from Mathieson et al. (2018), including also approximate location of groups from Mittnik et al. (2018), and group (transparent shape outlined by dots) formed by new Bell Beaker samples from Olalde et al. (2018). “Principal components analysis of ancient individuals. Points for 486 ancient individuals are projected onto principal components defined by 777 present-day west Eurasian individuals (grey points). Present-day individuals are shown.”

a) The most obvious one, that the Dnieper-Dniester territory must have been a melting pot, as I suggested, a region which historically connected steppe, forest steppe, and forest zone with the Baltic, as we have seen with early Baltic Neolithic samples (showing likely earlier admixture in the opposite direction). The Yamna population, a rapidly expanding “elite group of patrilineally-related families” (words from the famous 2015 genetic papers, not mine), whose only common genetic trait is therefore Y-DNA haplogroup R1b-L23, must have necessarily acquired other ancestral components of Eneolithic Ukraine during the migrations and settlements west of the Don River.

How many generations are needed for ancestral components and PCA clusters to change to that extent, in regions where only some patrilocal chiefs but indigenous populations remain, and the population probably admixed due to exogamy, back-migrations, and “resurge” events? Not many, obviously, as we see from the differences among the many Bell Beaker samples of R1b-L23 subclades from Olalde et al. (2018)

b) That this sample shows the first genetic sign of the precise population that contributed to the formation of the Catacomb culture. Since it is a hotly debated topic where and how this culture actually formed to gradually replace the Yamna culture in the central region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, this sample would be a good hint of how its population came to be.

See e.g. for free articles on the Catacomb culture its article on the Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes, or The Warfare of the Northern Pontic Steppe – Forest-Steppe Pastoral Societies: 2750 – 2000 B.C. There are also many freely available Russian and Ukrainian papers on anthropometry (a discipline I don’t especially like) which clearly show early radiocarbon dates for different remains.

This could then be not ‘just another West Yamna outlier’, but would actually show meaningful ‘resurge’ of Neolithic Ukraine ancestry in the Catacomb culture.

It could be meaningul to derive hypotheses, in the same way that the late Central European CWC sample from Esperstedt (of R1a-M417 subclade) shows recent exogamy directly from the (now more probably eastern part of the) steppe or steppe-forest, and thus implies great mobility among distant CWC groups. Although, given the BB samples with elevated steppe ancestry and close PCA cluster from Olalde et al. (2018), it could also just mean exogamy from a near-by region, around the Carpathian Basin where Yamna migrants settled…

If this was the case, it would then potentially mean a “continuity” break in the steppe, in the region that some looked for as a Balto-Slavic homeland, and which would have been only later replaced by Srubna peoples with steppe ancestry (and probably R1a-Z93 subclades). We would then be more obviously left with only two options: a hypothetic ‘Indo-Slavonic’ North Caspian group to the east (supported by Kortlandt), or a Central-East European homeland near Únětice, as one of the offshoots from the North-West Indo-European group (supported by mainstream Indo-Europeanists).

How to know which is the case? We have to wait for more samples in the region. For the moment, the date seems too early for the known radiocarbon dating of most archaeological remains of the Catacomb Culture.

Diachronic map of Late Copper Age migrations including steppe groups ca. 2600-2250 BC

An important consequence of the addition of these “Yamna outliers” for the future of research on Indo-European migrations is that, especially if confirmed as just another West Yamna sample – with more, similar samples – , early Palaeo-Balkan peoples migrating south of the Danube and later through Anatolia may need to be judged not only in terms of ancestral components or PCA (as in the paper on Minoans and Mycenaeans), but also and more decisively using phylogeography, especially with the earliest samples potentially connected with such migrations.

NOTE. Regarding the controversy (that some R1b European autochthonous continuists want to create) over the origin of the R1b-L151 lineages, we cannot state its presence for sure in Yamna territory right now, but we already have R1b-M269 in the eastern Pontic-Caspian steppe during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic transition, then R1b-L23 and subclades (mainly R1b-Z2013, but also one xZ2103, xL51 which suggests its expansion) in the region before and during the Yamna expansion, and now we have L51 subclades with elevated steppe ancestry in early East Bell Beakers, which most likely descended from Yamna settlers in the Carpathian Basin (yet to be sampled).

Even without express confirmation of its presence in the steppe, the alternative model of a Balkan origin seems unlikely, given the almost certain continuity of expanding Yamna clans as East Bell Beaker ones, in this clearly massive and relatively quick expansion that did not leave much time for founder effects. But, of course, it is not impossible to think about a previously hidden R1b-L151 community in the Carpathian Basin yet to be discovered, adopting North-West Indo-European (by some sort of founder effect) brought there by Yamna peoples of exclusively R1b-Z2103 lineages. As it is not impossible to think about a hidden and ‘magically’ isolated community of haplogroup R1a-M417 in Yamna waiting to be discovered…Just not very likely, either option.

As to why this sample or the other Bell Beaker samples “solve” the question of R1a-Z645 subclades (typical of Corded Ware migrants) not expanding with Yamna, it’s very simple: it doesn’t. What should have settled that question – in previous papers, at least since 2015 – is the absence of this subclade in elite chiefs of clans expanded from Khvalynsk, Yamna, or their only known offshoots Afanasevo and Bell Beaker. Now we only have still more proof, and no single ‘outlier’ in that respect.

