Sintashta diet and economy based on domesticated animal products and wild resources


New paper (behind paywall) Bronze Age diet and economy: New stable isotope data from the Central Eurasian steppes (2100-1700 BC), by Hanks et al. J. Arch. Sci (2018) 97:14-25.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Previous research at KA-5 was carried out by A. V. Epimakhov in 1994–1995 and 2002–2003 and resulted in the excavation of three Sintashta culture barrows (kurgans) that produced 35 burial pits and a reported 100 skeletons (Epimakhov, 2002, 2005; Epimakhov et al., 2005; Razhev and Epimakhov, 2004). Seven AMS radiocarbon dates on human remains from the cemetery yielded a date range of 2040–1730 cal. BC (2 sigma), which placed the cemetery within the Sintashta phase of the regional Bronze Age (Hanks et al., 2007). Twelve recently obtained AMS radiocarbon dates, taken from short-lived wood and charcoal species recovered from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have provided a date range of 2050–1760 cal. BC (2 sigma). Importantly, these dates confirm the close chronological relationship between the settlement and cemetery for the Middle Bronze Age phase and discount the possibility of a freshwater reservoir effect influencing the earlier dating of the human remains from the Kamennyi Ambar 5 cemetery (Epimakhov and Krause, 2013).

Sintashta cemeteries frequently yield fewer than six barrow complexes and the number of skeletons recovered represents a fraction of the total population that would have inhabited the settlements (Judd et al., 2018; Johnson and Hanks, 2012). Scholars have suggested that only members of higher status were afforded interment in these cemeteries and that principles of social organization structured placement of individuals within central or peripheral grave pits (Fig. 2) (Koryakova and Epimakhov, 2007: 75–81). In comparison with other Sintashta cemeteries that have been excavated, KA-5 provides one of the largest skeletal inventories currently available for study.

Upper – plan of Kamennyi Ambar settlement and cemetery; Lower – plan views of Kurgan 2 and Kurgan 4 from KA-5 Cemetery (kurgan plans redrawn from Epimakhov, 2005: 10, 79).

The KA-5 (MBA), Bestamak (MBA) and Lisakovsk (LBA) datasets exhibited a wide range of δ13C and δ15N values for both humans and herbivores (Figs. 5 and 6 & Table 8). This diversity in isotopic signals may be evident for a variety of reasons. For example, the range of values may be associated with a broad spectrum of C3 and C4 plant diversity in the ancient site biome or herbivore grazing patterns that included more diverse environmental niche areas in the microregion around the sampled sites. Herders also may have chosen to graze animals in niche areas due to recognized territorial boundaries between settlements and concomitant patterns of mobility. Importantly, data from Bolshekaragansky represents humans with lower δ15N values that are more closely associated with δ15N values of the sampled domestic herbivores (Fig. 6). When the archaeological evidence from associated settlement sites is considered, Bolshekaragansky, Bestamak, Lisakovsk and KA-5 have been assumed to represent populations that shared similar forms of pastoral subsistence economies with significant dietary reliance upon domesticated herbivore meat and milk. Human diets have δ13C values closely related to those of local herbivores in terms of the slope of the trendline and range of values (Fig. 6). Comparatively, the cemetery of Bolshekaragansky (associated with the Arkaim settlement) reflects individuals with trend lines closer to those of cattle and caprines and may indicate a stronger reliance on subsistence products from these species with less use of wild riverine and terrestrial resources. The site of Čiča is significantly different with elevated human δ15N isotopic values and depleted δ13C values indicative of a subsistence regime more closely associated with the consumption of freshwater resources, such as fish. The stable isotopic data in this instance is strongly supported by zooarchaeological evidence recovered from the Čiča settlement and also is indicative of significant diachronic changes from the LBA phases through the Iron Age (Fig. 6).

Regional analysis and comparison of stable isotope results from humans (adults) and animals recovered from MBA and LBA cemeteries in the Southern Urals (Kamennyi Ambar 5 & Bolshekaragansky) northwestern Kazakhstan (Liskovsk & Bestamak) and southwestern Siberia (Čiča).


(…) The isotopic results from KA-5, and recent botanical and archaeological studies from the Kamennyi Ambar settlement, have not produced any evidence for the production or use of domesticated cereals. While this does not definitively answer the question as to whether Sintashta populations engaged in agriculture and/or utilized agricultural products, it does call into serious question the ubiquity of such practices across the region and correlates well with recent archaeological, bioarchaeological, and isotopic studies of human and animal remains from the Southwestern Urals region and Samara Basin (Anthony et al., 2016; Schulting and Richards, 2016). The results substantiate a broader spectrum subsistence diet that in addition to the use of domesticated animal products also incorporated wild flora, wild fauna and fish species. These findings further demonstrate the need to draw on multiple methods and datasets for the reconstruction of late prehistoric subsistence economies in the Eurasian steppes. When possible, this should include datasets from both settlements and associated cemeteries.

Variability in subsistence practices in the central steppes region has been highlighted by other scholars and appears to be strongly correlated with local environmental conditions and adaptations. More comprehensive isotopic studies of human, animal and fish remains are of fundamental importance to achieve more robust and empirically substantiated reconstructions of local biomes and to aid the refinement of regional and micro-regional economic subsistence models. This will allow for a fuller understanding of key diachronic shifts within dietary trends and highlight regional variation of such practices. Ultimately, this will more effectively index the diverse social and environmental variables that contributed to late prehistoric lifeways and the economic strategies employed by these early steppe communities.

Social organization of Sintashta-Petrovka

Interesting to remember now the recent article by Chechushkov et al. (2018) about the social stratificaton in Sintashta-Petrovka, and how it must have caused the long-lasting, peaceful admixture process that led to the known almost full replacement of R1b-L23 (mostly R1b-Z2103) by R1a-Z645 (mostly R1a-Z93) subclades in the North Caspian steppe, coinciding with the formation of the Proto-Indo-Iranian community and language (read my thoughts on this after Damgaard et al. 2018).

Here is another relevant excerpt from Chechushkov et al. (2018), translated from Russian:

The map of the settlement of Kamennyi Ambar with excavations, soil cores, and test pits. Legend: a — cuts of the sides of ravines; b — test pits of 2015—2017; c — test pits of 2004; d — soil-science samples with a cultural layer; e — soil-science samples without cultural layer; f — borders of archaeological sites (interpretation of the plan of magnetic anomalies); g — boundaries of excavated structures (1, 2, 4, 5, 7 — Sintashta-Petrovka culture; 3, 6 — Srubnaya-Alakul’ culture).

The analysis suggests that the Sintashta-Petrovka societies had a certain degree of social stratification, expressed both in selective funeral rituals and in the significant difference in lifestyle between the elite and the immediate producers of the product. The data obtained during the field study suggest that the elite lived within the fortifications, while a part of the population was outside their borders, on seasonal sites, and also in stationary non-fortified settlements. Probably, traces of winter settlements can be found near the walls, while the search for summer ones is a task of a separate study. From our point of view, the elite of the early complex societies of the Bronze Age of the Eurasian steppe originated as a response to environmental challenges that created risks for cattle farming. The need to adapt the team to the harsh and changing climatic conditions created a precedent in which the settled collectives of pastoralists – hunter-gatherers could afford the content and magnificent posthumous celebration of people and their families who were not engaged in the production or extraction of an immediate product. In turn, representatives of this social group directed their efforts to the adoption of socially significant decisions, the organization of collective labor in the construction of settlement-shelters and risked their lives, acting as military leaders and fighters.

Thus, in Bronze Age steppe societies, the formation, development and decline of social complexity are directly related to the intensity of pastoralism and the development of new territories, where collectives had to survive in part a new ecological niche. At the same time, some members of the collective took upon themselves the organization of the collective’s life, receiving in return a privileged status. As soon as the conditions of the environment and management changed, the need for such functions was virtually eliminated, as a result of which the privileged members of society dissolved into the general mass, having lost their lifetime status and the right to be allocated posthumously.

Also interesting for the MLBA haplogroup bottleneck in the region is the paper by Judd et al. (2017) about fast life history in Early Indo-Iranian territories.

On the arrival of haplogroup N1c1-L392

Regarding the special position of the Chicha-1 samples in the change of diet and economy during the Iron Age, it is by now well known that haplogroup N must have arrived quite late to North-East Europe, and possibly not linked with the expansion of Siberian ancestry – or linked only with some waves of Siberian ancestry in the region, but not all of them. See Lamnidis et al. (2018) for more on this.

Also, the high prevalence of haplogroup N among Fennic and Siberian (Samoyedic) peoples is not related: while the latter reflects probably the native (Palaeo-Siberian) population that acquired their Uralic branch during the MLBA expansions associated with Corded Ware groups, the former points to the expansion of Fennic peoples into Saamic territory (i.e. after the Fenno-Saamic split) as the most likely period of expansion of N1c1-L392 subclades (see known recent bottlenecks among Finns, and on Proto-Finnic dialectalization).

Probably related to these late incomers are the ancient DNA samples from the Sargat culture during the Iron Age, which show the arrival of N subclades in the region, replacing most – but not all – R1a lineages (see Pilipenko et al. (2017)). Regarding the site of Chicha-1, the following are relevant excerpts about the cultural situation that could have allowed for such stepped, diachronic admixture events in Northern Eurasia, from the paper Stages in the settlement history of Chicha-1: The Results of ceramic analysis, by Molodin et al. (2008):

The stratigraphic data allows us to make the following inference: originally, the settlement was inhabited by people bearing the Late Irmen culture. Later, the people of the Baraba trend of the Suzgun culture arrived at the site (Molodin, Chemyakina, 1984: 40–62). The Baraba-Suzgun pottery demonstrates features similar to what has been reported from the sites of the transitional Bronze to Iron Age culture in the pre-taiga and taiga zones in the Irtysh basin (Potemkina, Korochkova, Stefanov, 1995; Polevodov, 2003). The major morphological types are slightly and well-profiled pots with a short throat. (…)

Map showing the location of Chicha-1.

During the following stage of development of the site, the Chicha population increased with people who practiced cultures others than those noted in earlier collections. The ceramic materials from layer 5 provide data on possible relationships. In addition to migrants from northwestern regions practicing the Suzgun culture, there were people bearing the Krasnoozerka culture. Available data also suggests that people from the northern taiga region with the Atlym culture visited the site.

However, people from the west and southwest represent the greatest migration to the region under study. In all likelihood they moved from the northern forest-steppe zone of modern Kazakhstan and practiced the Berlik culture. The spatial distribution analysis of the Chicha-1 site suggests that the Berlik population was rather large. The Berlik people formed a single settlement with the indigenous Late Irmen people and apparently waged certain common economic activities, but preserved their own ethnic and cultural specificity (Molodin, Parzinger, 2006: 49–55). Judging by the data on the chronological sequence of deposited artifacts, migration took place roughly synchronously, hence Chicha-1 became a real cultural and economic center.

(…) In sum, the noted distribution of ceramics over the culture-bearing horizons suggests that beginning with layer 5, traditions of ceramic manufacture described above were practiced, hence the relevant population inhabited the site. Apparently, there were two predominant traditions: the local Late Irmen cultural tradition and the Berlik tradition, which was brought by the immigrants. The Late Irmen people mostly populated the citadel, while the Berlik immigrants inhabited the areas to the east and the north of the citadel.

The stratigraphic data also suggest that the Early Sargat ceramics emerged at the site likely as a part of the Late Irmen tradition (…) Early Sargat ceramics is apparently linked with the Late Irmen tradition. Artifacts associated with the Sargat culture proper have been found in several areas of Chicha-1 (e.g., in excavation area 16). However, the Sargat people appeared at the site after it had been abandoned by its previous inhabitants, and had eventually become completely desolated. This happened no earlier than the 6th cent. BC, possibly in the 5th cent. BC (in fact, the radiocarbon dates for that horizon are close to the turn of the Christian era).