No haplogroup R1a among hundreds of samples from a regionally extensive sampling of the only cultures mainstream archaeologists had thoroughly described as potentially representing Indo-European-speakers should mean, for any reasonable person (i.e. without a personal or professional involvement in an alternative hypothesis), that Corded Ware migrants (as expected) did not stem from Yamna, and thus did not spread Late Indo-European dialects.

This haplogroup’s hegemonic presence in North-Eastern Europe – and the lack of N1c lineages until after the Bronze Age – coinciding with dates when Uralicists have guesstimated Uralic dialectal expansion accross this wide region makes the question of the language spread with CWC still clearer. The only surprise would have been to find a hidden and isolated community of R1a-Z645 lineages clearly associated with the Yamna culture.

NOTE. A funny (however predictable) consequence for R1a autochthonous continuists of Northern or Eastern European ancestry: forum commentators are judging if this sample was of the Yamna culture or spoke Indo-European based on steppe component and PCA cluster of the few eastern Yamna samples which define now (you know, with the infallible ‘Yamnaya ancestral component’) the “steppe people” who spoke the “steppe language”™ – including, of course, North-Eastern European Late Neolithic

Not that radiocarbon dates or the actual origin of this sample cannot be wrong, mind you, it just strikes me how twisted such biased reasonings may be, depending on the specific sample at hand… Denial, anger, and bargaining, including shameless circular reasoning – we know the drill: we have seen it a hundred times already, with all kinds of supremacists autochthonous continuists who still today manage to place an oudated mythical symbolism on expanding Proto-Indo-Europeans, or on regional ethnolinguistic continuity…

More detailed posts on the new samples from O&M 2018 and their consequences for the Indo-European demic diffusion to come, indeed…

See also:

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


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

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

They will be confronted with two options:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The modified IECWT model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Olalde et al. and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018): R1b-L23 dominates Bell Beaker and Yamna, R1a-M417 resurges in East-Central Europe during the Bronze Age

The official papers Olalde et al. (Nature 2018) and Mathieson et al. (Nature 2018) have appeared. They are based on the 2017 preprints at BioRxiv The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe and The Genomic History Of Southeastern Europe respectively, but with a sizeable number of new samples.

Papers are behind a paywall, but here are the authors’ shareable links to read the papers and supplementary materials: Olalde et al. (2018), Mathieson et al. (2018).

NOTE: The corresponding datasets have been added to the Reich Lab website. Remember you can use my drafts on DIY Human Ancestry analysis (viz. Plink/Eigensoft, PCA, or ADMIXTURE) to investigate the data further in your own computer.

Image modified by me, from Olalde et al (2018). PCA of 999 Eurasian individuals. Marked is the late CWC outlier sample from Esperstedt, showing how early East Bell Beaker samples are the closest to Yamna samples.

I don’t have time to analyze the samples in detail right now, but in short they seem to convey the same information as before: in Olalde et al. (2018) the pattern of Y-DNA haplogroup and steppe ancestry distribution is overwhelming, with an all-R1b-L23 Bell Beaker people accompanying steppe ancestry into western Europe.

EDIT: In Mathieson et al. (2018), a sample classified as of Ukraine_Eneolithic from Dereivka ca. 2890-2696 BC is of R1b1a1a2a2-Z2103 subclade, so Western Yamna during the migrations also of R1b-L23 subclades, in contrast with the previous R1a lineages in Ukraine. In Olalde et al. (2018), it is clearly stated that of the four BB individuals with higher steppe ancestry, the two with higher coverage could be classified as of R1b-S116/P312 subclades.

This is compatible with the expansion of Indo-European-speaking Yamna migrants (also mainly of R1b-L23 subclades) into the East Bell Beaker group, as described with detail in Archaeology (and with the population movement we are seeing having been predicted) first by Volker Heyd in 2007.

Yamna – East Bell Beaker migration 3000-2300 BC. Adapted from Harrison and Heyd (2007), Heyd (2007)

Also, the resurge of R1a-Z645 subclades in Czech and Polish lands (from previous Corded Ware migrants) accompanying other lineages indigenous to the region – seems to have happened only after the Bell Beaker expansion into these territories, during the Bronze Age, probably leading to the formation of the Balto-Slavic community, as I predicted based on previous papers. The fact that a sample of R1b-U106 subclade pops up in this territory is interesting from the point of view of a shared substrate with Germanic, as is the earlier BB sample of R1b-Z2103 for its connection with Graeco-Aryan dialects.

All this suggests that a North-West Indo-European dialect – ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic -, supported in Linguistics by most modern Indo-European schools of thought, expanded roughly along the Danube, and later to northern, eastern, and western Europe with the Bell Beaker expansion, as supported in Anthropology by Mallory (in Celtic from the West 2, 2013), and by Prescott for the development of a Nordic or Pre-Germanic language in Scandinavia since 1995.

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

Maybe more importantly, the fact that only Indo-Iranian-speaking Sintashta-Petrovka (and later Andronovo) cultures were clearly associated with R1a-Z645 subclades, and rather late – after mixing with early Chalcolithic North Caspian steppe groups (mainly East Yamna and Poltavka herders of R1b-L23 subclades) – gives support to the theory that Corded Ware (and probably the earlier Sredni Stog) groups did not speak or spread Indo-European languages with their migration, but most likely Uralic – as seen in recent papers on the much later arrival of haplogroup N1c – (compatible with the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis), adopting Indo-Iranian by way of cultural diffusion or founder effect events.

As Sheldon Cooper would say,

Under normal circumstances I’d say I told you so. But, as I have told you so with such vehemence and frequency already the phrase has lost all meaning. Therefore, I will be replacing it with the phrase, I informed you thusly

I informed you thusly:

Spatio-temporal deixis and cognitive models in early Indo-European


Interesting article, Spatio-temporal deixis and cognitive models in early Indo-European, by Annamaria Bartolotta, Cognitive Linguistics (2018); 29(1):1-44.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

This paper is a comparative study based on the linguistic evidence in Vedic Sanskrit and Homeric Greek, aimed at reconstructing the space-time cognitive models used in the Proto-Indo-European language in a diachronic perspective. While it has been widely recognized that ancient Indo-European languages construed earlier (and past) events as in front of later ones, as predicted in the Time-Reference-Point mapping, it is less clear how in the same languages the passage took place from this ‘archaic’ Time-RP model or non-deictic sequence, in which future events are behind or follow the past ones in a temporal sequence, to the more recent ‘post-archaic’ Ego-RP model that is found only from the classical period onwards, in which the future is located in front and the past in back of a deictic observer. Data from the Rigveda and the Homeric poems show that an Ego-RP mapping with an ego-perspective frame of reference (FoR) could not have existed yet at an early Indo-European stage. In particular, spatial terms of front and behind turn out to be used with reference not only to temporal events, but also to east and west respectively, thus presupposing the existence of an absolute field-based FoR which the temporal sequence is metaphorically related to. Specifically, sequence is relative position on a path appears to be motivated by what has been called day orientation frame, in which the different positions of the sun during the day motivate the mapping of front onto ‘earlier’ and behind onto ‘later’, without involving ego’s ‘now’. These findings suggest that early Indo-European still had not made use of spatio-temporal deixis based on the tense-related ego-perspective FoR found in modern languages.

Featured image, from the article: Helios rising from the sea (blacas red-figured calyx-krater, fifth century B.C., British Museum). Related quote from the article:
“Interestingly, the archeological evidence supports that time could be spatialized along the lateral axis. In ancient Greek art the sun is represented as moving from right to left. Such orientation can be observed, for instance, on the Blacas red-figured calyx-krater of the fifth century B.C. (London, British Museum), where Helios is found at the extreme right of the scene and proceeds to the viewer’s left, following Eos, i.e., the dawn.”

See also:

R1b-V88 migration through Southern Italy into Green Sahara corridor, and the Afroasiatic connection

Open access article The peopling of the last Green Sahara revealed by high-coverage resequencing of trans-Saharan patrilineages, by D’Atanasio, Trombetta, Bonito, et al., Genome Biology (2018) 19:20.


Little is known about the peopling of the Sahara during the Holocene climatic optimum, when the desert was replaced by a fertile environment.

In order to investigate the role of the last Green Sahara in the peopling of Africa, we deep-sequence the whole non-repetitive portion of the Y chromosome in 104 males selected as representative of haplogroups which are currently found to the north and to the south of the Sahara. We identify 5,966 mutations, from which we extract 142 informative markers then genotyped in about 8,000 subjects from 145 African, Eurasian and African American populations. We find that the coalescence age of the trans-Saharan haplogroups dates back to the last Green Sahara, while most northern African or sub-Saharan clades expanded locally in the subsequent arid phase.

Our findings suggest that the Green Sahara promoted human movements and demographic expansions, possibly linked to the adoption of pastoralism. Comparing our results with previously reported genome-wide data, we also find evidence for a sex-biased sub-Saharan contribution to northern Africans, suggesting that historical events such as the trans-Saharan slave trade mainly contributed to the mtDNA and autosomal gene pool, whereas the northern African paternal gene pool was mainly shaped by more ancient events.

Maximum parsimony Y chromosome tree and dating of the four trans-Saharan haplogroups. a Phylogenetic relations among the 150 samples analysed here. Each haplogroup is labelled in a different colour. The four Y sequences from ancient samples are marked by the dagger symbol. b Phylogenetic tree of the four trans-Saharan haplogroups, aligned to the timeline (at the bottom). At the tip of each lineage, the ethno-geographic affiliation of the corresponding sample is represented by a circle, coloured according to the legend (bottom left). The last Green Sahara period is highlighted by a green belt in the background

Also, interesting excerpts:

The fertile environment established in the Green Sahara probably promoted demographic expansions and rapid dispersals of the human groups, as suggested by the great homogeneity in the material culture of the early Holocene Saharan populations [62]. Our data for all the four trans-Saharan haplogroups are consistent with this scenario, since we found several multifurcated topologies, which can be considered as phylogenetic footprints of demographic expansions. The multifurcated structure of the E-M2 is suggestive of a first demographic expansion, which occurred about 10.5 kya, at the beginning of the last Green Sahara (Fig. 2; Additional file 2: Figure S4). After this initial expansion, we found that most of the trans-Saharan lineages within A3-M13, E-M2 and R-V88 radiated in a narrow time interval at 8–7 kya, suggestive of population expansions that may have occurred in the same time (Fig. 2; Additional file 2: Figures S3, S4 and S6). Interestingly, during roughly the same period, the Saharan populations adopted pastoralism, probably as an adaptive strategy against a short arid period [1, 62, 63]. So, the exploitation of pastoralism resources and the reestablishment of wetter conditions could have triggered the simultaneous population expansions observed here. R-V88 also shows signals of a further and more recent (~ 5.5 kya) Saharan demographic expansion which involved the R-V1589 internal clade. We observed similar demographic patterns in all the other haplogroups in about the same period and in different geographic areas (A3-M13/V3, E-M2/V3862 and E-M78/V32 in the Horn of Africa, E-M2/M191 in the central Sahel/central Africa), in line with the hypothesis that the start of the desertification may have caused massive economic, demographic and social changes [1].