When Bell Beakers mixed with Eneolithic Europeans: Pömmelte and the Europe-wide concept of sanctuary


Recent open access paper The ring sanctuary of Pömmelte, Germany: a monumental, multi-layered metaphor of the late third millennium BC, by Spatzier and Bertemes, Antiquity (2018) 92(363):655-673.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

In recent decades, evidence has accumulated for comparable enclosures of later dates, including the Early Bronze Age Únětice Culture between 2200 and 1600 BC, and thus into the chronological and cultural context of the Nebra sky disc. Based on the analysis of one of these enclosure sites, recently excavated at Pömmelte on the flood plain of the Elbe River near Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt, and dating to the late third millennium BC

The main occupation began at 2321–2211 cal BC, with the stratigraphically earliest features containing exclusively Bell Beaker finds. Bell Beaker ceramics continue after 2204–2154 cal BC (boundary occupation I/II), although they were probably undecorated, but are now complemented by Únětice Culture (and other Early Bronze Age) types. At this time, with features common to both cultures predominate. Only contexts dating to the late main occupation phase (late phase II) and thereafter contained exclusively Únětice Culture finds. Evidently, the bearers of the Bell Beaker Culture were the original builders of the enclosure. During a second phase of use, Final Neolithic and Early Bronze Age cultures coexisted and intermingled. The material remains, however, should not be taken as evidence for successive groups of differing archaeological cultures, but as witnesses to a cultural transition from the Bell Beaker Culture to the Únětice Culture (Spatzier 2015). The main occupation ended 2086–2021 cal BC with the deconstruction of the enclosure; Bell Beaker finds are now absent. Finally, a few features (among them one shaft) and radiocarbon dates attest the sporadic re-use of the site in a phase of abandonment/re-use that ended 1636– 1488 cal BC.

Cultural sequence and chronological model of the Pömmelte enclosure’s occupation (dates in 1σ-precision) (designed by André Spatzier).

How the above-ground structures possibly influenced perception may reveal another layer of meaning that highlights social functions related to ritual. While zone I was disconnected from the surroundings by a ‘semi-translucent’ post-built border, zones II/III were separated from the outside world by a wooden wall (i.e. the palisade), and zone III probably separated individuals from the crowd gathered in zone II. Accessing the interior or centre therefore meant passing through transitional zones, to first be secluded and then segregated. Exiting the structure meant re-integration and re-connection. The experience possibly induced when entering and leaving the monument reflects the three stages of ‘rites of passage’ described by van Gennep (1909): separation, liminality and incorporation. The enclosure’s outer zone(s) represents the pre- and post-liminal phase; the central area, the liminal phase. Seclusion and liminality in the interior promoted a sense of togetherness, which can be linked to Turner’s “communitas” (1969: 132–33). We might therefore see monuments such as the Pömmelte enclosure as important communal structures for social regulation and the formation of identity.

Layers of meaning of the Pömmelte enclosure as deduced from the archaeological record (design by André Spatzier).

(…) The long-term stability of these connotations must be emphasised. As with the tradition of making depositions, these meanings were valid from the start of the occupation — c. 2300 BC — until at least the early period following the deconstruction event, c. 2050 BC. While the spatial organisation and the solar alignment of the main entrances were maintained throughout the main occupation, stone axes and ‘formal’ graves indicate the continuation of the spatial concepts described above until the twentieth to nineteenth centuries BC.

These layers of meaning mirror parallel concepts of space including, although not necessarily restricted to, the formation of group identities (see Hansen & Meyer 2013: 5). They can perhaps be better understood as a ‘cosmological geography’ manifested in the symbolism of superimposed levels of conceptual ideas related to space and to certain cardinal points (Figure 8). This idea is closely related to Eliade’s (1959: 29–36) understanding of “organized — hence comicized — territory”, that is territory consecrated to provide orientation within the homogeneity of the chaotic ‘outside world’, and the equivalence of spatial consecration and cosmogony. Put differently, the Pömmelte enclosure can be interpreted as a man-made metaphor and an icon of the cosmos, reflecting the Weltanschauung (a comprehensive conception of the world) of the people who built and used it. By bringing together Eliade and Rappaport’s ideas of meaningfulness in relation to religious experience (Rappaport 1999: 391–95), it may be argued that Pömmelte was a place intended to induce oneness with the cosmos. In combining multiple layers that symbolically represent different aspects of life (first-ordermeaning), the enclosure became an icon metaphorically representing the world (second-order-meaning). As this icon was the place to reaffirm life symbolism ritually, through their actions, people perhaps experienced a sense of rootedness in, or unity with, the cosmos (highest-order-meaning). Although we can only speculate about the perceptions of ancient people, such a theory aiming to describe general principles of religious experience can provide insight.


The circular enclosure of Pömmelte is the first Central European monumental complex of primarily sacred importance that has been excavated and studied in detail. It reveals aspects of society and belief during the transition from the Final Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age, in the second half of the third millennium BC. Furthermore, it offers details of ritual behaviour and the way that people organised their landscape. A sacred interior was separated from the profane environment, and served as a venue for rites that secured the continuity of the social, spiritual and cosmic order. Ancestor worship formed another integral part of this: a mound-covered burial hut and a square-shaped ditch sanctuary (located, respectively, within and near the enclosure’s south-eastern sector; cf. Figure 2)—dating to 2880–2580 cal BC and attributed to the Corded Ware Culture (Spatzier 2017a: 235–44)—suggest that this site was deliberately chosen. With construction of the ring sanctuary, this place gained an immense expansion in meaning—comparable to Stonehenge. Through architectural transformation, both of these sites developed into sanctuaries with increasingly complex religious functions, including in relation to the cult of the dead. The cosmological and social functions, and the powerful symbolism of the Nebra sky disc and hoard (Meller 2010: 59–70), are reflected in Pömmelte’s monumental architecture.

All of these features—along with Pömmelte’s dating, function and complex ring structure—are well documented for British henge monuments (Harding 2003; Gibson 2005). The continuous use of circular enclosures in Central Europe from around 3000– 1500 BC remains to be confirmed, but strong evidence indicates usage spanning from the fifth to the first millennia BC (Spatzier 2017a: 273–96). From 2500 BC onwards, examples in Central Europe, Iberia and Bulgaria (Bertemes 2002; Escudero Carrillo et al. 2017) suggest a Europe-wide concept of sanctuary. This indicates that in extensive communication networks at the beginning of bronze metallurgy (Bertemes 2016), intellectual and religious contents circulated alongside raw materials. The henge monuments of the British Isles are generally considered to represent a uniquely British phenomenon, unrelated to Continental Europe; this position should now be reconsidered. The uniqueness of Stonehenge lies, strictly speaking, with its monumental megalithic architecture.

Model of the spatial organisation of the Pömmelte enclosure (designed by André Spatzier).

The Classical Bell Beaker heritage

No serious scholar can argue at this point against the male-biased East Bell Beaker migrations that expanded the European languages related to Late Proto-Indo-European-speaking Yamna (see David Reich’s comments), and thus most likely North-West Indo-European – the ancestor of Italo-Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic, apart from Pre-Celtic IE in the British Isles, Lusitano-Galician in Iberia, or Messapic in Italy (see here a full account).

With language, these migrants (several ten thousands) brought their particular Weltanschauung to all of Western, Central, and Northern Europe. Their admixture precisely in Hungary shows that they had close interactions with non-Indo-European peoples (genetically related to the Globular Amphorae culture), something that we knew from the dozens of non-Indo-European words reconstructed exclusively for North-West Indo-European, apart from the few reconstructed non-Indo-European words that NWIE shares with Palaeo-Balkan languages, which point to earlier loans from their ancestors, Yamna settlers migrating along the lower Danube.

It is not difficult to imagine that the initial East Bell Beaker group shared a newly developed common cosmological point of view that clashed with other neighbouring Yamna-related worldviews (e.g. in Balkan EBA cultures) after the cultural ties with Yamna were broken. Interesting in this respect is for example their developed (in mythology as in the new North-West Indo-European concept) *Perkwūnos, the weather god – probably remade (in language as in concept) from a Yamna minor god also behind Old Indian parjányas, the rain god – as one of the main gods from the new Pantheon, distinct from *Dyēus patēr, the almighty father sky god. In support of this, the word *meldh-n- ‘lightning’, behind the name of the mythological hammer of the weather god (cf. Old Norse Mjǫllnir or Latvian Milna), was also a newly coined North-West Indo-European term, although the myth of the hero slaying the dragon with the magical object is older.

The Hand of Perkūnas by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, from Wikipedia

Circular enclosures are known in Europe since the Neolithic. Also, the site selected for the Pömmelte enclosure had been used to bury Corded Ware individuals some centuries before its construction, and Corded Ware symbolism (stone axe vs. quern) is seen in the use given by Bell Beakers and later Únětice at this place. All this and other regional similarities between Bell Beakers and different local cultures (see here an example of Iberian Bell Beakers) points to syncretism of the different Bell Beaker groups with preceding cultures in the occupied regions. After all, their genealogical ancestors included also those of their maternal side, and not all encountered males disappeared, as is clearly seen in the resurge of previous paternal lineages in Central-East Europe and in Scandinavia. The admixture of Bell Beakers with previous groups (especially those of similar steppe-related ancestry from Corded Ware) needs more complex analyses to clarify potential early dialectal expansions (read what Iosif Lazaridis has to say).

The popular “big and early” expansions

These syncretic trends gave rise to distinct regional cultures, and eventually different local groups rose to power in the new cultural regions and ousted the old structures. Social norms, hierarchy, and pantheons were remade. Events like this must have been repeated again and again in Bronze and Iron Age Europe, and in many cases it was marked by a difference in the prevailing archaeological culture attested, and probably accompanied by certain population replacements that will be seen with more samples and studies of fine-scale population structure.

Some of these cultural changes, marked by evident haplogroup or admixture replacement, are defined as a ‘resurge’ of ancestry linked to previous populations, although that is obviously not equivalent to a resurge of a previous cultural group, because they usually represent just a successful local group of the same supraregional culture with a distinct admixture and/or haplogroup (see e.g. resurge of R1a-Z645 in Central-East European Bronze Age). Social, religious, or ethnic concepts may have changed in each of these episodes, along with the new prestige dialect.

NOTE. A recent open access paper on two newly studied Middle Bronze Age inhumations from Stonehenge give an interesting idea of potential differences in social identities, in ancestry and geographic origin (which characterize ethnicity) may have been marked by differences in burial ceremonies: Lives before and after Stonehenge: An osteobiographical study of four prehistoric burials recently excavated from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, by Mays et al. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2018) 20:692-710.

This must have happened then many times during the hundreds (or thousands in some cases) of years until the first attestation of a precise ancient language and culture (read e.g. about one of the latest branches to be attested, Balto-Slavic). Ancient language contacts, like substrates or toponymy, can only rarely be detected after so many changes, so their absence (or the lack of proper studies on them) is usually not relevant – and certainly not an argument – in scholarly discussions. Their presence, on the other hand, is a proof of such contacts.

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

We have dozens of papers supporting Uralic dialectal substrate influence on Pre-Germanic, Proto-Balto-Slavic, and Pre- and Proto-Indo-Iranian (and even Proto-Celtic), as well as superstrate influence of Palaeo-Germanic (i.e. from Pre- to Proto-Germanic) and Proto-Balto-Slavic into Proto-Finno-Saamic, much stronger than the Indo-Iranian adstrate influence on Finno-Ugric (see the relative importance of each influence) which locates all these languages and their evolution to the north and west of the steppe (with Proto-Permic already separated, in North-East Europe, as is Proto-Ugric further east near the Urals), probably around the Baltic and Scandinavia after the expansion of Bell Beakers. These connections have been known in linguistics for decades.

Apart from some early 20th century scholars, only a minority of Indo-Europeanists support nowadays an Indo-European (i.e. centum) substrate for Balto-Slavic, to keep alive an Indo-Slavonic group based on a hypothetical 19th century Satem group; so e.g. Holzer with his Temematic, and Kortlandt supporting him, also with some supposed Indo-European substrate with heavy non-Indo-European influence for Germanic and Balto-Slavic, that now (thanks mainly to the views of the Copenhagen group) have been linked to the Corded Ware culture, as it has become clear even to them that Bell Beakers expanded North-West Indo-European.

NOTE. The Temematic etymologies have been (all of them) fully dismissed e.g. in Matasović (2013). I have already explained why an Indo-Slavonic group from Sredni Stog is not tenable, and genetics (showing Late PIE only from Yamna expansions) is proving that, too.

For their part, only a minority among Uralicists, such as Kuz’mina, Parpola or Häkkinen, believe in an ‘eastern’ origin of Uralic languages, around the Southern Urals. Genomic finds – like their peers – are clearly not supporting their views. But even if we accept this hypothesis, there is little space beyond Abashevo and related East Corded Ware cultures after the recent papers on Corded Ware and Fennoscandian samples. And yet here we are:

The Copenhagen “Homeland” interactive map

Brought to you by the Copenhagen fantasy map series, Indo-Europeans after (no, really, after) the expansion of Yamna settlers in Hungary ca. 2700 BC: Yamna settlers have magically disappeared. Yamna-related Balkan EBA cultures and the hundreds of Yamna kurgans around the Lower Danube and in Hungary up to Saxony-Anhalt do not exist. Dat huge mythical Middle Dnieper territory lasting (unchanged) for a thousand years, in sooo close contact with Yamna territory (so beautifully ‘linked’ together that they must have been BFFs and admixed!). Uralic Mesolithic hunter-gatherers resisting IE invasions in Volosovo for 1,500 years like Asterix’ Gaulish village against the Romans. Tiny pockets of Bell Beakers will eventually emerge from (surprise!) Corded Ware territories beautifully scattered over Central and Northern Europe (unlike those eastern CWC mega-regions). And, of course, you can almost see Kroonen & Iversen’s Kurgan Pre-Germanic mixing already with their agricultural substrate TRB precisely in full-IE Denmark (quite appropriate for the Danish school). And sheep symbols representing wool finds, for no reason. A great map to mock for years to come, with each new genetic paper.

The new propaganda tool GIS timeline map of the Copenhagen group:

  • consciously ignores Yamna settlers along the Danube, in the Balkans, and in Hungary, and initial East Bell Beakers, i.e. the obvious origin and expansion of North-West Indo-Europeans, but in contrast magnifies (and expands in time) regions for Sredni Stog / Corded Ware cultures (which suggests that this is yet another absurd attempt to revive the theories of the Danish school…);
  • substitutes arrows for Kron-like colors (where danger red = Indo-European) with the same end result of many other late 20th century whole-Europe Kurgan maps, linking Sredni Stog and Corded Ware with Yamna, but obviating the precise origin of Corded Ware peoples (is it Sredni Stog, or is it that immutable Middle Dnieper group? is it West Yamna, or Yamna Hungary? is it wool, or is it wheels?);
  • relegates Uralic speakers to a tiny corner, a ‘Volosovo’ cultural region, thus near Khvalynsk/Yamna (but not too much), that miraculously survives surrounded by all-early-splitting, all-Northern Eneolithic Indo-Europeans, thus considering Uralic languages irrelevant not only to locate the PIE Urheimat, but also to locate their own homeland; also, cultures identified in color with Uralic speakers expand until the Iron Age with enough care not to even touch in the map one of the known R1a samples published to date (because, for some people, apparently R1a must be Indo-European); and of course N1c or Siberian ancestry are irrelevant, too;
  • and adds findings of wheels and wool probably in support of some new ideas based on yet another correlation = causation argument (that I cannot then properly criticize without access to its reasoning beyond cute SmartArt-like symbols) similar to their model – already becoming a classic example of wrong use of statistical methods – based on the infamously named Yamnaya ancestral component, which is obviously still used here, too.

The end result is thus similar to any other simplistic 1990s Gimbutas (or rather the recently radicalized IE Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware -> BBC version by the Danish workgroup) + 2000s R1a-map + 2010s Yamnaya ancestry; but, hard to believe, it is published in mid-2018. A lot of hours of senseless effort, because after its publication it becomes ipso facto outdated.

For comparison of Yamna and Bell Beaker expansions, here is a recent simplistic, static (and yet more accurate) pair of maps, from the Reich Lab:

Cultural maps from Eneolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in Wang et al. (2018).

If the Copenhagen group keeps on pushing Gimbutas’ long ago outdated IE Sredni Stog -> Corded Ware theory as modified by Kristiansen, with their recently invented Corded Ware -> Bell Beaker model in genetics, at some point they are bound to clash with the Reich-Jena team, which seems to have less attachment to the classic Kurgan model and the wrong interpretations of the 2015 papers, and that would be something to behold. Because, as Cersei would say: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” And when you play the game of credibility, after so many, so wrong publications, well…

NOTE. I have been working on a similar GIS tool for quite some time, using my own maps and compiled genetic data, which I currently only use for my 2018 revision of the Indo-European demic diffusion model. Maybe within some weeks or months I will be able to publish the maps properly, after the revised papers. It’s a pitty that so much work on GIS and analysis with genetic data and cultural regions has to be duplicated, but I intend to keep some decent neutrality in my revised cultural maps, and this seems impossible at this point with some workgroups who have put all their eggs in one broken basket…


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


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

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

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

About Scepters

Typological classification

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

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

Simplified conclusions of this section include (emphasis mine):

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

Cultural relevance of scepters

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

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

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

About the horse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The relevance of Dergachev’s work

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steppe Eneolithic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image modified from Wang et al. (2018). Samples projected in PCA of 84 modern-day West Eurasian populations (open symbols). Previously known clusters have been marked and referenced. An EHG and a Caucasus ‘clouds’ have been drawn, leaving Pontic-Caspian steppe and derived groups between them.See the original file here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wang et al. (2018) Suppl. data: R1b-M269 in Baltic Neolithic?


Looking for information on Novosvobodnaya samples from Wang et al. (2018) for my latest post, I stumbled upon this from the Supplementary Data 2 (download the Excel table):

Latvia_MN1.SG (ZVEJ26)

Skeletal element: petrous
Sample: Latvia_MN_dup.I4627.SG
Date: 4251-3976 calBCE
Location: Zvejnieki
mtDNA: U4a1
Y-DNA: R1b1a1a2
Coverage: 0.15
SNPs hit on autosomes: 167445

The data on Mathieson et al. (2018) is as follows:

I4627 (ZVEJ26)

Skeletal element: petrous
Origin: ThisStudy (New data; Individual first published in JonesNatureCommunications2017)
Sample: Latvia_MN
Date:4251-3976 calBCE (5280±55 BP, Ua-3639)
mtDNA: U4a1
Y-DNA: R1b1a1a(xR1b1a1a2)
Coverage: 1.77
SNPs hit on autosomes: 686273

Y-Chromosome derived SNPs: R1b1a1a:PF6475:17986687C->A; R1b1a1a:CTS3876:15239181G->C; R1b1a1a:CTS5577:16376495A->C; R1b1a1a:CTS9018:18617596C->T; R1b1a1a:FGC57:7759944G->A; R1b1a1a:L502:19020340G->C; R1b1a1a:PF6463:16183412C->A; R1b1a1a:PF6524:23452965T->C; R1b1a:A702:10038192G->A; R1b1a:FGC35:18407611C->T; R1b1a:FGC36:13822833G->T; R1b1a:L754:22889018G->A; R1b1a:L1345:21558298G->T; R1b1a:PF6249:8214827C->T; R1b1a:PF6263:21159055C->A; R1b1:CTS2134:14193384G->A; R1b1:CTS2229:14226692T->A; R1b1:L506:21995972T->A; R1b1:L822:7960019G->A; R1b1:L1349:22722580T->C; R1b:M343:2887824C->A; R1:CTS2565:14366723C->T; R1:CTS3123:14674176A->C; R1:CTS3321:14829196C->T; R1:CTS5611:16394489T->G; R1:L875:16742224A->G; R1:P238:7771131G->A; R1:P286:17716251C->T; R1:P294:7570822G->C; R:CTS207:2810583A->G; R:CTS2913:14561760A->G; R:CTS3622:15078469C->G; R:CTS7876:17722802G->A; R:CTS8311:17930099C->A; R:F33:6701239G->A; R:F63:7177189G->A; R:F82:7548900G->A; R:F154:8558505T->C; R:F370:16856357T->C; R:F459:18017528G->T; R:F652:23631629C->A; R:FGC1168:15667208G->C; R:L1225:22733758C->G; R:L1347:22818334C->T; R:M613:7133986G->C; R:M734:18066156C->T; R:P224:17285993C->T; R:P227:21409706G->C

Context of Latvia_MN1

The Middle Neolithic is known to mark the westward expansion of Comb Ware and related cultures in North-Eastern Europe.

Mathieson et al. (2017 and 2018) had this to say about the Middle Neolithic in the Baltic:

At Zvejnieki in Latvia, using 17 newly reported individuals and additional data for 5 previously reported34 individuals, we observe a transition in hunter-gatherer-related ancestry that is opposite to that seen in Ukraine. We find that Mesolithic and Early Neolithic individuals (labelled ‘Latvia_HG’) associated with the Kunda and Narva cultures have ancestry that is intermediate between WHG (approximately 70%) and EHG (approximately 30%), consistent with previous reports34–36(Supplementary Table 3). We also detect a shift in ancestry between Early Neolithic individuals and those associated with the Middle Neolithic Comb Ware complex (labelled ‘Latvia_MN’), who have more EHG-related ancestry; we estimate that the ancestry of Latvia_MN individuals comprises 65% EHG-related ancestry, but two of the four individuals appear to be 100% EHG in principal component space (Fig. 1b).

From Mathieson et al. (2018). Ancient individuals projected onto principal components defined by 777 presentday west Eurasians (shown in Extended Data Fig. 1); data include selected published individuals (faded circles, labelled) and newly reported individuals (other symbols, outliers enclosed in black circles). Coloured polygons cover individuals that had cluster memberships fixed at 100% for supervised ADMIXTURE analysis.

Other samples and errors on Y-SNP calls

The truth is, this is another sample (Latvia_MN_dup.I4627.SG) from the same individual ZVEJ26.

There is another sample used for the analysis of ZVEJ26, with the same data as in Mathieson et al. (2018), i.e. better coverage, and Y-DNA R1b1a1a(xR1b1a1a2).

Most samples in the tables from Wang et al. (2018) seem to be classified correctly, as in previous papers, but for:

  • Blätterhöhle Cave sample from Lipson et al. (2017), wrongly classified (again) as R1b1a1a2a1a2a1b2 (I am surprised no R1b-autochtonous-continuity-fan rushed to proclaim something based on this);
  • Mal’ta 1 sample from Raghavan et al. (2013) as R1b1a1a2;
  • Iron Gates HG, Schela Cladovey from Gonzalez Fortes (2017) as R1b1a1a2;
  • Oase1 from Fu (2015) as N1c1a;
  • samples from Skoglund et al. (2017) from Africa also wrongly classified as R1b1a1a2 and subclades.

It seems therefore that the poor coverage / SNPs hit on autosomes is the key common factor here for these Y-SNP calls, and so it is in the Zvejnieki MN1 duplicated sample. Anyway, if all Y-SNP calls come from the same software applied to all data, and this is going to be used in future papers, this seems to be a great improvement compared to Narasimhan et al. (2018)

EDIT (25 JUN 2018): I have been reviewing some more papers apart from Mathieson et al. (2018) and Olalde et al. (2018) to compare the reported haplogroups, and there seems to be many potential errors (or updated data, difficult to say sometimes, especially when the newly reported haplogroup is just one or two subclades below the reported one in ‘old’ papers), not only those listed above.