Finally, the onset of the arid conditions at the end of the last African humid period was more abrupt in the eastern Sahara compared to the central Sahara, where an extensive hydrogeological network buffered the climatic changes, which were not complete before ~ 4 kya [6, 62, 64]. Consistent with these local climatic differences, we observed slight differences among the four trans-Saharan haplogroups. Indeed, we found that the contact between northern and sub-Saharan Africa went on until ~ 4.5 kya in the central Sahara, where we mainly found the internal lineages of E-M2 and R-V88 (Additional file 2: Figures S4 and S6). In the eastern Sahara, we found a sharper and more ancient (> 5 kya) differentiation between the people from northern Africa (and, more generally, from the Mediterranean area) and the groups from the eastern sub-Saharan regions (mainly from the Horn of Africa), as testified by the distribution and the coalescence ages of the A3-M13 and E-M78 lineages (Additional file 2: Figures S3 and S5).

Time estimates and frequency maps of the four trans-Saharan haplogroups and major sub-clades. a Time estimates of the four trans-Saharan clades and their main internal lineages. To the left of the timeline, the time windows of the main climatic/historical African events are reported in different colours (legend in the upper left). b Frequency maps of the main trans-Saharan clades and sub-clades. For each map, the relative frequencies (percentages) are reported to the right

R-V88 has been observed at high frequencies in the central Sahel (northern Cameroon, northern Nigeria, Chad and Niger) and it has also been reported at low frequencies in northwestern Africa [37]. Outside the African continent, two rare R-V88 sub-lineages (R-M18 and R-V35) have been observed in Near East and southern Europe (particularly in Sardinia)[30, 37, 38, 39]. Because of its ethno-geographic distribution in the central Sahel, R-V88 has been linked to the spread of the Chadic branch of the Afroasiatic linguistic family [37, 40].

(…) the R-V88 lineages date back to 7.85 kya and its main internal branch (branch 233) forms a “star-like” topology (“Star-like” index = 0.55), suggestive of a demographic expansion. More specifically, 18 out of the 21 sequenced chromosomes belong to branch 233, which includes eight sister clades, five of which are represented by a single subject. The coalescence age of this sub-branch dates back to 5.73 kya, during the last Green Sahara period. Interestingly, the subjects included in the “star-like” structure come from northern Africa or central Sahel, tracing a trans-Saharan axis. It is worth noting that even the three lineages outside the main multifurcation (branches 230, 231 and 232) are sister lineages without any nested sub-structure. The peculiar topology of the R-V88 sequenced samples suggests that the diffusion of this haplogroup was quite rapid and possibly triggered by the Saharan favourable climate (Fig. 2b).

One of the theories I proposed in the Indo-European demic diffusion model since the first edition – based mainly on phylogeography – is that R1b-V88 lineages had probably crossed the Mediterranean through southern Italy into a Green Sahara region, and distributed from there throuh important green corridors, humid areas between megalakes. Even though this new study – like the rest of them – is based solely on modern samples, and as such is quite prone to error in assessing ancient distributions – as we have seen in Europe -, it seems that a southern Italian route (probably through Sicily) for R1b-V88 and a late expansion through Green Sahara is more and more likely.

If we accept that the migration of R1b-V88 lineages is the last great expansion through a Green Sahara, then this expansion is a potential candidate for the initial Afroasiatic expansion – whereas older haplogroup expansions would represent languages different than Afroasiatic, and more recent haplogroup expansions would represent subsequent expansions of Afroasiatic dialects, like Semitic, Hamitic, Cushitic, or Chadic – as I explained in an older post.

In absolutely shameless speculative terms, then – as is today common in Genetic studies, by the way, so let’s all have some fun here – instead of some sort of R1b/Eurasiatic continuity in Europe, as some autochthonous continuists would like, this could mean that there would be an old Afroasiatic – R1b connection. That would imply:

NOTE. Regarding the contribution of CHG ancestry in the Pontic-Caspian steppe cultures, it is usually explained as caused by exogamy, or by absorption of a previous population (as in the Indo-Iranian case), although a contribution of communities of mainly J subclades to the formation of Neolithic steppe cultures cannot be ruled out. As for some autochthonous continuists’ belief in some sort of mythical mixed steppe people with mixed haplogroups and mixed language, well…

Simple Nostratic tree by Bomhard (2008)

The Pre-Indo-European linguistic situation, before the formation of Neolithic steppe cultures, seems like pure speculation, because a) language macro-families (with the exception of Afroasiatic) are highly speculative, b) sound anthropological models are lacking for them, and c) migrations inferred from haplogroup distributions of modern populations are often incorrect:

  • Haplogroup R could then be argued to be the source of Nostratic, and earlier subclades the source of Starostin’s Borean, given the distribution of its subclades in Asia and the timing of their migrations.
  • But of course one could also argue that, given the comparatively late population expansions that Genomics is showing, supporting Western European linguistic schools – where Russian Nostraticists tend to date languages further back in timeR1b (and not R) expansion could be the marker of Nostratic languages, due to its most likely southern path (and their old subclades found in Iran and the Caucasus), which would be more in line with the wet dreams of Europeans proposing R1b autochthonous continuity theories. I like this option far less because of that, but it cannot be ruled out.