The sample accession number in the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) is SAMEA45565168 (Latvia_MN1/ZVEJ26) (see here), in case anyone used to this kind of analysis wishes to repeat the Y-SNP calls on both samples.

EDIT (25 JUN 2018): Added that it is another sample with lesser coverage from the same ZVEJ26 individual.


Sahara’s rather pale-green and discontinuous Sahelo-Sudanian steppe corridor, and the R1b – Afroasiatic connection


Interesting new paper (behind paywall) Megalakes in the Sahara? A Review, by Quade et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Sahara was wetter and greener during multiple interglacial periods of the Quaternary, when some have suggested it featured very large (mega) lakes, ranging in surface area from 30,000 to 350,000 km2. In this paper, we review the physical and biological evidence for these large lakes, especially during the African Humid Period (AHP) 11–5 ka. Megalake systems from around the world provide a checklist of diagnostic features, such as multiple well-defined shoreline benches, wave-rounded beach gravels where coarse material is present, landscape smoothing by lacustrine sediment, large-scale deltaic deposits, and in places, tufas encrusting shorelines. Our survey reveals no clear evidence of these features in the Sahara, except in the Chad basin. Hydrologic modeling of the proposed megalakes requires mean annual rainfall ≥1.2 m/yr and a northward displacement of tropical rainfall belts by ≥1000 km. Such a profound displacement is not supported by other paleo-climate proxies and comprehensive climate models, challenging the existence of megalakes in the Sahara. Rather than megalakes, isolated wetlands and small lakes are more consistent with the Sahelo-Sudanian paleoenvironment that prevailed in the Sahara during the AHP. A pale-green and discontinuously wet Sahara is the likelier context for human migrations out of Africa during the late Quaternary.

The whole review is an interesting read, but here are some relevant excerpts:

Various researchers have suggested that megalakes coevally covered portions of the Sahara during the AHP and previous periods, such as paleolakes Chad, Darfur, Fezzan, Ahnet-Mouydir, and Chotts (Fig. 2, Table 2). These proposed paleolakes range in size by an order of magnitude in surface area from the Caspian Sea–scale paleo-Lake Chad at 350,000 km2 to Lake Chotts at 30,000 km2. At their maximum, megalakes would have covered ~ 10% of the central and western Sahara, similar to the coverage by megalakes Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika in the equatorial tropics of the African Rift today. This observation alone should raise questions of the existence of megalakes in the Sahara, and especially if they developed coevally. Megalakes, because of their significant depth and area, generate large waves that become powerful modifiers of the land surface and leave conspicuous and extensive traces in the geologic record.

ETOPO1 digital elevation model (1 arc-minute; Amante and Eakins, 2009) of proposed megalakes in the Sahara Desert during the late Quaternary. Colors denote Köppen-Geiger climate zones: blue, Aw, Af, Am (tropical); light tan, Bwk, BSh, BSk, Csa, Csb, Cwb, Cfa, Cfb (temperate); red-brown, Bwh (arid, hot desert and steppe climate). Lake area at proposed megalake high stands and present Lake Victoria are in blue, and contributing catchment areas are shown as thin solid black lines. The main tributaries of Lake Chad are denoted by blue lines (from west to east: the Komadougou-Yobe, Logone, and Chari Rivers; source: Global Runoff Data Center, Koblenz, Germany). Rainfall isohyets (50, 200, 800, 1200, and 1600) are marked in dashed gray-scale lines. Physical parameters of each basin are shown in white boxes: Abt, total basin area; AW, lake area; Vw, lake volume; and aW= AW/Abt. Black dots mark the location of the paleohydrological records from Lezine et al. (2011), also compiled in Supplementary Table S5.

Lakes, megalakes, and wetlands

Active ground-water discharge systems abound in the Sahara today, although they were much more widespread in the AHP. They range from isolated springs and wet ground in many oases scattered across the Sahara (e.g., Haynes et al., 1989) to wetlands and small lakes (Kröpelin et al., 2008). Ground water feeding these systems is dominated by fossil AHP-age and older water (e.g., Edmunds and Wright 1979; Sonntag et al., 1980), although recently recharged water (<50 yr) has been locally identified in Saharan ground water (e.g., Sultan et al., 2000; Maduapuchi et al., 2006).

Megalake Chad

In our view, Lake Chad is the only former megalake in the Sahara firmly documented by sedimentologic and geomorphic evidence. Mega-Lake Chad is thought to have covered ~ 345,000 km2, stretching for nearly 8° (10–18°N) of latitude (Ghienne et al., 2002) (Fig. 2). The presence of paleo- Lake Chad was at one point challenged, but several—and in our view very robust—lines of evidence have been presented to support its development during the AHP. These include: (1) clear paleo-shorelines at various elevations, visible on the ground (Abafoni et al., 2014) and in radar and satellite images (Schuster et al., 2005; Drake and Bristow, 2006; Bouchette et al., 2010); (2) sand spits and shoreline berms (Thiemeyer, 2000; Abafoni et al., 2014); and (3) evaporites and aquatic fauna such as fresh-water mollusks and diatoms in basin deposits (e.g., Servant, 1973; Servant and Servant, 1983). Age determinations for all but the Holocene history of mega- Lake Chad are sparse, but there is evidence for Mio-Pliocene lake (s) (Lebatard et al., 2010) and major expansion of paleo- Lake Chad during the AHP (LeBlanc et al., 2006; Schuster et al., 2005; Abafoni et al., 2014; summarized in Armitage et al., 2015) up to the basin overflow level at ~ 329m asl.

Insights from hydrologic mass balance of megalakes

Graph of mean annual rainfall (mm/yr) versus aw (area lake/area basin, AW/AL); their modeled relationship using our Sahelo-Sudanian hydrologic model for the different lake basins are shown as solid colored lines. Superimposed on this (dashed lines) are the aw values for individual megalake basins and the mean annual rainfall required to sustain them. Mean annual paleo-rainfall estimates of 200– 400 mm/yr during the AHP from fossil pollen and mollusk evidence is shown as a tan box. The intersection of this box with the solid colored lines describes the resulting aw for Saharan paleolakes on the y-axis. The low predicted values for aw suggest that very large lakes would not form under Sahelo-Sudanian conditions where sustained by purely local rainfall and runoff. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

Using these conservative conditions (i.e., erring in the direction that will support megalake formation), our hydrologic models for the two biggest central Saharan megalakes (Darfur and Fezzan) require minimum annual average rainfall amounts of ~ 1.1 m/yr to balance moisture losses from their respective basins (Supplementary Table S1). Lake Chad required a similar amount (~1 m/yr; Supplementary Table S1) during the AHP according to our calculations, but this is plausible, because even today the southern third of the Chad basin receives ≥1.2 m/yr (Fig. 2) and experiences a climate similar to Lake Victoria. A modest 5° shift in the rainfall belt would bring this moist zone northward to cover a much larger portion of the Chad basin, which spans N13° ±7°. Estimated rainfall rates for Darfur and Fezzan are slightly less than the average of ~ 1.3 m/yr for the Lake Victoria basin, because of the lower aw values, that is, smaller areas of Saharan megalakes compared with their respective drainage basins (Fig. 15).

Estimates of paleo-rainfall during the AHP

Here major contradictions develop between the model outcomes and paleo-vegetation evidence, because our Sahelo-Sudanian hydrologic model predicts wetter conditions and therefore more tropical vegetation assemblages than found around Lake Victoria today. In fact, none of the very wet rainfall scenarios required by all our model runs can be reconciled with the relatively dry conditions implied by the fossil plant and animal evidence. In short, megalakes cannot be produced in Sahelo-Sudanian conditions past or present; to form, they require a tropical or subtropical setting, and major displacements of the African monsoon or extra-desert moisture sources.

Change in mean annual precipitation over northern Africa between mid-Holocene (6 ka) and pre-industrial conditions in PMIP3 models (affiliations are provided in Supplementary Table S4). Lakes Victoria and Chad outlined in blue. (a) Ensemble mean change in mean annual precipitation and positions of the African summer (July–September) ensemble mean ITCZ during mid-Holocene (solid red line) and pre-industrial conditions (solid blue line). (b) Zonal average of change in mean annual precipitation over land (20°W–30°E) for the ensemble mean (thick black) and individual models are listed on right). The range of minimal estimated change in mean annual precipitation required to sustain steppe is shown in shaded green (Jolly et al., 1998).


If not megalakes, what size lakes, marshes, discharging springs, and flowing rivers in the Sahara were sustainable in Sahelo-Sudanian climatic conditions? For lakes and perennial rivers to be created and sustained, net rainfall in the basin has to exceed loss to evapotranspiration, evaporation, and infiltration, yielding runoff that then supplies a local lake or river. Our hydrologic models (see Supplementary Material) and empirical observations (Gash et al., 1991; Monteith, 1991) for the Sahel suggest that this limit is in the 200–300 mm/yr range, meaning that most of the Sahara during the AHP was probably too dry to support very large lakes or perennial rivers by means of local runoff. This does not preclude creation of local wetlands supplied by ground-water recharge focused from a very large recharge area or forced to the surface by hydrologic barriers such as faults, nor megalakes like Chad supplied by moisture from the subtropics and tropics outside the Sahel. But it does raise a key question concerning the size of paleolakes, if not megalakes, in the Sahara during the AHP. Our analysis suggests that Sahelo-Sudanian climate could perhaps support a paleolake approximately ≤5000 km2 in area in the Darfur basin and ≤10,000–20,000 km2 in the Fezzan basin. These are more than an order of magnitude smaller than the megalakes envisioned for these basins, but they are still sizable, and if enclosed in a single body of water, should have been large enough to generate clear shorelines (Enzel et al., 2015, 2017). On the other hand, if surface water was dispersed across a series of shallow and extensive but partly disconnected wetlands, as also implied by previous research (e.g., Pachur and Hoelzmann, 1991), then shorelines may not have developed.

One of the underdeveloped ideas of my Indo-European demic diffusion model was that R1b-V88 had migrated through South Italy to Northern Africa, and from it using the Sahara Green Corridor to the south, from where the “upside-down” view of Bender (2007) could have occurred, i.e. Afroasiatic expanding westwards within the Green Sahara, precisely at this time, and from a homeland near the Megalake Chad region (see here).

Whether or not R1b-V88 brought the ‘original’ lineage that expanded Afroasiatic languages may be contended, but after D’Atanasio et al. (2018) it seems that only two lineages, E-M2 and R1b-V88, fit the ‘star-like’ structure suggesting an appropriate haplogroup expansion and necessary regional distribution that could explain the spread of Afroasiatic languages within a reasonable time frame.

Palaeolithic migrations

This review shows that the hypothesized Green Sahara corridor full of megalakes that some proposed had fully connected Africa from west to east was actually a strip of Sahelo-Sudanian steppe spread to the north of its current distribution, including the Chad megalake, East Africa and Arabia, apart from other discontinuous local wetlands further to the north in Africa. This greenish belt would have probably allowed for the initial spread of early Afroasiatic proto-languages only through the southern part of the current Sahara Desert. This and the R1b-V88 haplogroup distribution in Central and North Africa (with a prevalence among Chadic speakers probably due to later bottlenecks), and the Near East, leaves still fewer possibilities for an expansion of Afroasiatic from anywhere else.

If my proposal turns out to be correct, this Afroasiatic-like language would be the one suggested by some in the vocabulary of Old European and North European local groups (viz. Kroonen for the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis), and not Anatolian farmer ancestry or haplogroup G2, which would have been rather confined to Southern Europe, mainly south of the Loess line, where incoming Middle East farmers encountered the main difficulties spreading agriculture and herding, and where they eventually admixed with local hunter-gatherers.

NOTE. If related to attested languages before the Roman expansion, Tyrsenian would be a good candidate for a descendant of the language of Anatolian farmers, given the more recent expansion of Anatolian ancestry to the Tuscan region (even if already influenced by Iran farmer ancestry), which reinforces its direct connection to the Aegean.

The fiercest opposition to this R1b-V88 – Afroasiatic connection may come from:

  • Traditional Hamito-Semitic scholars, who try to look for any parent language almost invariably in or around the Near East – the typical “here it was first attested, ergo here must be the origin, too”-assumption (coupled with the cradle of civilization memes) akin to the original reasons behind Anatolian or Out-of-India hypotheses; and of course
  • autochthonous continuity theories based on modern subclades, of (mainly Semitic) peoples of haplogroup E or J, who will root for either one or the other as the Afroasiatic source no matter what. As we have seen with the R1a – Indo-European hypothesis (see here for its history), this is never the right way to look at prehistoric migrations, though.

I proposed that it was R1a-M417 the lineage marking an expansion of Indo-Uralic from the east near Lake Baikal, then obviously connected to Yukaghir and Altaic languages marked by R1a-M17, and that haplogroup R could then be the source of a hypothetic Nostratic expansion (where R2 could mark the Dravidian expansion), with upper clades being maybe responsible for Borean.

Simple Nostratic tree by Bomhard (2008)

However, recent studies have shown early expansions of R1b-297 to East Europe (Mathieson et al. 2017 & 2018), and of R1b-M73 to East Eurasia probably up to Siberia, and possibly reaching the Pacific (Jeong et al. 2018). Also, the Steppe Eneolithic and Caucasus Eneolithic clusters seen in Wang et al. (2018) would be able to explain the WHG – EHG – ANE ancestry cline seen in Mesolithic and Neolithic Eurasia without a need for westward migrations.

Dravidian is now after Narasimhan et al. (2018) and Damgaard et al. (Science 2018) more and more likely to be linked to the expansion of the Indus Valley civilization and haplogroup J, in turn strongly linked to Iranian farmer ancestry, thus giving support to an Elamo-Dravidian group stemming from Iran Neolithic.

NOTE. This Dravidian-IVC and Iran connection has been supported for years by knowledgeable bloggers and commenters alike, see e.g. one of Razib Khan’s posts on the subject. This rather early support for what is obvious today is probably behind the reactionary views by some nationalist Hindus, who probably saw in this a potential reason for a strengthened Indo-Aryan/Dravidian divide adding to the religious patchwork that is modern India.

I am not in a good position to judge Nostratic, and I don’t think Glottochronology, Swadesh lists, or any statistical methods applied to a bunch of words are of any use, here or anywhere. The work of pioneers like Illich-Svitych or Starostin, on the other hand, seem to me solid attempts to obtain a faithful reconstruction, if rather outdated today.

NOTE. I am still struggling to learn more about Uralic and Indo-Uralic; not because it is more difficult than Indo-European, but because – in comparison to PIE comparative grammar – material about them is scarce, and the few available sources are sometimes contradictory. My knowledge of Afroasiatic is limited to Semitic (Arabic and Akkadian), and the field is not much more developed here than for Uralic…

Spread of Y-haplogroup R1b(xM269) in Eurasia, according to Jeong et al. (2018).

If one wanted to support a Nostratic proto-language, though, and not being able to take into account genome-wide autosomal admixture, the only haplogroup right now which can connect the expansion of all its branches is R1b-M343:

  • R1b-L278 expanded from Asia to Europe through the Iranian Plateau, since early subclades are found in Iran and the Caucasus region, thus supporting the separation of Elamo-Dravidian and Kartvelian branches;
  • From the Danube or another European region ‘near’ the Villabruna 1 sample (of haplogroup R1b-L754):
    • R1b-V88 expanding everywhere in Europe, and especially the branch expanding to the south into Africa, may be linked to the initial Afroasiatic expansion through the Pale-Green Sahara corridor (and even a hypothetic expansion with E-M2 subclades and/or from the Middle East would also leave open the influence of V88 and previous R1b subclades from the Middle East in the emergence of the language);
    • R1b-297 subclades expanding to the east may be linked to Eurasiatic, giving rise to both Indo-Uralic (M269) and Macro- or Micro-Altaic (M73) expansions.

This is shameless, simplistic speculation, of course, but not more than the Nostratic hypothesis, and it has the main advantage of offering ‘small and late’ language expansions relative to other proposals spanning thousands (or even tens of thousands) of years more of language separation. On the other hand, that would leave Borean out of the question, unless the initial expansion of R1b subclades happened from a community close to lake Baikal (and Mal’ta) that was also at the origin of the other supposedly related Borean branches, whether linked to haplogroup R or to any other…

NOTE. If Afroasiatic and Indo-Uralic (or Eurasiatic) are not genetically related, my previous simplistic model, R1b-Afroasiatic vs. R1a-Eurasiatic, may still be supported, with R1a-M17 potentially marking the latest meaningful westward population expansion from which EHG ancestry might have developed (see here). Without detailed works on Nostratic comparative grammar and dialectalization, and especially without a lot more Palaeolithic and Mesolithic samples, all this will remain highly speculative, like proposals of the 2000s about Y-DNA-haplogroup – language relationships.


Kortlandt: West Indo-Europeans along the Danube, Germanic and Balto-Slavic share a Corded Ware substrate


New paper (behind paywall) The Expansion of the Indo-European Languages, by Frederik Kortlandt, JIES (2018) 46(1 & 2):219-231.


When considering the way the Indo-Europeans took to the west, it is important to realize that mountains, forests and marshlands were prohibitive impediments. Moreover, people need fresh water, all the more so when traveling with horses. The natural way from the Russian steppe to the west is therefore along the northern bank of the river Danube. This leads to the hypothesis that the western Indo-Europeans represent successive waves of migration along the Danube and its tributaries. The Celts evidently followed the Danube all the way to southern Germany. The ancestors of the Italic tribes, including the Veneti, may have followed the river Sava towards northern Italy. The ancestors of Germanic speakers apparently moved into Moravia and Bohemia and followed the Elbe into Saxony. A part of the Veneti may have followed them into Moravia and moved along the Oder through the Moravian Gate into Silesia. The hypothetical speakers of Temematic probably moved through Slovakia along the river Orava into western Galicia. The ancestors of speakers of Balkan languages crossed the lower Danube and moved to the south. This scenario is in agreement with the generally accepted view of the earliest relations between these branches of Indo-European.

The western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, which came about when their speakers moved westwards north and south of the Pripet marshes. These events are older than the westward movement of the Slavs which brought them into contact with Temematic speakers. One may conjecture that the Venedi occupied the Oder basin and then expanded eastwards over the larger part of present-day Poland before the western Balts came down the river Niemen and moved onwards to the lower Vistula. We may then identify the Venedic expansion with the spread of the Corded Ware horizon and the westward migration of the Balts and the Slavs with their integration into the larger cultural complex. The theory that the Venedi separated from the Veneti in the upper Sava region and moved through Moravia and Silesia to the Baltic Sea explains the “im Namenmaterial auffällige Übereinstimmung zwischen dem Baltikum und den Gebieten um den Nordteil der Adria” (Udolph 1981: 61). The Balts probably moved in two stages because the differences between West and East Baltic are considerable.

Instead of reinterpreting his views in light of the recent genetic finds, Kortlandt tries to mix in this paper his own old theories (see his paper Baltic, Slavic, Germanic) with the recent interpretations of genetic papers, using also dubious secondary sources – e.g. Iversen and Kroonen (2017) or Klejn (2017) [see here, and here] – which, in my opinion, creates a potentially dangerous circular reasoning.

For example, even though he criticizes the general stance of recent genetic papers with regard to Proto-Indo-European dialectalization and expansion as too early, and he supports the Danube expansion route, he nevertheless follows their interpretations in accepting that Corded Ware was Indo-European (following the newest model proposed by Anthony):

The [Yamnaya] penetrated central and northern Europe from the lower Danube through the Carpathian basin, not from the east. The Carpathian basis was evidently the cradle of the Corded Ware cultures, where the descendants of the Yamnaya mixed with the local early farmers before proceeding to the north. The development has a clear parallel in the Middle Ages, when the Hungarians mixed with the local Slavic populations in the same territory (cf. Kushniarevich & al. 2015).

He still follows his good old Indo-Slavonic group in the east, but at the same time maintains Kallio’s view that there were no early Uralic loanwords in Balto-Slavic, and also Kallio’s (and the general) view that there were close contacts with PIE and Pre-Proto-Indo-Iranian…

NOTE. The latest paper on Eurasian migrations by Damgaard et al. (Nature 2018), which shows mainly Proto-Iranians dominating over East Europe after the Early Bronze Age, have left still fewer space for a Proto-Balto-Slavic group emerging from the east.

Also, he asserts the following, which is a rather weird interpretation of events:

It appears that the Corded Ware horizon spread to southern Scandinavia (cf. Iversen & Kroonen 2017) but not to the Baltic region during the Neolithic.

“However, we also find indications of genetic impact from exogenous populations during the Neolithic, most likely from northern Eurasia and the Pontic Steppe. These influences are distinct from the Anatolian-farmer-related gene flow found in Central Europe during this period.”

It follows that the Indo-Europeans did not reach the Baltic region before the Late Neolithic. The influx of non-local people from northern Eurasia may be identified with the expansion of the Finno-Ugrians, who came into contact with the Indo-Europeans as a result of the eastward expansion of the latter in the fourth millennium. This was long before the split between Balto-Slavic and Indo-Iranian.

In the Late Neolithic there was “a further population movement into the regions surrounding the Baltic Sea” that was “accompanied by the first evidence of extensive animal husbandry in the Eastern Baltic”, which “suggests import of the new economy by an incoming steppe-like population independent of the agricultural societies that were already established to the south and west of the Baltic Sea.” (Mittnik & al. 2018). These may have been the ancestors of Balto-Slavic speakers. At a later stage, the Corded Ware horizon spread eastward, giving rise to farming ancestry in Eastern Baltic individuals and to a female gene-flow from the Eastern Baltic into Central Europe (ibidem).

Late Copper Age migrations in Asia ca. 2800-2300 BC.

He is a strong Indo-Uralic supporter, and supports a parallel Indo-European – Uralic development in Eastern Europe, and (as you can read) he misunderstands the description of population movements in the Baltic region, and thus misplaces Finno-Ugric speakers as Eurasian migrants arriving in the Baltic from the east during the Late Neolithic, before the Corded Ware expansion, which is not what the cited papers implied.

NOTE. Such an identification of westward Neolithic migrations with Uralic speakers is furthermore to be rejected following the most recent paper on Fennoscandian samples.

He had previously asserted that the substrate common to Germanic and Balto-Slavic is Indo-European with non-Indo-European substrate influence, so I guess that Corded Ware influencing as a substrate both Germanic and Balto-Slavic is the best way he could put everything together, if one assumes the widespread interpretations of genetic papers:

Thus, I think that the western Indo-European vocabulary in Baltic and Slavic is the result of an Indo-European substratum which contained an older non-Indo-European layer and was part of the Corded Ware horizon. The numbers show that a considerable part of the vocabulary was borrowed after the split between Baltic and Slavic, (…)

NOTE. It is very likely that this paper was sent in late 2017. That’s the main problem with traditional publications including the most recent genetic investigation: by the time something gets eventually published, the text is already outdated.

I obviously share his opinion on precedence of disciplines in Indo-European studies:

The methodological point to be emphasized here is that the linguistic evidence takes precedence over archaeological and genetic data, which give no information about the languages spoken and can only support the linguistic evidence. The relative chronology of developments must be established on the basis of the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The location of a reconstructed language can only be established on the basis of lexical and onomastic material. On the other hand, archaeological or genetic data may supply the corresponding absolute chronology. It is therefore incorrect to attribute cultural influences in southern Scandinavia and the Baltic region in the third millennium to Germanic or Baltic speakers because these languages did not yet exist. While the Italo-Celtic branch may have separated from its Indo-European neighbors in the first half of the third millennium, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Indo-Iranian can be dated to the second millennium and Proto-Germanic to the end of the first millennium BC (cf. Kortlandt 2010: 173f., 197f., 249f.). The Indo-Europeans who moved to southern Scandinavia as part of the Corded Ware horizon were not the ancestors of Germanic speakers, who lived farther to the south, but belonged to an unknown branch that was eventually replaced by Germanic.