If you have read this blog before, you know I profoundly dislike lexicostatistical and glottochronological methods, and I don’t like mass comparisons either. Whereas these methods pretend to apply mathematics to big (raw) data where there is almost no knowledge of what one is doing, comparative grammar applies complex reasoning where there is a lot of partially processed data.

But, it is always fun to ask “what if they were right?” and follow from there…

See also:

The concept of “Outlier” in Human Ancestry (III): Late Neolithic samples from the Baltic region and origins of the Corded Ware culture


I have written before about how the Late Neolithic sample from Zvejnieki seemed to be an outlier among Corded Ware samples (read also the Admixture analysis section on the IEDDM), due to its position in PCA, even more than its admixture components or statistical comparison might show.

In the recent update to Northern European samples in Mittnik et al. (2018), an evaluation of events similar to the previous preprint (2017) is given:

Computing D-statistics for each individual of the form D(Baltic LN, Yamnaya; X, Mbuti), we find that the two individuals from the early phase of the LN (Plinkaigalis242 and Gyvakarai1, dating to ca. 3200–2600 calBCE) form a clade with Yamnaya (Supplementary Table 7), consistent with the absence of the farmer-associated component in ADMIXTURE (Fig. 2b). Younger individuals share more alleles with Anatolian and European farmers (Supplementary Table 7) as also observed in contemporaneous Central European CWC individuals2.

Sampling locations and dating of 38 ancient Northern European samples introduced in this study. Chronology based on calibrated radiocarbon dates or relative dating

My interpretation of the Zvejnieki sample ca. 2880 BC (and thus also of the only Baltic LN sample forming a close cluster with it) as ‘outlier’ seems thus reinforced as more samples come in. My explanation based on exogamy is one possibility for the region. After all, great mobility and exogamy practices are universally accepted for the Corded Ware territory, and Yamna migrants had settled up along the Prut precisely around this period (ca. 3100-2900 BC), so this kind of relation between Yamna and Baltic samples is to be expected.

NOTE: Information on the Late Neolithic burial of Zvejnieki is scarce, since it is an isolated find in radiocarbon analysis, among Mesolithic burials. You can read more about it from Ilga Zagorska’s studies, such as The use of ochre in Stone Age burials of the East Baltic (2008), The persistent presence of the dead: recent excavations at the hunter-gatherer cemetery at Zvejnieki (Latvia) (Antiquity 2013), or Dietary freshwater reservoir effects and the radiocarbon ages of prehistoric human bones from Zvejnieki, Latvia (J. Archaeol. Sci. 2016).

Samples of Baltic “Late Neolithic / Corded Ware culture”

The only two samples clustering more closely to Yamna cluster also closely to the three previous samples from Khvalynsk in Samara (labelled ‘Steppe Eneolithic’ in the paper), which makes one wonder how strongly connected were cultures from the forest and forest-steppe zones before the expansion of Corded Ware and Yamna settlers.

NOTE: Apart from the scarcity of samples available, which is common in genetic studies, the description of both additional ‘outlier’ samples of the Baltic Late Neolithic – isolated finds based mainly on radiocarbon analysis – leaves a lot to the imagination, because of the lack of cultural context and potential problems with dating methods:

Plinkaigalis 242, >40 year old female (OxA-5936, 4280 ± 75 BP, 3260–2630 calBCE). The burial site is located in the plains of central Lithuania on the eastern bank of the river Šušvė on the outskirts of the Plinkaigalis village, approximately 400 m southeast of an Iron age hill fort and settlement. The burial site was discovered in 1975 when local residents started digging for gravel in the western part of the hill. The same year site was granted a legal protection with archaeological excavations carried out for eight straight years in a row (1977-1984). During the eight years of fieldwork a total of 373 graves (364 inhumation and 9 cremation graves) with all but two of them dating to 3rd to 8th c. AD were uncovered. The two exceptional graves (no. 241, 242) were uncovered in the northern part of the burial site and C14 dated to the Late Neolithic.

Gyvakarai 1, 35-40 year old male (Poz-61584, 4030 ± 30 BP, 2620–2470 calBCE). The burial site is located in the northern part of Lithuania on the steep gravelly bank (elevation up to 79 m a. s. l.) of the rivulet Žvikė, 500 m to the south from where, in the wet grassland valley, it meets the main stem river Pyvesa. The site was discovered in 2000 when local residents started digging for gravel in the central part of the gravelly bank. The same year rescue excavations were conducted in the surrounding area of the highly disturbed grave resulting in discovery of a single grave C14 dated to the Late Neolithic.