I hope we can see more and more anthropological papers like this, using traditional linguistics coupled with archaeology and the most recent genetic investigations.

EDIT (4 JUL 2018): Some errors corrected.


Yamna/Afanasevo elite males dominated by R1b-L23, Okunevo brings ancient Siberian/Asian population


Open access paper New genetic evidence of affinities and discontinuities between bronze age Siberian populations, by Hollard et al., Am J Phys Anthropol. (2018) 00:1–11.

NOTE. This seems to be a peer-reviewed paper based on a more precise re-examination of the samples from Hollard’s PhD thesis, Peuplement du sud de la Sibérie et de l’Altaï à l’âge du Bronze : apport de la paléogénétique (2014).

Interesting excerpts:

Afanasevo and Yamna

The Afanasievo culture is the earliest known archaeological culture of southern Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk-Altai region during the Eneolithic era 3600/3300 BC to 2500 BC (Svyatko et al., 2009; Vadetskaya et al., 2014). Archeological data showed that the Afanasievo culture had strong affinities with the Yamnaya and pre-Yamnaya Eneolithic cultures in the West (Grushin et al., 2009). This suggests a Yamnaya migration into western Altai and into Afanasievo. Note that, in most current publications, “the Yamnaya culture” combines the so-called “classical Yamnaya culture” of the Early Bronze Age and archeological sites of the preceding Repin culture in the middle reaches of the Don and Volga rivers. In the present article we conventionally use the term Yamnaya in the same sense, in which case the beginning of the “Yamnaya culture” can be dated after the middle of the 4th millennium BC, when the Afanasievo culture appeared in the Altai.

Because of numerous traits attributed to early Indo-Europeans and cultural relations with Kurgan steppe cultures, members of the Afanasievo culture are believed to have been Indo-European speakers (Mallory and Mair, 2000). In a recent whole-genome sequencing study, Allentoft et al. (2015) concluded that Eastern Yamnaya individuals and Afanasievo individuals were genetically indistinguishable. Moreover, this study and one published concurrently by Haak et al. (2015) analyzed 11 Eastern Yamnaya males and showed that all of them belonged to the R1b1a1a (formerly R1b1a) (…)

Early Chalcolithic migrations ca. 3300-2600 BC.

Published works indicate that R1b was a predominant haplogroup from the late Neolithic to the early Bronze Age, notably in the Bell Beaker and Yamnaya cultures (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2012; Mathieson et al., 2015). Nearly 100% of the Afanasievo men we typed belonged to the R1b1a1a subhaplogroup and, for at least three of them, more precisely to the L23 (xM412) subclade. (…)

(…) our results therefore support the hypothesis of a genetic link between Afanasievo and Yamnaya. This also suggests that R1b was indeed dominant in the early Bronze Age Siberian steppe, at least in individuals that were buried in kurgans (possibly an elite part of the population). The geographical and temporal distribution of subhaplogroup R1b1a1a supports the hypothesis of population expansion from West to East in the Eurasian steppe during this period. It should however be noted that the Yamnaya burials from which the samples for DNA analysis were obtained (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015; Mathieson et al., 2015) were dated within the limits of the Afanasievo period. Ancestors of both East Yamnaya and Afanasievo populations must therefore be sought in the context of earlier Eneolithic cultures in Eastern Europe. Sufficient Y-chromosomal data from such Eneolithic populations is, unfortunately, not yet available.

Mitochondrial- (A) and Y- (B) haplogroup distribution in studied populations

Okunevo and paternal lineage shift in South Siberia

Results obtained in the current study, from more than a dozen Okunevo individuals belonging to the earliest stage of Okunevo culture, that is the Uibat period (2500–2200 BC) (Lazaretov, 1997), suggest a discontinuity in the genetic pool between Afanasievo and Okunevo cultures. Although Y-chromosomal data obtained for bearers of the Okunevo culture showed that one individual carried haplogroup R1b, most Okunevo Y-haplogroups are representative of an Asian component represented by paternal lineages Q and NO1.

Okunevo carrier of Y-haplogroup Q1b1a-L54, which also supports this hypothesis (L54 being a marker of the lineage from which M3, the main Ameridian lineage, arose). Okunevo people could therefore be a remnant paleo-Siberian population with possible Afanasievo input, as suggested by the presence of the R1b1a1a2a subhaplogroup in one individual.

Late Chalcolithic migrations ca. 2600-2250 BC.

Replacement of Asian Indo-European elite lineages by R1a

Published genetic data from the late Bronze Age Andronovo culture from the Minusinsk Basin (Keyser et al., 2009), the Sintashta culture from Russia (Allentoft et al., 2015) and the Srubnaya culture from the region of Samara (Mathieson et al., 2015), show that males did not belong to Y-haplogroup R1b but mostly to R1a clades: there appears to have been a change in the dominant Y-chromosomal haplogroup between the early and the late Bronze Age in these regions. Moreover, as described in Allentoft et al. (2015), the Andronovo and Sintashta peoples were closely related to each other but clearly distinct from both Yamnaya and Afanasievo. Although these results do not imply that Y-haplogroup R1b was entirely absent in these later populations, they could correspond to a replacement of the elite between these two main periods and therefore a difference in the haplogroups of the men that were preferentially buried.

Early Bronze Age migrations ca. 2250-1750 BC.

Afanasevo and the Tarim Basin

The discovery, in the Tarim Basin, of well-preserved mummies from the Bronze Age allows for the construction of two hypotheses regarding the peopling of the Xinjiang province at this period. The “steppe hypothesis,” argues for a link with nomadic steppe herders (Hemphill and Mallory, 2004), possibly represented in this case by Afanasievo populations and their descendants (Mallory and Mair, 2000). However, newly published cultural data from the burial grounds of Gumugou (Wang, 2014) and Xiaohe (Xinjiang, 2003, 2007) shows material culture and burial rites incompatible with the Afanasievo culture. The earliest 14C date for Tarim Basin burials would place them at the turn of the 2nd millenium BC (Wang, 2013), 500 years after the Afanasievo period.

Instead, early Gumugou and Xiaohe burial grounds were contemporary with the start of the Andronovo period. Likewise, the Bronze Age population of the Xinjiang at Gumugou/Qäwrighul is not phenotypically closest to Afanasievo but to the Andronovo (Fedorovo) group of northeastern Kazakhstan and western Altai (Kozintsev, 2009). Our investigations demonstrate that Y-chromosomal lineage composition is also compatible with the notion that the ancient Tarim population was genetically distinct from the Afanasievo population. The only Y-haplogroup found by Li et al. (2010) in the Bronze Age Tarim Basin population was Y-haplogroup R1a, which suggests a proximity of this population with Andronovo groups rather than Afanasievo groups.

I don’t think these finds are much of a surprise based on what we already know, or need much explanation…

I would add that, once again, we have more proof that the movement of Okunevo and related ancient Siberian migrants from Central or North Asia will not be able to explain the presence of Uralic languages spread over North-East Europe and Scandinavia already during the Bronze Age.

Also interesting is to read in more peer-reviewed papers the idea of Late Indo-European speakers clearly linked to the expansion of patrilineally-related elite males marked by haplogroup R1b-L23, most likely since Eneolithic Khvalynsk/Repin cultures.


North Asian mitogenomes hint at the arrival of pastoralists from West to East ca. 2800-1000 BC


Open access Investigating Holocene human population history in North Asia using ancient mitogenomes, by Kılınç et al., Scientific Reports (2018) 8: 8969.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Archaeogenomic studies have largely elucidated human population history in West Eurasia during the Stone Age. However, despite being a broad geographical region of significant cultural and linguistic diversity, little is known about the population history in North Asia. We present complete mitochondrial genome sequences together with stable isotope data for 41 serially sampled ancient individuals from North Asia, dated between c.13,790 BP and c.1,380 BP extending from the Palaeolithic to the Iron Age. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences and haplogroup data of these individuals revealed the highest genetic affinity to present-day North Asian populations of the same geographical region suggesting a possible long-term maternal genetic continuity in the region. We observed a decrease in genetic diversity over time and a reduction of maternal effective population size (Ne) approximately seven thousand years before present. Coalescent simulations were consistent with genetic continuity between present day individuals and individuals dating to 7,000 BP, 4,800 BP or 3,000 BP. Meanwhile, genetic differences observed between 7,000 BP and 3,000 BP as well as between 4,800 BP and 3,000 BP were inconsistent with genetic drift alone, suggesting gene flow into the region from distant gene pools or structure within the population. These results indicate that despite some level of continuity between ancient groups and present-day populations, the region exhibits a complex demographic history during the Holocene.

Relationship between ancient North Asians and other populations based on haplogroup frequencies. Ancient North Asians as a single group (SIB, n = 41) and as divided into three different regional groups including Cis-Baikal (CISB, n = 23), Trans-Baikal (TRAB, n = 7) and Yakutia (YAK, n = 9) or as divided into three temporal groups including Early (7,000 BP, n = 11), Middle (4800 BP, n = 16) and Late (3000 BP, n = 11). Two individuals from Krasnoyarsk and Blagoveshensk are not included in regional groups due to their distinct geographical locations. (a) Barplot showing haplogroup frequencies on a dataset of 1,780 individuals. PCA plot based on haplogroup frequencies calculated using (b) 291 individuals with full mitochondrial sequences. Ancient North Asians are included as a single population. (c) 1,780 individuals. Ancient North Asians are included as three different regional groups in the analysis. See also Supplementary Tables S1, S4–S12 and Fig. S3a and b in Supplementary Information.

Interesting excerpts:

Although highly dependent on sample size and thus prone to generalization, haplotype sharing analysis between three spatial groups and other modern and ancient populations (Supplementary Table S15) revealed that the TRAB group shared most lineages with ancient Kazakh Altai (KA) and modern Nganasan (NGN)39,40,41,42. The CISB group shared most lineages with Tubalar39,42, KA43 and Early Bronze Age groups of Russia (BO)12, which might reflect the Siberian roots of BO, consistent with MDS based on Fst (Fig. 3b). The YAK group shared most lineages with the CISB, BO and Tubalar groups. These results showed that despite being from different sides of the Lake Baikal, the CISB and YAK groups shared most lineages with the Tubalar and also both of them were to a certain degree affiliated to the BO of the Cis-Baikal region, thus, reflecting a shared common ancestry. Furthermore, the CISB and YAK groups share lineages supporting the hypothesis of a lasting continuity in this large geographical territory. However, the TRAB group may have different legacy with affinities to ancient Kazakh Altai and modern Nganasan groups (that, actually, may have relocated from the Trans-Baikal region in times post-dating our sample).

Relationship between ancient North Asians and other ancient and present-day populations based on Slatkin’s linearized pairwise FST. MDS plot based on Slatkin’s linearized pairwise FST calculated using (a) full mitochondrial DNA sequences. (b) HVRI sequences. See also Fig. S3c and d in Supplementary Information, Supplementary Tables S13–S15.

Two findings, however, were intriguing. One was the discovery of only weak support for a single regional population in comparisons between Early vs. Late as well as Middle vs. Late groups in the region. This may be explained by population structure, as the Late group comprised geographically very distant individuals, such as individuals from Krasnoyarsk Krai and Amur Oblast, not represented in the other diachronic groups (Table S9). Another explanation for rejecting the null hypothesis of continuity between the Middle and Late (4,800–3,000 BP) groups might be due to an interruption and the arrival of pastoralists at the beginning of the Iron Age between 3,670 to 2,760  BP as suggested by the archaeological record32. Thus, the introduction of the new lifeways, technologies and material culture expressions might also here be associated to an increased mobility into the area.

The second point was the estimated reduction in maternal effective population size and haplotype diversity around 7,000 BP. Intriguingly, climate modelling and radiocarbon dating studies53 suggest that climatic change and a collapse of the riverine ecosystems might have affected the human populations in Cis Baikal between 7,000–6,000 BP in line with our results. This finding was further supported by archaeological studies pointing to a possible hiatus38,54,55.

Although our results provide a first glimpse into population structure and diversity in North Asia during the Holocene which link to trend in the archaeological record, complete genome sequences will provide a higher resolution of more complex demographic events in the region.

Yet another hint at the west-east (and not east-west) population movement in Eurasia after the Corded Ware and Yamna expansions, without any significant change in the other direction until the Iron Age (as we know from Fennoscandian samples), which leaves still less space to propose incoming Uralic-speaking groups from Asia…


Pre-Germanic born out of a Proto-Finnic substrate in Scandinavia


A commenter, Old Europe, drew my attention to the Uralic (Finnic-Saamic) substrate in Germanic proposed by Schrijver in Chapter V. Origins of Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages, Routledge (2014).

I wanted to share here some interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

NOTE. I have avoided many detailed linguistic discussions. You should read the whole chapter to check them out.

The origins of the Germanic subfamily of Indo-European cannot be understood without acknowledging its interactions with a language group that has been its long-time neighbour: the Finnic subgroup of the Uralic language family. Indo-European and Uralic are linked to one another in two ways: they are probably related to one another in deep time — how deep is impossible to say3 — and Indo-European has been a constant source from which words were borrowed into Uralic languages, from the fourth millennium BC up to the present day.4 The section of the Uralic family that has always remained in close proximity to the Indo-European dialects which eventually turned into Germanic is Finnic. I use the term Finnic with a slightly idiosyncratic meaning : it covers the Finno-Saamic protolanguage and both of its children, Saami and Balto-Finnic.(…)

Schrijver (2014). The Finnic family tree (simplified)

Linguistically, the relationship between Indo-European and Uralic has always been asymmetrical. While hundreds of loanwords flowed into Uralic languages from Indo-European languages such as Germanic, Balto-Slavic, Iranian, and Proto-Indo-European itself, hardly any Uralic loanwords have entered the Indo-European languages (apart from a few relatively late dialectal loans into e.g. Russian and the Scandinavian languages). This strongly suggests that Uralic speakers have always been more receptive to ideas coming from Indo-European–speaking areas than the other way around. This inequality probably began when farming and the entire way of life that accompanies it reached Uralic-speaking territory via Indo-European–speaking territory, so that Uralic speakers, who traditionally were hunter-gatherers of the mixed and evergreen forest zone of northeastern Europe and gradually switched to an existence as sedentary farmers, were more likely to pick up ideas and the words that go with them from Indo-European than from anywhere else.

Farming requires a different mind-set from a hunter-gatherer existence. Farmers are generally sedentary, model the landscape, and have an agricultural calendar to determine their actions. Hunter-gatherers of the northern forest zone are generally nomadic, and rather than themselves modelling the natural environment they are modelled by it: their calendar depends on when and where a particular natural resource is available.(…)

All of this is no doubt a simplification of the thousands of years of associations between speakers of Uralic and speakers of Indo-European, but the loanword evidence strongly suggests that by and large relations between the two groups were highly unequal. The single direction in which loanwords flowed, and the mass of loanwords involved, can be compared with the relation between Latin and the vernacular languages in the Roman Empire, almost all of which disappeared in favour of Latin. It is therefore certain that groups of Uralic speakers switched to Indo-European. The question is whether we can trace those groups and, more particularly, whether Finnic speakers switching to Indo-European were involved in creating the Indo-European dialect we now know as Germanic.

Convergence of Finnic and Germanic

What both have in common is that the sound structures of Finnic and Germanic, which started from very different beginnings, apparently came to resemble one another significantly. If that is what we observe, we must conclude that both languages converged as a result of contact.

During the approximately five to six millennia that separate Proto-Uralic from Modern Finnish, there was only one episode during which the consonantal system underwent a dramatic overhaul. This episode separates the Finno-Saamic protolanguage, which is phonologically extremely conservative, from the Balto-Finnic protolanguage, which is very innovative.


By the time Finno-Saamic developed into Balto-Finnic, the consonant system was very different:


In Balto-Finnic, the entire palatal series has been lost, apart from j, and the contrast between dentals and alveolars has disappeared: out of three different s-sounds only one remains. The fricatives ð and γ have been lost, and so has the velar nasal ŋ. The only increase has been in the number of long (geminate) consonants by the appearance of ss, mm, nn, and ll. The loss of separate alveolar and palatal series and the disappearance of ŋ could be conceived as convergences towards Proto-Germanic, which lacked such consonants. This is not obvious for the loss of the voiced fricatives γ, ð, which Proto-Germanic did possess. However, this way of comparing Balto-Finnic and Germanic is flawed in an important respect: what we are doing is assessing convergence by comparing the dynamic development from Finno-Saamic to Balto-Finnic to the static system of Proto-Germanic, as if Proto-Germanic is not itself the result of a set of changes to the ancestral Pre-Germanic consonantal system. If we wish to find out whether there was convergence and which language converged on which, what we should do, therefore, is to compare the dynamic development of Finno-Saamic to Balto-Finnic to the dynamic development of Pre-Germanic to Proto-Germanic, because only that procedure will allow us to state whether Balto-Finnic moved towards Proto-Germanic, or Proto-Germanic moved towards Balto-Finnic, or both moved towards a third language. The Pre-Germanic consonantal system can be reconstructed as follows: 7


The slashes in the second and third rows indicate the uncertainty about the Proto-Indo-European nature of the sounds involved. (…)

What resulted was the following Proto-Germanic consonant system:


We are now in a better position to answer the question whether Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic have converged. Three striking developments affected both languages:

  • Both languages lost the palatalized series of consonants (apart from j), which in both languages became non-palatalized.
  • Both languages developed an extensive set of long (geminate) consonants; Pre-Germanic had none, while Finno-Saamic already had a few.
  • Both languages developed an h.

These similarities between the languages are considerable.

The idea that perhaps both languages moved towards a lost third language, whose speakers may have been assimilated to both Balto-Finnic and Germanic, provides a fuller explanation but suffers from the drawback that it shifts the full burden of the explanation to a mysterious ‘language X’ that is called upon only in order to explain the developments in Proto-Germanic and Balto-Finnic. That comes dangerously close to circular reasoning.

Verner’s Law in Pre-Germanic

As we have seen in the preceding section, Verner’s law is a sound change that affected originally voiceless consonants, so *p , t , k , kj , kw, s of the Pre-Germanic system. These normally became the Proto-Germanic voiceless fricatives *f, θ, h, h, hw, s, respectively. But if *p, t, k etc. were preceded by an originally unstressed syllable, Verner’s law intervened and they were turned into voiced consonants. Those voiced consonants merged with the series *bh, dh, gh of the Pre-Germanic system and therefore subsequently underwent all changes that the latter did, turning out as *b/v , *d/ð , g/γ in the Proto-Germanic system (that is, v, ð, γ after a vowel and b, d, g in all other environments in the word). When *s was affected by Verner’s Law, a new phoneme *z arose. In a diagram:


While it is very common in the history of European languages for stress to influence the development of vowels, it only very rarely affected consonants in this part of the world. Verner’s law is a striking exception. It resembles a development which, on a much larger scale, affected Finno-Saamic: consonant gradation.(…)

In all Finno-Saamic languages, rhythmic gradation has become phonemic and fossilized. The connection between rhythmic gradation and Verner’s law is relatively straightforward: both processes involve changing a voiceless consonant after an unstressed syllable. (…)

We can therefore repeat for Proto-Uralic the argument that persuaded us earlier that gradation in Saami and Balto-Finnic must go back to the common Finno-Saamic protolanguage: the similarity of the gradation rules in Nganasan to those in Finno-Saamic is so specific and so detailed, and the phenomenon of gradation so rare in the languages of the world, that gradation must be reconstructed for the Uralic protolanguage.

Verner’s law turns all voiceless obstruents (Pre-Germanic *p, t, k, kj, kw, s) into voiced obstruents (ultimately Proto-Germanic *b/v , d/ð, g/γ, g/γ, gw, z) after a Pre-Germanic unstressed syllable. Rhythmic gradation turns all voiceless obstruents after an unstressed syllable into weak-grade consonants, which means that *p, t, k, s become Finnic *b/v , d/ð , g/γ, z. This is striking. Given the geographical proximity of Balto-Finnic and Germanic and given the rare occurrence of stress-related consonant changes in European languages, it would be unreasonable to think that Verner’s law and rhythmic gradation have nothing to do with one another.

It is very hard to accept, however, that gradation is the result of copying Verner’s law into Finnic. First of all, Verner’s law, which might account for rhythmic gradation, in no way accounts for syllabic gradation in Finnic. And, second, gradation can be shown to be an inherited feature of Finnic which goes all the way back to Proto-Uralic. Once one acknowledges that Verner’s law and gradation are causally linked and that gradation cannot be explained as a result of copying Verner’s law into Finnic, there remains only one possibility: Verner’s law is a copy of Finnic rhythmic gradation into Germanic. That means that we have finally managed to find what we were looking for all along: a Finnic sound feature in Germanic that betrays that Finnic speakers shifted to Germanic and spoke Germanic with a Finnic accent. The consequence of this idea is dramatic: since Verner’s law affected all of Germanic, all of Germanic has a Finnic accent.

Late Chalcolithic migrations ca. 2600-2250 BC.

On the basis of this evidence for Finnic speakers shifting to Germanic, it is possible to ascribe other, less specifically Finnic traits in Germanic to the same source. The most obvious trait is the fixation of the main stress on the initial syllable of the word. Initial stress is inherited in Finno-Saamic but was adopted in Germanic only after the operation of Verner’s law, quite probably under Finnic influence. The consonantal changes described in section V.3.1 can be attributed to Finnic with less confidence. The best case can be made for the development of geminate (double) consonants in Germanic, which did not inherit any of them, while Finno-Saamic inherited *pp, tt, kk, cc and took their presence as a cue to develop other geminates such as *nn and *ll . Possibly geminates developed so easily in Proto-Germanic because Finnic speakers (who switched to Germanic) were familiar with them. Other consonantal changes, such as the loss of the palatalized series in both Germanic and Balto-Finnic and the elimination of the different s- and c-phonemes, might have occurred for the same reason: if Balto-Finnic had undergone them earlier than Germanic, which we do not know, they could have constituted part of the Balto-Finnic accent in Germanic. An alternative take on those changes starts from the observation that they all constitute simplifications of an older, richer system of consonants. While simplifications can be and often are caused by language shift if the new speakers lacked certain phonemes in their original language, simplifications do not require an explanation by shift: languages are capable of simplifying a complex system all by themselves. Yet the similarities between the simplifications in Germanic and in Balto-Finnic are so obvious that one would not want to ascribe their co-occurrence to accidental circumstances.

Grimm’s Law in Proto-Germanic (speculative)

Voiceless lenis pronunciation of b, d, g is typical of the majority of German and Scandinavian dialects, so may well have been inherited from Proto-Germanic. Voiceless lenis is also the pronunciation that has been assumed to underlie the weak grades of Finno-Saamic single *p, t, k. If Proto-Germanic *b, d, g were indeed voiceless lenis, the single most striking result of the Germanic consonant shift is that it eliminated the phonological difference between voiced and voiceless consonants that Germanic had inherited from Proto-Indo-European (…) Since neither Finno-Saamic nor Balto-Finnic possessed a phonological difference between voiced and voiceless obstruents, its loss in Proto-Germanic can be regarded as yet another example of a Finnic feature in Germanic.