EDIT (16 FEB 2018): A commentator noted that Gyvakaray1 was also studied for Yersinia pestis, a disease which appears to have expanded first to the west from the steppe, and then to the east, so it is possible that its position in PCA related to Plinkaigalis242 shows a connection to late Yamna settlers or East Bell Beaker migrants.

File modified by me from Mittnik et al. (2018) to include the approximate position of the most common ancestral components, and an identification of potential outliers. Zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples. “Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline).

NOTE: I haven’t had the time and patience to work with my virtual computer on the PCA of these new samples – my CPU is reaching everyday its limit and my fans work half the time – , so I don’t know exactly which of them is Plinkaigalis242 and which Gyvakarai1, I just made a wild guess (based on ADMIXTURE) that the earlier Plinkaigalis242 forms a common ‘outlier’ group with Zvejnieki; if they are reversed or otherwise wrong in the image, please correct me. It will be much appreciated.

We can see from the additional samples in Mittnik et al. (2018) that the common cluster formed by most Baltic LN samples in PCA (most of them with clear cultural context among Late Neolithic or Corded Ware material, unlike the two ‘outliers’ and Gyvakarai1) is among Ukraine Eneolithic samples, European Corded Ware samples, and also Mesolithic-Neolithic samples from the Baltic. This is a logical find in light of the mainstream opinion that the expansion of the third horizon of the Corded Ware culture seems to have begun in the Dnieper-Dniester region (a corridor of steppe, steppe-forest, and forest zones) ca. 3300 BC.

PCA and ADMIXTURE analysis reflecting three time periods in Northern European prehistory. a Principal components analysis of 1012 present-day West Eurasians (grey points, modern Baltic populations in dark grey) with 294 projected published ancient and 38 ancient North European samples introduced in this study (marked with a red outline). Population labels of modern West Eurasians are given in Supplementary Fig. 7 and a zoomed-in version of the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age samples is provided in Supplementary Fig. 8. b Ancestral components in ancient individuals estimated by ADMIXTURE (k = 11)

Corded Ware culture origins

If we take the most recent reliable radiocarbon analyses of material culture, and interpretations based on them of Corded Ware as a ‘complex’ similar to Bell Beaker (accepted more and more by disparate academics such as Anthony or Klejn), it seems that the controversial ‘massive’ Corded Ware migration must have begun somehow later than previously thought, which leaves these early Baltic samples still less clearly part of the initial Corded Ware culture, and more as outliers waiting for a more precise cultural context among Late Neolithic changes in the region.

Their situation in PCA among Khvalynsk (Samara), Baltic Mesolithic, East Hunger-Gatherer samples, Yamna and Eneolithic Ukraine leaves us without enough information to understand their actual origin.

EDIT (3 FEB 2018): In the first edition of my IEDDM paper I based the potential expansion of the Corded Ware culture mainly on Piezonka’s detailed analyses of the evolution of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures in the forest-steppe and Forest Zone, and on later phylogeographic finds, since there were no samples from these regions in this interesting period. I revised it in the second edition to accomodate the model to the Indo-Uralic proto-language supported by the Leiden school, and identified it with a a close Neolithic-Chalcolithic steppe community based on common language guesstimates and – after the latest revision of Mathieson et al. (2017) – on the appearance of steppe admixture in the steppe.

However, if traditional Uralicists are right in supposing a loose Neolithic community in the Forest Zone, and Kristiansen is right in supposing long-lasting contacts in the Dniester-Dnieper region, we might actually be seeing with these ‘outliers’ the first proof that Neolithic samples from the forest-steppe and Forest Zone of the 4th millenium – unrelated to the Corded Ware culture – clustered closely to Khvalynsk, Sredni Stog, or Yamna samples, which is compatible with Piezonka’s accounts of intercultural contacts.

Martin Furholt‘s assessment of the origin of the A-horizon of the Corded Ware culture would put the early dates of Late Neolithic in the Baltic coinciding with or just before the initial expansion of Corded Ware migrants. For example, here are some excerpts (emphasis mine) from Re-evaluating Corded Ware Variability in Late Neolithic Europe (2014), in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society (you can read it free at Academia.edu):

Radiocarbon analysis

Acceptance of the results of radiometric dating meant that the concept of the so called ‘A-Horizon’ also had to be reformulated. If we are dealing with such a phase at all, it is not a classic typological period that is defined by a uniform material culture inventory, but rather a set of types which show a wide distribution, but which are always integrated into a locally specific and thus regionally variable context.

The situation resembles that of the Bell Beakers, where a few supra-regional types are associated with local forms of ‘Begleitkeramik’ (i.e. pottery that accompanies Bell Beakers: Strahm 1995; Besse 1996).

The distribution data indicate that this set of forms (namely the A-Beaker, ‘A-Amphora’, and A-Battle Axe, as well as Herringbone-decorated Beakers) was to be found over much of Europe around 2700 BC, and that the currency of these forms was not short: they seem to have been used continuously during the Final Neolithic, perhaps even until 2000 BC (Fig. 3; Furholt 2004). Analysis of the radiometric and dendrochronological determinations also indicates that the A-Horizon is not the earliest Corded Ware phase. Instead, it appears to follow an apparent earlier phase in Poland during which Corded Ware pottery was in use from as early as 2900 BC (Furholt 2003; 2008a; Wödarczak 2006; Ullrich 2008).