It is clear that this account of the first Germanic consonant shift as yet another example of Finnic influence is to some degree speculative. The point I am making is not that the Germanic consonant shift must be explained on the basis of Finnic influence, like Verner’s law and word-initial stress, only that it can be explained in this way, just like other features of the Germanic sound system discussed earlier, such as the loss of palatalized consonants and the rise of geminates.

A consequence of this account of the origins of the Proto-Germanic consonantal system is that the transition from Pre-Germanic to Proto-Germanic was entirely directed by Finnic. Or, to put it in less subtle words: Indo-European consonants became Germanic consonants when they were pronounced by Finnic speakers.

Post-Bell-Beaker Europe, after ca. 2200 BC.

The vocalic system, on the other hand, presented less difficulties for both, Indo-European and Uralic speakers, since it was quite similar.

Schrijver goes on to postulate certain asymmetric differences in loans, especially with regard to Proto-Germanic, Balto-Finnic, Proto-Saamic, Proto-Baltic, and later contacts, including a potential non-Uralic, non-IE substrate language to justify some of these, which may in turn be connected with Kroonen’s agricultural substrate hypothesis of Proto-Germanic, and thus also with the other surviving Scandinavian Neolithic cultures before the eventual simplification of the cultural landscape during the Bronze Age.

Conclusion on the origin of Germanic

The Finnic-Germanic contact situation has turned out to be of a canonical type. To Finnic speakers, people who spoke prehistoric Germanic and its ancestor, Pre-Germanic, must have been role models. Why they were remains unclear. In the best traditions of Uralic–Indo-European contacts, Finnic speakers adopted masses of loanwords from (Pre-)Germanic. Some Finnic speakers even went a crucial step further and became bilingual: they spoke Pre-Germanic according to the possibilities offered by the Finnic sound system, which meant they spoke with a strong accent. The accent expressed itself as radical changes in the Pre-Germanic consonantal system and no changes in the Pre-Germanic vowel system. This speech variety became very successful and turned an Indo-European dialect into what we now know as Germanic. Bilingual speakers became monolingual speakers of Germanic.

What we do not know is for how long Finnic-Germanic bilingualism persisted. It is possible that it lasted for some time because both partners grew more alike even with respect to features whose origin we cannot assign to either of them (loss of palatalized consonants): this suggests, perhaps, that both languages became more similar because generally they were housed in the same brain. What we can say with more confidence is that the bilingual situation ultimately favoured Germanic over Finnic: loanwords continued to flow in one direction only, from Germanic to Finnic, hence it is clear that Germanic speakers remained role models.

This is as far as the linguistic evidence can take us for the moment.

Based on archaeology and genetics, I think we can say that the close North-West Indo-European – Proto-Finnic interaction in Scandinavia lasted for hundreds of years, during the time when a unifying Nordic culture and language developed from Bell Beaker maritime elites dominating over Corded Ware groups.

As we know, Uralic languages were in close contact with Middle PIE, and also later with Proto-Indo-Iranian. This Pre-Germanic development in Scandinavia is therefore another hint at the identification of a rather early Proto-Finnic spoken in the Baltic area – potentially then by Battle Axe groups – , and thus the general identification of Uralic expansion with the different Corded Ware groups.

NOTE. The ‘common’ loss of certain palatals, which Schrijver interprets as a change of Pre-Germanic from the inherited Proto-Indo-European, may in fact not be such – in the opinion of bitectalists, including us, and especially taking the North-West Indo-European reconstruction and the Corded Ware substrate hypothesis into account – , so this effect would be a rather unidirectional shift from Finnic to Germanic. On the other hand, certain palatalization trends which some have described for Germanic could in fact be explained precisely by this bidirectional influence.


Domesticated horse population structure, selection, and mtDNA geographic patterns


Open access Detecting the Population Structure and Scanning for Signatures of Selection in Horses (Equus caballus) From Whole-Genome Sequencing Data, by Zhang et al, Evolutionary Bioinformatics (2018) 14:1–9.

Abstract (emphasis mine):

Animal domestication gives rise to gradual changes at the genomic level through selection in populations. Selective sweeps have been traced in the genomes of many animal species, including humans, cattle, and dogs. However, little is known regarding positional candidate genes and genomic regions that exhibit signatures of selection in domestic horses. In addition, an understanding of the genetic processes underlying horse domestication, especially the origin of Chinese native populations, is still lacking. In our study, we generated whole genome sequences from 4 Chinese native horses and combined them with 48 publicly available full genome sequences, from which 15 341 213 high-quality unique single-nucleotide polymorphism variants were identified. Kazakh and Lichuan horses are 2 typical Asian native breeds that were formed in Kazakh or Northwest China and South China, respectively. We detected 1390 loss-of-function (LoF) variants in protein-coding genes, and gene ontology (GO) enrichment analysis revealed that some LoF-affected genes were overrepresented in GO terms related to the immune response. Bayesian clustering, distance analysis, and principal component analysis demonstrated that the population structure of these breeds largely reflected weak geographic patterns. Kazakh and Lichuan horses were assigned to the same lineage with other Asian native breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the genetic origin of Chinese domestic horses. We applied the composite likelihood ratio method to scan for genomic regions showing signals of recent selection in the horse genome. A total of 1052 genomic windows of 10 kB, corresponding to 933 distinct core regions, significantly exceeded neutral simulations. The GO enrichment analysis revealed that the genes under selective sweeps were overrepresented with GO terms, including “negative regulation of canonical Wnt signaling pathway,” “muscle contraction,” and “axon guidance.” Frequent exercise training in domestic horses may have resulted in changes in the expression of genes related to metabolism, muscle structure, and the nervous system.

Bayesian clustering output for 5 K values from K = 2 to K = 8 in 45 domestic horses. Each individual is represented by a vertical line, which is partitioned into colored segments that represent the proportion of the inferred K clusters.

Interesting excerpts:

Admixture proportions were assessed without user-defined population information to infer the presence of distinct populations among the samples (Figure 2). At K = 3 or K = 4, Franches-Montagnes and Arabian forms one unique cluster; at K = 5, Jeju pony forms one unique cluster. For other breeds, comparatively strong population structure exists among breeds, and they can be assigned to 2 (or 3) alternate clusters from K = 3 to K = 5 including group A (Duelmener, Fjord, Icelandic, Kazakh, Lichuan, and Mongolian) and group B (Hanoverian, Morgan, Quarter, Sorraia, and Standardbred). For group A, geographically this was unexpected, where Nordic breeds (Norwegian Fjord, Icelandic, and Duelmener) clustered with Asian breeds including the Mongolian. Previous results of mitochondrial DNA have revealed links between the Mongolian horse and breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, Central Europe, and the British Isles. The Mongol horses are believed to have been originally imported from Russia subsequently became the basis for the Norwegian Fjord horse.31 At K = 6, Sorraia forms one unique cluster. The Sorraia horse has no long history as a domestic breed but is considered to be of a nearly ancestral type in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.32 However, our result did not support Sorraia as an independent ancestral type based on result from K = 2 to K = 5, and the unique cluster in K = 6 may be explained by the small population size and recently inbreeding programs. Genetic admixture of Morgan reveals that these breeds are currently or traditionally continually crossed with other breeds from K = 2 to K = 8. The Morgan horse has been a largely closed breed for 200 years or more but there has been some unreported crossbreeding in recent times.33

Principal component analysis results of all 48 horses. The x-axis denotes the value of PC1, whereas the y-axis denotes the value of PC2. Each dot in the figure represents one individual.

Bayesian clustering and PCA demonstrated the relationships among the horse breeds with weak geographic patterns. The tight grouping within most native breeds and looser grouping of individuals in admixed breeds have been reported previously in modern horses using data from a 54K SNP chip.33,34 Cluster analysis reveals that Arabian or Franches-Montagnes forms one unique cluster with relatively low K value, which is consistent with former study using 50K SNP chip 33,34 Interestingly, Standardbred forms a unique cluster with relatively high K value in this study, different from previous study.33 To date, no footprints are available to describe how the earliest domestic horses spread into China in ancient times. Our study found that Kazakh and Lichuan were assigned to the same lineage as other native Asian breeds, in agreement with previous studies on the origin of Chinese domestic horses.4,5,35,36 The strong genetic relationship between Asian native breeds and European native breeds have made it more difficult to understand the population history of the horse across Eurasia. Low levels of population differentiation observed between breeds might be explained by historical admixture. Unlike the domestic pig in China,8  we suggest that in China, Northern/Southern distinct groups could not be used to genetically distinct native Chinese horse breeds. We consider that during domestication process of horse, gene flow continued among Chinese-domesticated horses.

Open access Some maternal lineages of domestic horses may have origins in East Asia revealed with further evidence of mitochondrial genomes and HVR-1 sequences, by Ma et al., PeerJ (2018).


There are large populations of indigenous horse (Equus caballus) in China and some other parts of East Asia. However, their matrilineal genetic diversity and origin remained poorly understood. Using a combination of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and hypervariable region (HVR-1) sequences, we aim to investigate the origin of matrilineal inheritance in these domestic horses.

To investigate patterns of matrilineal inheritance in domestic horses, we conducted a phylogenetic study using 31 de novo mtDNA genomes together with 317 others from the GenBank. In terms of the updated phylogeny, a total of 5,180 horse mitochondrial HVR-1 sequences were analyzed.

Eighteen haplogroups (Aw-Rw) were uncovered from the analysis of the whole mitochondrial genomes. Most of which have a divergence time before the earliest domestication of wild horses (about 5,800 years ago) and during the Upper Paleolithic (35–10 KYA). The distribution of some haplogroups shows geographic patterns. The Lw haplogroup contained a significantly higher proportion of European horses than the horses from other regions, while haplogroups Jw, Rw, and some maternal lineages of Cw, have a higher frequency in the horses from East Asia. The 5,180 sequences of horse mitochondrial HVR-1 form nine major haplogroups (A-I). We revealed a corresponding relationship between the haplotypes of HVR-1 and those of whole mitochondrial DNA sequences. The data of the HVR-1 sequences also suggests that Jw, Rw, and some haplotypes of Cw may have originated in East Asia while Lw probably formed in Europe.

Our study supports the hypothesis of the multiple origins of the maternal lineage of domestic horses and some maternal lineages of domestic horses may have originated from East Asia.

Median joining network constructed based on the 247- bp HVR-1 sequences. Circles are proportional to the number of horses represented and a scale indicator (for node sizes) was provided. The length of lines represents the number of variants that separate nodes (some manual adjustment was made for visually good). In the circles, the colors of solid pie slices indicate studied horse populations: Orange, European horses; Blue, horses of West Asia; Light Green, horses from East Asia; Grey, ancient horses; Purper, Przewalskii horses.

Geographic distributions of horse mtDNA haplogroups

The analysis of geographic distribution of the mitochondrial genome haplogroups showed that horse populations in Europe or East Asia included all haplogroups defined from the mtDNA genome sequences. The lineage Fw comprised entirely of Przewalskii horses. The two haplogroups Iw and Lw displayed frequency peaks in Europe (14.08% and 37.32%, respectively) and a decline to the east (9.33% and 8.00% in the West Asia, and 6.45% and 12.90% in East Asia, respectively), especially for Lw, which contained the largest number of European horses (Table 2). However, an opposite distribution pattern was observed for haplogroups Aw, Hw, Jw, and Rw, which were harbored by more horses from East Asia than those from other regions. The proportions of horses from East Asia for the four haplogroups were 38%, 88%, 62%, and 54%, respectively.

Schematic phylogeny of mtDNAs genome from modern horses. This tree includes 348 sequences
and was rooted at a donkey (E. asinus) mitochondrial genome (not displayed). The topology was inferred by a beast approach, whereas a time divergence scale (based on rate substitutions) is shown on the bottom (age estimates were indicated with thousand years (KY)). The percentages on each branch represent Bayesian posterior credibility and the alphabets on the right represent the names of haplogroups. Additional details concerning ages were given in Tables S3 and S6.