Chronological model following from radiocarbon dating. Mark the contrast to the traditional model of the A-horizon as the earliest phase and a successive increase in regional variability later on

Corded Ware and Yamna/Bell Beaker

While widening networks and a change in the mechanism of exchange appears to have contributed to the emergence of the Corded Ware archaeological phenomenon, and also the contemporaneous Yamnaya graves (Harrison & Heyd 2007) and the following Bell Beaker and Early Bronze Age phenomena, it remains to be seen exactly what factors contributed to the development of these systems. It may be that there were changes in subsistence practices, perhaps involving a rising importance of animal herding that subsequently required higher mobility (for a discussion see Dörfler & Müller 2008), but considering the obvious diversity in subsistence patterns present in different Corded Ware groups, such an explanation would seem appropriate for the transformation in some regions, but surely not for the eastern hunterfisher-gatherer groups of the Baltic (Bläuer & Kantanen 2013). Also, trade with amber and copper might have played its role, but there are so far no indications for a significant rise in quantity or reach of these two materials in connection with Corded Ware graves or settlements (Furholt 2003, 125–7).

The impacts of animal traction and the wagon are also to be taken into account, as they are present since 3400 BC (Mischka 2011) but does at least not play any visible role in Corded Ware burial rituals, very much in contrast to the previous periods (Johannsen & Laursen 2010). There is no evidence for horse riding, but the domesticated horse seems to be present in central Europe since before 3000 BC (Becker 1999) and have also been found in Corded Ware settlements (Becker 2008), but again the evidence of domesticated horses is much more abundant in the period before 3000 BC.

So, concerning amber and copper exchange, or the impact of the wheel and animal traction, there is the recurrent motive of stronger evidence for the period before 3000 BC than during or in connection to Corded Ware finds after 2700 BC.

Summary table for the chronological positions (extent of name plus vertical lines) of the most important traditional archaeological ‘cultures’, ‘Groups’ or pottery styles discussed in this paper. Note that the definitions of those units are far from consistent or comparable, because they derive from different national and regional research traditions. Bold letters indicate a unit connected to the Corded Ware phenonomenon


The evidence strongly points towards a long period of coalescence from 3000 to 2700 BC, when several innovations in burial customs, pottery, and tool types sprung forth from different places and subsequently spread via different networks of exchange and interaction. These surely showed a significant rise in scale, reach, and impact on local practices, but the same is true for the contemporary Globular Amphora and Yamnaya ‘Cultures’. This exchange resulted, roughly spoken, in a phenomenon like the A-Horizon.


Thus, it seems reasonable to explain the wide regional reach of those Corded Ware elements as the result of a general increase in mobility and thus an increase in the spatial extension of regional networks, triggered by the long-term effects of technological innovations and connected economic and social transformations in Europe since 3400 BC. It is the increase in mobility and regional networks that is new to the European Neolithic Societies after this time, and it is not only the Corded Ware elements, that are spread through these channels but also Yamnaya, Globular Amphorae, Bell Beaker ‘Cultures’, and copper and bronze artefacts in later periods. Those are archaeological classification units, heuristic tools for the ordering of finds, while brushing over variability and overlapping traits, and so they should not be confused with real social groups.

Network analysis based on the quantitative occurrence of Corded Ware pottery forms, pottery ornamentation styles, tools, weapons and ornaments as stated in Table 1, based on the catalogues given in Table 2, line thickness representing similarity

As a summary, we can say that there is still much work to be done on the origins and expansion of the Corded Ware culture, and that speculative interpretations of recent genetic papers (especially since 2015), based solely on scarce genetic finds, are not doing much in favour of sound anthropological models by connecting directly Yamna to Corded Ware (and the latter to Bell Beaker), as the multiple new anthropological ‘steppe’ models (and their unending revisions due to the gradual corrections from ‘Yamnaya’ to ‘steppe’ admixture in genetic papers) are showing.

Featured image, from Furholt’s article: Map of the Corded Ware regions discussed for central Europe. The dark shading indicates those regions where Corded Ware burial rituals are present regularly.


“How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures”

I recently wrote about a good informal summary of genomic research in 2017 for geneticists.

I found a more professional review article, How Asian nomadic herders built new Bronze Age cultures, by Bruce Bower, appeared in Science News (25th Nov. 2017).

NOTE: I know, I know, the Pontic-Caspian steppe is in East Europe, not Asia, but what can you do about people’s misconceptions regarding European geography? After all, the division is a conventional one, there are not many landmarks to divide Eurasia…

It refers to Kristiansen’s model, which we already know supports the expansion of IE languages with the Corded Ware culture, and a later Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker migration. This is followed by many geneticists today as “The steppe model”.

Corded Ware culture emerged as a hybrid way of life that included crop cultivation, breeding of farm animals and some hunting and gathering, Kristiansen argues. Communal living structures and group graves of earlier European farmers were replaced by smaller structures suitable for families and single graves covered by earthen mounds. Yamnaya families had lived out of their wagons even before trekking to Europe. A shared emphasis on family life and burying the dead individually indicates that members of the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures kept possessions among close relatives, in Kristiansen’s view.

“The Yamnaya and the Corded Ware culture were unified by a new idea of transmitting property between related individuals and families,” Kristiansen says.

Yamnaya migrants must have spoken a fledgling version of Indo-European languages that later spread across Europe and parts of Asia, Kristiansen’s group contends. Anthony, a longtime Kristiansen collaborator, agrees. Reconstructed vocabularies for people of the Corded Ware culture include words related to wagons, wheels and horse breeding that could have come only from the Yamnaya, Anthony says.

As Indo-European languages spread, the Yamnaya’s genetic impact in Europe remained substantial, even after the disappearance of Corded Ware culture around 4,400 years ago, Reich’s team reported online May 9 at bioRxiv.org. About 50 percent of the ancestry of individuals from a later Bronze Age culture, dubbed the Bell Beaker culture for its pottery vessels shaped like an inverted bell, derived from Yamnaya stock. Such pottery spread across much of Europe starting nearly 4,770 years ago and disappeared by 3,800 years ago. Migrations of either people or ideas may have accounted for that dispersal.

NOTE. Anthony, as we know, has already changed his mind with the most recent data.

The author juxtaposes other opinions, to somehow balance the article:

Like many of his colleagues, archaeologist Volker Heyd of the University of Bristol in England was jolted by the 2015 reports of a close genetic link between Asian herders and a Bronze Age culture considered native to Europe. But, Heyd says, the story of ancient Yamnaya migrations is more complex than the rapid-change scenario sketched out by Kristiansen and Anthony.

No evidence exists that Yamnaya people rapidly developed practices typical of the Corded Ware culture in one part of Europe, Heyd argues in the April Antiquity. Cultural shifts in Europe around 5,000 years ago must have emerged from an extended series of small-scale dealings with Yamnaya and other pastoralists, which was then capped off by a large influx of steppe wagon travelers, he says.

For instance, individual graves and other signs of contact with the Yamnaya people and even earlier Asian pastoralists appear in Europe 1,000 to 2,000 years before DNA-transforming migrations occurred. Consider that the Yamnaya account for 5 percent of the ancestry of Ötzi the Iceman, who lived in southeastern Europe roughly 300 years before the Yamnaya’s big move (SN: 5/27/17, p. 13). Little is known about those earlier encounters.

Efforts to decipher ties between Yamnaya and Corded Ware culture are complicated by the fact that DNA is available from just a few people from each group, says Heyd, who is currently excavating Yamnaya graves in Hungary. Ancient DNA samples analyzed in the 2015 papers come from only a handful of Yamnaya and Corded Ware culture sites in a few parts of Europe and Russia.

Heyd suspects that Yamnaya travelers had even earlier contacts, perhaps by 5,400 years ago, with central and eastern Europeans known for making globe-shaped pots with small handles. Individuals from that culture, excavated at two sites in Poland and Ukraine, possess no Yamnaya genes, a team affiliated with Reich’s lab reported online May 9 at bioRxiv.org. But Heyd thinks mating between members of that European culture and Yamnaya migrants may have occurred a bit farther east, where cross-cultural contacts probably occurred at the boundary of European forests and Asian grasslands.

Other genetic clues point to a long history of Asian pastoralists crossing into parts of Europe. Small amounts of DNA from steppe herders, possibly the Yamnaya, appeared in three hunter-gatherer skeletons from southeastern Europe dating to as early as around 6,500 years ago.

It is always interesting to see how reports gradually evolve, including more and more doubts about the ‘Yamnaya component’, and how it may be correctly interpreted. Slow but steady wins the race.

Check out the full article.

Featured image: from the article, based on the 2015 papers and Kristiansen’s model.

See also:

From Proto-Slavic into Germanic or from Germanic into Proto-Slavic? A review of controversial loanwords


Interesting new article From Proto-Slavic into Germanic or from Germanic into Proto-Slavic? A review of controversial loanwords, by Noińska Marta and Rychło Mikołaj in Studia Rossica Gedanensia (2017) 4:39-52.


Germanic loanwords in Proto-Slavic have been comprehensively analysed by both Western and Eastern scholars, however the problem of borrowings in the opposite direction received far less attention, especially among Western academics. It is worth noticing that Viktor Martynov (1963) proposed as many as 40 borrowings and penetrations from Proto-Slavic into Proto-Germanic. Among these, there are nine (*bljudo, 40 Marta Noińska, Mikołaj Rychło *kupiti, *lěkъ, *lugъ, *lukъ, *plugъ, *pъlkъ, *skotъ, *tynъ) which are considered certain loanwords in the opposite direction in the newest monograph on the topic by Pronk- Tiethoff (2013). The aim of the present paper is to review and juxtapose linguists’ views on the direction and etymology of these borrowings. The authors take into consideration the analyses carried out not only by Saskia Pronk-Tiethoff (2013) and Viktor Martynov (1963), but also by Valentin Kiparsky (1934) and Zbigniew Gołąb (1992). An attempt is made to assess which of the nine words could be borrowings from Proto-Slavic in Germanic.

This question of loanwords (in which direction and when approximately in the different stages of the languages involved), a priori only interesting from a linguistic point of view, might be also very important to ascertain the oldest layer of vocabulary shared by both, Germanic and Balto-Slavic, which can hint to their shared substrate immediately after the expansion of East Bell Beakers (or between Pre-Germanic and ‘Temematic’, for Kortlandt and others).

See also: